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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Timeline: Milestones of the Food Movement

Forty years after food activism took off around the globe, corporatism is stronger than ever. But so is the grassroots push for control over our work, land and seeds. This timeline presents twelve major events in the evolution of the global food movement.

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Timeline by Omar Rubio.

On Capital Punishment, Perry Is Bush on Steroids

The most disturbing and telling moment in last night’s GOP presidential debate, as my colleague Jamelle Bouie has noted, came when the audience heartily applauded Brian Williams’s mention of the 234 executions Gov. Rick Perry presided over in Texas.

Here’s the full transcript of the exchange. (Huff Po has the video).

WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. [Applause] Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

PERRY: No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which—when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.

But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.

[Applause]

WILLIAMS: What do you make of the dynamic that just happened here? The mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause.

PERRY: I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens—and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.

In fact, the death penalty process in Texas has been irrevocably broken for quite some time. There is ample evidence that Perry ordered the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham—a case described in chilling detail by The New Yorker’s David Grann—even when presented with clear proof of Willingham’s innocence, or at the very least persuasive doubt about his supposed guilt. Perry then dismissed members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission who were investigating Willingham’s case, in order to try to cover up his cavalier execution of a possibly innocent man. That alone, in my opinion, should disqualify Perry from seeking the presidency.

But Perry’s reckless handling of the most severe power granted to a state executive—the power to take another life—didn’t stop there. According to the Texas Tribune, Perry’s “parsimonious use of clemency is notable because of continuing concerns about the ability of prisoners facing capital charges in Texas to retain quality legal representation, the execution of those who were minors when they committed their crimes, the ability of some prisoners to understand their punishment intellectually and the international ramifications of executing foreign nationals.”

In at least three cases currently before the state, serious questions have been raised about the legal handling of the cases, the guilt of the defendants, and Texas’ refusal to hearing new evidence that may well prove their innocence. Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic has a detailed summary of each case: Duane Edward Buck, Larry Ray Swearingen and Hank Skinner.

Since 2001, forty-one death row prisoners in Texas have been exonerated based on new DNA evidence. One prisoner, Anthony Graves, spent twelve years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. “When we’ve had twenty exonerations in Dallas County alone, obviously someone may have been executed for a crime they didn’t commit,” says Dallas County DA Craig Watkins. The fact that Perry has “never struggled…at all” with these cases tells us something about his moral compass, or lack thereof.

As my colleague Liliana Segura tweeted yesterday, “After Bush, anti–death penalty folks could not fathom a worse presidential candidate. Little did we know.”

When it comes to executing people—innocent or otherwise—Perry is Bush on steroids.

GOP Debate: From Birthers to Earthers

The most striking part of the first full-blown debate in the Republican primary was the total rejection of science. 

In a surreal scene near the night's end, Gov. Rick Perry likened the people denying global warming science to Galileo. To observe that he has that history exactly backwards -- it was the Church that accused Galileo of heresy in 1633 for scientific theories which were on the right track -- is merely to observe that Perry's substantive errors come with their own stylistic snafus. Perhaps that is fitting.  More consequential, however, was the answer that Perry failed to provide.

The original question asked him to name a single scientist that supported his views. None of his opponents seized on the gaffe, since apart from the exception-of-the-night, Gov. Huntsman, every other candidate was aiming for the same conservative turf on which Perry stood.  And unlike Gov. Palin's famous inability to name her sources, the media is likely to put Perry's problems aside, in order to focus on the "fireworks" that finally broke out between top tier candidates.

It says a lot about the weakness of the GOP field, and the hunger of its would-be supporters, that Rick Perry could not only burst to the top of the race at such a late date, but also begin reshaping the field in his image.  Meanwhile, the Romney Campaign seems to think Perry's extremist rhetoric on Social Security creates an opening for arguments rooted in rationality and electability. Still, this is a battle on Perry's turf, as he announced on Wednesday night. "Maybe it's time," he argued, "to have some provocative language in this country."

Now, it has become something of a trope to talk about how the GOP is suddenly more conservative than people might remember, when it's actually been pretty hardcore for a while. But still, it is striking to see just how tough its litmus tests have become this year, from denying global warming to decrying the kind of tax-to-benefit-cut ratios that President Reagan would have loved. In the last presidential cycle, after all, the Republican nominee wasn't just factual in his discussion of global warming, he'd even proposed bipartisan legislation to curb greenhouse gasses. 

Back in September 2007, of course, John McCain was trailing Guiliani and Romney in early states. It's possible that the GOP base will get fired up and ultimately cool down before it's all over.  But this time, I doubt it. 

Nonsensical Argument About Job Creation Dominates GOP Debate

There was a lot of agreement in Wednesday evening’s Republican debate hosted by MSNBC and Politico at the Reagan Presidential Library: Ronald Reagan is awesome and would have agreed with everything Republicans say today, there is something wrong with Barack Obama’s foreign policy even if we’re not sure what it is, the Affordable Care Act is a massive imposition by government on the will of the people who elected it well aware that they were running on a promise to enact healthcare reform.

The only major back and forth occurred around a curiously meaningless debate: which governor on stage presided over the most job growth and who would create the most jobs as president. For a party that claims government does nothing as well as the private sector and that efforts to improve society are a fools errand, it’s an odd obsession. If you believe, as Mitt Romney has repeatedly asserted, that it is business rather than government that creates jobs then how can you argue that you will do so as president?

In fact, Romney went so far as to say, “If I’d spent my career in government I wouldn’t be running for president,” because then he wouldn’t know how to create jobs. It was an apparent jab at Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has been in politics for nearly three decades and has no major private sector experience. Romney walked the claim back when moderator Brian Wiliams asked if he was saying a career politician is unqualified for the White House. Thankfully pundits seem disinclined to claim Romney showed weakness, as they bizarrely insisted Tim Pawlenty did in his confrontation with Romney at the first Republican debate. 

Perry, a career politician if ever there was one, responded by noting that Massachusetts had the forty-seventh best job growth rate among the states while Romney was governor, a fact that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman also gleefully cited. Huntsman was even more smug when boasting that Utah ranked first among the states in job creation during his tenure. Perry, who has made the illusory “Texas miracle” of job creation his claim to fame, bragged in turn about the jobs created in Texas since he took office.

The governors all came prepared with job-related factoids to hurl at each other. “Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt,” said Perry, while Huntsman told Perry that forty-seventh best “just won’t cut it.” Romney countered that Texas created more jobs under Perry’s predecessor, George W. Bush, than under Perry. He also defended his record and minimized Perry’s by noting that Massachusetts and Texas have different political and economic conditions. 

“States are different,” said Romney. “Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right to work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn't believe that he created those things.”

It’s a fair rejoinder, but one that undermines the whole premise of their argument. Job creation in a state is not actually primarily under control of the governor. Aside from the other political bodies there are macro-economic conditions, the uneven distribution of natural resources, and political, social structural constraints. If a governor did totally control his state’s economy then the current state of affairs would be the fault of our mostly Republican batch of governors, not President Obama. If, on the other hand, the whole nation’s economy is entirely within the president’s control, as Romney, Perry and Huntsman’s constant attacks on Obama would imply, then governors don’t deserve credit or blame for their state’s economy during their tenure. By claiming that a governor controls his state’s job growth and the president controls the whole nation’s, they are making somewhat contradictory arguments. And, as Romney points out, legislatures have power too. But you don’t see Romney making that argument when it comes to the Republicans currently in control of the House of Representatives. The whole discussion also runs counter to Republicans’ simultaneous claims that the government is not a force for job creation.

Romney’s two chief competitors, Perry and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), fully demonstrated their weaknesses. In Perry’s case that is his unyielding extremism and underwhelming intellect. He stood staunchly behind his previous statements opposing the existence of the Social Security program and reiterated his demonstrably false belief that it is “a Ponzi scheme.” Perry also defended his rejection of climate science with the incorrect non sequitur that “Galileo got outvoted for a spell.” Galileo, of course, was suppressed by religious extremists who did not like his findings. The obvious analogy to climate science today is that religious extremists such as Rick Perry ignorantly reject scientific findings as their predecessors in Rome did Galileo’s astronomy. 

Bachmann’s apparent weakness is, aside from her extremism, her lack of experience, knowledge or gravitas. She did nothing to correct that by dodging questions and offering only canned irrelevant answers. John Harris of Politico asked her what she would do about the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently within our borders even after the border is adequately secured. She answered with a fear-mongering invocation of “narco-terrorists” coming in from Mexico to illustrate the importance of securing the border. That was, of course, no answer at all. Harris took the rare measure of pressing with a follow up since she had so blatantly ignored his question. Bachmann responded with no concrete or meaningful answer, saying, “It is sequential, and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record. All of those things have to be taken into place.” In other words, she knows she strongly dislikes undocumented immigrants but she has no actual idea what to do about the ones who are here. 

Bachmann’s unimpressive analytical rigor was apparent in her next statement as well. She perversely claimed that Reagan would have agreed with all the Republican candidates that they should not accept any increase in tax revenues as part of a deficit reduction package because Reagan himself had in fact done just that.

Harris, noting that Bachmann had opposed President Obama’s intervention in Libya and that if Obama had agreed with Bachmann Muammar Qaddafi would still be in power, asked “Are you advocating a shift away from the George W. Bush freedom agenda with its emphasis on removing dictators from power and promoting human rights?” It was a good question—a rare opportunity to get a candidate off her canned talking point and probe her larger worldview. Bachmann, alas, was having none of it. She answered by claiming that Obama “has actually weakened us militarily and with the United States presence globally.” Her evidence? That the debt ceiling agreement created cuts to defense spending that will be triggered if the super-committee cannot reach a deficit reduction deal. Of course, the debt ceiling agreement itself wouldn’t be in place had Republicans just voted to raise the debt ceiling as Congress always has in the past. But Bachmann was against doing that. It is thanks to Bachmann and her ilk that we now face the prospect of the super-committee cuts. And that prospect can still be avoided if the committee can reach a deal. But that would require Republicans agreeing to raise revenues, which is something that none of them accept.

Fortunately for Bachmann and Perry the audience showed that the Republican primary electorate does not much care for cogitation, rationality or human empathy. The most telling moment of the night came not from the stage but from the seats. When Williams noted during a question that Texas has executed 234 people during Perry’s tenure he was interrupted by the crowd bursting into applause. It’s unlikely that Perry and Bachmann’s inanities will disqualify them with that sort of voter.

9/11 at 10

The event first aired on Thursday, September 8.

Ten years later, the events of 9/11 continue to reverberate. In a special Nation event leading Nation writers will engage in a conversation about how the marketing of fear has reshaped our politics, society, and culture and how we should rethink the concept of the War on Terror. Featuring: Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation; Melissa Harris-Perry, Professor of Political Science at Tulane University; Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University; and Christopher Hayes, editor at large, The Nation.  Moderated by John Nichols, Washington correspondent, The Nation.

Mitt Romney Releases Plan to Increase Unemployment and the Budget Deficit

Tuesday contained two strangely contradictory economic policy pronouncements from Mitt Romney. In the morning he announced the formation of an economic advisory team that included some encouraging choices. The two economists on board are Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s business school, and Greg Mankiw, a professor at Harvard. Both served as chairs of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. So, granted, they are hardly models of fiscal discipline. Hubbard pushed the irresponsible budget-busting Bush tax cuts over Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil’s objections.

But Bushonomics looks quite sane compared to today’s GOP. These are relatively honest, albeit conservative, brokers. They are not the sort of people who demanded that Congress refuse to raise the debt ceiling, as Romney himself did. That’s not their only difference with their candidate. Romney recently said at the last Republican debate that he would not accept a deal to balance the budget that contained $10 in spending cuts for $1 in increased revenue. Both Mankiw and Hubbard endorses raising revenues through reducing expenditures in the tax code. Mankiw also supports taxing carbon emissions or raising the tax on gasoline.

Romney also appointed two politicians, former Representative Vin Weber (R-MN) and former Senator Jim Talent (R-MO). Webber is an establishmentarian who supports the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan. That would raise $2 billion in revenues through eliminating expenditures in the tax code. No one knows what Talent thinks about revenues, but then again no one knows why Talent is on the committee either.

And yet by Tuesday afternoon Romney had dashed any liberal’s hopes that he would take a reasonable approach to economic policy. When he put out his long jobs plan, it contained the same conservative dogma that we heard from Jon Huntsman last week.

Romney would immediately cut domestic discretionary spending by 5 percent, which is a good way to kneecap the economic recovery and a bad way to reduce our long-term deficit. He would lower tax rates, sign free trade agreements and let domestic energy producers run amok over the environment. None would address our two major problems: a current high rate of unemployment and a long-term mismatch between projected spending and projected revenues. Indeed, by slashing revenues without offering serious plan to cut spending, Romney would exacerbate the latter problem. “It sounds like an effective plan to attack the problem that some workers are still getting paychecks,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. 

As for long-term growth, conservative ideology holds that lower tax rates, fewer environmental regulations and bilateral free trade agreements bolster growth. While they clearly increased inequality during the last three decades, the case that they aid growth is a lot shakier, considering that we’ve often enjoyed stronger growth during periods of higher tax rates. “There’s no reason or historical evidence to lead one to believe that’s a growth agenda,” says Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden’s former chief economic adviser and a fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Among the false premises of Romney’s plan is that increasing corporate profits after taxes, by cutting the corporate income tax rate, will spur hiring. Corporate profits are already quite high, but hiring has not kept pace with their growth. So Romney’s tax plan would do nothing to boost hiring. Romney also pledges to cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP and endorses a balanced budget amendment. These absurd restrictions on federal spending would make us unable to react to future economic crises and would contract economic growth in the near term. “I doubt you could find an economist who would disagree with the assertion that such a move would send us right back into recession,” says Bernstein. 

Romney has made spurring job growth the central promise of his campaign. But just like in Massachusetts and the private sector, as president he would actually do the opposite. 

 

How Politically Talented Is Rick Perry?

There’s no doubt that Rick Perry would be a president from every Democrat’s worst nightmare. Perry holds fringe views on matters of the economy and law: that Social Security is unconstitutional, Texas has the right to secede from the Union and direct election of senators is a mistake. His policy solutions consist mainly of serving his donors’ interests and asking citizens to pray.

But would he be a scary candidate for Democrats? After all, if he cannot win, his views are moot. When it comes to his political skill, Perry’s record in Texas offers a somewhat confusing and contradictory data set. Perry, unlike Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, has never in his career lost a race. Nate Silver of the New York Times points out that in Texas the Republican nominee for any statewide office typically wins in a landslide and Perry has actually underperformed the average Republican.

So Perry’s greatest asset is also his greatest liability. According to Texas political experts, Perry has learned well—perhaps too well— the lesson that in Texas all he needs to do is to win the Republican primary. And in such a conservative state that means running hard to the right. Perry has mastered the art of appealing to the right-wing base and getting the GOP nomination, but he doesn’t play to the middle because he doesn’t have to, hence his unbeaten streak with underwhelming performances in the general election.

“His strength is keeping his finger on the pulse of likely Republican primary voters in Texas,” says Harold Cook, a Democratic political consultant in Texas. “His people have been telling him correctly that all he needs to do is win the primary.” But Texas Republicans are right wing, even by the standards of the national Republican Party. How will Perry’s extremism play in, say, the New Hampshire primary, which is filled with moderates and independents? How about the general election? “The flip side,” notes Cook, “is that [Perry] hasn’t had to communicate with general election voters in a meaningful way in years, and no one knows if he can. He hasn’t come out with a message a moderate independent would find appealing.”

This wasn’t always the case. Perry used to have a more mainstream platform and inclusive rhetoric, but he has astutely moved rightward with his party, and stayed ahead of the curve so that he looks like a leader instead of a panderer. “He used to follow the George W. Bush model more, and he has become more and more conservative,” recalls Jason Stanford, who ran the 2006 campaign of Chris Bell, Perry’s Democratic opponent. “A couple things he did in the middle of this decade showed Perry where his party was going.” (Bush was a relative moderate in Texas, known for his outreach to Latino voters and “compassionate conservative” initiatives like education reform.) Specifically, Perry experienced right wing backlash over his planned private roadway, the Trans-Texas Corridor, and his support for requiring vaccinations against HPV for Texas school girls. Perry realized conservatism was moving in a more nativist, reactionary direction and adjusted.

Perry used to be relatively pro-immigration. He was the first governor in the country to sign a bill allowing illegal immigrants who came as children to pay in-state tuition at public universities. But by 2006 the Republican Party was in the throes of anti-immigration fervor. Perry squared the circle by cutting campaign ads promising to get tough on border security.

“We couldn’t figure out what to say that wouldn’t bother someone,” says Stanford. “He figured out that he could talk about border security and kind of leave immigration alone and no one realized how liberal he was on immigration. He took the issue and changed it. He even talks about terrorists as if we have Al Qaeda swimming across the Rio Grande. He won that issue huge with his people, they never realized he disagreed with them. It was brilliant, vaguely dishonest, but brilliant.”

Perry’s recent announcement that his campaign will be staffed primarily by long time loyalists from Texas doesn’t suggest he is staffing with an eye towards changing his strategy.

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America to Obama, 'Stand Up for Yourself'

In addition to showing Texas Governor Rick Perry’s commanding lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in the Republican presidential primary, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll also contains what must be disheartening news for the White House. Despite the debt ceiling fight—where President Obama demonstrated his political maturity in the face of complete Republican recklessness—only 39 percent of Americans trust the president to do a “better job” on the federal budget deficit, compared to the 42 percent who trust Republicans. Likewise, Americans are tied at 40-40 on who they trust to successfully create jobs, and only slightly prefer Obama when it comes to who they trust to handle the economy—Obama gets 42 percent support to 39 support for Republicans.

If anything, this is a sign that the White House’s preferred strategy—let’s make Obama the “adult in the room”—isn’t working. Instead, we have a more familiar dynamic: now that the choice is between a Republican message on deficit reduction from Republicans and a Republican-lite message on deficit reduction from Democrats, voters have opted for the genuine article.

That said, the situation isn’t hopeless; with tomorrow’s jobs speech, President Obama has the chance to move away from his usual rhetoric of compromise, and confront the Republican Party on its relentless attacks on Democratic attempts to improve the economy. As it stands, the public wants President Obama to stand up for himself and his party. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of Americans say that Obama should challenge the GOP more often, a ten point increase from earlier in the year. As a whole, Democrats are desperate for the president to stand up to the GOP—57 percent want him to be more forceful.

In general, people don’t watch political events, and presidential addresses are no different; in all likelihood, tomorrow’s speech will be watched by few, and forgotten very soon. But consistent rhetoric can make a difference, and if Obama uses his jobs speech to inaugurate a new era of regular confrontation with the GOP, then he might find himself with a few more people on his side.

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Richard Cordray Goes to Capitol Hill, but Addresses Deaf Republican Ears

In what was surely one of the stranger Senate confirmation hearings in recent history, President Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection bureau, Richard Cordray, testified Tuesday before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Unlike most nomination hearings, which focus on the merits of the nominee, the committee could not agree on whether the position itself should exist. Forty-four Senate Republicans sent a letter to President Obama in May that demanded a five-person board with appointees from both parties run the CFPB, instead of a single director.

Tuesday, only two of the committee’s Republicans showed up to the hearing—Senator Richard Shelby, the ranking member, and Senator Bob Corker. Shelby declined to even question Cordray, blasted the hearing in his opening statement as “premature” and said “we do not believe that the committee should consider any nominee to be the director of the CFPB until reforms are adopted to make the bureau accountable to the American people.”

Shelby, who has taken $6.2 million from the financial sector during his career, and his fellow Republicans are demanding not only to remove the position of director but to force the CFPB to submit a budget to Congress and accept additional veto powers from other bank regulators. The Republican line of attack is that, without these regulations, the CFPB will be a runaway regulatory train straight out of Glenn Beck’s nightmares.

“The director will be virtually free of any constraints on his authority during his five-year term. No one person should have so much unfettered power over the American people,” Shelby said during the hearing. “It blatantly violates the spirit of our democratic system of government…. unless the Bureau is reformed, it is only a matter of time before this concentration of power is abused or misused to the detriment of American consumers and the economy.”

Senator Sherrod Brown said he consulted the Senate historian, who could not come up with a similar case of one party opposing not the nominee but the very office to which he or she was appointed. Brown and the other Democrats urged a quick confirmation for Cordray, and hammered on the point that the structure of the CFPB was already put up for a vote and decided in 2010, and so Cordray should receive an up or down vote on his own merits.

“Now is not the time to undermine an agency that a bipartisan majority in Congress created,” Brown said. “It is not the time to play a dangerous game with the financial security of millions of families and businesses.”

Senator Jack Reed lamented that consumer voices were “seldom heard in Washington,” and added that “as we go forward, we are trying to ensure that we do not replicate the crisis of 2008—that we do not have financial collapse.”

For his part, Cordray offered somewhat vanilla testimony about his resume and life story. He made overtures to the financial sector by pledging not to automatically regulate via lawsuits, which he called “a very slow, wasteful and needlessly acrimonious way to resolve a problem.” But he added that “if people are ignoring or evading consumer protections laws—and seeking to gain an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors—then litigation is an essential tool, and we will use it judiciously.”

As Ari Berman has outlined, the $3 trillion financial services industry is waging a fierce battle against the CFPB, which for some in the business community amounts to a “holy jihad.” Cordray will likely clear the Democrat-controlled Banking Committee, but will surely face a Republican filibuster after that.

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The NFL Will Remember 9/11 in All the Wrong Ways

Ten years ago, on the first Sunday after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NFL did something truly heroic and generous: nothing. The league willingly ate millions of dollars and cancelled the games out of respect for the unfolding tragedy. As 9/11 morphed into a decade-long “Global War on Terror,” the league has, to put it mildly, failed to show similar restraint. From the now ubiquitous presence of military flyovers and honor guards at every game, to the armed forces recruitment stations set up outside preseason contests, to having war-gourmands like General David Petraeus toss the coin before the Super Bowl, to staging Fox’s NFL pregame show from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan (with Terry, Howie and the gang dressed in fatigues), the league has treated our era of endless war as an odious exercise in corporate branding.

This Sunday, the NFL season opens in earnest on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks and the league, like John Boehner finding an abandoned pack of unfiltered smokes, just can’t control itself. Teams will be going all out to commemorate that horrific day ten years ago when nearly 3,000 people were killed in DC, Pennsylvania and New York City. If you think this anniversary should be remembered with somber soft voices and an air of dignity, you are going to want to keep your distance from NFL Sunday or you will lose your lunch.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, on ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning, said without a hint of humility, that the NFL will aim this Sunday to “help the country heal.” How will this healing take place? As the Associated Press reported, “Pregame tributes will be synchronized on CBS and Fox telecasts and shown on video boards in each stadium hosting games. Coaches, players and local first responders will hold field-length American flags for the playing of the national anthem.” The AP also reported that players, coaches and the sideline rabble will be compelled to wear a specially customized NFL 9/11 ribbon. The official “NFL 9/11 logo” will also be on the field of every game.

Roger Goodell’s office says that this pomp is aimed to “unite fans to recognize those who lost their lives, honor the families who lost loved ones, and salute the American spirit, the early responders on 9/11, and other heroes that contributed to the nation’s recovery.” If you are one of the 25 million Americans looking for work, or related to one of the hundreds of thousands of troops stationed overseas in three theaters of war, you might wonder what recovery Goodell is referencing.

The last decade has more resembled a sweat-soaked fever-dream than anything resembling a “recovery.” The statistics boggle the mind. More than 6,000 US troops have been killed. Over 550,000 soldiers have put in claims for disability. Among those unfortunate enough to have been born in the countries the United States has invaded and occupied, the death toll has been estimated to be as much as one million lives lost. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons reaches almost 8 million people. The economic cost to the United States has been estimated by Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to be as high as $5 trillion. Now everyone in Washington, DC, is shocked that a decade of tax cuts and war has led to record deficits, and working people are told to “tighten our belts.” It’s been an awful decade of lies and loss, and its reality will go unacknowledged this Sunday.

In all the scurrying to make sure “9/11 NFL Sunday” is a day to remember, one name is strikingly absent from the press release trumpeting the day’s events: Pat Tillman. After 9/11, Tillman took the extraordinary step of leaving the NFL to join the Army Rangers. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan pushed him to question the official rational for the “Global War on Terror.” He read antiwar authors. He told friends that he felt the war in Iraq was “f—in’ illegal.” Then he died at the hands of his fellow Rangers in an instance of what was deemed “friendly fire.” The Pentagon and the Bush administration hid this reality from Pat Tillman’s family. The NFL, for its part, inaugurated a USO center at Bagram Airfield in Pat Tillman’s name without hinting at the complicated realities of either Tillman’s service or his betrayal at the hands of those he trusted. The NFL’s failure to highlight Tillman in this Sunday’s 9/11 tributes is in some ways a relief, but it also reads like an act of cowardice. His story is a polarizing one that Roger Goodell wants to avoid on this day of “unity.”

But ten years along from 9/11, unity is hardly the watchword of the moment. I spoke with Rory Fanning, a former US Army Ranger turned antiwar activist, who served with Pat and walked across the country in his memory. I asked Rory what he would like to see the NFL do to commemorate the decade anniversary of that fateful day. He said, “I would ask the NFL for an hour of silence for the hundreds of thousands killed after 9/11 in recognition of the criminally disproportionate response to that day.” If Roger Goodell must do something, that sounds pretty dead-on. It certainly feels more right than the queasy mix of war, sport and choreographed remembrance that Goodell has planned.

 

 

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