Tuesday, December 26, 2023



As Tom Scocca was not the only one to point out, there was an actual Rubicon-crossing episode when Trump sent his irregular army of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

When Julius Caesar took a single legion, the 13th, across the river Rubicon, crossing the border just north of Rimini between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper, in 49 B.C.E. (a capital offense in Roman law, by the way—nobody but an elected official, consul or praetor, was allowed to command troops, i.e. to serve as an imperator, in Roman territory, and Caesar was neither; among the first things he did when he got to Rome was to have himself named dictator for the next six months by the Senate, and set himself up to be elected consul by the People as well), he launched the five-year civil war that ended with his unprecedented naming as dictator for life, and his assassination a few weeks later. It also ended, of course, with the end of the Roman Republic, which was to be transformed into an Imperium, a military autocracy, by his nephew Octavian over the coming years.

Jon Swift Roundup

Happy Boxing Day!

It's time for the annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of the year's best blogposts as chosen by the bloggers and curated by Batocchio at his blog Vagabond Scholar. Don't miss it! 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Post


New Substack post.

Democratic Militancy


NSDAP meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller, Munich, 1923. Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann, via Wikimedia Commons.

In October 1923, as everybody knows, a conspiracy of members of the National Socialist German Workers Party, its SA paramilitary force, and some rightwing army officers marched on the Munich headquarters of the German VII Military District (covering the state of Bavaria), with the plan of taking over the city militarily and using it as the base for a march on the national capital of Berlin, in emulation of Benito Mussolini's March on Rome of exactly a year earlier, in the hope of replacing Germany's five-year-old attempt at democracy with a Mussolini-style autocracy. The ensuing battle with the police and a group of loyalist soldiers did not work out very well for the Nazis, who lost 15 dead, but not so badly for their leader, 34-year-old Adolf Hitler, who earned a five-year sentence of Festunghaft, a particularly mild form of imprisonment, later reduced for good behavior to eight months (the same as the time Dinesh D'Souza did!), all the time he, Emil Maurice, and Karl Hess needed to draft Mein Kampf, published in 1925-26.

One other upshot of the incident for Hitler was his determination that next time, if there was a next time, he'd do it entirely by the book, as he told a courtroom in 1930: "The National Socialist Movement will seek to attain its aim in this state by constitutional means. The constitution shows us only the methods, not the goal. In this constitutional way, we will try to gain decisive majorities in the legislative bodies in order, in the moment this is successful, to pour the state into the mould that matches our ideas." (Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1998) "Now we are strictly legal!" exclaimed Goebbels.

I used to think it was funny how Trump followed this procedure backwards, starting his political career by getting elected to the presidency more or less legitimately, and ending it with an illegal adventure even more ill-planned, shambolic, and doomed than the Beer Hall Putsch.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Vivisecting Section 3

I'm still kind of dubious about the magical qualities of the 14th Amendment Section 3, as I was back in September, but I should add that I'm a lot more impressed than I was expecting to be by the case Colorado's Supreme Court makes for reversing the original district court ruling, which had concluded that Donald Trump did indeed "engage in" an "insurrection" against the United States, but 14/3 didn't apply to him, because as president he was not an "officer under the United States", as the Amendment specifies:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

The president isn't an officer? Even though he holds the Office of the presidency and swears to execute the Office faithfully when he is inaugurated and can be removed from Office if he's impeached and convicted? Not to get all originalist on you, but that's what "officer" meant in the 18th century, what we more often call an official, somebody who holds an office in an organization, and of course the president of the United States is one. Imagine a law that removes all the other officers, in Congress or the judiciary or the civil service, it they've taken part in a rebellion against the government, but doesn't disqualify the big cheese? That won't let Lieutenant Henry Numbnuts of the former Confederate Army serve as a section head in a customs office, but it's OK for Jefferson Davis to be president? No.

And so the Colorado Supreme Court reversed that, unsurprisingly, but there was no reason to mess with the main part of the decision, which was very solid, and it's intact in the new ruling. Unless you were working on such a tight deadline that you didn't have time to read it, as apparently happened to Jonathan Chait:

Monday, December 18, 2023

Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself. Maybe It Should Try Doing It.

Habima Square, Tel Aviv, November 11. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90 via Times of Israel.

Maybe this latest outrage, the IDF killing of three escaping Israeli hostages—they'd improvised a white flag and had their shirts off, I figure in the hope that would show they weren't suicide terrorists rushing the troops, and yet the troops fired—will really start making the Israeli public rethink what's being done in their names. "Israel has a right to defend itself," as the Hasbara always reminds us, but is that what it's doing? 

Then there's the other body count, of hostages killed with their captors under the collapsed buildings in the bombing raids, for which the latest number released by Hamas is 57 (of whom IDF has acknowledged 18, without, I think, releasing the names, if they have them). Israel is killing Hamas's prisoners!

And it's not obliterating Hamas, though some of those killed doubtless belonged to the organization—maybe as many as 40%, though that's only estimated by assuming that every male between the ages of 18 and 59 in the territory is a combatant, even though only a third of adults in Gaza expressed any support for Hamas in the October 6 survey.

New polling shows a hugely changed picture, though:

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Where's the Victim?


I'm feeling a nagging dissatisfaction with the conduct of the New York lawsuit against Trump, his older sons, and the family business over the flagrant fraudulence of their financial "disclosures", which report wildly exaggerated values for their assets as a way of getting banks and insurance companies to get them better rates than they could otherwise get.

It's not anything wrong with the case, or any likelihood that New York will lose the case, I'm feeling very cheerful about that, but the way Trump and his attorneys seem to be playing the publicity war: 

In defiant and rambling testimony on [November 7], Trump acknowledged that his asset valuations were sometimes inaccurate but said they were not relevant to banks and insurers.

Trump's lawyer Christopher Kise built on that argument on Thursday, saying banks that did business with the Trump Organization profited from the loans.

"There's no victim. There's no complainant. There's no injury. All of that is established now,” Kise said. (Reuters)

And all the New York lawyers can say is response is that they don't have to prove there was a victim. Or the statutes were the victims ("I would just basically point out," Judge Engoron said, "that the mere fact that the lenders were happy doesn't mean that the statute wasn't violated. It doesn't mean other statutes weren't violated.") "Help, I'm being violated!" cried § 175.10. Which is no doubt true from the legal standpoint, but it's just an awful look. No harm, no foul, right? If the banks are happy with it, where's the harm?

Can't we please come up with a better argument than that?

Monday, December 11, 2023

Executive Karma

 For no reason other than maybe my clumsy old fingers, comments from non-paying readers were disallowed on this Substack post. So I've fixed that.

The Soros of Comedy


Photo via Yiddish Book Center.

On a hunch, I asked Dr. Google to find out for me if National Review had published a memorial tribute to the late Norman Lear. No, apparently, the closest they came was this, by their then TV critic Kyle Smith (he moved on to Wall Street Journal last year), from 2019, when the great producer was a still-lively 97, reviewing an ABC experimental restaging of a couple of old episodes, one from All in the Family and one from The Jeffersons:

Edith is a simpleton, Archie is a bigot, and Mike and Gloria are mouthpieces for grindingly dull liberals like the show’s creator, Norman Lear. Occasionally the show would allow Archie to score a point, which was the only time things were a bit surprising, hence a bit funny. Far from being “brave,” All in the Family was mostly content to tread water, returning to the same tropes week after week.

Interestingly, Smith liked, or claimed to like, The Jeffersons better, but not mentioning Lear had a role in that one too:

Thursday, December 7, 2023

The Road to Dictatorship


That thing about "Speaker" Mike Johnson proposing to release more video from the January 6 insurrection, but only with some of the faces of the rioters blurred out "because we don't want them to be retaliated against and we don't want them to be charged by the DOJ," is that that completely obviates the purpose Republicans claimed to have for releasing them, which was supposed to be for "transparency".

Actually, let's just come out and say it, the official reason for demanding the public release of the videos was the purported evidence they would probably have of who the "real" villains of January 6 were—not the 688 simple folks who have been convicted of crimes committed in the affair, 587 of them pleading guilty, but the masterminds of "antifa" and/or the FBI who secretly organized the thing. Which, of course, never happened, so there wouldn't be any evidence on the videos that it did. The object of Gaetz and Biggs and Gohmert and Greene and all those Republicans demanding the release of the videos was not, in fact, to get them released (against the advice of Capitol security, which feared making them generally available would reveal too much about the arrangements in the building, such as the locations of security cameras), but to nourish the paranoid belief that the 688 criminal convicts (or however many there are now) had been entrapped by the Deep State/Communist/Fascist conspiracy, by making it look as if the Capitol authorities were holding stuff back.

Friday, December 1, 2023



State of the Union, February 2023. Photo by Getty Images.

So they managed to expel George Santos. For the handicappers, the special election to fill out his term will be held sometime in February, with the candidates chosen by party leaderships; the main contenders on the Democratic side will be furious centrist Tom Suozzi (seeking to recapture the seat he abandoned last year in a stupid furious-centrist run for the New York governorship, which is what got Santos elected in the first place) and Anna Kaplan, an Iranian-Jewish refugee who's served as a "social-liberal" state senator (after losing to Suozzi in the 2016 primary for the House seat). I imagine either Democrat has a pretty good chance of winning; the district has a lot of Republicans, but not so many doctrinaire ones, and they're really angry at the Republican party for the embarrassment of Santos.

The one point I really want to make about the expulsion itself, because I don't thing anybody else is making it, is addressed to Santos's (and Speaker Mike Johnson's) assertion that expelling a Congressman who has merely been charged, not convicted, with the seven counts he was indicted for last May and the 23 more in the superseding indictment in October, is an unprecedented and therefore bad and dangerous thing to do. That's not exactly correct.