Day: January 28, 2017

Quick US Civics Class: What’s an Executive Order?

Quick explainer of what executive orders are (mostly for the benefit of folks outside the USA, since a lot of countries don’t have presidents):

The executive branch (the president) can’t make legislation. Laws are enacted by the legislative branch (Congress). However, people in the executive branch can make rules about how existing legislation is enforced and interpreted (executive orders are one example of how you do this), which can then be challenged in the courts if it doesn’t seem to conform closely enough to what Congress ordered.

So for instance if Congress passes a law about taxes that doesn’t mention the mechanism for collecting them, the executive branch could say “we’re doing it this way.” But if Congress specified a mechanism, the president would have to use that mechanism. And if he didn’t, or if he didn’t enforce the law at all, the government can be sued by the citizens affected.

If the judicial branch finds the executive branch has failed to faithfully execute a law, they’re in violation of the Constitution. In the past, when this has happened, the executive branch has changed what it was doing (and/or the Congress has withheld funding from the executive branch). If they were to elect to remain in violation of the Constitution, it would be grounds for Congress to remove the president or other executive branch officials from office (provided Congress cared enough).

Sometimes presidents issue unambiguously illegal executive orders to take advantage of the “grace period” between when the executive order goes out and when it’s struck down, which is essentially like withholding rent when you know it’ll take three months to evict you. They may also hope that during the court challenge the judicial branch will allow them some expansion of their powers (will point out some loopholes they can use).

So when Trump issues blatantly illegal executive orders, it could mean any of several things:

1. That he doesn’t know existing law well enough to understand the orders are illegal.

2. That he knows they’re illegal but wants them in effect until a legal challenge goes through, and/or to see whether there are any parts he can get away with, and/or to cause pain and financial strain for the people who will challenge the law, who will have to focus on that instead of other things.

3. That he knows they’re illegal, but figures that even after a legal challenge, he can continue to do what he wants because he believes civil servants will choose loyalty to him rather than to the law, and that a Republican Congress won’t impeach him because he’s so special and great (the “I could shoot someone on 5th Ave and not lose voters” strategy).

It could be any of them, really. Also, I’m not a constitutional lawyer (so if you see something way wrong, correct me in the comments). But for the benefit of people who didn’t have U.S. High School Civics, there you go.

“Nationalist Not Racist”

Friendly reminder that the people who say they’re “nationalist, not racist” are the same ones who tell US-born American citizens “go back to Mexico,” “go back to Africa,” “go back to China.”

They know damn well that when they say “foreign” they mean “non-white,” and you should know too.

Kim says: Oh no. That is not true. You’ve never lump-summed everyone together before. You have always focused on specific people or groups directly. I know black “nationalists” and hispanic “nationalists”

Romie: I’m addressing a specific rebranding of white power groups who are calling themselves “nationalist not racist.” They actively advocate for racially discriminatory laws in the US and Britain, with a fig leaf that it’s about national origin rather than skin color. For instance, Trump’s not banning Muslims, but people from a list of countries which happen to be majority Muslim, in an executive order widely believed to have been written by Steve Bannon, one of the “nationalist not racist” guys, and there’s been a lot of propaganda recently out of some British hate groups about “keep Britain for the British” which sounds nationalist until you look more closely at how they’re definining “British,” which is not about how many generations your family has been in the country but whether you could pass a genetic screening.

I have absolutely seen people get sucked in by this who would not be fooled by someone with a sign that said “whites only.” That’s why they’re doing it.

Emily: Surely Kim cannot be ignorant of the co-opting of the term by white supremacist groups? The National Front Parties in Europe, the British National Party…that’s not ‘hateful rhetoric’, that’s several decades of demonstrated history of the term being used by neo-Nazis?

Romie: A possibly important clarification here is that Texas is weird and there are tons and tons of seperatist groups in Texas with a bunch of wildly variant agendas and attitudes. Like, it’s fairly common to know somebody who has declared their house a soverign nation and therefore refuses to pay taxes. Also the history curriculum in Texas public schools is such that it’s easily possible to avoid hearing about anything that happened in the 20th century. I wouldn’t say this stuff if I thought everybody already knew it.

Stephanie says: This is exactly what we saw in NYC after the election. Several of my non-white American friends were told “go back to China” “go back where you came from” or, one particularly off-brand example, a Puerto rican friend was called a rag head and told to go back to Pakistan. My Italian and English – aka actual immigrant – friends saw no difference in the way they were treated. Because they are white.

Surprise Travel Ban Takes Chaotic Effect

The below was posted by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee on the 25th; since then, the executive order has gone into effect, and visa holders from these countries have been denied entry into the US. To be super clear, “visa” includes green card; this ban affects not only new immigrants (and tourists!), but legal permanent residents and the spouses of Americans.

Here is what we know so far about the pending actions. Please note that this may change:

1. The Executive Order signed by Donald Trump will list 6 (predominantly Muslim) countries where travel/immigration to the US will be banned. There will be an option to add more at a later date. Similar to NSEERS. These countries are:

– Syria
– Yemen
– Somalia
– Sudan
– Iraq
– Iran

2. It is advised that students from the listed countries not leave the US. They won’t be permitted back in. Do not overstay your visa – if you have to leave, please do so. If you are uncertain please seek the advice of an immigration attorney.

3. We do not know what happens to visa holders from those countries who are currently in the US.

4. People from listed countries who have visas, but haven’t traveled to the US, won’t be allowed in. Their visa is void.

5. The ban may extend to spouses of US citizens who are from one of the listed countries, and have pending applications to US.

6. The EO will call for what’s known as a “values test.” This is an ideology test. Will ask applicants about religious beliefs.

7. The EO coming after the ban will focus on the wall, and increasing deportations.

The ADC Legal Department offers pro bono legal services,

This is incredibly personal for me. Two of the important mentors in my life are a Libyan-born American (who fled Libya in the 1970s, when Gaddafi took over) and an Iranian-born American (who fled Iran in the 1980s, when Ayatollah Khomeni took over). It’s my experience that Muslims who come to the United States do it because they believe in the values of the United States. If they wanted to live under state-enforced Sharia law, they’d hang out in a country with state-enforced Sharia law. It’d be way easier and cheaper. To put it another way, if I wanted to get Texas barbecue, I wouldn’t fly to Sweden.

This is the ADC’s latest press release on their website. Help if you can. This is shameful and cruel beyond words.

Also, and this should probably already be obvious – a ban based on country of origin is illegal under US law. Specifically, the 1965 immigration act, which abolished national quotas. This has been reaffirmed by the courts multiple times. I have a dream that Lyndon Johnson will literally rise from the grave to drag Trump into the street with skeletal hands, attended by the baying of spectral beagles.

Culture War

Occasionally, right wing agitprop still drifts across my dash – one new story every couple of days, reproduced across multiple cash-in blogs which must still be making money. I’m talking about “b-b-but imperfect liberals!” pseudo-scandals: the “discovery” of a widely-disclosed 30-year-old criminal record; out-of-context Madonna; an off-color joke made by a D-lister.

And I wonder, when there’s so much real news coming in so fast, who still has time for that. The actual people in power – the Trump administration and the Republican majorities in both houses of congress and most state legislatures – have threatened to, at any moment, make it impossible for you to afford your medicine; deport your friends or colleagues; start a war (either hot or trade); shut down a bunch of government agencies that have functions you like; and literally give away our (revenue-generating!) public lands. That’s the short list. There is more being threatened – by people who can carry out their threats – than it is possible for a single person to keep track of in a 24-hour news cycle.

Look, I know it would be comforting if we could drift back into the soothing burble of a culture war, but we’re beyond that now. You need to be obsessively scrutinizing the people with ACTUAL power, the ones who could REALLY come for your [fill in the blank].

I guess the exception is if reading a “this liberal non-politician is holier than thou but SNAPS HER GUM” exposé recharges your energy so you are better able to fight the power (i.e. not liberals, who are not in power), in which case, read on?