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The Emperor Caligula

He Sullies and Degrades Everything He Touches

I’ve always liked Robert Graves’s historical fiction, even though Graves himself thought the books were popular claptrap. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Anyway, I’ve been remembering the part of the story involving the mad emperor Caligula from I, Claudius, as narrated by his clever uncle, who was later to be the emperor Claudius. By Caligula’s reign the old Roman nobility had already been degraded, but Caligula (at least the fictionalized Caligula) shamed and humiliated them all. He made them worship him as a god. He would prostitute Roman matrons to common men. He forced the Senate to admit his horse, Incitatus, as a Senator. And he married off his old uncle, the crippled, stammering Claudius, to a beautiful maiden, Messalina, for his own amusement. Everyone knew he was crazy, but he had some popular support and no one was brave enough to call him out. Finally, the honorable Cassius killed him, showing that the emperor had no clothes. But along the way Caligula sullied what was left of the Roman elite.

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Worse than Berlusconi

Many countries separate the offices of head of government and head of state. In the UK, you have the Prime Minister and then you have the Queen. In Germany you have the Chancellor and then you have the President. Even in France, with a strong presidential system of government, you have a Prime Minister and a President. The head of state is the representative of the state on the world stage and in some sense the embodiment of the nation. He or she has important ceremonial duties in addition to whatever role he or she has in actual governance, which can range from no essentially no role in a state like Japan to the most important role in a state like France.

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{Insert Name Here} Must Resign

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, did what Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Director of the NSA Adm. Michael S. Rogers did when they testified a few days ago: he refused to answer the Committee’s questions about his discussions with President Trump, and he expressly refused to assert executive privilege. He claimed there was a Department of Justice policy that required him to protect the confidentiality of those discussions, but apparently it’s not written down, and if you take a look at the clip beginning at about 1:41:45 in this hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and watch for a minute, you’ll see what then-Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, in the minority, thought about asking the Attorney General about conversations with the President.

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Director Coats and Director Rogers Must Resign

I have already called for President Trump to resign. The reason: his admission that he fired James Comey, the former FBI director, in order to derail the Russia investigation.

Yesterday, in a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the witnesses were Adm. Michael S. Rogers, Director of the NSA, and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats. Senators of both parties asked both witnesses whether the President asked them to influence the FBI’s Russian investigation. Both witnesses refused to answer. It was also clear that there was no claim of executive privilege, and indeed, as Directer Coats said expressly, no legal basis for the refusal to answer.

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Editorial: President Trump Must Resign

I have been highly critical of President Trump, as you know. I think he is unfit for office. But I have also been hoping and rooting for his success, hoping against the evidence that he might grow into the role. He’s the President. His success is our success. Today, though, I’m throwing in the towel. President Trump must resign.

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It’s Not Just Trump

This is not a post about President Trump’s shortcomings. It’s tangentially a post about a problem with American society that is apparent these days on the right, and perhaps particularly among Mr. Trump’s voters. That problem is loss of belief in the idea of knowledge and expertise. Here is a recent quote from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, which supported Pres. Trump during the campaign:

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Non-expert Thoughts On The Syria Attack

The consensus view on the legality of the American attack on Syria among experts seems clear: the attacks, most experts have said, was illegal under international law. The basic reason is this. Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter provides: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” The consensus view is that the only uses of force that are consistent with Article 2(4) are those mentioned in the Charter: uses of force authorized by the Security Council, and use of force in self-defense. There was no Security Council authorization here, and the United States cannot make a very plausible claim that it acted in self-defense. So the use of force was contrary to the Charter and thus illegal. Q.E.D. Marko Milanovic’s post is maybe representative:

This is the first time that the US has directly used force against the Syrian regime. It is also the first time that its use of force in Syria is clearly illegal. Clearly, in the sense that I can’t imagine even a remotely plausible argument (let alone a persuasive one) as to why this act is not a breach of Article 2(4) of the Charter.


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Case of the Day: Washington v. Trump

Statue of the Authority of the Law
Credit: Ferrylodge

Here’s a quick take on the Ninth Circuit’s per curiam decision in Washington v. Trump, the government’s motion for a stay of the temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of Executive Order 13769, the ban on the entry into the United States of Syrian refugees and all nationals of several majority-Muslim countries. As you probably have read by now, the court denied the motion, which means the TRO stays in place pending the government’s appeal.

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A Day of Shame and a Day of Pride

Friday was a day for Americans to be ashamed of our government. We’re a nation of immigrants and a nation of refugees. Except for the Native Americans, all of us came here from somewhere else and many of us came here to escape war and religious persecution. And we say we’re a moral people and a religious people. The Pilgrims’ journey from Europe to the New World; African Americans’ journey from slavery to emancipation to civil rights; the Jews’ and other religious minorities’ escape from Europe to America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—our story is the story of the Exodus and the Promised Land. It’s hard to write about this without lapsing into cliche, but what can we do except remind President Trump and his Republican enablers:

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