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.

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.