Friday, September 30, 2022


Photo by Riley on Unsplash

Sometimes I wonder if what I write is so pessimistic I've given up hope about the future of our Nation.  That changed recently with the post I did about 9/11.  And last Saturday, my hope for America found further reinforcement from another New York City event, this time personal but quite patriotic nonetheless.

I think many of the regulars here know that I am a New Jersey immigration lawyer.  Most, but not all, of my agency and court appearances occur in Newark.  The Newark USCIS Field Office is nearly alone in naturalizing applicants the same day they appear and pass the interview.  It just doesn't happen in New York City.

At least that is what I thought going with my wife and her daughter to a Saturday morning interview in the "Brooklyn Field Office" at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan.

The place was nearly empty when we arrived for her 11:20 interview.  Her application was squeaky clean. When we got to the waiting room, there were maybe five other applicants there with us.

The appointment began only 15 minutes after we checked in, and it only took another 15 minutes to complete.  Both the wait and the interview were unusually fast.  (I have waited over an hour in Newark just to be called.)  Then to my surprise, the officer said to my "client," "Would you like to become naturalized today?"  And, to my delight, within another 10 minutes we and about ten other applicants assembled in a small room with a podium and table just off of the main waiting room.

After about 30 minutes, my wife's daughter, who is like a daughter to me, took the oath of allegiance to the United States and joined the ranks of US citizens, along with her Russian mother.

Afterward, we celebrated in a Laotian restaurant halfway between 26 Federal Plaza and the PATH train station near the WTC.  

It so happened that our waitress was Russian, prompting me to think that only in New York City would it be possible to find such an ethnic combination.

But, the larger lesson is that our country really is "A Nation of Immigrants." In my opinion, it is only through the initiative of immigrants that our country, despite all its faults and societal inequities, occasionally achieves moments of greatness that allow even me to regard America as "the leader of the free world" still -- though these are times when I only think so in comparison to the places where our immigrant communities come from.

I will close this small post with the brief observation that it is the smile and hope on this new citizen's face that makes me keep doing what I do, and that so motivates me to oppose the forces of fascism and white racism plaguing the body politic today.  Sam Alito has done us all a huge favor by revealing the loss of freedom we will all suffer if we don't fight back at the ballot box.  Maybe this November will result in a Democratic victory that will mark the beginning of the New New Deal I felt was within our grasp in 2008.  I hope so.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

For the Record: Critical Press Theory

Press room of the Chicago Criminal Courts Building as depicted in the original Broadway staging (by George S. Kaufman) of Ben Hecht's and Charles MacArthur's The Front Page, 1928, via Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, the stupid argument about Ms. Haberman (now being roasted for failing to report in The Times that Trump had told her he had some presidential documents at Mar-a-Lago and saving it for her book instead) finally ended up going someplace interesting:

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Narratology: The Former President is Rubber and the Rest of Us Are Glue


Jordan writes in comments, in response to some material I won't repost here that I was saving for a sequel to the "Minions" post:

Apologies for being thick-headed but I just want to make sure I get this. You're saying

1) Trump has his narcissistic injury of believing that the "deep state" (or whatever Nixonian fantasy he has of the forces aligned against him) wanted to prevent his election by inventing "Russia, Russia, Russia";

2) The main goal of his first term therefore was to vanquish and punish his enemies; to "win" (beyond merely getting elected anyway; to really show everyone);

3) To this end he directed investigations into the FBI and Congress;

4) Upon leaving office he took the documents — the evidence of his investigation into his enemies' investigation — because (and here's where I get confused):

4a) Trump believed the documents did exonerate him (they proved that "Russia, Russia, Russia" was a hoax and a vendetta);

4b) Trump believed the documents did not exonerate him;

4c) Trump started with #4a and switched to #4b (or the other way around) so that, like Lindell, the material that he first believed he was empowered by — that would let him "win" — was revealed as material that would sink him;

4d) Some alternative combination of elements that is less rational;

5) So now, he has no choice but to keep stonewalling while helplessly watching the walls close in, retreating into the feral stance he gets into when he's really cornered (the stance from which he orders his followers to get violent).

Is this basically it? If so, there's still the deeper mystery of why Trump believes that "Russia, Russia, Russia" is a hoax — if he does in fact "believe" this — or if it's more that he knows he did it all, committed all the crimes, but so does everyone on the international stage, so his being singled out (merely because he was running for President) was nevertheless a vendetta...meaning, like a mafioso, he knows he's guilty but still believes that those investigating him are being unfair. Right?

Close. I think you're making it a lot more complicated than necessary. Let me take it starting from where you finish:

Friday, September 23, 2022

Literary Corner: Make a Federal Case of It


Matthew Broderick as Professor Harold Hill tries out The Think System.

NY vs. Trump and his spawn and their businesses seems to me to have pretty much everything I could have wanted: over 200 specific acts of fraud committed in the valuations of Trump properties for his annual financial statements between 2011 and 2021 (yes, including during the presidency), generally in order to get better credit terms, some of them just spectacularly off, the demand for $250 million in damages, plus wiping all their New York businesses—should the state win its case, Trumps will be forbidden to operate a business in the state for the next five years—and federal criminal referrals in New York's Southern District and the Internal Revenue Service.

That last especially cheers me, because the publicity over the past year or so has been so dominated by Trump's overvaluing his properties to get loans, and hardly anybody has been talking about how he undervalues them in order to cheat on his taxes. But it turns out AG Letitia James wasn't ignoring it at all; in fact she was making a federal case of it, which is what it's supposed to be. Whether IRS is going to prosecute them or not (he's been fighting them for something like the past 12 years to stop them from collecting a $70-million refund he didn't deserve) I don't know, but the case needs to be out there.

Meanwhile, in another federal case, I'm intrigued by the lyricism and haunting ambiguity of Trump's answer to a a TV question from Sean Hannity ("What was your process to declassify?"):

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

For the Record: Lankford on Pronouns


Oklahoma senator James Lankford's speech at the Family Research Council's Pray Vote Stand Summit in Atlanta offered what sounded like rhetorical gruel, warm but a little watery, almost David Brooks:

“Our Constitution, put together by our founders – I believe God led in that -- put together a structure and a system that has made us the most prosperous, most moral nation in the history of the world – when we follow it,” said the senator.

On top of reminding the audience about how many lawmakers do not follow the Constitution, he also stated, “One thing that we have lost. What is the first word in the Constitution? ‘We’ – hang on – actually, I work for ‘we’ [the people]. Because this selfish attitude has become more and more prevalent that the whole world is about me. And the power of our Constitution began with this very simple principle of ‘we.’”

Promotion of the speech on Twitter got me a little exercised, and some analysis made it look, in fact, kind of sinister:

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Democracy for Efficiency

Mudslide blocking a road in Cayey, Puerto Rico, on Sunday. Photo by AP via Wisconsin Public Radio.

Really interesting radio thing, on a study from 2018

Akey, Pat and Dobridge, Christine and Heimer, Rawley and Lewellen, Stefan, Pushing Boundaries: Political Redistricting and Consumer Credit (March 2018). Available at SSRN: or

in which researchers found that abusive partisan redistricting—gerrymandering—has economic effects, and pernicious ones: it makes it harder for people in the gerrymandered district to access credit.

Really, you ask? Yes, really; not across the board, those who are well off can always get a loan, but for those around the margin, without much of a credit history, there's a real empirical difference in whether your legislators are in safe, gerrymandered seats or competitive ones where they have a good chance of losing the next election. That's likely to be the reason:

Saturday, September 17, 2022

For the Record: Del Rio


Screenshot from El Paso Times.


And also very Trumpy in its complete arbritrariness, since some people did indeed make it into the courtry and had a chance to tell their story to a judge, and you could never tell why some did and most didn't—it felt completely random to tha Haitians And let's pause to note how extremely bad the situation in Haiti was at that point, just a few months after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, with a nonfunctioning parliament and an unelected prime minister governing by decree and the

loss of government control over strategic areas to the hands of dangerous armed gangs, widely believed to be financed by politicians and to have police officers on their payroll. Violence has worsened an already severe humanitarian crisis.

Well, of course, here we are in the US of A, where the governor of Florida seems able to commandeer the assistance of federal officials in the Department of Homeland Security and facilities at Lackland Air Force Base in his project of kidnapping 50 people in Texas—people whose asylum applications are already under consideration and who are thus not just legally in the US but officially under federal protection—maybe we've got a bit of a Haiti-style problem of our own. 

Becuase, angry as I might have been with Biden on this issue, he did try to get rid of the Title 42 idiocy and the "Remain in Mexico" imposture, and was repeatedly stopped by federal courts whose judges seem themselves to have lost interest in the rule of law. It's only now, a year after Del Rio, that he seems to have acquired some ability to have the law obeyed, and we've learned recently that there are now a million new asylum seekers in the country awaiting hearings (which, under the current situation, will be some seven years from now for most of them, during which they won't even it's a hit-or-miss proposition whether they'll even be able to get temporary working papers [see Redhand in comments], even as employers all over the country complain about a desperate shortage of workers, which is contributing the the inflation they all care so passionately about... Faugh.

Friday, September 16, 2022

For the Record: Punk'D by Ron DeSantis

That George Wallace–era prank Texas governor Greg Abbot has been playing and Florida governor Ron DeSantis has attempted to emulate rreally isn't any funnier than it was in 1962

if you recognize how frightened and bewildered the people they're using must feel, but that obviously doesn't bother DeSantis

But it's re-raising a bunch of issues that haven't gotten the attention they really deserve; just summarizing:

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Pretty Nice Girl

One thing I really wish people would try to do in the discussion of the late Mrs. von Battenberg, as somebody was calling her, is leave the Empire out of it, as in the current explosion of love for it, from Mr. Stephen Miller

the British Empire has been such a benevolent force for good in the world, and its unraveling was a historic tragedy with empires like China, for example, filling that void. If you look all around the world today, what is the legacy of this empire? The rule of law, self-government, natural rights, property rights, an independent justice system? Basically, everything Joe Biden is trying to destroy right now is something that was wonderful the British Empire had. 

(it actually gave all its colonies in Asia and Africa versions of the Internal Security Act that enabled countless dictators from Singapore to Pakistan and Burma and Ghana to Grenada and Sri Lanka to erect dictatorships under cover of law, and its failure over a century to provide Hong Kong with self-government is the chief reason Hong Kong doesn't have it now, and it didn't have any interest in "natural rights", including whatever awful thing you may mean when you use the term, and it's clear you're only using the moment to make absurd false accusations against President Biden, even as horrible new evidence emerges about how Trump and Barr worked to bend US Attorneys to their desire to persecute their percieved enemies)

to his eminence Mr. Cleese

Monday, September 12, 2022

Shamelessness Is Their Superpower

In which the old Emperor shows more of a sense of shame than you'll ever see from Chris Christie, or Marquito Rubio, or the entire Roberts court.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

 A New Jersey Memory of 9/11 During Another American Crisis

Ignatian Solidarity Network blog post by Jack Raslowsky crediting David on the Lake 

Somehow, I cannot allow this sad 21st anniversary of 9/11 to pass unmentioned in this space, despite the pressing internally-created crisis of democracy in which our country now finds itself. The present pushes 9/11 into the background as if it were an incident from ancient history.  But, there is a common thread that I will discuss.

In part, I plagiarize this from a comment I made on this anniversary over at Mock Paper Scissors, in Tengrain's annual reposting of an iconic editorial, "The Falling Man," from a forgotten opinion writer, whose words shouldn't be lost.  

So, here I jump, with some amendments and additions:

I have the painful feeling that this fateful date is itself “falling into history” as we confront internal threats to our democracy even worse than the physical attacks on 9/11. It’s hard to focus on the past when we are engaged in a major fight now, one no less deadly than that on 9/11.

To me, 1/6 must join the pantheon of dates to remember in American history. It is as momentous as Apr 12, 1861, when Fort Sumter was shelled, Dec 7, 1941, and 9/11 itself. Memorial plaques should be placed where each person in the Capitol died, with contemporary photographs, so that tourists and visitors see that bloody recent history and what we are now fighting to preserve.

One thing cannot be doubted: the pernicious causal thread running through all of this is the GOP. It is that Party that deserves to die and that cannot be trusted to hold the reins of power again. However, the battlefield cannot be conflict with an armed mob. It must be a sound defeat at the ballot box to cut down another armed insurrection at its roots.

I don’t want anybody to think that I dismiss the significance of 9/11. My old office in North Jersey and my home there two decades ago were within sight of the smoke pyres from the WTC. I saw the smoke pillars with my own eyes for days afterward.

In February 2001 I went with my future Russian wife to a romantic dinner at the Windows on the World Restaurant in the North Tower.

By Scan of Windows on the World stationery, 
Fair use,

By User:Raphael.concorde, CC BY-SA 3.0, 
It was my way of telling her that I wanted us to be a couple from there on out–and we are. In recognition of that fact, I asked our waiter to take a picture of us together at the table. He did, as I’m sure he did for many other couples, and we still have it.  (I would post it but she remains ever shy about such things.  Just accept, please, that it's "a keeper.")
You cannot imagine how many times I have thought of that moment and the fact that the entire staff of the restaurant working on the morning of 9/11 died that day. As the Wiki article states: “All of the staff members who were present in the restaurant on the day of the attacks perished.”

I’ll never know if our waiter was one of them.

So, yeah, that place is gone, disappeared into thin air, and the toxic dust and death of that day, but not the memory of it. 9/11 is personal to me.

The misrule of the GOP over the last two decades, from the Bush '43 intelligence failure and negligence that facilitated 9/11; to the normalization of torture as a State sanctioned activity by Dick Cheney; the damage to the Senate and the Supreme Court's legitimacy through Moscow Mitch's perversion of the judicial nomination process; right through to the literally countless crimes of Trump and the "MAGA Republicans" (fascists), well, this anniversary and its memory reinforce my belief that this country is worth fighting for and its democratic form of government strengthened and reformed.

Yas has been quoting Lincoln a lot lately.  So I think it's safe for me to use some Lincoln quotes addressed to New Jerseyans of his time to reinforce the need for us to fight at the ballot box to preserve the best of what we have and to make it better still.

...I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.
--February 21, 1861 Address to the New Jersey Senate

The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am. None who would do more to preserve it. But it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly.
--February 21, 1861 Address at the New Jersey General Assembly

 It is necessary for us to put our feet down firmly now.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Joe Did What? Annals of Rhetoric

Charleston Mercury, February 16, 1861. Mr. Bret Stephens was not available to complain about how unkind and divisive Lincoln had been, so they had to do it themselves. Reminds me of Biden how they complain that Lincoln doesn't feed the press often enough and that he's an 'indecent old man".

The other day, I was comparing Biden's September 1 speech to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union, and the Four Freedoms peroration. Today, Mr. Bret Stephens, stealing a David Brooks lede ("With Malice Toward Quite a Few"), decides to up the ante:

Abraham Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address was a 3,600-word olive branch to a South on the eve of the Civil War. His second promised malice toward none after the war left 620,000 dead. Americans have long revered both speeches because they offered a measure of redemption, and a means of reconciliation, to those who deserved it least.

Joe Biden’s speech in Philadelphia last week bears no resemblance to either address, except that, in his own inaugural, he staked his presidency on ending “this uncivil war that pits red against blue.” So much for that. Like the predecessor he denounces, Biden has decided the best way to seek partisan advantage is to treat tens of millions of Americans as the enemy within.

(First sentence in the second paragraph is screaming for an editor: an expression in Biden's inaugural address is not a feature of last week's speech—at some point in composing the sentence he decided it was about all of Biden's speeches, but was too lazy to reread the first seven words.)

Noteworthy, as Erik Loomis says, that Stephens is now agreeing that the Republican Party is the Confederacy. I mean, why else would he be urging Biden to treat the former the way Lincoln treated the latter? 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Labor Day

Sunday, September 4, 2022

For the Record: The Turley Bonds of Earth


Minions. I

Drawing by Drew Sheneman, New Jersey Star-Ledger.

OK, let's start with attorney Michael Ellis, b.1984, Dartmouth and Yale Law (where he was president of the local Federalist Society), did a little stuff with the country-club type of Republicans (W and the Mittster) here and there on the way, and after his clerkship started working in Congress, first for Rep. Mike Rogers, then for Rep. Devin Nunes. 

So after the 2016 election he got a job with the new Trump administration—in fact, two jobs, it seems, one as deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council and the other as senior associate counsel to the president, where he played a central role in one of the more startling dramas of the early Trump administration, in March 2017, when Rep. Nunes went to the White House to warn the president about some evidence he'd found that some of his 2016 campaign staffers might have been subjected to problematic surveillance during the campaign, only then it turned out that Nunes had gotten the material he was delivering to the White House from the White House.

From that same Mike Ellis, to be precise, who got it from another young staffer, Ezra Cohen-Watnick (b.1986), a protégé of General Mike Flynn, under whom he had served at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration before Flynn got himself fired in 2014 and was now staying on at the National Security Council after Flynn got himself fired from that gig in February.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Joe Did What? Annals of Rhetoric


I guess this is Stephen Miller... 

("slowly but passionately" is classic Miller, with its literary sound unmatched by any actual meaning, and so is the grammatical bear trap of "as powerfully as mere words can get"—get powerfully what?—where the cliché according to which words are "mere" distracts the reader with wondering what other kind of object means things better than words do)

... but it's taking off all over MAGA Twitter, generally in a form like "that's all it means, and if you object to that you must be a communist," which begs the question of what "again" means, and what it's doing in the phrase, with its implication that America stopped being great at some point and the greatness needs to be restored, but that's really a kind of dumb argument in any case. I don't see how there can be some adequate empirical definition of national greatness that you could apply to measure how American moved in and out of greatness the way you can measure how it moves in and out of, say, economic recession, and I don't see the point of arguing about it if we can't even know what it means.

A more useful retort, I thought, might be to say that "woke" just means having one's eyes opened, and why are you so insistent on keeping them closed? Maybe there's a begged question there as well—opened to what?—but the answer to that is easy: opened to injustice. If you disagree with that, if you think we should all just sleep through injustice, then you're weird, in my opinion.