America 101: Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda

Like the abusive boyfriend that I called him in my last post, Trump has conditioned me to be suspicious of his smarmy grin. When I see it, I automatically think he’s up to no good. If he’s not wreaking havoc, why would his orange-colored ass be happy? He’s oppositional. He doesn’t get off on doing what other people want him to do.

News stories swiftly confirmed for me that Trump is indeed busy making trouble; he signed two presidential memoranda and is supposedly drafting an executive order that will bear environmentally racist, Islamophobic, and xenophobic effects.

The first – the Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline – directs the Secretary of the Army  to “take all actions necessary and appropriate to . . . review and approve in an expedited manner . . . requests for approvals to construct and operate the DAPL, including easements or rights-of-way to cross Federal areas.”

The Memorandum Regarding Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline invites TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. to “promptly re-submit its application to the Department of State for a Presidential permit for the construction and operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline” and directs the Secretary of State to expeditiously review the application, if submitted, and the Secretary of the Army, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “take all actions necessary and appropriate to review and approve  . . . requests for authorization to utilize Nationwide Permit 12 . . . with respect to crossings of the ‘waters of the United States’ by the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

Of course, both directives essentially ignore the fears of the citizens living in the areas through and around which these pipelines will pass, including large numbers of indigenous people from the Standing Rock Sioux and Oglala Lakota Nation.

Finally, the executive order that is in the works, according to The Huffington Post, would “dramatically restrict” the numbers of refugees admitted to the US and deny visas to people from countries Trump and his administration deem “high risk.”

Sources say the details of the order could block Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely; block people from countries with so-called “inadequate” security screening from obtaining visas (i.e. entering the country); and, most significantly, target Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – all Muslim-majority countries – because they are “terror-prone.”

It would not constitute a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” as Trump promised during his campaign, but it would be a betrayal of our democratic philosophy and identity as an immigrant nation, as well as constitute a failure to adhere to the principle of non-refoulement, which is regarded as customary international law, according to the United Nations.

I actually think such an executive order, if issued, would also represent an egregious abuse of presidential power because of its potentially fatal ramifications and bigoted logical and political bases. It would target Muslim refugees of color and exacerbate our seeming blindness to the fact that extremist domestic terrorism is a much realer and more dangerous threat to America than Islamic terrorism.

The nomenclature of these three directives – they are “memos” and “orders” and not “bills” or “amendments “- may make them sound less consequential or binding than customary multilateral legislation, but they are not; they have the full force of the law and dictate the actions of departments and agencies under the executive branch of the federal government.

Thankfully, they are still subject to judicial review if the Supreme Court finds that they are not supported by the Constitution or federal law.

Though reporters sometimes talk about them interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Executive orders have more prestige; they are more comprehensive; and they can take legal precedence over – they can interfere with the execution of – a presidential memorandum.

Thankfully again, neither executive orders nor presidential memoranda allow the President to circumnavigate or work around the approval of Congress when it comes to creating or changing major laws and regulations, however both can skirt the need for bipartisanship or cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, which can be problematic with these instruments can affect some very serious, wide-reaching issues.

In fact, the integration of the armed forces (President Harry S. Truman) and desegregation of public schools (President Dwight D. Eisenhower) – historic changes to American history and culture – were both enacted by executive order.

Tragically, an executive order issued by in February 1942 – No. 9066 – also set the stage for the internment of 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans (70,000 of whom were American citizens) during WWII:

Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities [it read] . . . as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War . . . to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he . . . may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion.

In response to Executive Order 9066, General John L. DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 1, which designated all of the states of California, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona as Military Areas 1 and 2.

Then, with the power to “exclude” people from these areas as a matter of safety, DeWitt determined that all people of Japanese descent in Area 1 (the western half of Washington and Oregon, the southern half of Arizona, the western half of California from the Oregon border to Los Angeles, and all of the area south of Los Angeles) would be “evacuated” and “relocated.”

Japanese Americans in Area 1 were encouraged to “voluntarily evacuate” to Area 2 and other inland states, but, when many failed to move because of financial constraints, DeWitt issued Public Proclamation No. 4, which prohibited Japanese-Americans from leaving Area 1 and began their forced removal.

This effort culminated in Japanese Americans’ eviction from all of California except war camps in Manzanar and Tule Lake, which entailed the irretrievable loss – in the majority of instances – of their businesses, home, and farms.

This abhorrent episode of our nation’s history reveals how directives from the President can actually facilitate egregious abuses of power by facilitating government actions that disfranchise and oppress less privileged and valorized segments of our population.

As a true example and not a hypothetical scenario, the legality and approbation of Japanese American internment in the US, when weighed with the white supremacist tone of Trump’s campaign platform and erratic personal and professional tendencies, make me afraid for the indigenous people fighting against the construction of DAPL and Keystone XL Pipeline, quite honestly.

I am afraid that Trump’s memoranda might rob a large number of them of the protection – which is not always a matter of shielding someone from violent attack – Presidents are duty-bound to provide American citizens.

I haven’t written on the blog previously about the DAPL or Keystone XL Pipeline, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t troubled me. Regardless of what their builders of the federal government says, they’re not energy or employment pie in the sky.

Their means will not justify their ends if in the end they poison American citizens by order of the nation’s top executive. And this is exactly what it appears they will do, according to probability and well-known research on the dangers of oil contamination.

The DAPL is described on Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline Facts website as the “safest and most environmentally sensitive way to transport crude oil from [the Dakotas to Illinois] to American consumer.” The site also claims that the pipeline “crosses almost entirely private land” and not the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“United States Army Corps of Engineers alone held 389 meetings with 55 tribes regarding the Dakota Access project,” the site says, and “reached out to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe nearly a dozen times to discuss archaeological and other surveys conducted before finalizing the Dakota Access route.”

“We have great respect for the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and plan to continue to work with their leaders to address those concerns.”

In a similarly slick and reassuring tone, the Keystone XL Pipeline is described on the TransCanada website as a “critical infrastructure project for the energy security of the United States and for strengthening the American economy” that will “create thousands of well-paying construction jobs” and “generate tens of millions of dollars in annual property taxes” and an estimated $3 billion in gross domestic profit.

All of this copy makes these projects sound amazingly beneficial for the American public, but I will take an educated guess that ETP and TransCanada paid very high-powered, highly skilled consultants to come up with this transparent-seeming language in an attempt to hide the truth that they cannot control every single variable that could play a part in building and maintaining these pipelines.

According to the sales pitch, the DAPL will whisk oil out of the Dakotas on to Iowa and Illinois, and a panoply of perfectly functional, impeccably maintained, and painstakingly inspected safety measures will prevent it from hurting anyone – the same with the Keystone XL Pipeline, transporting oil sands from Alberta, Canada. Yet, numerous credible media reports counter this copy with negative claims about what the DAPL and Keystone XL Pipeline will really do once they are completed and operational.

ETP and TransCanada – and now Donald Trump – posit that these projects will resolve major issues with energy development and production, employment, and our economy. The Standing Rock Sioux argue that as it passes underneath their Lake Oahe, the DAPL may poison their main source of drinking water, and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) warns that by providing more oil to America, the Keystone XL Pipeline will contribute drastically to global warming by producing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the transport of tar sand.

Toxic leakage into ground water from the Keystone XL Pipeline is also a likely possibility with extremely harmful results.

Time Magazine captures the wholly justifiable upset indigenous residents in the Dakotas are experiencing in regards to the construction of these pipelines in an article entitled “What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests.” 

“Builders . . . insist that they have taken extraordinary measures to safeguard against disaster,” it says, “but . . . even the safest pipelines can leak.”

As with math, history is not on the side of ETP or TransCanada, either: “The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has reported more than 3,300 incidents of leaks and ruptures at oil and gas pipelines since 2010,” according to Time. “And even the smallest spill could damage the tribe’s water supply.”

Research posted on the Auburn University website elucidates the “damage” referenced in the Time article.

It reads: “Ponca City, Oklahoma is an example of one of the cities that is being affected by the expansion of the Keystone pipeline. Ponca City is now receiving an increased amount of toxic emissions from tar sand transport  . . . Tar sand produces 17% more greenhouse gases than traditional crude oil [here the author cites NPR].

“The air quality [in Ponca City] has become life threatening, and residents are forced to breathe in dangerous emissions. Children in surrounding [areas of] the new pipeline are 56% more likely to develop leukemia versus children that live ten miles away.”

The Tar Sands Blockade website explains in further detail: “Tar sands, a mixture of sand, petroleum, and mineral salts, must be diluted with a highly toxic class of chemical . . . [they] are known to sink in water, making cleanup exorbitantly expensive and practically impossible . . . [and when] exposed to air, its diluents [diluting agents] evaporate like paint thinner forming heavy toxic clouds near at ground level.”

CNN report also confirms that, yes, extracting oil from oil sands does pump approximately 17% more greenhouse gases into the air than standard oil extraction

Toxic exposure from breathing these clouds, the Tar Sands Blockade says again, has happened in every instance when tar sands leaked from the existent Keystone Pipeline near residential areas, and it has given people “painful rashes, breathing complications, chemical sensitivities, nausea, migraines, and exacerbated cancer activity.”

I couldn’t locate exact numbers of people essentially poisoned by leaks and emissions from the existent Keystone Pipeline, but I did find this interesting, and horrifying, anecdote about the effects of oil sand poisoning on a Canadian newspaper website (the pipeline transports oil sands from Canada into the US):

In 2006, Dr. John O’Connor, a traveling physician in Canada’s northern Bush found in Fort Chipewyan, downstream from the tar sands’ processing operations, exceptionally high incidences of cancers in the Mikisew Cree residents: ‘The cancers are sort of one extreme — blood and lymphatic cancer, thyroid cancer, central nervous system cancer and bile duct, biliary tract cancer … I saw a lot of auto-immune diseases, like Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, a lot of skin disorders, gastro-intestinal disorders of various types, just a lot. Taken as a whole in the population that was only 850 — it was just phenomenal. It didn’t make any sense.’

“It didn’t make any sense,” O’Connor says, i.e. its causes weren’t genetic; they were environmental.

Federal policy that fails to protect a specific racial group, even in the case of environmental policy, is illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states, “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races [colors, and national origins] contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes or results in racial [color or national origin] discrimination.”

In pushing forward the construction of the DAPL and Keystone XL Pipeline, Trump is breaking Constitutional law, shirking his duty to faithfully execute the law, violating human rights, and potentially sacrificing thousands of indigenous lives for billions of dollars, yes, but just 50 permanent jobs, at least in the case of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Whether the indigenous population of America was 1 million, 5 million, or 12 million before colonialism and westward expansion – theories various camps of historians argue among one another – what is fact is there were only 250,000 indigenous peope left in the continguous US that by the end of the 1800s. The indigenous that died were killed – at the highest level – by government policy – a shameful truth for which America can only atone by working as hard as possible to honor the descendants of those lost.

Trump’s memoranda are mere extensions of the US government’s history and perennial policy of taking over indigenous lands, disfranchising indigenous people, and murdering them, even if this time it will happen indirectly and “accidentally.”

These memoranda – along with the executive order on immigration – which is not only ahistorical and isolationist, but also reductive, triangularly biased, and morally disingenuous (it pretends to be fair to Muslim refugees seeking asylum but is really rather simple to misuse) – distort what should be the true purpose for the President to issue a directive. That is to make the executive branch of our government run more smoothly so that it may better serve us – the people.

They distort the true purpose of Presidential office as a whole, but they reveal the true nature of the person this country has elected to be its President.

Trump is a nihilistic capitalist with so little respect for the lives of people of color that he might end up putting Millard Fillmore, Andrew Jackson, or Andrew Johnson to shame when it comes to instituting racist policies with profoundly negative effects on the entire culture.

He said he would make America great again, but he also said he doesn’t read, which might be why he can’t tell the “GR” phoneme from “H.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A hortatory memorandum is issued as a broad policy statement

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