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Thursday, 07 February 2013 07:41

Controlling the Agenda: Substance or Process?


There is an old saw of politics: “He [or she] who controls the agenda wins the election, or the political battle, or the legislative contest, or what have you” (1).  And so, when during the Iraq War Cheney/Bush wanted to raise the hundreds of billions of dollars they needed to prosecute a war that Bush had already declared over, without raising taxes or making expenditure cuts elsewhere, the agenda became, not something like “an unfunded war, again --- why?” but “Support the Troops,” over and over again, from Fox”News” on up (or down, depending upon your perspective).  If anyone, Democrat or Republican (and back in those days there was an occasional Republican like Chuck Hagel who questioned the War --- what already [as WFAN’s Steve Summers would say] you didn’t know why they are going after him with such a vengeance?), they were immediately accused of “not supporting the troops,” or worse, and that was that.  No opponent, either of the war or of paying for it by borrowing money from China ever able to get the agenda on any substantive theme (2).

Published in Guest Commentary
Thursday, 07 February 2013 06:57

A Lasting Peace in the Spectacle of Tragedy


A child is murdered and we thrash about once more in the spectacle of tragedy.

“With outrage over Hadiya Pendleton’s slaying spreading from City Hall to the White House,” the Chicago Tribune reported last week, “the 15-year-old became a symbol Wednesday of escalating violence in Chicago while fueling the national debate over guns and crime.”

The media, trapped in their Chicken Little outfits, report the death in detail, make sure we understand how deeply parents and friends are grieving. They interview the neighbors, kick-start the political debate. They demand some sort of superficial or fragmentary change that will get American violence under control. And then the news cycle moves on.

No one “in charge” has a commitment to actual, holistic change — you know, to the creation of a lasting peace — because, whatever that might mean, it would be asking too much. The best we’re going to get from the political system and the mainstream media — from the heart of the status quo — after every high-profile violent tragedy, is a ritual of impotent outrage followed by a shrug of regret.

What we need is transformation.

Published in Guest Commentary


Are the GOP’s problems merely a matter of getting its messaging house in order? Can the Party win presidential elections if it better harnesses social media and gets its organizing efforts up to speed? Did the mainstream media’s dwelling on certain of Romney statements – including his secretly captured video of him saying that 47 percent of Americans are takers, and his eagerly declared comment that “self-deportation” was the solution to the issue of immigration -- help jettison his campaign? How will the Party deal with outsized influence of the Christian Right and the Tea Party?

The above questions, except for the one dealing with the Christian Right and the Tea Party (entities that were not once mentioned by name), were up for discussion the other morning on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR program “On Point.”

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 04 February 2013 10:25

Will Durst's 2013 Political Animal Awards


Hey! You! Yes, you. Sorry. Just trying to get your attention to impart an important warning here. For the next couple weeks, it’s imperative all you good folks out there stay alert and keep your wits about you. Remove the earbuds, no texting while walking and you’d be well advised to brandish a stainless steel umbrella on the street because its awards season and golden- plated statuettes are being tossed about like manhole covers during an underground methane explosion. We’ve made it through the Golden Globes and the Screen Actor Guild Awards, with the Grammies and Oscars right around the corner, so this seems the perfect time to weigh in with the barnacle on the belly of the awards ship: the 15th annual Will Durst Political Animal Awards.

Published in Guest Commentary


Free market idealists argue that capitalism works for anyone with a little initiative and a willingness to work hard. That might be true if job opportunities were available to everyone. But the facts reveal a lack of opportunity, largely because the very system of capitalism that's supposed to work for everyone is betraying its most productive members.

It's a step-by-step process of hypocrisy disguised as free enterprise.

Published in Guest Commentary
Monday, 04 February 2013 07:34

The Stupid Party and a Lot of Stupid People


The most amazing thing about our politics is that the same phony premises keep reappearing and crowding out more relevant people and ideas. Politicians, zombie-like,  stare into cameras uttering outlandish opinions that have no rational application, and survive only in the wild gyrations of mental gymnasts and the media outlets that provide them with air time.


We continue to be tormented by the likes of Rand Paul staring zombie-like into the camera, delivering hyperbolic nonsense newly arrived from pals like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Every once in a while, someone in their camp shares a tidbit that almost makes sense, quickly overtaken by the irrelevant discourse more typical of this genre. When I operated a small shop in Connecticut, I was engaged in pleasant conversation with a seemingly normal customer until he began a scary monologue about sixes and Satan as I tried to determine if I could escape without confronting Satan or his surrogate. I experience that same helpless feeling when the right engages in its endless meaningless harangues - - a sense of dealing with people who are just nuts.

Published in Guest Commentary


There are two major pillars of Republican economic ideology.

First is "trickle down" economics -- the notion that if we allow the wealthiest two percent to accumulate more and more of the fruits of our economy, the benefits will "trickle down" to everyone else.

The second is fiscal austerity -- the idea that the best response to an economic downturn is to "tighten our belts" and slash critical government spending that we "no longer can afford."

Published in Guest Commentary


Regulators should strip HSBC–the banking goliath that admitted extensive criminal wrongdoing –of its federal depository insurance and right to do business, Public Citizen today urged in letters to two government bodies.

The public interest organization asked the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to terminate HSBC’s depository insurance in light of the bank’s admission to criminal violations of federal anti-money laundering laws.

Separately, Public Citizen requested that the Maryland attorney general seek the forfeiture of HSBC’s charter–its grant of authority to do business as a U.S. corporation–because of its admitted illegal conduct.

Finally, Public Citizen submitted FOIA requests to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) seeking all records that pertain to the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not to criminally prosecute HSBC.

Published in Guest Commentary


Some good things are happening in the Aloha state.  In addition to House Speaker Joe Souki’s push to legalize recreational use of marijuana for “revenues-equitably” after Washington and Colorado voters passed ballot measures to do the same, House Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads introduced a bill to limit free-speech protections to “natural persons”. 

At first glance, limiting free-speech sounds suspicious, but the key phrase here is “natural persons.”  From the time corporations were ruled by the Supreme Court as “persons” corporate entities have been given all the rights entitled to individuals; and yet, we all know that corporations are not persons.

Thus when the Supreme Court Justices ruled in favor of Citizens United, it paved the way for a flood of advertisements during political campaigns from corporations and other entities—all in the name of “free speech,” as though these corporate entities were individuals, which is the equivalent of calling Wal-Mart or Bank of America individuals with constitutional rights.

Published in Guest Commentary


How come so many right-wingers, neo-cons, corporate RepubliDems, NRA lobbyists, Fox News commentators and radical-extremist talk-show hosts are currently getting all up in our faces about how wonderful the Second Amendment is?  "Second Amendment!  Second Amendment!" they cry night and day.  That's all we ever hear from these guys.  You would think that they might occasionally mention the rest of the Constitution occasionally as well -- but no.

Right-wingers, gun lobbyists, Tea Party congressmen and corporatist-owned radio talk-show hosts all scream and yell and hold their breath and throw temper tantrums about the sanctity of the Second Amendment constantly.  But have they ever thrown tantrums or held their breath when other parts of our Constitution were violently stepped on -- especially by they themselves?  Er, no.

Published in Guest Commentary
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