The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

And now for some actual lawyering, ICJ edition

Julia Ioffe interviews David Scheffer, a lawyer and professor who served as Bill Clinton's ambassador-at-large for war crimes, to provide some clarity around South Africa's suit against Israel in the International Court of Justice:

South Africa is alleging the entire corpus of the Genocide Convention and its application, namely that Israel has failed to prevent genocide against Gaza and that it is committing genocide against Gaza. It is a very fulsome application. South Africa is not asking the I.C.J. to make a finding of a failure to prevent, or a commission of, genocide. They are asking the I.C.J. to direct Israel through what are called provisional measures to do what is necessary to prevent and not commit genocide in Gaza, to take those measures while the I.C.J., over a much longer period of time, considers the merits of South Africa’s allegations. For a commission of genocide, one needs to establish that both the genocidal act has occurred and that it has occurred with the specific intent to destroy all or part of a national, racial, religious, or ethnic group. The dolus specialis, we call it—the specific intent to do that. That’s why, particularly on a merits stage, it takes time to put those two together: the genocidal acts, and the mens rea of the specific intent.

The application disgorges an enormous amount of publicly available information about what has happened in Gaza. We all know that it’s a humanitarian catastrophe of some dimension in Gaza right now. I don’t want to diminish the importance of that. But nowhere in South Africa’s application is there any recognition that there is a war taking place. This is not a genocide like Rwanda or of the Rohingya or the Yazidis in recent times, where these were just authoritarian regimes that went after populations that were not attacking them.

But this is a war. There is an act of self-defense by Israel. Now, that does not mean that Israel has clean hands on absolutely everything it’s done, absolutely not.

I think genocide is a very powerful word. You get everyone’s attention. South Africa could just as easily say, “We clearly think atrocity crimes are occurring now in Gaza. We’re not prepared yet to say whether it’s genocide or not.” But they did make a determination: They want to call it genocide. And they’re free to do so. I don’t blame them. 

But in the court of law as well as in the court of public opinion, I think it’s very important that we not embrace that word in this particular conflict until there’s a better understanding of what is occurring in terms of warfare and of the humanitarian plight of the Palestinian people. 

At the same time, as I have pointed out, Hamas could stop it all tomorrow by surrendering. Hamas has the power to prevent genocide. It has had the power to prevent genocide even after it, itself, probably committed genocide on October 7th. It had the power, after October 7th, to subject none of the Palestinian population to what South Africa describes as genocide. Hamas had the power and it did not use that power. Hamas has no right to fight on. It has no right of self-defense. And furthermore, by virtue of the fact that it continues to fight, it brings an enormous amount of suffering and destruction upon the Palestinian people, all of which it could stop by simply surrendering.

The last paragraph I quoted is particularly important. For all the online outrage I see about Israel's military campaign against Hamas, I don't see many Palestine supporters recognizing that Hamas started this, and Hamas can end it.

Because really, October 7th and what happened afterwards comes down to Hamas wanting to destroy Israel. People seem to forget that.

Netanyahu has to go, soon, along with all the right-wing crazies propping up his government. But so does Hamas.

Annals of brilliant lawyering

When you don't pay your attorneys, and then you don't pay the attorneys you had to hire because the first set of attorneys sued you for payment, you start to look like an absolute ganif to the legal community. Maybe that's why the XPOTUS could only find the kind of attorney who would advance a legal theory that surprised just about everyone in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday:

In a hearing before the D.C. Circuit Court, the former president’s lawyers argued that he should be immune from criminal prosecution for his role in the attempt to steal the 2020 presidential election. This argument has an obvious flaw: It implies that the president is above the law. Such a blunt rejection of the Constitution and the basic concept of American democracy is too much even for Trump to assert—publicly, at least—so his lawyers have proposed a theory. They say that he can’t be criminally prosecuted unless he is first impeached and convicted by Congress.

This argument is no less dangerous, as a hypothetical asked in court demonstrated in chilling terms. Judge Florence Pan asked Trump’s attorney, D. John Sauer, if “a president who ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival” could be criminally prosecuted. Sauer tried to hem and haw his way through an answer but ultimately stated that such a president couldn’t be prosecuted unless he was first impeached, convicted, and removed by Congress.

In effect, Trump has realized that, just as none of his voters would desert him over murdering a man on Fifth Avenue, nothing he could do would be so bad that congressional Republicans would abandon him. He doesn’t need a majority, either. Under the argument his lawyers made in court today, all Trump needs is 34 Republicans who will vote not to convict, and that’s sufficient to guarantee he can act with impunity.

Yes, but what about that little logical flaw, the one that Judge Florence Pan saw immediately? Doesn't the argument admit something at odds with the XPOTUS's claim of absolute immunity? Well, yes, actually:

[Pan] pointed out that this would mean presidents can be criminally prosecuted under certain circumstances. In other words, Trump does not have absolute immunity.

“Doesn’t that narrow the issues before us to…‘can a president be prosecuted without first being impeached and convicted?’” Pan said. “All of your other arguments seem to fall away.”

“Once you concede that there’s not this absolute immunity, that the judiciary can hear criminal prosecutions under any circumstances—you’re saying there’s one specific circumstance—then that means that there isn’t this absolute immunity that you claim.”

Pan also noted that Trump appeared to be trying to have it both ways. During his second impeachment trial, Trump and some of his Republican allies argued that the Senate shouldn’t convict him because he would face criminal prosecution later. But now, he claims he shouldn’t have to face prosecution, either.

I guess you don't have to represent yourself in court to have a fool for a lawyer. (He was going to do that, too, before the judge told him he'd go to jail for contempt if he speechified.) Then again, John Sauer has a fool for a client, so...

Gross weather day

Looking out my 30th-floor office window this afternoon doesn't cheer me. It's gray and snowy, but too warm for accumulation, so it just felt like rain when I sprinted across the street to get my burrito bowl for lunch.

I do have a boring deployment coming up in about an hour, requiring only that I show the business what we've built and then click "Run pipeline" twice. As a reward for getting ahead on development, I have time to read some of these absolutely horrifying news stories:

Finally, Cranky Flier examines American Airlines' European operations and singles out its heavy dependence on Heathrow as a key reason why its fares trans-Atlantic are lower than other US carriers. Since I am using one of those really low fares to visit Germany next month, I'm OK with American keeping their fares low.

Yet another infantile billionaire

Billionaire Bill Ackerman lobbied Harvard's board hard to get president Claudine Gay fired last month, harping on her plagiarism as a key reason she wasn't fit for the job. Business Insider then published two stories alleging what looks like even worse plagiarism by Neri Oxman—Ackerman's wife. So Ackerman did what any self-deceiving, childish, hypocritical billionaire would do: he leaned on the paper's publisher. Because of course he did:

At one point, Ackman wrote that a Harvard student who committed “much less” plagiarism than Claudine Gay would be forced out of the university. Gay resigned from the presidency last week.

But when Business Insider raised plagiarism concerns about his wife’s work, Ackman excoriated the publication, accusing it of unethical journalism, promising to review its writers’ work and predicting that it would “go bankrupt and be liquidated.” In one social media post, he implied that Business Insider’s investigations editor (whom he called “a known anti-Zionist”) may have been “willing to lead this attack” because Oxman is Israeli.

Neither Ackman nor Oxman, whose companies didn’t respond to requests for comment, have pointed to any factual errors in the articles.

Still, Ackman’s complaints seemed to get the attention of Axel Springer, the German media giant that owns Business Insider. On Sunday, the company released an unusual statement saying it would “review the processes” that led up to the articles’ publication, while acknowledging that the stories were not factually wrong.

While Ackman hasn’t raised factual issues with the articles, he has claimed that the outlet didn’t give him and his wife enough time to comment on the second story, about Wikipedia plagiarism, with a space of roughly two hours on late Friday afternoon between when his spokesman was asked for comment and when the story was published. But Ackman first went public with the Wikipedia allegations roughly an hour before the story was published by posting on social media about the impending article, which may have affected Business Insider’s publication schedule.

Cryptocurrency researcher (the good kind) and Wikipedia mega-editor Molly White the Tweet in question apart line by line:

What is it with these guys? I have to wonder if kvetching about how unfairly the world treats you is a prerequisite for amassing a huge fortune. They do tend to project a lot, don't they, these billionaires?

Part of me finds this sort of thing hilarious, another part finds it sad, and yet I have to remember that these whiny babies have a lot of money and the power that goes with it. Not being able to take criticism, especially when one is a public figure and one continually inserts oneself into public discourse, seems like weakness to me. Maybe that's why they get so agitated: deep down, they know the truth backing up their critics.

I hope we're well shot of him

Facing a criminal trial for corruption that he will probably lose, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre resigned earlier today:

Mr. LaPierre, 74, has led the organization for more than three decades. But his resignation came as he faced his gravest challenge yet, a corruption trial in Manhattan amid a legal showdown with New York’s attorney general, Letitia James. Jury selection has already begun and opening arguments were scheduled for early next week.

The announcement took place during a board meeting in Irving, Texas. The N.R.A. said Mr. LaPierre had “cited health reasons” as being behind his decision.

The development will change the shape of the Manhattan trial, since Ms. James was seeking to oust Mr. LaPierre from his position. She is also seeking financial penalties from Mr. LaPierre and three other defendants.

Mr. LaPierre played a leading role in transforming gun culture in America, but the last half decade of his tenure at the N.R.A. was marred by scandals and internal upheaval.

"Transforming gun culture" is a polite way of saying that LaPierre advocates giving every first-grader an Uzi. Instead of just leading a trade organization of firearms manufacturers, he claimed that the NRA was on a holy quest to interpret the US Constitution's second amendment—but only its second clause, not the first—instead of trying to enrich his member corporations.

That LaPierre succeeded in both is easy to see in both US gun-murder statistics during his tenure (almost doubled since 1999) and manufacturer sales (more than doubled since 1999). PBS has some helpful charts (from 2022) explaining how we made so many gun manufacturers rich at the cost of a few dozen hundred thousand children.

LaPierre is evil. I hope a jury sees at least enough of that to convict him of stealing from the NRA. But we can all imagine a more poetic end to the person who has done so much to hurt so many.

Party like it's 1948

It was a busy day, so I didn't have a lot of time to write a substantial post. I did want to highlight Nate Cohn's comparison of President Biden's situation going into the 2024 election and another guy who did a pretty good job in his first term:

Harry Truman was the only president besides Joe Biden to oversee an economy with inflation over 7 percent while unemployment stayed under 4 percent and G.D.P. growth kept climbing. Voters weren’t overjoyed then, either. Instead, they saw Mr. Truman as incompetent, feared another depression and doubted their economic future, even though they were at the dawn of postwar economic prosperity.

The source of postwar inflation was fundamentally similar to post-pandemic inflation. The end of wartime rationing unleashed years of pent-up consumer demand in an economy that hadn’t fully transitioned back to producing butter instead of guns. A year after the war, wartime price controls ended and inflation skyrocketed. A great housing crisis gripped the nation’s cities as millions of troops returned from overseas after 15 years of limited housing construction. Labor unrest roiled the nation and exacerbated production shortages. The most severe inflation of the last 100 years wasn’t in the 1970s, but in 1947, reaching around 20 percent.

n the end, Mr. Truman won in perhaps the most celebrated comeback in American electoral history, including the iconic “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline and photograph. He had barnstormed the country with an economically populist campaign that argued Democrats were on the side of working people while reminding voters of the Great Depression. You might well remember from your U.S. history classes that he blamed the famous “Do Nothing Congress” for not enacting his agenda.

I'm glad Cohn got there with data, because I'd already gotten there with inference. This will be a long 11 months, but I think we might just pull this one out.

The real cause of the Civil War

Paul Krugman succinctly puts to bed any obfuscation of Southern aggression:

But it may be worth delving a bit deeper into the background here. Why did slavery exist in the first place? Why was it confined to only part of the United States? And why were slaveholders willing to start a war to defend the institution, even though abolitionism was still a fairly small movement and they faced no imminent risk of losing their chattels?

Let me start with an assertion that may be controversial: The American system of chattel slavery wasn’t motivated primarily by racism, but by greed. Slaveholders were racists, and they used racism both to justify their behavior and to make the enslavement of millions more sustainable, but it was the money and the inhumane greed that drove the racist system.

Labor was scarce in pre-Civil War America, so free workers earned high wages by European standards.

Landowners, of course, didn’t want to pay high wages. In the early days of colonial settlement, many Europeans came as indentured servants — in effect, temporary serfs. But landowners quickly turned to African slaves, who offered two advantages to their exploiters: Because they looked different from white settlers, they found it hard to escape, and they received less sympathy from poor whites who might otherwise have realized that they had many interests in common. Of course, white southerners also saw slaves as property, not people, and so the value of slaves factored into the balance sheet of this greed-driven system.

Anyone who believes or pretends to believe that the Civil War was about states’ rights should read Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs, which point out that the truth was almost the opposite. In his conclusion, Grant noted that maintaining slavery was difficult when much of the nation consisted of free states, so the slave states in effect demanded control over free-state policies. “Northern marshals became slave-catchers, and Northern courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution,” he wrote.

And the war happened because the increasingly empowered people of the North, as Grant wrote, “were not willing to play the role of police for the South” in protecting slavery.

So yes, the Civil War was about slavery — an institution that existed solely to enrich some men by depriving others of their freedom. And there’s no excuse for anyone who pretends that there was anything noble or even defensible about the South’s cause: The Civil War was fought to defend an utterly vile institution.

Historians have known this for 160 years, but the Southern landowning class has successfully confused the issue for generations, as far as most people understand it. It's always money. Just like the Republican Party's craziness today.

Any news? No, not one single new

Wouldn't that be nice? Alas, people keep making them:

Speaking of excoriation, David Mamet has a new memoir about his 40 years in the LA film industry, Everywhere an Oink Oink. (Expect to find that on next year's media roundup.) And I still have to read Linda Obst's Hello, He Lied, which I keep forgetting to liberate from my dad's bookshelf.

Saturday morning miscellaneous reads

I don't usually do link round-ups on Saturday mornings, but I got stuff to do today:

  • Josh Marshall is enjoying the "comical rake-stomp opera" of Nikki Haley's (R-SC) primary campaign.
  • The Economist pokes around the "city" of Rosemont, Ill., a family-owned fiefdom less than 10 km from Inner Drive Technology World HQ.
  • The New York Times highlights the most informative charts they published in 2023.
  • The Chicago Tribune lists some of the new Illinois laws taking effect on Monday. My favorite: Illinois will no longer bar marriage licenses for out-of-state same-sex couples whose home jurisdiction prohibits same-sex marriages.
  • The CTA plans to build out 10 blocks (2 km) of "community space" under the new Red/Purple Line trestle under construction in Uptown and Edgewater.

Finally, two restaurants in Chicago—well, one restaurant and one infamous hot-dog stand—have joined forces to create the Chicago Croissant, which "features a char-dog rolled into a pastry lined with mustard, relish and onions. Definitely no ketchup. It’s topped with poppy seeds and celery salt and garnished with a tomato, pepper and pickle." This, they claim, is a breakfast food.

It was always about slavery

The "Lost Cause" mythology of certain good ol' boys in the Republican Party deliberately obfuscates the real causes of the US Civil War, as Brynn Tannehill describes in a well-written Twitter thread:

When Haley refused to say that the root cause of the Civil War, it pulled back the curtain a bit on an ugly truth: the American south has successfully waged a campaign to obfuscate history for over 100 years, to the point where they use their own supply.

Facts up front: The US Civil War started when Lincoln got elected and the south absolutely freaked out over it because he believed slavery should be phased out over time. It was an aspiration with no definitive date. He wasn't willing to split the union over the issue.

Slavery was the top issue in the 1860 election. Lincoln ran on a promise not to induct more slave states and to allow it to remain legal where it already was. He believed that it would become non-viable (eventually) and was content to let it ride out the clock for decades.

[T]he South absolutely lost their **** when he won, because they believed that his election would lead to the end of slavery... some day. They wanted it guaranteed forever. Seven of the 11 states that seceded did so before Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861.

The South Carolina secession ordinance was also pretty explicit. So was the infamous "Cornerstone Speech" at the secession conference by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.

So, where did this nonsense about "States' rights" and "individual freedoms" come from? Basically, it comes from the south wanting to look less awful after the war when basically everyone was expected to agree that slavery was wrong. It's also key to the "Lost Cause" myth.

This reframing started as early as 1866, and is really well documented, so I shan't re-hash all of it here. But, the number one tenet of the lost cause mythology is that the civil war wasn't about slavery.

Look, I get it: accepting that you fought for something horrific is a bitter pill to swallow. No one likes to do it, and almost no one has particularly owned it (maybe the Germans after about 1967-ish? Debatable though).

Regardless, rehabilitating the South's image was a massive project. The Daughters of the Confederacy put up statues everywhere. They paid for stained glass windows of Jackson and Lee in the National Cathedral in DC.

School textbooks (that I used as a kid!) taught about "states rights", "economic anxiety" (huh, where did we hear that one before as an excuse?), and movies (Like "Birth of a Nation", "Gettysburg", and "Gods and Generals") lionized the South.

In particular, the movies told stories from a southern perspective that left out WHAT they were fighting for, and made their cause seem both noble and doomed (which is basically the Lost Cause in a nutshell). They were neo-confederate propaganda.

Which brings us to yesterday, and Nikki Haley. I don't think she believes it, but because her audience has been spoon fed the Lost Cause mythology from birth, saying the truth would get her crucified by the Republican base (which is centered on white southerners).

It's also been largely accepted by whites outside the south (geez, I hated living in Ohio). The Lost Cause has become part of the party's tribal epistemology. So, Haley resorted to euphemisms. But they still mean slavery.

States' Rights = States have the right to keep slavery legal Individual Freedoms = The "freedom" to own other people in chattel slavery.

When Trump tells his audience "I am your retribution," he's tapping into the Lost Cause Mythology. He's telling much of the audience "The south will rise again, and I will make it happen."

For more on this topic, I cannot recommend @HC_Richardson's book "How the South Won the Civil War" highly enough. It came out to late for me to incorporate into American Fascism, but I wish I had.

I've been saying as much since I first read about the Civil War in school. But about the South, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, "we taught them a lesson in 1865 and they've hardly bothered us since then." Only, they never went away.

It baffles me that 150 years after we fought the deadliest war in US history over the subjugation of one people by another, the very same people want to re-litigate it. Maybe we should have let them leave? Probably not. But I'm just so tired of these assholes.

(I included most of Tannehill's thread as I believe Twitter won't exist much longer.)