This morning, the always brilliant and ever-sensible Ezra Klein  wakes us up with this:

The 111th Congress refuses to go quietly into that sweet night. Friday, of course, saw the $850 billion tax deal sent to President Obama. On Saturday, the Senate broke the filibuster protecting the Don't Ask, Don't Tell rules. On Sunday, it passed the food safety bill. Those three accomplishments — all of them significant in their own right — now join the 111th's other achievements: Health-care reform, the financial-regulation bill, the stimulus, Ted Kennedy's national-service bill, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program and student-loan reform, just to name a few. And the 111th may not be done: Chuck Schumer wants them to stick around to pass a bill giving health benefits to the Ground Zero responders.

That is not to say it hasn't failed on at least some of what it promised to do.

But for now, spare a thought for the 111th, the most productive Congress we've had in decades.

Ok, so that said…

And without even a sip of coffee to help me get off on what may prove an epic rant for a Monday morning, does THAT sound like the miserable, anti-progressive Congress and Administration that a few very vocal bloggers have been telling you it was for the past two years? If it does. you're contributing to a reckless, never-satisfied, never-realistic, and never-reasonable ideological framing that is as destructive to this nation as the Republicans are trying to be every day.

No, there is nothing wrong with "criticism," as so many of the complainer-apologistas need to hear to feel validated, if not exonerated from their complicity in helping to drive down Congress's approval ratings, widening the "enthusiasm gap," and turning the House back over to the Republicans. But there is a lot wrong with making those  criticisms so relentless, so vicious, and so irrationally intense that it merely fuels Republican message machines, dominates the media narratives, and tears down a very fragile relationship with those center-to-right leaning independents who still control our elections. We are already suffering from all that, and the 112th hasn't even begun yet.  And when it has, the "it's not progressive enough, good enough or fast enough" crowd will be blogging away as if they had nothing to do with the disemboweling of a painfully brief period of Progressive governance; one that miraculously intervened after 8 years of hideously incompetent conservative governance, which itself followed 20 years of mostly ruinous conservative hegemony. Despite their frequent carping to the contrary, those perpetually dissatisfied critics very much did play a role in that evisceration.  And anyone watching the past 18 months knows it. They've been rabidly gnawing at the fabric of this administration since being denied a grossly overrated "public option"—something which was always little more than a hacked-out consolation prize that the purists used to mollify and outrage the Single Payer hopefuls who never EVER had a prayer of success with the Blue Dog coalition and Conservadems in control of Congress.

The loss of a single policy failure, combined with the disappointment that comes with realizing that one Presidential election cannot possibly undo years of conservative operatives and policies buried in our Federal agencies, courts, state department, military, and local governments, became the defining attitude of the day. And the results, as the midterms just demonstrated, have been positively wretched. Hope has turned to horror. And not because it was inevitable. But because Obama never had the real majorities so many imagined that he did, and rather than work diligently to build them, progressives largely sat back as a few petulant voices controlled the media narratives and destroyed whatever leverage we may have had to move forward. Was Obama and his team blameless in all of this? Of course not. They've made many tactical and spiritual blunders. But every administration does. Just as every administration in our history has been criticized for not delivering on some of their promises. That's just the nature of our system, if not modern politics everywhere. No president can just reverse all that the previous president did wrong, or all of politics is nothing but a circular road to nowhere. It takes time, and the consistently expressed will of the people to make real and lasting change; a populist will that must be expressed by larger movements than mere parties can muster. The teaparty just proved that. Now the progressives must prove it again.

We are where we are, and it's not a pretty place to be. But there is still a chance to improve that place. Retaking the House in 2012 is a long shot, but it must be a key goal of a real and more potent progressive movement that we must build, and starting now. Because without the House, and a stronger Senate, we have no chance of any President fixing anything in the short or long term.  And if the "I want all the ponies I was promised" ideologues (and the stealth right wing operatives gleefully building atop their mawkish malaise), whose controversies are critical to their publishing revenue, continue attacking this current administration with the same intensity they have deployed thus far, then the productive 111th Congress will not be the last casualty.  The next victims will be the 2012 Senate, and probably the White house. And that will thrust our fate into the hands of these Teapublicans, a political class of know-nothings unseen in our history. A group that might not even be legally sane, let alone able to govern a diverse and complicated nation faced with an almost unmanageable number of complex issues.

The likely outcome of that transfer of power will be catastrophic. It will thrust new dead-weight atop a plunge already in progress; a dive so fast and steep that this nation is rapidly sinking toward a new depth that will feel like a dark age tinged with a backlit media glow.  By not coming together and giving President Obama a more unified base of progressive support that can help him chip away at the plutocratic excesses and religious conservative zealotry that forge the political plasma he was elected to work within, we are risking one of the most colossal nation-state meltdowns in history.  We will find ourselves deep in a new abyss, the contours of which will be defined by leaderless, science-less, reasonless, and totally senseless ignorance, malfeasance and greed.

At risk is nothing less than a complete dismantling of most liberal policies and achievements that made America the model of a modern nation that it has been—or at least pretended to be. And from that tragic and unnecessary gutting of our modern heritage, the American experiment will probably never recover. If that happens, our lack of health care and other progressive issues will pale in comparison to the even uglier, and probably totalitarian country we will have to become in order to appease a desperate, ignorant and myopically gullible Fox-fed public that will accept any solution that keeps our pathetically antiquated trains running anything close to on-time.

By pretending that perpetual dissatisfaction is the same as constructive criticism, and thinking every interest group can get every prize it thinks it deserves without first working with every other group to achieve a real and lasting control of this government, the entire game will be lost to a ruthless and unrelenting conservative-corporate enemy. For want of a better and more perfect pony, and right this very minute, America will lap the entire pack of empires that stumbled and fell, and be reduced to one more also-ran in the horse race of history.



The baby boomers and the price of personal freedom

As the postwar baby boomer generation begins to enter comfortable retirement, their children face a future of massive debt and uncertainty

Yet the big question of our time, after the financial crisis and the prospect of years of low growth and high unemployment, remains what it was in 1968. Capitalism cannot continue as it has at home and abroad. There needs to be a countervailing force to hold it to account and keep it honest. CEOs cannot enrich themselves for ever, without limit, with no wider economic and social consequences. If today's market economies cannot create jobs and prosperity for the mass of the working population, the restiveness will grow.

Although written in August…

this essay didn't get nearly enough play in America.  While it focuses on the cultural sea changes in Britain since the 1950s, its central premises use American counter-cultural events, memes and movements as the defining frames of almost every substantial change that has affected both of our nations since the end of World War II.

The bottom line? Despite some social changes which have unquestionably been good, our dismantling of the old cultural and political regimes have not seen a corresponding rise of new ones that can govern, or govern well. And the consequence of that will now be seen as the conservative lunatics in both countries have taken the reigns of power, with far less knowledge of, nor interest in, the goals of social justice that defined (at least our popular conception of) ourselves for decades.

While the American left, armed with ever scarcer charity dollars to produce the advocacy efforts we desperately need, progressive billionaires seem disinterested in the struggle, and a social networking/media revolution appears far more centered on selling corporate entertainment products and the technology and journalism celebrities who help them to pimp those products to an ever shrinking proportion of the electorate that still has any disposable income at all.

It the wake of this new digital ship of fate,  the principles of  social justice which defined the aspirations of western culture for two generations now seem to be regarded by too many as quaint relics. Like so many of the defining words, images and ideals of the Woodstock generation, they feel to be vectored toward the deep six of history. And when they're gone, I fear that the weight of whatever ghost ship remains on the surface—a lifeboat carrying only the very wealthiest of survivors, for as long as it can stay afloat—will ultimately capsize and sink us all.

We'd better find a better boat,  or learn how to swim under water.

Read the article


Those Dirty Fucking Hippies Were Right

In Taking Stock of WikiLeaks, by George Friedman (Stratfor Consulting), a well known geopolicy analyst, provides the best snapshot yet of the overall panorama of the big Wikileaks facts and issues. It frames them from the perspective of someone who deals with geopolitical people and realities every day, as opposed to the legions of journalists, pundits, bloggers and entertainers who have saturated the Internet with every conceivable position, posture, and permutation on this interesting—but which might not ultimately prove all that significant of a—moment in our global digital history.

While it never really takes a strong position about the rightness or wrongness, it does appear to find that question irrelevant, as it marks down many extravagant claims by Assange, and others, that the entire affair matters much at all—except perhaps to the people blogging it for hit traffic, and those career government spooks who will be tasked with keeping our future secrets.

I don’t like to give anyone else the final word, but in this case Robert Gates’ view is definitive. One can pretend that WikiLeaks has redefined geopolitics, but it hasn’t come close.

Is this just an insider wonk's pragmatic take on this hyperbolic issue, or another attempt to minimize the entire issue for the benefit of the administration, and those defense industry CEOs in desperate need of pithy poolside remarks that debunk all those shrill civil libertarians? You can decide for yourself.

As for me, while I know it's not stylish to withhold judgment on breaking issues, I've remained relatively agnostic on the whole Wikileaks show.  I think it contains many thorny issues that should not be discussed too cavalierly by the uninformed public, who are quick to make bad decisions about complex things, nor too openly vetted by the really informed professionals for fear that someone can wind up with a lot of scratches—or dead.  It's certainly one of the trickier issues to responsibly parse as we've seen in a very long time.

My working, but still tentative position is that releasing this stuff is a crime, and must be one, but publishing it is perfectly legal, and must remain so. The government's jihad against Assange and Wikileaks is probably far more about looking tough before our allies, and intimidating future leakers, than any  concerns about national security. Michael Moore's passion for drama, notwithstanding, this may not actually be all that big a deal, when you strip away all the hyperbole and what if scenarios. But then again, it might be in ways we can't see yet. I am not Glenn Greenwald, so I don't have to be sure of my position on anything.

It would be absurd to suggest that espionage or treason be legal, just as it would be ridiculous to block the truth once it is released. That's why I've encouraged people to download a copy of the Wikileaks data and keep it safe for history.  The problem I have with it all is "whose truth is it, anyway?"  It's very easy to see future leaks being gamed for their disinformation value, just as it's easy to see even our casual confidences now being hidden more deeply, and our really big secrets getting burrowed so deeply that almost no one will ever know what or where they are.

But as I said, I am still grokking all this, so while I try to figure all this out in my own head, I look for good explainers that help me grasp those nasty nagging nuances. This article, while clearly taking a policy wonk's dismissive tone toward any claims of revolutionary importance, is nonetheless the best overall summary of this fascinating story that I have read.

Pass it on. It's useful.

Read: Taking Stock of WikiLeaks


Clay Shirky: Wikileaks and the Long Haul

Video: NYU's Jay Rosen on Wikileaks


Hat tip to my long time friend @fantomaster for alerting me to this item