The national debate over capital punishment has proceeded in a variety of disparate directions, with some states deciding to end the practice altogether. But in North Carolina, the Republican-led legislature has apparently concluded that the status quo on executions needs to be tweaked in a more alarming way -- making it easier for the state to kill people with greater secrecy.
WRAL in Raleigh reported earlier this week (thanks to reader G.S. for the tip):
With little debate, the North Carolina Senate voted along party lines 33-16 Monday night to approve a bill aimed at restarting executions in the state.
The legislation, House Bill 774, would repeal the current law requiring that a physician be present to monitor all executions.... The bill would also remove from public record the names of companies that make, supply or deliver the drugs used in lethal injection, and it would exempt the execution protocol itself from the oversight of the state's Rules Review Commission.
There would be no public oversight of the protocol, nor would that information -- from the types of drugs to the doses to the sequence -- be required to be made public.
According to local reports, North Carolina hasn't been able to kill any of its prisoners since 2006, in large part because doctors in the state balked, creating a de facto moratorium.
So, GOP state lawmakers determined that if state law requires doctors to oversee executions, and doctors won't go along, it's time to change the law so that doctors need only sign the death certificate after the execution takes place. Instead, the new state law would allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or EMTs to monitor the executions.
As for the secrecy, North Carolina has a Public Records Act, but this new push would create an exception to the state law -- when North Carolina kills prisoners with a chemical cocktail, the contents can be kept secret. The names of the pharmaceutical companies that supply the drugs will also be hidden from public scrutiny.
The name of the legislation is the "Restoring Proper Justice Act," apparently because its sponsors' sense of humor leans towards the macabre.
Earlier this week, President Obama held a press conference in Ethiopia and took a moment to marvel at the recklessness of Republican rhetoric surrounding the international nuclear agreement with Iran. He specifically noted Mike Huckabee's Holocaust rhetoric -- it "would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad" -- but Obama also highlight the larger pattern.
"We've had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate," the president noted. "We've had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for president suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party." Obama added that, historically, officials used to recognize "that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don't play fast and loose that way."
The "Pontius Pilate" reference came from right-wing freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), but it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who threw around the "sponsor of terrorism" nonsense. In fact, the GOP presidential candidate specifically told far-right activists, "If this deal goes through, without exaggeration, the Obama administration will become the world's leading state sponsor and financier of radical Islamic terrorism."
As Politiconoted, Cruz liked his rhetoric so much, he repeated it soon after.
According to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran is essentially financing terrorism. And he's not backing down after the president called his comments "outrageous."
"If this deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism," Cruz said during a round table Tuesday. "Billions of dollars under control of this administration will flow into the hands of jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans."
This morning, even Mitt Romney said Cruz was going too far. "I am opposed to the Iran deal," the former GOP presidential nominee said, "but [Cruz] is way over the line on the Obama terrorism charge." Romney added that such rhetoric "hurts the cause."
Going into this morning, the most recent data showed the economy actually shrunk a little in the first quarter, covering January through March, which only helped make this morning's GDP report that much more important.
Most economists expected the gross domestic product to grow in the second quarter, covering April through June, at around a 2.5% rate, and that's roughly in line with what happened.
The U.S. economy picked up modestly in the spring after a lackluster start to the year, expanding at an annual 2.3% rate in the second quarter. Growth was led by consumer spending on big-ticket items such as new cars as well as home construction, the government said Thursday. [...]
Consumer spending, the main engine of U.S. growth, rose 2.9%.
This is, of course, a preliminary estimate that will be revised twice more in the coming months. Also note, though previous reporting showed the economy contracting slightly in the first quarter, this morning's report said the economy actually grew a little -- the final tally showed 0.6% growth, instead of 0.2% contraction.
So, what's the broader takeaway? I'm reminded of something Neil Irwin wrote in April about why economic observers care more about the second quarter's GDP than the first.
Despite fresh evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working very well, the Republican repeal crusade hasn't quit. GOP lawmakers continue to explore new ways to gut the American health care system, and Republican presidential candidates, just as a matter of course, talk openly about their plans to kill the successful and effective law.
The GOP's principal problem, however, hasn't changed: Republicans know they hate "Obamacare" for reasons they can't fully explain, but as has been the case for over five years, the party simply has no idea what to offer as an alternative.
Never fear, Donald Trump has it figured out. The leading Republican presidential hopeful sat down yesterday with CNN's Dana Bash, and according to the Nexis transcript, this was their exchange about health care:
BASH: So, you're in the Oval Office, you're saying Obamacare...
TRUMP: It's got to go.
BASH: It's got to go.
TRUMP: Repeal and replace with something terrific.
Oh, something terrific. Why didn't Republicans just say so? I was concerned they might try to replace the ACA with something wholly inadequate, but if the plan will be "something terrific" -- no doubt, it'll be classy, too -- then American families obviously have no reason to worry about Republicans taking their health care benefits away.
All joking aside, when Bash asked Trump to elaborate a bit on what "terrific" plan he has in mind, the GOP candidate added that the system will depend on "private companies" that will do great with "competition."
It's easy to laugh at this, but let's not lose sight of the larger context: Trump's six-word health care plan -- "repeal and replace with something terrific" -- is every bit as specific as the health care plan outlined by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, what makes Trump's comment especially amusing is its broad applicability in describing Republicans' approach to policymaking.
Tom Costello, veteran aviation correspondent for NBC News, talks with Rachel Maddow about breaking news of the discovery of a part of a wing from a 777, which authorities believe is from the missing Malaysia Air flight 370. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on more than a dozen protesters dangling on ropes from a bridge to block the passage of an icebreaker ship that had been in port for reports, holding up Shell Oil's planned Arctic drilling operation. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on Hillary Clinton's expected call for an end to the embargo on Cuba, and Bernie Sanders rallying 100,000 grassroots supporters, and both candidates perform well in head-to-head polling against potential Republican opponents. watch
Every time I have a chance to read through the local Oklahoma news, the news gods make it worth my while: http://t.co/ewZSJMlLxU
* A murder charge in Ohio: "A University of Cincinnati officer was indicted for murder Wednesday for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the head following a routine traffic stop earlier this month. A Cincinnati grand jury has decided to indict University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing in the July 19 death of 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, who was pulled over for not having a front license plate on his car."
* There's skepticism because we've seen reports like these before: "The Taliban's longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead, the Afghan government announced Wednesday after a day of feverish speculation. 'I can confirm that Mullah Omar is dead,' the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security Abdul Hassib Sediqi told NBC News."
* Economy: "The Federal Reserve offered a slightly more upbeat assessment of the economy Wednesday but provided little insight into when it will raise its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade."
* EPA: "The Obama administration has decided to give states more time to comply with proposed regulations that will require dramatic cuts in greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants, people familiar with the plans said Tuesday."
* GOP in disarray: "House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) brushed off a challenge to his leadership from Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) on Wednesday, but not without showing some irritation."
* He doesn't have much of a choice: "President Obama would sign a three-month highway funding bill, the White House said Wednesday, though it ripped Republicans in Congress for failing to agree on a long-term solution."
Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tried to hold a hearing on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, but the discussion wasn't especially fruitful. It was clear the hearing, such as it was, was pretty far off track when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, "Do you know what EMP is?"
CRUZ: Secretary Moniz, I want to turn to a different question. The single greatest threat to the United States if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon is an Electromagnetic Pulse. A nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere over the Eastern seaboard could kill tens of millions of Americans. On July 23rd in testimony before Congress, you told the United States Senate you hadn't read the Congressionally mandated Commission on EMPs and that you didn't know what an EMP was.
MONIZ: That is incorrect. I said I did not know this 2008 report recommendations. I said I was quite familiar with the issue. And we all know about EMPs from airburst nuclear weapons.
The right-wing Texan, apparently competing in some imaginary competition to become America's Most Obnoxious Politician, said it was "stunning" to him that Moniz doesn't know what an EMP is.
The Energy Secretary, who also happens to be a nuclear physicist and longtime MIT professor, tried to explain to Cruz, "Of course I know about the issue. I happen to know something about nuclear weapons; I know about EMPs; I know about various...."
Cruz, growing impatient, insisted that an EMP "could kill tens of millions of Americans" and demanded to know whether Moniz considered that possible. The cabinet secretary -- who earned a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford and is considered one of the top nuclear physicists in the country -- responded by noting the importance of specifics.
The GOP senator quickly grew agitated and whined about Moniz "refusing to answer the question."
The Senate Armed Services Committee held its own hearing today on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which regrettably went about as well as the other congressional hearings on the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican presidential candidate and one of his party's most unyielding hawks, got especially animated during an exchange with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:
GRAHAM: Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?
CARTER: No, the United States...
GRAHAM: We win!
The senator seemed pleased with himself, though this doesn't exactly help the Republican cause. For proponents of the agreement, the concern has long been that GOP lawmakers want to kill the diplomatic deal because they want a military confrontation with Iran. Republicans usually make a point to deny this, instead saying they prefer a "better" diplomatic solution.
Graham, however, is less subtle -- his line of questioning suggested the United States would win a war, which makes war an appealing alternative.
The administration's cabinet secretaries seemed visibly irritated with Graham's grandstanding, and they didn't make much of an effort to debate the South Carolina senator, but I would have enjoyed some additional debate on this. It's true, of course, that in a conventional conflict that pits the U.S. military against the Iranian military, the latter wouldn't stand much of a chance.
And while that may be the end of the conversation for Graham, responsible policymakers have to wonder: "win" at what cost? What are the security implications of the U.S. launching yet another Middle Eastern war? How long would the war last and with how many casualties? What happens after our "victory"?
"Do you have any doubt who wins?" No. Does Graham have any doubt that such a war would be incredibly costly?
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.
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