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Look for the helpers

They’re at the airports now.

Luis Ruiz, an immigration attorney with his own practice, set up shop early Sunday at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

He’d seen news of attorneys around the country flocking to airports to help people detained under the terms of the executive order President Donald Trump issued Friday, and he figured duty called. So he arrived at IAH around 9 a.m., the first attorney of what would become a sizable legal operation, and set off searching for clients to counsel pro bono.

“It’s been escalating,” he said Sunday night. “People just started showing up.”

By the evening, they ran an impromptu law office at the tables of a Starbucks amid deafening chants of hundreds of protesters in the arrivals area of the international terminal. More than 30 Houston lawyers specializing in immigration, personal injury, consumer protection, environment, civil law and more, pecked away on keyboards and interviewed family members of those who’d been detained inside the terminal.


The lawyers gathered at Starbucks fanned out in search of waiting worried people who might be relatives of those detained. They offered their services and helped put them in touch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for answers on the status of their loved ones. In isolated cases, lawyers said they were willing to electronically file an emergency habeas petition to a federal court to ask a judge to immediately stop a detention.

Aside from that, however, they acknowledged they have few effective options.

“The problem is there is no right to counsel. We don’t have ability to access potential clients,” [Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center] said.

People who couldn’t help in that fashion gathered elsewhere.

Hundreds of chanting anti-Trump protesters swarmed George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday, packing Terminal E to capacity until police barred entry to non-ticket holders. Dozens of pro-bono lawyers set up camp at a nearby Starbucks to help passengers who had gotten detained.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community,” said Arsalan Safiuallah, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who attended the IAH protest. “I’m upset because I don’t think this is constitutional.”

Yehiya Aljuboory, a 29-year-old Iraqi man detained en route to Houston after traveling abroad, was held at IAH for nearly four hours Sunday. “Is it a crime to travel to visit your family?” asked his worried friend, 28-year-old Mohammed Jalil. “Only because he is Muslim.”

Earlier in the day, roughly 1,000 people gathered in downtown, just steps away from Super Bowl festivities, to make their voices heard. The divisive order resonated deeply in Houston, where more than 20 percent of people were foreign-born in 2013, according to nonpartisan think tank the Migration Policy Institute.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city as galvanized as this,” said Houston resident Bev Caplan, 39, who protested at Discovery Green.

A small reminder of who is being hurt by the actions of our deranged “leader”:

A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.

We should heed the words of former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen.

To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.


There is in this week’s events the foretaste of things to come. We have yet to see what happens when Trump tries to use the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy his opponents. He thinks he has succeeded in bullying companies, and he has no compunction about bullying individuals, including those with infinitely less power than himself. His advisers are already calling for journalists critical of the administration to be fired: Expect more efforts at personal retribution. He has demonstrated that he intends to govern by executive orders that will replace the laws passed by the people’s representatives.

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There are things we can do. Show up and protest if you have the capability. Offer your professional services if they are relevant – see this handy resource from the Houston Bar Association if you’re an attorney. Donate money to groups like the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee; there are other good options as well. Call John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at one of their local offices and tell them what you think. (If you can get through – it was nothing but busy signals for me today, and all the postings I see on Facebook say it’s either that or full voicemail boxes. Try anyway, you never know.) Add Mike McCaul to that list, too, especially if you live in CD10. Do something while you still can. Texas Monthly, Political Animal, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

Bin Laden killed in Pakistan

About damn time.

Osama Bin Laden is dead, U.S. government officials confirm to TPM. Bin Laden was the founder and leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network that perpetrated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

His death comes nearly 10 years after the terrorist attacks that made him the world’s most wanted fugitive, and eight years to the day after President George W. Bush declared Mission Accomplished in Iraq.

Other than a lame joke about making sure we hang onto the original long-form death certificate just in case, I got nothing. Well, there is a Mark Twain quote that seems appropriate: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” This is one we all should have read a long time ago. My sincere gratitude to the combat forces that did the job.

Texas Monthly interview with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who is being recruited to run for the Senate in Texas, did an interview with Texas Monthly in 2008 that’s worth your time to read. The interview was published after his book “Wiser In Battle”, which was highly critical of the prosecution of the war in Iraq, came out. Here’s what he had to say about Abu Ghraib:

Let me ask you about Abu Ghraib, which obviously you were in the middle of—

Probably responsible for that.

People have said, point-blank, that it was a failure of leadership on your part. It must be difficult to have your entire career summed up in that one horrifying incident.

Well, it has been. Let’s not mistake for a second that it was anything other than grotesque and unacceptable. But I think we need to look at the facts that tell us how our nation started down a slippery slope in 2002, when the lifting of the Geneva Conventions occurred. The military issued that guidance almost verbatim to our fighting forces in the field. More importantly, we failed to convey the instructions and safeguards and training that might have kept us from going down that slippery slope to abuse and torture. We failed to respond to pleas for guidance from soldiers and leaders in the field, when it was crystal clear to everybody, because of the investigations that were conducted in November and December of 2002, that we had significant problems in detention and interrogation. Then we compounded things by bringing into Iraq units that had been in Afghanistan, operating in a totally unconstrained interrogation world. In a conventional force, that creates significant confusion.

I imagine so.

When I identified that we had this unprecedented problem—we knew by May 2003 that it was way beyond anything we had ever faced—and we began to ask for help, there was no one within the Army or the Department of Defense who had any understanding of how to solve it. So we struggled and floundered and began to come up with solutions internally. Every time we got a notification of an abuse, we conducted an investigation. But there were well-known abuses that the whole world knew about—the one in which a warrant officer killed a general while he was interrogating him or the case of Iceman, as he was known, who died in the course of an investigation by the CIA and was dumped on my soldiers at Abu Ghraib. So there were two different agencies operating that were not under my command.

One was the CIA.

And the other one was the Special Operations Forces. To describe a little better what happened in Abu Ghraib, you had a coming together of my interrogators with the CIA—which came in and did what they do with no constraints on their rules—and the Special Operations Forces, who were operating under global-war-on-terror rules that were different from the rules that the Geneva Conventions applied to.

There wasn’t a common standard among the three.

No, absolutely not. The problem is that you had three different chains of command. Mine covered only the conventional forces. The Special Operations Forces reported back to Central Command. The CIA reported back to the CIA.

So you feel like you were unfairly held responsible for the actions of people not in your command?

What happened to me is that everything was seen as the responsibility of the commander on the ground. In fact, when one looks at the reality, it is very clear that incidents that occurred and abuses and allegations were outside of my command authority.

But to the extent that you’re responsible only for your folks, it was indeed folks in your command, like Lynndie England, who also committed pretty horrific abuses. That’s been documented.

Yeah, clearly. There were some abuses that occurred as we fought the war. But they were not condoned. We actually charged and court-martialed soldiers. We were very aggressive in investigating instances of abuse and taking actions against those people responsible.

And yet, in the end, you were relieved of your command.

I wasn’t relieved of my command. I rotated out of there after fourteen months. But there was an effort to make it appear that I was being relieved. That’s correct.

The implication was you were paying a price for the embarrassment that the U.S. suffered over Abu Ghraib.

Yes, no question.

You believe that it was an unfair assessment of your tenure in that position.

When you get to those levels of command, you have to look at what our leadership does in light of all the factors they’re considering. It becomes almost untenable for the administration to do anything else, to do anything other than tell me to retire, because it is in the best interest of the Department of Defense and the Army.

But this is your career! Surely this can’t be something you look back on and say, “Oh, well, that’s life.”

No, no. It’s a very disappointing time in my life.

Who do you blame?

I’m not sure. Do I blame a single individual? Do I blame the nation for the mistakes we made that led us to Abu Ghraib and the abuses that occurred as a result of the actions we took? Do I blame the military or the Department of Defense for trying to contain this extremely embarrassing period in our history? I think when you look at it, what happened to me is that I got caught in a perfect storm.

As I said before, I want to hear what he has to say for himself before I make any judgments. So far, I’m satisfied with what I’ve heard and am willing to hear more. Thanks to Evan Smith, then the editor of Texas Monthly and the conductor of that interview, for the link.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

In case you haven’t heard, national Democrats may have found a Senate candidate for next year.

Democrats appear to have recruited retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas, setting the stage for the party to field a well-known candidate in the 2012 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a Democrat, confirmed that Democratic Senate campaign chief Patty Murray, D-Wash., was referring to Sanchez on Thursday when she said Democrats were close to announcing a candidate in Texas.

Sanchez, reached by phone at his San Antonio home, asked where the reports of a Senate run came from and then said, “I can neither confirm nor deny.”

Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq who was left under a cloud from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, would not discuss the Senate race. But he did respond to questions about his career and political philosophy.

“I would describe myself as during my military career as supporting the president and the Constitution,” Sanchez said. “After the military, I decided that socially, I’m a progressive, a fiscal conservative and a strong supporter, obviously, of national defense.”

Sanchez, a Rio Grande City native, said he was shaped by his upbringing.

“It’s my views and my history, having grown up in South Texas, depending on social programs and assistance, that America has a responsibility to its people,” he said.

It’s not official yet, but a story like this (which has also been picked up by wire services) doesn’t usually appear for no reason. It may turn out to be nothing, but not because it was a misguided rumor that got mistaken for news. I believe he’s seriously considering it, and will run or not run depending to some degree on the reaction he gets to this.

And given that the words “Abu Ghraib” will feature prominently in any story written about him, that reaction is unlikely to be muted. Juanita, Jobsanger, and McBlogger are encouraged, PDiddie most emphatically is not. Burka thinks Sanchez is the kind of candidate Dems need to run but he’s doomed anyway. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more as the news spreads.

Personally, I’m with those that are encouraged. We’re not exactly overflowing with credible potential candidates around here. If Sanchez can be decent on the issues and can get support from the money people (something that was never really available to Rick Noriega), then glory be. If not, there will be other races for me to care about next year. Sanchez is the only game in town now, as John Sharp appears to have given up the ghost. I want to hear what he has to say for himself, and we’ll go from there.

One thing to keep in mind here: Having Sanchez in the race doesn’t mean he’ll be the nominee. I expect there will be plenty of Democrats who aren’t happy with this announcement and will not want to support him under any circumstances. That presents an opening, and I’ll be surprised if someone doesn’t try to take advantage of it. It’s not hard to imagine a nasty primary fight, and it’s not hard to imagine a multi-candidate scenario where Sanchez gets forced into a runoff. I hope the people who are gigging Sanchez to run have given some thought to this.

You have a funny definition of “fiscal conservative”, Senator

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Our junior Senator calls himself something that doesn’t describe him accurately at all.

“I am a fiscal conservative, so I approach all of this from that perspective,” Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle in an interview. “Obviously at the same time where it’s appropriate to help entities like NASA in the state of Texas, I’m going to try to make sure that they are fairly and adequately funded.”

Cornyn, who has helped orchestrate Republicans’ anti-spending chorus as chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, says he’s merely echoing “the anger and aversion that most of my constituents have about out-of-control spending up here” in Washington.

This is the same John Cornyn who happily voted for the Iraq war, all of President Bush’s tax cuts, and Medicare Part D, which was called by the head of the GAO “probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s… because we promise way more than we can afford to keep”. This John Cornyn, who by his voting record bears responsibility for trillions of dollars of national debt, has the nerve to call himself a “fiscal conservative”. And thanks to newspaper headlines that talk about his “fight” to “cut debt”, something he never cared about while a Republican was in the White House, he gets away with it. Pretty nice racket he’s got going for himself, that’s all I can say.

John Cornyn: For deficits before he was against them

There are many ridiculous things about our political discourse these days. Among them is the discussion of long-term federal budget deficit projections, in which the vast majority of Republicans, especially those who have been in office for more than a few years, are doing their best to deny that the Bush Administration ever existed. Take, for example, our junior Senator, John Cornyn.

Matt Yglesias does good service by reminding us of the 2003 Senate vote on Medicare Part D, the budget-busting prescription drugs for seniors bill that passed the Senate 54-44, even though it wasn’t paid for (it adds trillions to the deficit over time). Here’sthe vote: it is interesting to note that the two Gang of Six members who are the most prominent naysayers and budget hawks on the Senate Finance Committee now, Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, voted for the bill. As did assorted other noisy conservatives like Sam Brownback, John Cornyn and John Kyl. What irresponsible spendthrifts!

And that’s without taking into account the ginormous and fantastically reckless Bush tax cuts of 2002, which have drained the federal coffers of cash while fattening up the households at the top 0.1% of the income scale, and our grand adventure in Iraq, whose total outlays so far exceed the stimulus package that Cornyn and his ilk so bitterly complained about. Keep all that in mind when you hear Cornyn and his allies in Congress, the punditocracy, and the right-wing blogosphere whine about the cost of health care reform, which among other things is paid for and deficit neutral. They have no credibility at all. Thanks to Steve Benen, who notes some further hypocrisy on the GOP’s part, for the link.

Mr. Goldberg goes to Iraq

Former Houston City Council Member Mark Goldberg has a new gig.

[Goldberg] will work as a local governance adviser for RTI International, a North Carolina nonprofit research and development organization that works in Iraq and other countries.

RTI employs 79 Americans in Iraq and 500 Iraqis and has operated there since 2003.

“What we’ve really worked to do is put in place the fundamental building blocks of a local government structure,” said Patrick Gibbons, an RTI spokesman.

Goldberg will coach and mentor Iraqi leaders of regional councils about how to develop democratic local governments.

He will help leaders draft budget plans and develop a plan for holding elections so Iraqi citizens have more influence over their local governments.

Working with Iraq’s tribal councils, Goldberg will try to teach them how to build roads, libraries and parks, among other projects.

“If you want to have a stable government in the Middle East, you have to start at all levels and not just at the national levels, but on the local levels,” said Goldberg. “I think they’ve (U.S. government) come to realize that regime change is very difficult from the top down.”

I wish him nothing but success in this new endeavor.