Commentary

Today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File does a great job of exposing the downright craziness of the latest proposal to revive the death penalty in North Carolina and, in particular, the notion that we should keep the nature of the “drug cocktail” used to kill people a secret. Here’s Chris:

“States that still execute people can’t figure out how to do it and innocent people continue to be released from death row every year.

Simply making the process a secret to speed it up is not the answer. Henry McCollum is living proof of that.”

Of course, it could be that Chris is thinking too narrowly. Maybe this whole secrecy business is just what the doctor ordered (no pun intended). After all, once they succeed in keeping the secret death sauce contents away from prying public eyes, the obvious next step for death penalty supporters will be to keep the means of death itself a secret.

Yeah, that’s the ticket! Instead of sentencing people to “death by lethal injection,” we can just start sentencing them to “death by whatever handy means are readily available.”

And then, after the public gets used to that, we can simply sentence the condemned to “disappear.” Maybe we could even contract the job out to hyper-efficient private companies to save the taxpayers time, money and hassle. I’ll bet we can find some great offshore vendors to handle the contract.

Commentary

As Sharon McCloskey reported in this space yesterday, the the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a modest victory for democracy this week when it said that states can ban direct campaign solicitations by judges. Would that North Carolina would join the list of states to do so.

What was perhaps the most amazing thing about the Court’s ruling, however, was Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress explains:

“Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion for the Court in Williams-Yulee is certainly better for campaign finance regulation than a decision striking down this limit on judicial candidates — had the case gone the other way, judges could have been given the right to solicit money from the very lawyers who practice before them. Yet Roberts also describes judges as if they are special snowflakes who must behave in a neutral and unbiased way that would simply be inappropriate for legislators, governors and presidents:

‘States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such ‘responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.’ The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must ‘observe the utmost fairness,’ striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or controul [sic] him but God and his conscience.” As in White, therefore, our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.’

Most Americans would undoubtedly agree that judges should not ‘follow the preferences’ of their political supporters, as they would agree that judges should not ‘provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.’ But the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors. The President of the United States is the president of the entire United States. A member of Congress represents their entire constituency. Yet Roberts appears to believe that they should ‘follow the preferences’ of their supporters and give ‘special consideration’ to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election.”

Sadly, as Millhiser concludes, the view that it’s okay for donors to buy politicians is at the heart of the Court’s unabashed ruling in the infamous Citizens United decision. What’s bizarre about this week’s ruling is the Court majority’s apparent obliviousness to their own hypocrisy when it comes to donors buying judges.

Commentary

Tech Times has another story this morning that you can mention the next time some troubled soul tries to tell you that government should stop requiring vaccines in order to combat infectious diseases and protect the public health:

Health Officials Declare Rubella Completely Eradicated In The Americas

Rubella, also known as German measles, a disease considered a grave risk to unborn children, has been eliminated from the Americas, a scientific panel says.

Medical experts say the successful elimination of the contagious viral disease is a historic achievement for North and South America, on a level with the elimination of smallpox in 1971 and polio in 1994.

With the success of mass vaccination programs, the last endemic cases of rubella in the Americas were in Brazil and Argentina in 2009.

With no cases declared during five consecutive years, the Americas have been declared free of the rubella virus, says Carissa Etienne, head of the Pan-American Health Organization, a part of the World Health Organization.”

The story also notes that:

“Measles were eliminated in the Americas in 2002, but a rise of the number of children unvaccinated over parents’ fears of autism from the MMR vaccination has allowed imported cases to cause outbreaks in the U.S., such as the one traced to Disneyland in California in late 2014.”

Commentary

State lawmakers made up for a sluggish (and, at times, even moderately encouraging) start to the 2015 session last night by passing a raft of dreadful and regressive bills that will continue North Carolina’s slide back into the pack of old confederate states that it once sought to lead.

Here are just a few of the lowlights of yesterday’s House and Senate sessions:

#1 – A bill that seeks to severely weaken the state’s Environmental Protection Act by dramatically reducing the number of public projects that will be subjected to an environmental review. This was the response of the watchdogs at the Sierra Club:

“We regret the disservice this legislation does to North Carolina’s environment and taxpayers alike. What’s troubling is that the House pushed this legislation through without any study or review of the impacts on the use of public funds and public lands.

There is no good reason to strike this historic environmental protection law. North Carolinians are looking for more transparency and accountability from leaders on the use of public funds – not less.”

#2- A bill to jump start executions by, among other things,  removing the requirement that physicians be present and shrouding in secrecy the drug cocktail that will be used to kill the condemned.

#3- A bill that would require teaching public school history students a list of so-called “founding principles” that are really just part of a the political agenda of a Koch Brothers-funded group.

#4 – A bill to weaken the state’s renewable energy requirement for electricity generators. According to WRAL.com:

“The proposal introduced Wednesday night as an amendment to House Bill 760, a regulatory reform measure, would cap the REPS requirement at 6 percent permanently and would allow a utility to claim energy-efficiency savings for up to half of that requirement. Power companies could seek reimbursement from ratepayers for any investments or contracts they’ve already entered into in order to meet the higher renewables requirements that the proposal repeals.

The measure would also repeal an 80 percent property tax break that solar farms and facilities currently receive.”

#5 – A Senate bill to make felons out of kids 16 or older who commit assaults on teachers or school volunteers. The bill passed despite the passionate opposition of Senator Erica Smith-Ingram who told an emotional and personal story of a confrontation she had with a student while teaching high school and how keeping the student out of the criminal system had, in effect, saved his life.

There were many other counter-productive bills advanced yesterday (and a few promising ones — most notably the proposal to partially rein in the misclassification of workers by bad actor employers). Stay tuned for more updates throughout the day as we sift through the “Crossover Day” results.