Lamar Smith

Science in the ‘National Interest’: What About Everything Else? [UPDATE]

FieldsOfScience_ImageEditor-FlickrThe Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (TX-21), wants the National Science Foundation’s grants to be evaluated based on the “national interest.”

Bring it, boneheads. By all means let’s try that standard against EVERYTHING on which we spend federal money.

How many television and radio stations, licensing publicly-owned airwaves, are granted licenses under which they are supposed to serve the “public interest, convenience, or necessity”? Because apart from emergency broadcast signal testing, most of them don’t actually do that any longer, suggesting we really need to re-evaluate broadcasters’ licenses. Let’s put the FCC’s licensing under the microscope. If broadcasters aren’t truly serving “national interest” in the manner parallel to a House Science Committee discussion draft — proposed criteria being “economic competitiveness, health and welfare, scientific literacy, partnerships between academia and industry, promotion of scientific progress and national defence” — the least they could do is pay us adequately for a license to abuse our publicly-owned assets as well as our sensibilities. There’s probably something in the defunct Fairness Doctrine about broadcasting and the nation’s interests…unless, of course, “public” does not mean “nation.” Perhaps Rep. Smith believes “national interest” = “business interest,” which opens up a massive can of definition worms.

How about banks and insurance companies? How many of them were in one way or another not merely affected by the financial meltdown of 2008, but direct contributors to the cataclysm because their standards of operation were shoddy — specifically, with regard to subprime mortgages. Why not put their regulation under the same lens: are these financial institutions serving the “nation’s interest”? The financial industry’s business practices and the regulatory framework existing in early 2008 certainly didn’t defend this nation’s economic competitiveness, damaging the ability to obtain credit as liquidity was threatened. Jeepers, wasn’t that the intent of defunct Glass-Steagall Act after the Great Depression, to assure that commercial and investment banking acted in a secure manner consistent with the nation’s interests?

We could go on and on across the breadth of departments and regulatory bodies which either issue funds or licenses, putting them all to the same test. Do they serve the “national interest”?

The problem here isn’t that the NSF in particular isn’t validating grants as to whether they serve the “national interest.” The NSF already uses criteria to evaluate proposal submissions for their alignment with the nation’s aims. Continue reading

Lamar Smith: It’s Critical to Invest in Space Balls, But Not Climate Change

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In reaction to last night’s meteorite impact in Russia, Lamar Smith, who now chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, has announced he will hold a hearing to identify more pork for Houston’s space industry “examine ways to better identify and address asteroids that pose a potential threat to Earth.”

Today’s events are a stark reminder of the need to invest in space science. Asteroid 2012 DA14 passed just 17,000 miles from Earth, less than the distance of a round trip from New York to Sydney. And this morning, a much smaller meteorite hit near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, damaging buildings and injuring hundreds.

Developing technology and research that enable us to track objects like Asteroid 2012 DA14 is critical to our future. We should continue to invest in systems that identify threatening asteroids and develop contingencies, if needed, to change the course of an asteroid headed toward Earth.

Fifty years ago, we would have had no way of seeing an asteroid like this coming. Now, thanks to the discoveries NASA has made in its short history, we have known about 2012 DA14 for about a year. As the world leader in space exploration, America has made great progress for mankind. But our work is not done. We should continue to study, research, and explore space to better understand our universe and better protect our planet. [my emphasis]

So if you’re a Republican, it is okay to invest in efforts to stop asteroids from hurdling to Earth (if they’re going to hit us or an ally). But not okay to invest in efforts to stop climate change from doing far more damage, far more frequently.

Lamar Smith’s Futile Leak Investigation

Lamar Smtih has come up with a list of 7 national security personnel he wants to question in his own leak investigation. (h/t Kevin Gosztola)

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told President Obama Thursday he’d like to interview seven current and former administration officials who may know something about a spate of national security leaks.

[snip]

The administration officials include National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason and National Security Advisor to the Vice President Antony Blinken.

Of course the effort is sure to be futile–if Smith’s goal is to figure out who leaked to the media (though it’ll serve its purpose of creating a political shitstorm just fine)–for two reasons.

First, only Clapper serves in a role that Congress has an unquestioned authority to subpoena (and even there, I can see the Intelligence Committees getting snippy about their turf–it’s their job to provide impotent oversight over intelligence, not the Judiciary Committees).

As for members of the National Security Council (Tom Donilon, John Brennan, Denis McDonough, Audrey Tomason, and Antony Blinken) and figures, like Bill Daley, who aren’t congressionally approved? That’s a bit dicier. (Which is part of the reason it’s so dangerous to have our drone targeting done in NSC where it eludes easy congressional oversight.)

A pity Republicans made such a stink over the HJC subpoenaing Karl Rove and David Addington and backed Bush’s efforts to prevent Condi Rice from testifying, huh?

The other problem is that Smith’s list, by design, won’t reveal who leaked the stories he’s investigating. He says he wants to investigate 7 leaks.

Smith said the committee intends to focus on seven national security leaks to the media. They include information about the Iran-targeted Stuxnet and Flame virus attacks, the administration’s targeted killings of terrorism suspects and the raid which killed Usama bin Laden.

Smith wants to know how details about the operations of SEAL Team Six, which executed the bin Laden raid in Pakistan, wound up in the hands of film producers making a film for the president’s re-election. Also on the docket is the identity of the doctor who performed DNA tests which helped lead the U.S. to bin Laden’s hideout.

But his list doesn’t include everyone who is a likely or even certain leaker.

Take StuxNet and Flame. Not only has Smith forgotten about the programmers (alleged to be Israeli) who let StuxNet into the wild in the first place–once that happened, everything else was confirmation of things David Sanger and security researchers were able to come up with on their own–but he doesn’t ask to speak to the Israeli spooks demanding more credit for the virus.

Continue reading

Progressives Demand House GOP Committee Chairs Investigate Hunton & Williams

When I first posted on Hank Johnson’s letter demanding an investigation into Hunton & Williams’ appropriation of counterterrorist techniques to attack citizen speech, I was a bit skeptical. Without a way to get some coverage of the demand, such a letter risks being yet one more angry letter into the void.

But I will say the letter is well-constructed.

That’s because it’s addressed to the Chairmen of the Oversight, Judiciary, Intelligence, and Armed Services Committees: Darrell Issa, Lamar Smith, Mike Rogers, and Buck McKeon. So in addition to someone, like Smith, who can address the legal issues involved–notably, why DOJ was recommending H&W to Bank of America–Johnson and others have included Rogers and McKeon, who presumably know a good deal about how DOD has funded campaigns like the one H&W was going to launch against citizens.

Which brings us to the DOD tie-in:

The techniques may have been developed at U.S. government expense to target terrorists and other security threats. The emails indicated that these defense contractors planned to mine social network sites for information on Chamber critics; planned to plant “false documents” and “fake insider personas” that would be used to discredit the groups; and discussed the use of malicious and intrusive software (“malware”) to steal private information from the groups and disrupt their internal electronic communications.

[snip]

It is deeply troubling to think that tactics developed for use against terrorists may have been unleashed against American citizens.

[snip]

Possible proof the defense and security contractors may have traded on their government work is inferred by a November 3, 2010, sales proposal from Team Themis to Hunton & Williams: “Who better to develop a corporate information reconnaissance capability than companies that have been market leaders within the [Defense Department] and Intelligence Community?

The focus, in other words, is not just on how such a campaign violates the law, but also how it represents the application of DOD-developed programs to private citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

Sure, the GOP Chairs will ignore this.

But it’ll make them complicit in protecting the Chamber’s and H&W’s misappropriation of DOD technology.

A Day After Reading Constitution, Republicans Abolish Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties Bits of It

I sort of expected the Republicans to abolish labor–or at least its named inclusion among the business of Congressional committees. After all, the GOP really doesn’t like tough things like physical work or the people who do it.

But it wasn’t so long ago that the Republican Party–not to mention its newest activist branch, the Tea Party–claimed to give a damn about civil liberties. Hell, Louie Gohmert, who reassured me yesterday the Fourth Amendment is still on the books, is even a member of the Judiciary Committee.

But like labor, the Republicans have also apparently done away with civil liberties and civil rights.

From a Jerry Nadler press release:

Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who has served as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties since 2007, responded to news that the Republican-led Judiciary Committee will change the name of the Subcommittee to the “Constitution Subcommittee.”  He issued the following statement:

Once again, the new Republican majority has shown that it isn’t quite as committed to the Constitution as its recent lofty rhetoric would indicate.  Today, it has yet again shown its contempt for key portions of the document – the areas of civil rights and civil liberties – by banishing those words from the title of the Constitution Subcommittee.  In 1995, when Newt Gingrich became Speaker, one of the Republicans’ first acts was to change the name of that Subcommittee.  For anyone who thought the change was merely for rhetorical purposes, our experience over 12 years of Republican rule showed just how hostile they are to individual rights and liberties.  With this move, we can only assume that they are intent on more of the same.  It is going to be a long and difficult struggle to protect these cherished rights and liberties from assaults by the Republican majority.

Republicans have made a great deal of noise in recent days about standing up for the Constitution.  But, in less than 48 hours, they have already revealed their true intentions.  In addition to reading selectively from the Constitution on the House floor in a much-exalted ceremony on Thursday, Republicans also blatantly violated the Constitution by allowing two of their Members to vote without having been sworn-in, and introduced unconstitutional legislation aimed at bypassing the 14th Amendment’s citizenship clause.  And, with the Subcommittee name change, they are again telling Americans that only some parts of the Constitution matter.  Fundamental rights and liberties appear to have been dropped from the Constitution by far-right ideologues.

If and When Democrats Keep the House, Conyers Should Remind Holder the Import of Congressional Oversight

I realize the odds of Democrats keeping the House are not all that great. But I also know that the DCCC is far more competent than the RNCC; DCCC has managed to win just about every challenging election of late.

So let’s just say Democrats keep the House and with it John Conyers his gavel. I really hope he’ll make Eric Holder regret not only this inappropriate comment to Lamar Smith (I don’t care whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge, the Committees are there to exercise oversight, not “be nice” to the agencies they cover), but also the unnecessary disloyalty.

Maybe Conyers can start by asking Holder to either provide a more credible explanation for why Pittsburgh’s FBI office was lying about taking a picture at a peace rally with no premise to do so than the FBI provided to Inspector General Glenn Fine (more on this IG Report in a bit).

FBI officials, including the Pittsburgh office’s top lawyer, engaged in distinctly COINTELPRO-style tactics after the American Civil Liberties Union sued for the release of documents relating to the surveillance.Boiled down to their essence, those tactics involved officials generating post-dated “routing slips” and other paper to create a terrorism threat that didn’t exist.

Or as the inspector general put it, the FBI’s elaborate, “after-the-fact reconstruction” of the Pittsburgh events, designed to fabricate a counter-terrorism rationale for the rookie’s surveillance mission, “was not corroborated by any witnesses or contemporaneous documents.”

It was on the basis of their fabrication, moreover, that FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III gave “inaccurate and misleading” testimony to Congress, the IG said.

The IG’s recounting of the Pittsburgh events is lengthy and meticulous.

The FBI, however, continues to deny that bureau officials engaged in an elaborate and deliberate scheme to deceive investigators, Congress and the pubic about what was, in retrospect, one rookie agent’s minor, misdirected surveillance of the Pittsburgh antiwar demonstration.

“Nobody,” the FBI says, “had a motive to provide an intentionally misleading account of it.”

It seems the only people who are given carte blanche to lie and obstruct justice are those trying to evade Congressional oversight, and the people who rely on that seeming carte blanche report up through Holder. That’s a management failure and a failure of the rule of law.

Would that the Attorney General cared more about that rule of law than chumming up to the opposition party.

Things Republicans Think Merit Investigation More than Torture: ACORN

Given how frothy Republicans have gotten about the White House gate-crashers, I thought it’d be worth starting a catalog of things the Republicans think merit investigations more than torture.

Today’s edition: ACORN.

The eight Republican members of Congress who showed up for the hearing didn’t disappoint. With one exception, they labeled ACORN a “criminal enterprise” with close and current ties to the highest levels of the Obama administration and the labor movement.“President Obama previously served as ACORN’s lawyer, participated in ACORN training sessions in Chicago, and presided on the board of two organizations that funded ACORN’s Chicago chapter,” said [Lamar] Smith. An old picture of Obama in an ACORN office was posted near the hearing stand to bolster his point. “The president’s ties with ACORN taint any conclusions the Department of Justice may reach with regard to whether or not to investigate ACORN employees. That’s why I’ve requested that the attorney general appoint a special prosecutor to investigate ACORN.”

To bolster their case, Republicans produced 81 pages of documents about ACORN’s voter registration activities in 2004 and 2006  — a supplement to Issa’s 99-page July 2009 report, “Is ACORN Intentionally Structured As a Criminal Enterprise?”

The 81 new pages, helpfully highlighted by staffers, put ACORN staffers on the record planning voter registration drives and campaigns for “progressive” candidates. They also touched on the organization’s social work — “within the next year Maryland ACORN will conduct 500 new lead tests for low and moderate-income renters and homeowners” — but members and witnesses argued that the organization’s political activity, clearly benefiting Democrats and President Obama, was at least reason to strip it of tax-exempt status.

“The current admin is becoming, in reality, the war room for ACORN’s political machine,” said Issa. “The poor will be better served when ACORN is no longer a go-to place for services.” [my emphasis]

Lamar Smith thinks providing lead tests for low income people is more threatening to this country than torture.

Rove All-But Confirms He DID Talk to Non-DOJ People About Siegelman

In a classic non-denial denial, Karl Rove makes it clear that he did talk to people about Siegelman’s prosecution–even while he denies that he spoke to anyone in DOJ about it.

As I posted three minutes before TPM posted these "exclusively" (huh), Rove has submitted answers to questions that Lamar Smith decided to ask him about Siegelman, in lieu of actually showing up before Congress and answering questions that someone without an interest in covering up Republican politicized prosecutions might ask.

We can talk about these documents in more detail in comments (and I’ll post a timeline in a follow-up post). But here’s the most important part of the question and answers. Smith repeatedly asks Rove whether or not he ever communicated with:

Department of Justice officials, State of Alabama officials, or any other individual about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of Governor Siegelman

And repeatedly, Rove answers that he has never directly or indirectly communicated with:

Justice Department or Alabama officials [] about the investigation, indictment, potential prosecution, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of Governor Siegelman

Rove would not make the same denials about talking to "any other individuals" he did about DOJ and Alabama officials.

Now to be fair to old Turdblossom, Rove does add this caveat, repeatedly:

nor have I asked any other individual to communicate about these matters on my behalf

But that’s not the same thing as answering whether he spoke to anyone about it all.

So, even with Rove’s careful parsing, even having gotten questions tailor made to allow Rove to squirm out of answering real questions on this matter, he basically refuses to deny that he communicated about Siegelman’s prosecution with other people. Rove doesn’t even deny he spoke to Bill Canary or Rob Riley (Rob is the son of the governor, and therefore not an Alabama official) about it, which is one of the central implications of all the allegations out there!

It was a nice trick, Lamar Smith, to try to pretend that Rove had answered real, antagonistic questions about his involvement in the Siegelman affair. But I think all you’ve accomplished is to make it clear that he was, in fact, involved in the plot to prosecute Governor Siegelman.

[As a reminder, Governor Siegelman will chat with us tomorrow at 12ET/9PT, so we'll get the opportunity to ask him what he thinks of this wild parsing.]

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @randiego2 @JennyMehlow Good grief, those are handsome dudes! My wife says I am not even competent to comment. But, https://t.co/cJVxsDV434
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bmaz Say what you will about Obamacare, but internet+media fanboys saying Dems losing ground in both House+Senate is "winning" issue are insane.
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JimWhiteGNV RT @WilliamsJon: CDC: Health Care Workers volunteering to combat #Ebola epidemic in West Africa are heroes. We must treat them with respect…
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JimWhiteGNV RT @ninatypewriter: I'm just gonna keep on tweeting about this until @MSF_USA nurse Kaci Hickox is out of that fucking tent.
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