Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: Unrepentant

We begin today with Andrew Rice of New York magazine walking us through the Giuliani trial from jury selection to the jury award of $148 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss.

Shame is society’s most powerful enforcement mechanism against misconduct. But what does society do about people who have made shamelessness into a commercial and political brand, who thumb their noses at punishment and treat it as a form of promotion? This question was at the center of Rudy Giuliani’s defamation trial this week, which ended today with an astronomical $148 million damage verdict. But it has been similarly at issue in all of the many legal proceedings that have arisen from the ashes of Donald Trump’s scorched-earth assault on the 2020 election. These cases have made the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse on Constitution Avenue into a hub of political accountability. Like the rest of her colleagues, the judge in the Giuliani trial, Obama appointee Beryl Howell, has simultaneously been handling some of the January 6 criminal cases. She recently gave a speech warning of America’s authoritarian drift and called this a “time of testing.” At least for one week, in this one courthouse, it seemed as if the legal system was strong enough to pass the test. […]

Any lingering twinge of sympathy a New Yorker might feel for the Rudy of old — who, let’s be clear, was never that great of a mayor to begin with — ought to be tempered by the realization that he plans to appeal the verdict, and presumably has had plenty time of to set things up for himself with bankruptcy lawyers and other specialists in shielding assets. “He’s O.J.,” says media lawyer and podcaster Dan Novack, alluding to the fact that after losing a wrongful-death case brought by the parents of Ron Goldman, the accused murderer moved to debtor-friendly Florida and lived well for a while. (As of 2021, Simpson reportedly had paid just $133,000 of the $50 million judgment.) At any rate, it always seemed unlikely that the balance of sympathy would favor a former millionaire, former presidential candidate, and former Time Person of the Year over a pair of women who were living their lives quietly until he blew them to pieces.

“Mr. Giuliani thought that he could get away with making Ruby and Shaye the face of election fraud because they were ordinary and expendable,” Gottlieb said in his closing. “He has no right to offer defenseless civil servants up to a virtual mob.” In addition to reputational damages, he urged the jury to add additional penalties for the emotional distress caused by Giuliani, Trump, and others involved in the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The women had testified, with moving credibility, that they still lived in fear of being killed. “It’s dangerous for them to be Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss because of the actions of Mr. Giuliani and his co-conspirators,” Gottlieb said.

Giuliani says that he has no regrets for his actions.

Isaac Arnsdorf of The Washington Post reports on Number 45’s speech in Durham, New Hampshire where he…well, was Number 45.

Trump quoted Putin, the dictatorial Russia president who invaded neighboring Ukraine, criticizing the criminal charges against Trump, who is accused in four separate cases of falsifying business records in a hush money scheme, mishandling classified documents, and trying to overturn the 2020 election results. In the quotation, Putin agreed with Trump’s own attempts to portray the prosecutions as politically motivated. […]

He went on to align himself with Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has amassed functionally autocratic power through controlling the media and changing the country’s constitution. Orban has presented his leadership as a model of an “illiberal” state and has opposed immigration for leading to “mixed race” Europeans. Democratic world leaders have sought to isolate Orban for eroding civil liberties and bolstering ties with Putin.

But Trump called him “highly respected” and welcomed his praise as “the man who can save the Western world.”

In the speech, Trump also repeated his own inflammatory language against undocumented immigrants, by accusing them of “poisoning the blood of our country” — a phrase that immigrant groups and civil rights advocates have condemned as reminiscent as Hitler in his book “Mein Kampf,” in which he told Germans to “care for the purity of their own blood” by eliminating Jews.

Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times points out that defeating Number 45 is only “the beginning of the beginning” of fighting back against political despair.

It does not help that many of our political institutions seem almost to be designed to exacerbate a feeling of hopelessness. The American political system, as I’ve written many times before, is riddled with veto points and counter-majoritarian rules that can stymie even the largest legislative majorities. One of the key institutions of American government, the Supreme Court, is not only empowered to strike down congressional legislation but also can, if the circumstances are right, limit or even eliminate the constitutional protection of cherished rights. And that’s when it’s not deciding the outcome of presidential elections.

But this isn’t just a problem of the Republican Party, our political institutions or the broader sense in which the entire system just isn’t responsive to the way ordinary people see things. It is also a problem of the lack of countervailing forces to political despair in present-day American society.

Democracy, remember, is not just a set of rules and institutions. It is, as the philosopher John Dewey argued throughout his life, a set of habits and dispositions that must be cultivated and practiced if they are to survive and endure. “The struggle for democracy,” Dewey observed in his 1939 book “Freedom and Culture,” “has to be maintained on as many fronts as culture has aspects: political, economic, international, educational, scientific and artistic, religious.”

Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet of In These Times write about the danger of leftists that turn to the political right and those that follow them.

There are the intellectuals-in-exile, the scholars whose once contained complaints about free speech or diversity initiatives metastasized into a broad contrarianism that found new patrons. There are the not-so-funny-anymore, the comedians once known for their left politics — Chappelle and Roseanne and Russell Brand — pulled rightward by ​jokes” about trans people, pandemic panics and pedophiles. There’s the ​new New Right’s” very own Kennedy — Robert F., Jr., of the bulging biceps. RFK Jr. may seem, with his campaign pushups, little more than a joke to young leftists, but his history as a champion of intersectional environmentalism is long: as a leader of activist organizations, a lawyer for poor communities of color and a host for the defunct progressive radio network Air America. But in recent years, he’s been having second thoughts: We all know about Bobby and the vaxx, but did you know he’s recently ​learned” we must seal the Southern border to protect our food supply from a ​tsunami” of ​defecating” migrants, shitting on our greens?

These left-to-right sliders (or at least left-ish-to-right) — themselves migrants across the political divide — find themselves in strange constellation with those they might once have disdained. Pop feminist icon Naomi Wolf now conferences with hard-right student organizer Charlie Kirk over the prospect of ​capital punishment” for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. YouTuber Jimmy Dore, another once-left comedian who lost hold of the joke, now marvels over his meeting of the minds with Tucker Carlson: ​We should do a show together!” Call it The Horseshoe Hour. […]

It’s easy to dismiss many of these high-profile defectors as crackpots or spotlight-seekers, as never truly serious in their political principles or as plain grifters. Because of course there is money to be made by saying, ​Once I was blind, but now I see.” It permits the Steve Bannons of the world to affirm their political faith not as an argument, but just the truth. But, in some ways, the peculiarities of the celebrity drifters are beside the point.

The point is who they bring along.

I would argue that Christopher Hitchens should not have been included in the broad category of leftists who turned to the political right. Hitchens, for example, supported military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo (and caught some flack on The Left for it) before he supported military intervention in Iraq.

Hitchens did not feel the need to adhere to anyone’s sense of ideological orthodoxy. He remained a man of the left, however, as opposed to someone like playwright David Mamet.  (h/t Jay Rosen)

A 6-reporter team writes for Der Spiegel about attack threats that Hamas may be planning for Germany and, perhaps, all of Europe.

For Hamas members, Germany had generally been viewed as a safe haven and as a country where it could collect funds for acts of terror against Israel. But plans to attack here? There was nothing to suggest such a thing in recent years.

But now, it appears that Germany was possibly to become a theater of operations – a base from which to attack Jews in the middle of Europe. […]

Reporting by Der Spiegel has determined that there is a full network of Hamas-supporting organizations in Germany. Elements can be found not only in Berlin, but also in smaller towns and rural regions like the Sauerland, Emsland and Brandenburg. The sympathizer scene applauds terrorists, incites against Jews and posts maps on social networks in which Israel does not exist. And they raise funds. Since October 7, the authorities have been particularly alarmed, and not just because of the many pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

According to the classified Hamas ban order issued by the German Interior Ministry, Hamas-affiliated organizations are exerting “coordinated and systematic” influence on supporters in Europe. “There is a particular focus on Germany due to its large Palestinian diaspora.” The order states that attempts are being made to deliberately conceal proximity and affiliation to Hamas, but at the same time there are close personal ties.

I wonder if Hamas has formed loose and convenient alliances with German Neo-Nazi groups.

Eyal Lurie-Padres of +972 Magazine describes how the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas has affected the embattled Israeli Supreme Court.

Since last year’s Israeli election, the Supreme Court has been the subject of a fierce battle between an emboldened far-right government that seeks to strip it of its powers, and a mass protest movement that has sought to defend it and uphold its role as a protector of human and civil rights. Over the past two months, however, the Court has appeared totally subservient to the government, the war cabinet, and the police, repeatedly refusing to block severe violations of citizens’ rights. In fact, several rulings from recent weeks exhibit how the national trauma of October 7 has influenced justices’ judicial decision making.

Many cases before the Court are centered on a “balancing formula”: whether a government action, even if in some way justified for a “compelling reason,” disproportionately violates the protected constitutional right at stake. But beyond merely describing the national security reasoning presented by the government, the Court’s recent rulings have included biblically inspired depictions of the atrocities of October 7 to justify, in some part, giving more weight to national security considerations over protecting civil rights. […]

By keeping the threat of the judicial overhaul alive, the government is restricting the Supreme Court’s latitude in protecting people’s rights. At a time of war, when judicial intervention is more necessary than ever to prevent the government’s campaign against civil rights, the Israeli Supreme Court seems incapable of piercing through the veil of national trauma. Unfortunately, in retrospect, the Court will likely be seen as yet another constitutional court that failed to defend fundamental rights in times of war.

Finally today, Juan Diego Quesada of El País in English writes that Venezuela and Guyana have agreed not to go to war and to meet in Brazil in a few months.

In the 11-point joint declaration, Guyana expresses its full confidence in the proceedings of the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is handling the border dispute. Venezuela, on the other hand, does not recognize its jurisdiction in this matter. Both governments have committed preventing an escalation of the conflict and avoiding incidents on the border that could be considered an attack. Should such a incident occur, the parties who sat at the table Thursday will mediate. A joint commission of foreign ministers and technicians has been appointed to together on a solution. In three months, the parties are scheduled to meet again in Brazil.

Maduro, however, appeared in little mood to give ground. “We arrived in St. Vicent and the Grenadines with the mandate of the people of Venezuela to advance through dialogue and the word of peace, defending the rights of the people and our homeland. We are seeking effective, satisfactory, and practical solutions as mandated by the Geneva Agreement,” he said on social media. The ICJ did not prohibit the referendum on Essequibo organized by Maduro three weeks ago — hence Maduro referring to “the mandate of the people” — but it warned him not to change the status quo of the border. China, the United States, and Brazil have also called on Maduro not to make any rash decisions.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!


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