About Nate

Nate is a contributor and past co-host on the “Arsenal For Democracy” show. He was previously the co-founder of the Starboard Broadside political blog with Bill in 2008.

Refudiated

The Prop 8 ruling is obviously last week’s big news, but I wanted to touch on an issue that I didn’t get a chance to write about yesterday. On Tuesday, a New York City panel rejected efforts to grant landmark status to a building near Ground Zero slated to be built into a mosque. The mosque had become the latest outrage du jour for conservatives concerned about the impending Muslim takeover of America. Republican heavyweights Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin took a day off from demonizing city dwellers to instead speak on their behalf by bashing the mosque and claiming it is an insult to all those who died during 9/11. I know it is political silly season right now, but I think this is an important issue because of just how blatantly the conservative arguments about the mosque fly in the face of basic American values.

Gingrich, in addition to basically comparing peaceful New York Muslims to Al Qaeda hijackers, had this particularly cutting argument for why we shouldn’t allow a mosque.

There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over.

 
Yup, Newt is basically saying that we should throw out our commitment to religious pluralism and nondiscrimination because the Saudis don’t allow freedom of religion. When the hell did Saudi Arabia become our standard for freedom? Lets get rid of women rights too, while we’re at it! America is a better country than Saudi Arabia precisely because of these freedoms and it would be ludicrous to hold ourselves to their standards.

Not only is the Ground Zero Mosque not really a mosque (it is more of a community center that has prayer spaces), it’s also not on Ground Zero. Everyone is talking about how insensitive it would be to built a mosque on ground zero, but it’s located several blocks away from the former site of the Twin Towers and would be only the second mosque in lower Manhattan (I don’t have really any first-hand knowledge on this, but I can only really find one other on google maps). We are talking about prime real estate in a city with thousands of Muslims who might appreciate having a place to pray close to their work.

I definitely understand that 9/11 was a traumatic experience for all Americans and New Yorkers especially. And because the terrorists attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, it is not at all surprising that some Americans would feel uneasy about other members of that religion. But the pain of that day should not blind us to the fact that Islam is the second largest religion in the world and the vast majority of its followers are not terrorists and do not wish to kill innocent Americans. Our prejudices, not matter how understandable they may be, should not allow us to deny fundamental rights to other Americans. In this case, having the government prevent the mosque would violate both the religious rights and property rights of the Cordoba Initiative (they own the building and are mostly free to do whatever they choose with it). Maybe the Cordoba Initiative could choose to stir less controversy and outrage by building the mosque somewhere else. But if they want to build the mosque there, they have the right to. Don’t like it? Too bad, we live in a free country.

This all brings me back to another point I have touched on several times before: every time we compromise our fundamental rights in the name of fighting “terrorism,” we are in fact advancing the terrorist cause. Religious pluralism, one of the foundations of American democracy, is antithetical to the jihadist ideology and when we compromise our ideals we create an America less free and more like the nation Al Qaeda would like to create.

But none of this really about Ground Zero and 9/11. That’s just a cover. How do I know this? There is a trend from Tennessee to Wisconsin to California of opposition to mosque construction. Along with silly fears about “creeping sharia law” there’s a feeling among conservatives that Islam is not a religion, but rather a “political ideology” or a “cult.” Since our Founders recognized “Mohammedans” as a religion that deserves the protection that other religions enjoy, I am going to side with Thomas Jefferson and his Koran on this one (Never mind that the only real difference between a cult and a religion is the number of followers they have). In a time of economic recession, this type of xenophobic bigotry is certainly not unprecedented. That, however, does not make it any less shameful.

Finally, I want to give out to some cheers and jeers in this saga. Jeers to the Anti-Defamation League for condemning the mosque and, well, defaming Muslims. Having followed the Anti-Defamation League’s antics surrounding the Armenian Genocide and the Israeli-Palestinian Debate, however, I can’t say I am surprised. Cheers to Fareed Zakaria for returning an ADL prize in protest. Here’s an excerpt from his letter:

The ADL’s mission statement says it seeks “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.” But Abraham Foxman, the head of the ADL, explained that we must all respect the feelings of the 9/11 families, even if they are prejudiced feelings. “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted,” he said. First, the 9/11 families have mixed views on this mosque. There were, after all, dozens of Muslims killed at the World Trade Center. Do their feelings count? But more important, does Foxman believe that bigotry is OK if people think they’re victims? Does the anguish of Palestinians, then, entitle them to be anti-Semitic?

 
Cheers again to Michael Bloomberg for an eloquent speech defending religious freedom and the right of the Cordoba Initiative to build the mosque. I recommend watching the whole thing.

This post was originally published on Starboard Broadside.

We endorse Mike Capuano for US Senate

This is the official endorsement by the Editors-in-Chief of Starboard Broadside for the US Senate special Democratic primary election to be held on December 8th, 2009. The final special election will be in late January.

For us, this was a pretty simple choice: former Somerville mayor and current US Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA-08) should be the next US Senator from Massachusetts. We made this decision based on several factors… First, Capuano has an impressive, unabashedly progressive voting record in the US House of Representatives. Second, on the big issues of today, he is not only already engaged in working on them and ready to hit the ground running in the upper chamber, but he has the right campaign positions. Finally, he is the best candidate to take up the banner of Ted Kennedy’s vision for America.

In office since 1999, with a lifetime progressive score of 95.42%, Rep. Capuano has been voting the right way on all the major issues that matter to progressive and liberal Democrats. Of particular importance are his votes against the 2001 USA PATRIOT ACT, the 2008 FISA domestic surveillance amendments, and the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002, which shows he has his head on straight. While it is a bit troubling that he has supported some of Israel’s more aggressive actions, such as the 2006 campaign in Lebanon, he also believes that a comprehensive two-state-based plan for peace in Israel and Palestine will help Israel in the long run more than endless war with terrorist groups. Capuano has also created a coalition of US representatives to take action on Sudan and the genocide in Darfur, and he has worked to end illegal torture and rendition of terrorism suspects, which we feel demonstrates a clear commitment to a humanitarian foreign policy that lives up to America’s ideals. He has a record of voting against nuclear weapons buildups and missile defense boondoggles. We conclude that as one of one hundred senators, his sensible foreign policy votes and stances will have even more impact. On the current health care reform, Capuano has voted against the dangerous Stupak abortion restriction amendment but for the overall reform plan. On the environment, he has a solid record heading into the ongoing climate change legislative process early next year. On education, he has voted to mitigate the negative effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation and has supported increased funding for public education in general. His record is virtually impeccable, he defends his liberal credentials vociferously and without apology, and there’s no mystery as to how he’ll vote in the Senate, which unfortunately cannot be said for any of his Democratic rivals, none of whom have any legislative record.

Whoever is elected to the Senate in January must have the right campaign positions on four pressing issues: the economy, the environment, and the War in Afghanistan, and health care reform. Capuano does have the right positions (given in those links) on these issues…

As a member of the House Financial Services Committee, Capuano is working right now on reforms that we hope will prevent a similar economic catastrophe in future. We believe that while the TARP financial bailout program was problematic and poorly executed, we still think it was necessary, and therefore we commend his vote in favor of it and his recognition that we need to keep fixing the problems of the bailout. In another area, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) has introduced aggressive consumer protection legislation, and Mike Capuano has been an advocate for consumers in the House, so we know he’ll support tough legislation such as Dodd’s.

On the environment, Capuano has pledged to continue strengthening climate change (cap-and-trade) legislation, which will still be on the table in January. Critically, he supports green jobs programs and renewable energy projects such as Cape Wind (off Cape Cod) that benefit Massachusetts and help fight global warming. He will also support tougher emissions standards for vehicles, which is always a good thing. From recycling programs in Somerville to legislative work in Washington, Capuano understands the need for strong environmental legislation.

On the campaign trail over the past couple months, he has called for the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan; while we have debated whether or not it is the right time to draw down, we are agreed that we should not escalate further and that we need to prepare a clear exit plan. Capuano has consistently voted against indefinite timelines and military proposals that do not include an end plan.

Finally, on health care, the current legislation may have passed Congress by the time the next Senator takes office in January, but we don’t know what form it will take and we know that it will be far from a complete piece of legislation. For this reason, especially since the next person elected to the Massachusetts Senate seat could well hold the spot for decades, it is critical to have a Senator in place who will continue to push for more and better health care reform legislation. Thus far, he has voted the right way, and he maintains that he has been a strong, longtime supporter of increasing coverage for Americans, which we believe he will continue to be.

The third reason we have decided to endorse Rep. Mike Capuano for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat is that he is best suited to continue Senator Kennedy’s vision for the country. Kennedy served Massachusetts in the United States Senate from 1962 to 2009, and throughout it he fought for access to health care by all Americans and for quality education for all American children, and he worked to improve the lives of middle income and poor Americans. Whether serving in Somerville MA or on Capitol Hill in DC, Mike Capuano has demonstrated a commitment to these same ideals, as a liberal, as a Democrat, and as an American citizen. Although the Kennedy family or their loyal friends have held that Senate seat from 1953 to the present (with interim Sen. Paul Kirk Jr.), for the past three decades Ted Kennedy used that seat for fulfilling his ideals, not simply for fulfilling family or personal ambition. Thus, we feel that it is important to elect the candidate best suited to continue pursuing these aims. We don’t want a carbon copy, but we believe Ted Kennedy was one of the greatest Senators in US history, and so it’s important to fill his shoes as best we can. With a proven legislative record living up to Ted Kennedy’s vision, and the experience and Washington connections needed to continue the Dream, it’s clear Capuano will keep up the work that the Kennedy family started long ago with that seat.

Although we looked at the other candidates, we were not as impressed as with Rep. Capuano. State Attorney General Martha Coakley does not have a legislative record at any level, and she has had a fairly low-profile in her current office, which concerns us because we don’t want a wildcard, but rather a reliable liberal vote. Many of her supporters have argued that we need more women in office and that this is a sufficient reason to elect her. While we appreciate that we certainly do need more female leaders, we also believe that we should elect the candidate with the best positions and the best record, regardless of gender, and we feel that Capuano is better on both counts. We believe that Alan Khazei, a co-founder of City Year and a friend of Ted Kennedy, is an earnest candidate who is probably quite liberal, if untested, but he lacks the relevant experience we’d like to see in such an important office at this critical time. He would be new to government, and he would not be able to hit the ground running if elected. Furthermore, because he is so unknown, if Khazei won the primary he would be the most likely to put the seat at risk for a Republican capture — an unlikely scenario for the others. Mike Capuano is a much safer bet on all counts. Steve Pagliuca is the candidate we definitely cannot support in this primary because he is a former Republican and seems like a rich opportunist whom we can’t trust to represent the liberal Massachusetts constituency. He supported the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, despite abandoning the Republican Party before that. We have trouble supporting anyone who did that. Pagliuca’s positions are also questionable, including when he confuses people by issuing and backtracking from position statements, such as supporting a military draft. He has also showed insufficient concern for women’s rights, suggesting that the Stupak abortion restriction in the House health care bill was largely irrelevant or unimportant. Mike Capuano, on the other hand, raises none of these doubts in our minds.

In conclusion, we enthusiastically join the impressive list of those who have already endorsed Representative Mike Capuano for United States Senate for the Massachusetts Democratic primary on 12/8/09, and we will be casting our absentee ballots for Newton MA to help him win. We hope those of you who are registered to vote in Massachusetts will do the same.

Learn more about Mike Capuano and his positions at MikeCapuano.com

Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

One of the main arguments in support of the death penalty is that with all of the litigation and the many years of waiting on death row, it would be impossible to execute an innocent person. Given that a number of prisoners on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence, there may indeed have been some innocent people killed (since DNA evidence is not present in every crime, despite what we see on CSI). Until now, however, there has never been one case that we can say with a good amount of certainty that the man was probably innocent. From the New Yorker’s David Grann comes the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for starting a fire that killed his three children. Though the evidence seemed airtight at the time of the trial, there are some serious holes. The arson experts who studied the house had no real scientific training. There was never any motive for the murders. The prosecution had convinced the jury that a Led Zepplin poster and a skull tattoo were evidence of cult-like actions. Nevertheless, Willingham was executed. In recent years, Texas has been reviewing the evidence and may state next year that they believe he was innocent. If that happens, it will be a major landmark in our national debate over the death penalty.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

American Exceptionalism and the Torture Debate

Mark Thompson at the League of Ordinary Gentleman has what I think is an excellent post on how torture runs contrary to this idea that America is an exceptional country.

If you think the United States is just another country, or even just another Western country, then the moral issues of whether waterboarding is torture, or whether it was a war crime to drop the atomic bomb, can and perhaps should be either irrelevant or only of minor significance compared to whether those actions saved more lives than they cost. But if you are a true believer in American exceptionalism, then you must accept that maintaining that exceptionalism comes with costs, perhaps sometimes in human lives.

Shining cities don’t just appear and maintain their shine without sacrifice and risk-taking by their citizens. It does no one any good to pretend otherwise; nor does it do any good to secretly and gradually apply a bit of plaster and polish to a monument from which you have taken much gold restores the monument to its previous glow. Instead, that monument must be stripped of its plaster for all to see in its newly grotesque shape. Then, and only then, can the people properly evaluate whether the lost shine was worth the increase in safety.

 
He goes on to state in the post and in the comments that America is not and has often not been the right country or the most free. Instead, he bases his ideas of American exceptionalism on the founding documents of our nation, which laid out the premise that all men are created equal and endowed with certain natural rights. Since I’m in a historical minded mood (I should be studying instead of writing this…), I wondered about this.
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Denmark: F@#$ YEAH!

If you were to ask me what my favorite country in the world is (besides the US of course, ILYSM) I would definitely pick Denmark. I have visited Denmark several times and I have some Danish friends, and I have got to say it is pretty cool in lots of ways. They are masters of alternative energy, particularly wind power (the world’s biggest wind turbine company, Vestas, is Danish). They have supertrains everywhere that completely put the “T” and Amtrak to shame. The entire country is bike friendly and there are bike lanes on pretty much every road (I would know – I’ve biked across the country). The Danes are a warm, socially tolerant, friendly, and beer-loving people. (Oh, and full disclosure, my uncle was the US Ambassador to the country in the 90s). But there’s another reason why Denmark is kickass: its economy.

John Cohn at TNR explains that America isn’t turning French, its turning Danish, and why this is good. (Video no longer available. Sorry! -ed.)

Cohn also wrote a terrific piece about Denmark in TNR two years ago. It’s not on the website anymore (TNR has sucky archives), but I found it.

If you believe the conservative rhetoric on economics, this combination of high taxes, a large public sector, and lavish welfare benefits ought to be killing the Danish economy. But it’s not. In fact, Denmark’s economy has thrived. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the job market. By the time Rasmussen left office in 2001, the unemployment rate had fallen from a 1994 peak of 9.6 percent to 4.3 percent; in 2002, it fell below the U.S. rate, where it has remained ever since. For the most recent quarter of 2006, Denmark’s standardized unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, compared with 4.7 percent in the United States. Moreover, while Europe has a reputation for fostering cadres of idle youth (a reputation that, in countries like France, has at least some basis in reality), in Denmark, a mere 3 percent of its 15- to 19-year-olds are neither in school nor working–the second-best rate in the developed world. (Tiny Luxembourg is first.) In the United States, by comparison, the figure is about 7 percent.

 
Bob Kuttner also wrote about Denmark’s pwnage in Foreign Affairs (subscriber wall, sorry).

Reading Adam Smith in Copenhagen — the center of the small, open, and highly successful Danish economy — is a kind of out-of-body experience. On the one hand, the Danes are passionate free traders. They score well in the ratings constructed by pro-market organizations. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index ranks Denmark third, just behind the United States and Switzerland. Denmark’s financial markets are clean and transparent, its barriers to imports minimal, its labor markets the most flexible in Europe, its multinational corporations dynamic and largely unmolested by industrial policies, and its unemployment rate of 2.8 percent the second lowest in the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

On the other hand, Denmark spends about 50 percent of its GDP on public outlays and has the world’s second-highest tax rate, after Sweden; strong trade unions; and one of the world’s most equal income distributions. For the half of GDP that they pay in taxes, the Danes get not just universal health insurance but also generous child-care and family-leave arrangements, unemployment compensation that typically covers around 95 percent of lost wages, free higher education, secure pensions in old age, and the world’s most creative system of worker retraining.

 
As these quotes make clear, the key to Denmark’s success is, the combination of dynamic, free market economies, and strong social safety nets. Of course, the US and Denmark are very different countries, so we can’t adopt these policies overnight. But Denmark’s example does point the way forward for liberals and America in the future.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.