GELFAND’S WORLD - The Tennessee legislature has managed to exclude two lawfully elected Black members on some cocked up pretense that they misbehaved. How did they misbehave? As they point out in their own words, they were asking that the legislature do something about gun violence following the latest school massacre in Nashville. There is a certain amount of He Said, She Said going on here, because the excluded members are accused of being loud and disruptive, including the use of a bullhorn, whereas they point out (on Face the Nation, no less) that the Speaker of their legislature and others have made it impossible for them to speak lawfully when they should have been allowed to do so.
So, the two Black men are now out of the legislature, where one white protestor (a white woman, to be sure) has not as of this writing been similarly excluded.
There is a point to be made here -- or more precisely, a point and its corollary point to be made.
The point: Over the past five years, the Republican Party has more and more been willing to take the side of the racists and to enact legislation (and court decisions) which enforce the power of their minority over the rights of the majority.
The corollary: The Republican Party in the congress and in state legislatures, and the judges who represent Republican Party interests, are more and more willing to be brazen about taking such actions. There is less and less excuse making, and more straightforward power tripping. We have congressional Republicans defending the violent rioters who took over the Capitol building as the prime example.
As mentioned above, the expulsion of two Black members of the Tennessee legislature is the latest example of the rule and the corollary. It was explored on Sunday's Meet the Press and in the pages of Talking Points Memo. Apologists for Republican actions point out that a bullhorn was used in the protest at the legislature. Not a truly compelling argument, to be sure. It's interesting that they didn't seem to notice the behavior of white Republican members of the House of Representatives, particularly during those State of the Union addresses made by Democratic presidents where a few Republicans made a point of being disruptive. And we don't see a lot of Republicans (anywhere) condemning the Capitol rioters.
This is the drug which endocrinologists once referred to as RU-486. It was originally invented in the attempt to find an antagonist to the steroids called glucocorticoids, which you might recognize as the chemical cortisone. It turned out that RU-486 was also effective in blocking the effects of progesterone, so it would also inhibit the body's ability to maintain pregnancy. Hence "the abortion pill." In practice Mifepristone is taken, and then a second compound is taken to induce uterine contractions, which completes the effect. The result is the termination of pregnancy in a large majority of cases.
Naturally the anti-abortion folks would like to prevent the use of the two-drug combination, hence the actions by a federal judge to pretend that the drug's safety has not been conclusively demonstrated. The problem for this argument is that RU-486 was invented back in the 1980s, has been used medically for multiple conditions, and is very safe as an abortion drug. But that didn't stop the anti-abortion people, who presumably expect that the hard-right core on the Supreme Court will similarly avoid science and logic.
And we might also remember that the Supreme Court's anti-abortion decision pretends to turn things back to the states. In other words, the legality of dispensing RU-486 should, at worst, have been left to individual states, as strange as that argument seems.
That subterfuge about states' rights didn't last long, did it?
The Republicans go after the entire criminal justice system
April is just beginning, and the all-out attack on the criminal justice system by Republicans is ramping up. Can we remind ourselves that these are the guys who have lectured the rest of us about crime in the streets and the dangers of runaway communism? Apparently, crime in the streets is OK as long as it is murder and is done by a white policeman against a Black demonstrator -- the governor of Texas has promised that he will pardon somebody who has just now been convicted of murder. The killer has not even been sentenced yet. Talk about a double standard.
But the interesting story is how Donald Trump has gone all-in on attacking the judiciary, or in this case, the part of the judiciary that has been involved in his own prosecution. Trump didn't even wait for the next sunrise to fly back to Florida and deliver a flaming speech against those who would attempt to enforce the law against him.
There is one curious thing here. In general, a criminal defendant's mockery of the law can be taken into account at the time of sentencing. Judges routinely consider whether there is remorse, or lack of remorse, when delivering the sentence. In this case, Trump hasn't even waited for the trial to be completed before showing his complete contempt for the law as it is applied to him.
As legal experts have pointed out, Trump has been charged with Class E felonies, and they go on to point out that this level of crime -- especially in the case of a first time offender -- is almost never accompanied by a jail sentence. But I think we can recognize that Trump's determined lack of remorse could be taken into account by the judge, and that at least some symbolic level of jail time could be the result.
Addendum: Why Los Angeles city government resembles the Tennessee legislature this week
It's hard to imagine any rational person agreeing with the Republicans in the Tennessee legislature who expelled two Black Democrats. The Republicans used an excuse to reduce the representation of their opponents.
It would be similar if the Democrats in the California legislature used their numbers to expel the Republicans and create a system in which they hold unanimous control. A party (or any other group) holding a two-thirds majority can do this under some circumstances, should they decide to be entirely unethical.
Now let's think back to a time from 22 years ago. It was for this exact reason that my own neighborhood council chose to avoid any bylaws language that would allow expelling any board member. We put in one exception, which was for missing 4 straight meetings, a clear and obvious cause that does not represent partisanship.
We didn't want some group of 12 people to gain the power to expel any minority of 5 members that they didn't like. Note that at the local level, it is not necessarily political parties that make for such partisanship, but could be anything from attitudes toward homelessness to the ability of some business group to run its own slate of candidates and win that supermajority.
We said no, back in 2001, for what we saw as good reasons. The actions in Tennessee tend to underscore the decision we made at that time.
But the City of Los Angeles, through the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners and its lackeys at the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, chose to create a central policy of censure and removal, and to enforce its placement in all the bylaws of all the neighborhood councils. This is one more reason that neighborhood council participants need to assert the neighborhood council bill of rights.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)