The problem with transmissions from far away is the signal to noise ratio. The real information, the good stuff, the signal, is often overwhelmed by static, by noise, by nonsense. That has to be filtered out. Out here in Pasadena, the folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories have experts who remove the “noise” from digital images sent back from the edge of the solar system. Look, there’s Pluto! That can take weeks. But earthbound astronomers have the same problem with “light pollution” – there’s hardly a place left anywhere where it’s dark enough to see way out there at night, no place where that billion dollar telescope won’t be flooded by the white haze of the lights from the McDonalds down the street and all the suburbs around it. That’s too much noise.
And of course it’s the same in politics. Right now there’s too much impeachment news, or rumors that there will be news coming soon, or that there’s nothing to see here so move on, folks. That’s the noise. The real information, the good stuff, the signal, is often overwhelmed by static, by noise, by nonsense – some of which isn’t nonsense. But who can tell anymore? Sometimes it seems that it’s all noise.
It isn’t. There’s always a buried signal. The attorney general said everyone got the structure of the American government all wrong:
Attorney General William Barr trashed the so-called resistance movement and mocked Senate Democrats – as well as the Oscar-nominated movie “Vice” – in a marathon speech Friday evening that affirmed his credentials as a staunch defender of presidential power.
Barr was at his most animated in the speech before a friendly crowd. But the substance of his remarks touched on some of the most serious issues facing the country now – including Congress’ ongoing investigations into President Donald Trump, and Barr’s department’s attempts to protect the White House from subpoenas during impeachment and other inquiries.
Before a crowd of high-powered attorneys at the annual confab of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, the attorney general said the Democrats “have decided to drown the executive branch with oversight demands for testimony and documents.”
But he had a different message. Donald Trump has said that Article II of the Constitution gives him absolute power – he can do any damned thing he wants and no one can stop him – and Bill Barr agrees:
“I don’t deny that Congress has some implied authority, but the sheer volume of what we see today, the pursuit of scores of parallel investigations through an avalanche of subpoenas, is plainly designed to incapacitate the executive branch and indeed is touted as such,” Barr said.
Barr also invoked the movie “Vice” and a scene depicting a young Dick Cheney plotting a “new nefarious theory that will allow them to just take over the world”- by giving more power to the president. But Barr said the pushes by the president in recent administrations have attempted to keep the balance of powers in check.
So that young Dick Cheney was an amazing hero back then, restoring the presidency that had been almost destroyed by those who ask any questions, because they thought that they had a right to ask questions, but they were wrong. They didn’t – or something. Barr wasn’t that specific:
“One of the more amusing aspects of modern progressive polemic is their breathless attacks on the unitary executive theory. Blah!” Barr said, pausing with his arms out and eyes bugging, as if imitating a ghost.
“They portray this as some newfangled theory to justify executive power of sweeping and unfettered scope,” he continued.
But the theory is wrong. And that doesn’t matter. He was on a roll:
He also grew serious, describing the loosely organized movement of progressives known as the “resistance” as rhetorically akin to an insurgent group fighting against an “occupying military power,” implying that they believe the Trump administration wasn’t legitimate, which he called a “dangerous” and “indeed incendiary” vision.
“The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of ‘resistance’ against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law,” Barr said.
It is? Who knew? And who knew that the judiciary was out to destroy the presidency:
Barr saved some of his harshest fire for federal judges – who have routinely shot down attempts by the President to flex executive power and protect his administration’s choices – no matter their political motivations. He discussed judicial rulings that put Trump’s travel ban on hold, for instance.
Barr accused judges of acting “like amateur psychiatrists attempting to discern an executive official’s real motive, often after ordering invasive discovery into the executive branch’s privileged decision-making process.”
In short, those assholes ask questions, and no one should:
Barr has long adhered to a school of legal thought that draws a vision of uncompromising presidential power from the Constitution. That ideology, in line with the unitary executive theory, has guided conservatives for decades, including many of the lawyers in the crowd that Barr addressed Friday evening.
Barr first entered the Justice Department under President George H. W. Bush. As the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, he worked closely with the White House and produced a ten-page memo outlining a broad vision of the executive branch’s power to rebuff Congress’ oversight attempts.
He was selected for the role, he has said, because of his views on strong executive authority, and in his 1989 confirmation hearing for the office, he made clear that he believed the Justice Department owed loyalty to the administration.
And maybe the judiciary is not a co-equal branch of government either. Like Congress, it’s a subsidiary branch of government:
On Friday night, Barr dug into history to make his point. Describing the writing of the founding governmental document at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Barr said, “the real miracle in Philadelphia that summer was the creation” of a strong independent executive.
Jed Shugerman, the Fordham Law professor, has a few things to say about that:
The notion that the American Revolution was against the tyranny of a monarch, Barr said, was a “grammar school civics class version” and “misguided.” Instead, he argued, the founders, having been both oppressed by British Parliament and hampered by their first, ineffectual government, built the Constitution around “the creation of a strong executive.”
But in the present day, Barr warned, a “wrong-headed and atavistic” focus on legislative and judicial oversight has “smothered” the president’s traditional and proper authority.
What? But he had a friendly audience:
The Federalist Society has enjoyed a direct pipeline to the federal bench under the Trump administration. On Friday, its gathering of conservative activists, lawyers, scholars, and judges gave Barr standing ovations before and after his remarks.
The legal community outside the room, meanwhile, spent the weekend expressing horror at the flagrantly partisan, error-filled, and hypocritical commentary coming from the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Barr accused Donald Trump’s political opponents of “sabotage”; simply by adopting the label “resistance,” he said, they “see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government.”
He was really getting into this, and Shugerman was not impressed:
Barr’s account of current-day political dynamics, with principled conservatives under attack by power-crazed nihilists on the left, was as unreal and indefensible as his version of American history. Taken together, they outlined the unprecedented and untenable position the attorney general occupies at this moment: When Barr argues for a maximalist, unaccountable unitary executive, he is not simply articulating a matter of theory or principle—he is defending himself from an investigation into his own work, especially his direct involvement in the Ukraine bribery-and-extortion plot.
In the July 25 call records with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump mentioned Barr five times, usually in tandem with Rudy Giuliani, as a key player in the president’s apparent bribery and extortion conspiracy. One particularly chilling passage: “Well, [Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is] going to go through some things. I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”
Barr’s own potential criminal jeopardy deepens with each day of new testimony. The criticisms of his handling of the Mueller report – that the attorney general was acting as the president’s personal lawyer – were prelude, and mild compared to the allegations now.
And something else is going on now:
His remarks are the defensive tactics of an unindicted co-conspirator desperate for attention and clinging to power. And so, as a politician in a political struggle, he sought to rally a gathering of his allies around their shared partisan mythology, or victimology. He is a criminal suspect, Trump’s fixer and enforcer, cloaking himself as both savior and martyr.
He is not only trying to distract. He is also setting a trap to shift the debate from his alleged criminal involvement to his culture war terms.
That’s why Barr said this:
In any age, the so-called progressives treat politics as their religion. Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the state. … Whatever means they use are therefore justified because, by definition, they are a virtuous people pursuing a deific end. They are willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage in achieving their end, regardless of collateral consequences and the systemic implications. They never ask whether the actions they take could be justified as a general rule of conduct, equally applicable to all sides. Conservatives, on the other hand, do not seek an earthly paradise.
Shugerman says this:
Yes, he really said that too. Vice President Mike Pence, any comment?
Shugerman notes that Barr had said this a month early in a speech at Notre Dame:
This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values. Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground. Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and the deadly drug epidemic.
Yeah, well, whatever, dude. But the issue now is history. Barr has that wrong:
His internally inconsistent story is that the British had “neutered” the monarchy in the 17th century, long before the American colonies cast off King George III. “Tea patriots well understood that their prime antagonist was an overweening Parliament,” Barr said.
In the same paragraph, after declaring that the revolutionaries knew legislative power to be the real enemy, he acknowledged that they had designed their first government, the Articles of Confederation, as a system of legislative supremacy with “no Executive separate from Congress.”
That’s odd, if liberation from legislative government had been their core goal.
But that was never the issue:
Historical research confirms the anti-royalism of the Revolution and of the Constitutional Convention itself. The grammar school version is taught in grammar school because it is basically correct: The Framers rejected king-like power and chose a middle ground, framed by “faithful execution” language for mid-level executive officers, a single executive in a system of checks and balances.
In fact, they did not seek liberation from the whole concept of legislative government, they created one, and so forth, but not now:
The details of this history are a debate for another day. More urgent here is that Barr relied on ahistorical unitary executive extremism to condemn the Democrats’ subpoenas – his speech avoided the word “Democrat” in favor of “opposition party” – as an abuse of Congress’ oversight role. Curiously, he did not include Congress’ abuse of subpoenas during the Obama administration. He seemed especially worried only about the recent wave of subpoenas. “The costs of this constant harassment are real,” he complained.
Indeed, the potential costs to Bill Barr are even more real. Barr has a conflict of interest as an alleged co-conspirator in a presidential extortion plot. The Department of Justice regulations require recusal when one has a “personal or political relationship with … any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution; or any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.”
And now he’s trapped:
Facing criminal scrutiny, Barr knew where to find his base, to find those who would embrace him despite his lawless abuse of power and likely crimes: the Federalist Society. I was once proud to support the Federalist Society from the left. But the ovations, before and after his speech, show that it is hard to distinguish it today from a far-right Trump MAGA rally. And it is hard to find much left from a once-proud society’s founding vision of the rule of law and limited government, nor a trace of its original originalist principles.
Barr, however, was not alone in saying the law is not what everyone thinks it is:
The Trump administration declared on Monday that the United States does not consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law, reversing four decades of American policy and removing what has been an important barrier to annexation of Palestinian territory.
The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the latest political gift from the Trump administration to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed in two elections this year to push for the annexation of the West Bank.
And it was a big gift:
The United States has in the past described the settlements as illegitimate, and Palestinians have demanded the land for a future state, a goal that has been backed by the United Nations, European governments and American allies across the Middle East.
But President Trump has been persistent in changing United States policy on Israel and the Palestinian territories – moves aimed at bolstering political support for Mr. Netanyahu, who has failed to form a government after two rounds of elections with razor-thin outcomes.
In fact, this may help Netanyahu, but at a price:
Monday’s decision reversed a 1978 legal opinion by the State Department concluding that the settlements were inconsistent with international law. Mr. Pompeo said that ruling “hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”
“We’ve recognized the reality on the ground,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
So the law doesn’t really matter much now:
Mr. Netanyahu praised the decision and said it reflected “historical truth, that the Jewish people are not foreign colonialists in Judea and Samaria,” a term for the West Bank. He said Israeli courts were better suited to decide the legality of the settlements, “not biased international forums that pay no attention to history or facts.”
Now the United States agrees with him. The law doesn’t matter. And no other nation on Earth agrees with either of us, so there will be trouble:
Palestinian officials, by now used to unwelcome policy shifts from Mr. Trump, nonetheless summoned new outrage.
“We cannot express horror and shock because this is a pattern, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestine Liberation Organization official. “It sends a clear signal that they have total disregard for international law, for what is right and just, and for the requirements of peace.”
And Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Trump administration’s decision was the latest of “unceasing attempts to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.'”
That’s harsh, but that is what the man is saying:
Mr. Pompeo said that the issue must be solved by the Israelis and the Palestinians. “And arguments about who is right and wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace,” he said.
That’s it! International law does NOT bring peace! Who knew? But this was obvious:
The timing of Mr. Pompeo’s announcement is almost certain to bolster Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes should Israel be headed to a third round of elections this year. He denied that the decision was tied to Israel’s political stalemate, saying, “We conducted our review, and this was the appropriate time to move forward.”
Oddly, some thought that other things mattered more:
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, criticized the American policy shift and maintained that the settlements were illegal and eroded the chances for peace. She called on Israel to “end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.”
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi of Jordan, which is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, said on Twitter that the settlements “kills the two-state solution” efforts.
But others were practical:
Oded Revivi, a spokesman for the Yesha Council, an umbrella group of West Bank settlements, said he believed the timing of the announcement sought to both help Mr. Netanyahu remain in power and also bolster Mr. Trump among evangelical and Jewish voters in the United States who support the current right-wing government in Israel. He said it also served as a reminder to right-wing Israelis to reap whatever more windfalls the Trump administration might supply.
Grab what you can before the United States elects a new president, a Democrat, one of those people who is more careful and doesn’t play with the rules, one who follows the law.
But this may all work out. Trump did find the one man who will finally bring peace to the region:
The Trump administration’s peace effort is run by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, to deliver what the president has described as the “ultimate deal.”
No one has heard a word about that, but at least Trump didn’t suggest that this would be the “Final Solution” – but for the Palestinians this kinds of sounds like the start of that.
Ah, and for reference, Isabel Kershner offers this:
The United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice have all said that Israeli settlements on the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war and has occupied the territory ever since. The Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by 192 nations in the aftermath of World War II, says that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The statute that established the International Criminal Court in 1998 classifies such transfers as war crimes, as well as any destruction or appropriation of property not justified by military necessity.
Israel argues that a Jewish presence has existed on the West Bank for thousands of years and was recognized by the League of Nations in 1922. Jordan’s rule over the territory, from 1948 to 1967, was never recognized by most of the world, so Israel also argues there was no legal sovereign power in the area and therefore the prohibition on transferring people from one state to the occupied territory of another does not apply.
The International Court of Justice rejected that argument in an advisory opinion in 2004, ruling that the settlements violated international law.
That’s clear enough, except for this:
Under the Oslo Accords, signed by Israel and the Palestinians in the 1990s, both sides agreed that the status of Israeli settlements would be resolved by negotiation. However, negotiations have stalled and there have been no active peace talks since 2014.
And then it gets even more complicated:
More than 400,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank alongside more than 2.6 million Palestinians.
Some of the settlements are home to religious Zionists who believe that the West Bank, which Israel refers to by its biblical names of Judea and Samaria, is their biblical birthright. Many secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews also moved there largely for cheaper housing.
Some settlements were strategically located in line with Israel’s security interests. Other, more isolated communities were established for ideological reasons, including an effort to prevent a contiguous Palestinian state.
The Trump administration’s declaration may be seen by supporters of the settlement enterprise as giving a green light to Israeli annexation plans.
But not so fast:
Israeli experts cautioned that might not be the case.
“It’s one thing saying the settlements are not in violation of international law and another to say whether they are good for peace or not,” said Michael Herzog, an Israel-based fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Trump administration neither rejected nor endorsed Mr. Netanyahu’s annexation proposal, he said, and it remains “an open question” how it would react if Israel unilaterally annexed West Bank territory.
Who knows? The attorney general says everyone has the Constitutional all wrong – the president has absolute authority and absolute power and no one else does. The secretary of state says international law only messes things up for everyone. This is what Trump has been saying all along. All the impeachment stuff is just noise. This is the buried signal.