Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thirteen Statements That Have Some Bearing On Our Third Concurrent War In The Middle East

[above image: Caspar Weinberger points to a map of Libya, 1986]

1. Many noble Arabs have perished in the cause of Arab freedom at the hands of those alien rulers, the Turks, who oppressed them. It is the determination of the government of Great Britain and the great powers allied to Great Britain that these noble Arabs shall not have suffered in vain. It is the hope and desire of the British people and the nations in alliance with them that the Arab race may rise once more to greatness and renown among the peoples of the earth, and that it shall bind itself together to this end in unity and concord.

- Lieutenant General Sir Stanley Maude, from The Proclamation of Baghdad, issued eight days after British forces entered and captured the city of Baghdad, March 19, 1917

2. The people of the U.S. bear Libya and its people no enmity or hatred. However, Colonel Qaddafi is your head of state. So long as Libyans obey his orders, then they must accept the consequences. Colonel Qaddafi is your tragic burden. The Libyan people are responsible for Colonel Qaddafi and his actions. If you permit Colonel Qaddafi to continue with the present conflict, then you must also share some collective responsibility for his actions.

- Voice of America Broadcast, April 14, 1986

3. I think circumstances will drive where this goes in the future. I wouldn't speculate in terms of length at this particular point in time.

- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on ABC's This Week speaking to Christine Amanpour on whether or not Colonel Qaddafi might remain in office (a la Saddam Hussein and the Iraq no-fly zone) following NATO military action, March 20, 2011

4. One thing is clear: there is no military solution to the problems in Bahrain. A political solution is necessary and all sides must now work to produce a dialogue that addresses the needs of all of Bahrain's citizens.

- White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, on whether or not the United States would intervene as atrocities against civilians mount at the hands of government forces in Bahrain, March 15, 2011

5. There is no state whose leader does not wish to secure permanent peace by conquering all the universe.

- Immanuel Kant, 1795

6. In the [Berlin] disco, it was very clear that Libya had trained and paid for and was supporting the terrorists who conducted that activity. Americans were killed, and others were killed, and with that proof we didn’t hesitate for a moment. We had a very massive retaliation. We had, for that time, a very big operation—50, 60 planes in the air—and we did very considerable amount of damage in Libya, in effect putting them off the map for a long time. There were a lot of stories that we’d gone after Gaddafi and bombed his home and all that. Well, he didn’t have homes, he had tents. And he had suddenly discovered or adopted some child that was hurt. He said we killed his daughter or something. Up to that time there’d been no evidence whatever that he had any family or any children. We did what we had to do, when we had proof of who had done it. It was very effective, and it did put him off. He then spent the next couple of years just trying to survive. It bred in him a demand for revenge and fury and all that.

- Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense (1981-1987), looking back on Qaddafi-Reagan relations in the mid-1980s

7. A Tomahawk Missile cost $569,000 in FY99, so if my calculations are correct, they cost a little over $736,000 today assuming they are the same make and model. The United States fired 110 missiles yesterday, which adds up to a cost of around $81 million. That's twice the size of the annual budget of USIP, which the House of Representatives wants to de-fund, and is about 33 times the amount of money National Public Radio receives in grants each year from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which the House of Representatives also wants to de-fund in the name of austerity measures.

- Andrew M. Exum, Fellow with The Center For A New American Security, posted March 20, 2011

8. What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians.

- Amr Moussa, former Chairman of the Arab League, speaking out against NATO action in Libya less than twenty-four hours after the Arab League gave support to military action against Col. Qaddafi's forces, March 20, 2011

9. So here we are. The Clinton Administration -- acceding to our allies' nail-nibbling demand for American leadership in Europe -- has brokered a peace requiring another American expeditionary force. By so doing, Clinton has painted all of us, hawks and doves, into a corner. He made an ill-considered promise in May 1993 -- with no public debate or thorough internal review or consultation with Congress -- to send U.S. ground troops to carry out what was called the Vance-Owen plan, concocted in a previous era. Now he tells us that unless his "commitment" of troops is honored and supported here, the Balkan carnage will begin again, NATO will become a dead letter and the word of the American President will be revealed as worthless. Unfortunately, that's true. Like it or not, our choice is to go along with him or repudiate and humiliate him. That's Hobson's choice, which is no choice at all. We'll go along. Why? Because he may be mistaken in his method, but his belated Bosnia activism is not foolhardy, U.N.-subordinated, mean-spirited or immoral. With luck, it could even work.

- William Safire, New York Times editorial, Biting Bosnia's Bullet, November 23, 1995

10. Q: Mr. President, I know you must have given it a lot of thought, but what do you think is the real reason that Americans are the prime target of terrorism? Could it be our policies?

A: Well, we know that this mad dog of the Middle East has a goal of a world revolution, Moslem fundamentalist revolution, which is targeted on many of his own Arab compatriots. And where we figure in that, I don't know. Maybe we're just the enemy because—it's a little like climbing Mount Everest—because we're here. But there's no question but that he has singled us out more and more for attack, and we're aware of that. As I say, we're gathering evidence as fast as we can.

- Helen Thomas and Ronald Reagan, press conference concerning Col. Qaddafi, April 9, 1986

11. And there's no peace / On this terrible shore / And every day is a battle / How we still love the war.

- The Mekons, "Hate Is The New Love," OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads), 2002

12. Listen, I want to thank the Vice President and the leadership of the Congress for coming down for breakfast today. We had a really good discussion about our common concerns. We also talked about Iraq. We talked about the fact that Saddam Hussein has stiffed the United Nations for 11 long years, and that, once again, he said -- made some kind of statement, trying to take the pressure off of himself. This statement about unconditional inspections was something he's made in the past. He deceives, he delays, he denies. And the United States, and I'm convinced, the world community, aren't going to fall for that kind of rhetoric on -- by him again.

We talked about a resolution out of Congress and how it was important for us to work with Congress to pass a strong resolution. I told the members that within the next couple of days this administration will develop language as -- that we think is necessary. And we look forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats to get a resolution passed. I want to thank the leadership for its commitment to get a resolution done before members go home for the election break. I think it's an important signal. It's an important signal for the country, but as importantly, it's an important signal for the world to see that this country is united in our resolve to deal with threats that we face.

And so, thank you all for coming. I'll take a couple of questions.

- President George W. Bush, remarks after meeting with Congressional leaders regarding unilateral action in Iraq, the Oval Office, September 18, 2002

13. The President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

- Candidate for President Barack Obama, speaking to Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, December 20, 2007

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And Of Course We Will No Doubt Be Greeted As Liberators

I've always made a point of avoiding that specific and odd type of historical amnesia, so often displayed in politics, that paints prior foes in a sepia tone of nostalgia once they have shuffled off the main stage and been replaced by acolytes or successors. Not so much forgiveness as forgetfulness, it's the type of softening that allows contemporaries to anoint Ronald Reagan as a staunch ally of unions, Richard Nixon as a steadfast environmentalist, Bill Clinton a model of principles and affability (I was recently astonished to hear my mother make some sort of claim that she'd always liked Clinton personally, which is certainly not the way I recall our dinner conversations during my high school years). "There was somebody you could reason with," begins many an apologia concerning some political figure once deemed the very picture of unhinged radicalism. Both old leftists and grizzled right-wingers eventually make some sort of peace with their prior enemies, and while a bit of ideological flexibility is always welcome, it will be a strange day indeed when a group of progressives in the near future sit opining about the current state of affairs, saying, "Now, say what you will about Sarah Palin, but at least she....."

But allow me to briefly indulge in a bit of this political sleight-of-hand, if only because my point will be deeply ironic. And my point is this: even George W. Bush held a vote before launching the Iraq War. A cynical and meaningless vote? Perhaps. But that was more than we received this past Thursday, as Congressional voices were bypassed and no debate offered as our current administration acted upon the rising calls to action in North Africa. And while much of the nation was no doubt busy honoring their Irish heritage by ordering up a second car bomb, yet another display of unilateral executive power was entering the official record.

I don't wish to make too strong of an argument against taking action against the brutal suppression of rebel forces, and I don't want to deny the largely humanitarian impulses behind such action. Word of an immediate cease fire agreement from the Libyan tyrants has already made the rounds of the international press, and despite the long sorry history of broken cease fires (often mere stalling tactics) and the cagey lies served up by Colonel Gaddafi for generations, the news is indeed welcome and hopeful (and also, um, rejected). But one needn't have any sympathy for the amoral whirlpool that is Muammar Gaddafi to harbor severe reservations about yet another military adventure in a Muslim land - even a humanitarian venture, even in a land that has requested outside help, and even a military adventure couched in the safe language of the No Fly Zone. As more and more armchair warriors demanded action, many seasoned military personnel have been quietly making the case over the past few weeks that no-fly zones are far more complicated beasts than insistent bloggers and columnists might have the public believe.

And make no mistake, UN Resolution 1973/2011, passed with China and Russian abstaining (although with the complicity and at the urging of the Arab League) goes far beyond even a basic no-fly zone. The resolution states that participating members must agree to employ "all necessary measures" to protect civilians and populated areas - language that some might classify as vague, but I prefer to describe as pretty explicit. "All necessary measures" encompasses more than keeping airways clear of unauthorized craft or wiping out several caches of weapons. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself remarked yesterday, the events in Libya required the "need for more aggressive airstrikes" and the implementation of a "no-drive zone". The United States might even send military personnel in country to advise and train rebel forces. Left out of her list of recommendations was any hint at an exit strategy or how the United States might manage to maneuver its way through a complex and emerging civil war.

The response at home was rather swift, following a classified briefing for all senators on Capitol Hill. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, speaking to the press after the secret briefing, already seemed to have regained a bit of Yankee swagger as he described the upcoming attacks in plain language: "We ground his aircraft and some tanks start getting blown up that are headed toward the opposition forces". When pressed about earlier comments made concerning the vague promises made by the Obama administration, Graham brushed such ancient history aside to embrace the new reality. "I want to take back criticism I gave to them yesterday and say, ‘you are doing the right thing'. My money is on the American Air Force, the American Navy, and our allies to contain the Libyans, and anybody on our side that says we can't contain the Libyan air threat -- I want them fired."

Well, that didn't take long, now did it? From ground-to-a-standstill inertia to political bipartisanship after a single secret briefing, plus the threat of termination for any and all dissenters - all in all, a pretty impressive afternoon.

But by making such glib comments, I run the risk of downplaying the murderous horror currently being deployed against the rebel forces in Libya by Gaddafi. This is not my intention. Anybody with a finely-tuned historical ear will no doubt hear in Secretary Clinton's description of Colonel Gaddafi as a monster who would do "terrible things" because "it's just in his nature....there are some creatures that are like that" an echo of President Reagan's labeling Gaddafi "the mad dog of the Middle East" some thirty years ago - but that doesn't mean the name-calling isn't justified. Nobody suggesting that this resolution is worrisome means to gloss over the atrocities being committed on the ground, or suggest the Libyan rebels do not need and even deserve international help (although comments have been few regarding American complicity in the daily slaughter of unarmed civilians in the streets of Bahrain, our close compatriot and host of the mighty 5th Fleet). Rather, my concern in this matter rests on the simplistic methods used to describe the complexity of establishing and maintaining no-fly zones - both theoretical and historical. The facts are sobering. After reading more than one facile pronouncement that American forces would knock out Libyan capabilities within hours and return home by the weekend, more sober types felt the need to remind the greater public that the Iraq no-fly zone, established in 1991, was only discontinued in 2003, at the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But even beyond the unknown time commitment, what worries many about this decision is the inarguable fact that no-fly zones rarely remain no-fly zones, but mutate into something larger, usually encompassing ground troops. Although the events of the Bosnian War have suffered the cruel fate of taking place nearly twenty years ago and in a land largely unknown to most Americans (and thus largely forgotten by the general public), a quick review of the NATO enforcement of the no-fly zone in that arena goes some way towards explaining how no-fly zones actually work (or do not work). My comparisons are not meant to suggest what will or will not happen in Libya, but merely to offer a little historical perspective.

Operation Deny Flight was the name given to the two year long effort deployed during the Bosnian War of the mid-1990s, an enforcement of the no-fly zone that was eventually expanded to provide close air support for UN troops and to launch air strikes against Bosnia, thus becoming the first combat engagement in NATO history. Like many details in the Bosnian War, the evolution of NATO involvement is tied up in a potentially dizzying tapestry of names and events. Yet the major actions can actually be summarized fairly easily. The Bosnian War no-fly zone was established after the passing of United Nations Resolution 816. This resolution was itself an update to the earlier Resolution 781, which had prohibited unauthorized military flights inside Bosnian airspace. Perhaps not surprisingly, this prohibition suffered untold violations, leading to the passage of 816 and the total prohibition of all flights inside Bosnia, excepting those specifically authorized by the United Nations. The resolution stated that "all necessary measures" were to be allowed to enforce compliance - a statement exactly echoed in yesterday's decision.

This broader measure was named Operation Deny Flight, and the project was initially launched to only enforce this no-fly zone. The first serious violation of the no-fly zone didn't occur until February of 1994, when Serbian jets bombed a Bosnian factory in what was dubbed the Banja Luka Incident. In response, American F-16s shot six Serbian jets down, and soon afterwards, a larger role for NATO forces was pushed by stateside commentators. President Clinton in his State of the Union address requested a new "lift and strike" policy, while the United States put pressure on the United Nations to pass Resolution 836, a measure that would authorize NATO to provide close air support for the United Nations Protection Force.

It was the Serb attack on the UN safe zone of Gorazde that eventually led UN forces to request NATO strikes, citing Resolution 836. On April 10, 1994, US Air Force jets dropped bombs for the first time upon Serbian targets. In response, the Serbian army threatened to shoot down NATO aircraft, a threat they eventually followed through with, although damage was light and NATO casualties were none, eventually leading the Serbs to call off their attacks. The next major NATO response came in the fall of 1994 during the Bihac Offensive, in which Serb aircraft utilized the proximity of Bihac to the Croatian border to repel counteroffensive measures - with NATO forces not authorized to enter Croatian airspace, the Serbs simply flew along the border, dropping back into Croatia after striking and leaving hapless NATO forces unable to act. Once again, the UN Security Council intervened, this time by passing Resolution 958, which allowed NATO forces to enter Croatia. It was following this ratcheting up of tensions that UN forces were first seized by Serbs, held as hostages and eventually to used as human shields - a method that soon became the Serbian army's calling card.

The above events suggest something of the gradual manner in which an initial no-fly zone was expanded to include incursions into neighboring countries and NATO air support. This expansion continued into 1995. Following NATO bombing of the Pale ammunition dump, the Serbs seized 337 UN forces as hostages, which they utilized in increasingly dire human shield capacities. So effective was the Serbian deployment of human hostage shields that NATO ceased bombing the general Pale area, with air strikes shifting immediately to mere air patrols. It was during one of these patrols that US Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady was targeted and shot down, an event which received much media attention (and would later be dramatized as Behind Enemy Lines).

An even more notable failure by NATO was the attempted launch to protect the UN safe zone of Srebrenica, in which 60 aircraft were utilized to repel the advancing Serb forces. Dutch peacekeepers were seized and once again used as shields, and once again the raid was called off. Srebrenica fell soon after to Serb forces, and the resulting atrocity has entered the history books as one of the more brutal incidents of widescale ethnic cleansing in the latter half of the twentieth century. 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered in the following week - the largest mass murder to occur in Europe since World War Two. This act of genocide led to the London Conference decision, in which UN military commanders were first given authority to request NATO airstrikes without consulting civilian UN officials, while a further agreement in principle was made for future large-scale NATO strikes.

The no fly zone was effectively superseded following the Second Markale Massacre, in which civilians were targeted in the old marketplace section of Sarajevo. In response, Operation Deliberate Force was launched, a one month operation utilizing 5,000 personnel and 3500 flown sorties. Several soldiers and 150 civilians were killed. It was this concerted effort which eventually helped lead to the Dayton Accords, and the eventual suspension of the no fly zone.

The above litany of events are hardly a laundry list of botched missions and grave historical mistakes, although I'm not sure what else one might call the fumbling that led to the Srebrenica atrocity. And this long and involved story of the Bosnian no fly zone does not necessarily suggest any awaiting disaster in the sands of Libya. However, even such a brief history does help suggest the complex nature of what military experts mean when they discuss the possibilities of a "no fly zone" - the impact such actions have, their evolving nature, the demands they place on participating countries, and the limits of their effectiveness. In the final analysis, the two years of Operation Deny Flight had much less of a positive impact on the Bosnian War than the one month of Operation Deliberate Force. Perhaps the ultimate legacy of the Bosnian no fly zone was its overall ineffectiveness - the way in which its failures or limitations helped build a growing consensus for an increased aircraft role which eventually culminated in Operation Deliberate Force.

Make no mistake, instituting a no fly zone is entering into a state of war. Right, a state of war already exists in Libya. Right, one could hardly ask for a more cartoonish emblem of evil than Colonel Gaddafi. And right, the United States has often been on the wrong side of history when it comes to halting the spread of atrocities. This is and will be a humanitarian venture. Yet we gloss over the details at our peril. Libya is a country America has long misunderstood and failed to comprehend, one with a complicated colonial past, a Muslim nation, and one with plenty of wavering inhabitants who may have little compunction heeding Gaddafi's calls to once again take up arms to fight the invading colonial powers (if Italy takes part in these efforts, the historical ironies will be headache-inducing). America is bogged down in two concurrent wars with two other Muslim nations while struggling against a devastated economy and political upheaval back home. Libyan intervention may be a more justified military excursion than our long bloody excursion into Iraq, it may help stop Gaddafi's cruelty against his own people, and it may well prove our mettle and daring-do. But pay close attention to those three words embedded in the recent resolution. "All necessary measures" encompasses both a world and time. The possibilities are yet unexamined. I'll stand with anybody who wants to see the Libyan rebels succeed in this ever-expanding Jasmine Revolution. But don't oversimplify the job ahead of us in both the near and distant future.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mr. Sheen Will Beat You Now: But Don't Mention The Producers

The very public meltdown of Charlie Sheen has been somewhat refreshing, in a celebrity meltdown kind of way. Jaded as the American public no doubt was after episodes of Mel Gibson spouting bigotry at arresting cops, John Galliano slurring anti-Semitic curses while bobbing and weaving from a barstool, Britney Spears bouncing children on her driver's-side knee and babbling about Kabbalah, and Lindsay Lohan doing another monosyllabic faceplant into the sea figs, Sheen's startlingly coherent and articulate rants suggest a wily intelligence behind his rage. Lobbing gobs of wit and effortlessly creating more than one turn of phrase, the last few weeks have revealed a television star who seems to yearn for the days of the Algonquin Round Table - a coke-binging Oscar Wilde, leaning forward into the camera in excitement rather than reclining back in boredom. His acid-etched speeches read like the kind of wittily mean scripts Hollywood doesn't circulate anymore.

The meltdown has captivated people far outside the normal orbit of CBS sitcoms, as the above Charlie Sheen Quote As New Yorker Cartoon spoof suggests (there are more here), and if a few freewheeling interviews are all it takes to cancel the most insipid program ever to claim TV's highest ratings, well, one wishes Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc had gone off on benders and done the same back in the sorry days of Friends. And even upon hearing the news that he'd been fired from Two And A Half Men, Sheen fired back in memorable form, noting of his one-time employers, "They continue to be in breach, like so many whales". It's that "like so many" bit that's brilliant, pushing it upwards towards classic retort status.

But in and among the juicier details, buried deep within the letter/legal notice Warner Brothers sent announcing their decision to fire Sheen was a clause citation that should raise the hackles on anybody paying attention. Briefly, the studio notes their legal ability to break an actor's contract if a felony act has been committed - specifically, any act "which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude under federal, state, or local laws, or is indicted or convicted of any such offense". Both parties agree (or insist) that no felony offense has been committed as such, although Warner Bros. points out that one was plea bargained down, and allege that others are suspected to have been committed, specifically involving cocaine. Thus, legal grounds for contract termination.

Of course, even the most casual observer recognizes the real felony committed by Charlie Sheen - the ultimate Hollywood atrocity of talking smack about the producer. In this case, it was Executive Producer Chuck Lorre playing the role of helpless victim, shockingly identified by Sheen as a "charlatan" over a live microphone, derided as a "stupid little man," and even referred to by his given name, Chaim, which I guess can be construed as anti-Semitic if you squint hard enough. Even worse, Sheen had the audacity to take credit for the success of Lorre's deathless work of art, proclaiming his ability to turn "tin cans into gold". He also demanded a raise, deciding that $3 million per episode was only fair and just.

Now, one might note the ubiquitous presence of Lorre's "vanity cards," bizarre even by television standards, some of which did nothing short of call out Sheen for his outrageous on- and off-stage antics. One might retort that being derided as a "stupid little man" is, indeed, hurtful. But in the aftermath of Sheen's getting the ax from Two And A Half Men after going defiantly off-script, it's helpful to consider some earlier actions of Sheen's that did not result in any network or studio hauling out their "felony" escape clause in order to distance themselves from the troubled actor.

To wit:

* 1990, Sheen shoots then-fiancee Kelly Preston in the arm, in an event later described as an "accident," although Preston soon thereafter called off said engagement.

* 1994, Sheen is sued by a female college student on claims he punched her in the head after she expressed a disinterest in having sex. The case was settled out of court.

* 1996, Brittany Ashland, a sometime porn actress, was thrown to the floor during a physical altercation with Sheen, for which he paid a legal fine.

* 2006, then-wife Denise Richards files a restraining order against Sheen, alleging he shoved her during a fight and threatened to murder her.

* 2009, third wife Brooke Mueller had a knife held to her throat by Sheen during a violent altercation, for which he pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.

* 2010, a violent rampage by Sheen led actress Capri Anderson to place an emergency call to police while barricaded inside a locked bathroom at the Plaza Hotel.

* 2011, long-suffering third wife Brooke Mueller places another restraining order against Sheen after he threatens to kill her, specifically promising to cut her head off, stuff it into a box, and mail the severed head to her parents. The order granted, Sheen's two sons are removed from his home for protective custody.

Ooh, what a bad boy! Ooh, what a lovable rogue!

Glancing over the above pathetic rap sheet shows up thugs like Ben Roethlisberger for the misogyny-amateurs they are. And yet, both exemplify the many ways in which money-making abilities trump sadistic treatment of women, at least as far as their enabling team owners and studio execs are concerned. Roethlisberger sneered off a league-sanctioned wrist slap for two sexual assault allegations while being welcomed to the biggest prime time draw of the year with relatively open arms, just a few solid passes away from being lauded by millions and having trophies shoved into his arms. Likewise, Sheen's decades of abuse against women is smirkingly tolerated by studio suits for the sake of a hit CBS program so long as he bows and scrapes before the men who write the checks. In both cases, one suspects, the verdict was the same - who cares about a couple of sluts so long as they're bringing in the cash.

So, no, I'm not actually all that worried about Sheen and whether he'll ever get control over his demons. Me, I hope he suffers some. I remain more concerned for those who lie on the receiving end of his much-publicized arrogance, anger, and demons. And I'm not talking about Chuck Lorre.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Children, Adults and Gertle The Turtle: Or; We Wouldn't Need To Rally The Base If You People Would Just Pay Attention Year Round

[Above images were both, supposedly, taken in Madison, Wisconsin this past week. They come from news organizations, one the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via a friend, the other - not the Journal Sentinel. You get to guess which one is which.]

As the epic battle for the future of the labor movement rages on in Wisconsin, it's becoming ever more clear that Gov. Scott Walker, despite any reasoning he may offer concerning budget gaps and austerity measures, is suffering from a glaring messianic complex. At play in the fields of MadTown is not one governor against a stubborn special interest group, he will tell any news network willing to listen, but a Midwestern spark to alight a national fire. What else could explain that non-wavering smile of his, the easy surety with which he dismisses both critics and fact checkers, and the audacity displayed as he downplays his slavering and baseball bat-studded phone conversation with a prankster he took to be one of The Brothers Koch?

In this adroit demonstration of grace under pressure, I suspect Gov. Walker looks not to Ernest Hemingway, the originator of the phrase, nor to fellow crusader George W. Bush, who despite all his mock bravado always tended to resemble the little boy in class nervous he might get called upon to answer a geography question. No, Walker seems to be looking beyond mere mortals and more towards the heavenly constellation of Ronald Reagan, whose influence grows with each passing year even as his particular brand of conservatism falls out of favor with an increasingly radicalized right.

Thus, Walker has seized upon The Gipper's swift dismissal of 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, which led to the defeat and dismantling of the PATCO trade union. Left out of most discussions concerning this undeniably epochal low point in labor history is both the fact that PATCO went on strike in defiance of a quite specific law banning such actions by government unions (it was law {5 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1956) 118p.}), and the fact that Ronald Reagan was at that time, and remains, the only U.S. President to have ever been a union member. Neither of these observances really changes the overall impact of Reagan's actions, but they at least introduce a slight hint of nuance to the oft-repeated myth of Reagan the Magic Union Buster. But this is no matter to Gov. Walker, one suspects, who has loudly compared himself to the Reagan of 1981, hoping that by showing a firm hand in front of teacher's unions he might better inspire other fiscally conservative governors to rise up with him, transform the labor landscape, and perhaps restrict women's access to basic health care rights while they're at it.

But if Walker really wants his grinning visage to morph in the general public mind into Mr. Reagan, he'll have to do more than simply keep his cool as angry protesters locked outside the Capitol building beat their drums. For one thing, he could have allowed the seething public inside the building (per the general belief that it is the people's house) to witness his budget unveiling, and while raising his voice over the clattering mob, he might even have performed the old ventriloquist routine of taking a sip of water while his sock puppet outlined the ways in which he would institute a 5.5% decrease in per-student public school aid. He might have chosen not to stock the upper seating of the hall with sympathetic out-of-town goons (snuck in, they say, via Secret Republican Tunnels - how awesome is that?) in suits to clap enthusiastically at the announcement of the cessation of mandatory recycling programs. And he could certainly have come up with more creative ways to appear as a benevolent yet firm leader than by issuing vague threats to the staffers of Wisconsin's 14 missing senators.

The above actions and others - including the rumor that Capitol windows were being screwed shut to send a clear message to such meddling agitators as Ian's Pizza that feeding the revolting masses was no longer to be tolerated - might strike some as dictatorial, but I'm in a kind enough mood to find them simply a bit childish. Childish in the same way that FOX News and ace reporter Bill O'Reilly apparently tried to pass off some crowd fight scenes with palm trees in the background as being shot in the cold February streets of central Wisconsin (and they dare call others coastal elites!), and childish in the same way members of the Wisconsin Republican party have chided "outsiders" for inserting themselves into a local matter while welcoming Tea Party members bearing Ron Paul bumper stickers and out-of-state license plates into the assembly hall for support.

Yes, that kind of childishness. I'm afraid I can't work up too much bile over the rumor that the above-mentioned Tea Party members and mysterious men in suits were planted by Gov. Walker in order to create a more welcoming environment for his school project. Misleading and slimy photo-ops and phony staging are the rule of the day among all political stripes, from the Republican Convention cameramen always zooming in on the one African-American woman spotted among the crowd to the planned release of children attending story hour exactly coinciding with a mayoral announcement of cuts to needless library programs. Call it psy-ops if you will, call it propaganda, call it "clapping points,"but it permeates the culture. Far more troubling and insidious, I would argue, is blocking public access to the bill's unveiling simply because a large opposition has been mounted against your actions. It reeks of elitism and is little more than a power grab - not unlike certain aspects of the budget itself.

The announced plan by certain Wisconsin voters to pursue recall action against three highly vulnerable Republican supporters of Walker is a less childish response, but one reserves the right to be wary of recalls as a political alternative. In theory, recalls should serve as extreme measures to correct an unexpected or illegal sequence of affairs - perhaps the discovery of falsified election results or voter suppression, an obvious example of sheer incompetence or blatant corruption, or an inexcusable and unexplained betrayal of a specific and wide-impacting campaign promise. Much as I'd like to claim differently, I'm not sure if Gov. Walker fits any of these criteria, at least not in a bipartisan manner. One could make the argument that by running a campaign promising to force concessions from unions but never mentioning specifically eliminating collective bargaining, Walker has betrayed some of the people who voted for him. But I'd argue that anybody paying attention throughout Walker's race for governor - anybody who knew anything about him as a human being, his core values, and his methods of dealing with those he disagreed with - shouldn't be surprised by his actions. Voter bewilderment when an extreme right-wing candidate behaves like an extreme right-wing politician once they are in office is the reason some of us political junkies think the "undecided voter" mystique is such a goddam load of bullshit.

Still, it would be difficult for me to offer anything other than gentle arguments against any effort to recall Gov. Walker and his GOP minions, although I'd caution the faithful that such recall efforts - surprise surprise - are not free. It's equally difficult for me to pretend that some kind of recall activity might not be in store for the Wisconsin 14 still safely bundled up to the south inside various Illinois motel rooms. While I've come out on record as being firmly in support of the Fab 14, as they're being referred to by various admirers, far be it from me to suggest that any and all voters from the great state of Wisconsin should feel similarly. So when an article on this very matter concerning the recall of GOP senators broke courtesy of the online media organization ThinkProgress, I read it with some interest. But then an individual utilizing the clumsy screen moniker of Ted_Kennedys_SEARCH_AND_RESCUE posted an immediate rebuttal, accusing ThinkProgress of highlighting only one recall possibility. "Genius TP," he wrote. "Mention only the recall petitions concerning Republican Senators, but omit the recall petitions about the Democrat 14. It is why we love TP. It only gives us the news it knows we can handle and/or need".

Now, at the risk of outraging my fellow progressives and the risk of defending a dude who named himself Ted_Kennedys_SEARCH_AND_RESCUE (What? Chappaquidick? Again? Now I know how Republicans feel when they mention George W. Bush and I immediately start yelling "Katrina! Guantanamo!" at them), the individual would seem to have a point. But, no, my brothers and sisters. He would not seem to have a point - not to the discerning online readers of ThinkProgress, who immediately flagged the comment for review and removal, and added their own thoughts to the debate thusly, and in order:

"That is not what the article is about. Get the f*ck out of here"

"Go blow a goat you conservatard!"

"What you don't get enough lies and distortions at Fux OR Rush? Wah!"

I'd argue that pointing out that the recall efforts against the Democratic 14 are being put together by a group of Utah tea party members, while the effort to recall the Republican senators is a homegrown affair, might be a point worth bringing up before one suggests fellating goats. And I've previously come out strong against the growing ubiquity of the loathsome phrase "Tea-Tard" as an epithet for Tea Partiers, not out of any desire to shelter the thin-skinned but in an attempt to remind supposedly adult individuals that nobody over the age of thirteen should be using any variation on the word "retard". Add "conservatard" to that pile, too. I mean, rally the base, by all means. But leave the schoolyard taunts in the detention area.

But in and among the sniping, the hate, the lying, the backstabbing, the moral superiority, the endless links to endless op-ed pieces, the shaky rhetoric, the misspellings, the threats, the ignorance, and the locking voters out of the capitol building, I have managed to find a few rare beams of sunshine - all the more precious for their endangered status. Hope springs eternal.

There was the news that Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, 73rd Assembly District, moved his entire desk set and other pieces of office furniture onto the frozen lawn via office windows so he could meet with his constituents, locked out of the people's house by Gov. Walker. Underneath Rep. Milroy's name was taped a handmade sign reading "Open For Business". Bundled up with a hat and jacket, he placed his telephone on the adjacent windowsill to continue making calls while chatting with several supporters from Superior who made the trip to Madison but were barred entry along with nearly everybody else.

There was also an excellent, lengthy, and ultimately very moving report by Ben Bradford on the cultural scene coalescing around the thousands of protesters in Madison. Bradford is at great pains to portray this group of people as an authentic grass-roots effort, but also is at great pains to highlight what makes this group of dissenters especially notable - their positivity, their intelligence, their good humor, and their common human decency. While other news organizations and politicians try to smear this effort as the actions of bums skipping out on work or disrespectful hooligans, Bradford calmly insists that what has been occurring in Madison for the past two weeks is something that both sides of the issue should feel some pride in - a massive gathering of angry individuals who have been respectful of property and individual rights. No matter whether this battle is won or lost - and it doesn't look good - I'd like to think that the rest of the country has been granted a special glimpse into our state and the amazing people who populate it. And while the decent moral fiber of our citizens is something all of us Wisconsinites, past and present, have always been aware of, it's good to share with the rest of the country. I've never been prouder to call myself a Badger.

Another glimmer came in the guise of a 1958 book by Dr. Seuss, my favorite youth-oriented stealth liberal next to Fred Rogers. For those unfamiliar with the plot of Yertle The Turtle - well, no matter. What does matter is the following line of poetry, plucked from its pages by more than one youth lit-loving individual :

I know, you up on top are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom,
We, too, should have rights

And finally, there was the onsite photograph sent to me via email by an old friend who made the trek from Milwaukee to Madison to take part in the protest. His analysis of the situation would make for good reading, but I'm tempted merely to let the below photograph speak for itself, because in its simplicity, wit, and healthy sense of the absurd, it encapsulates for me the many reasons why I will always dance to the revolution if it's thrown by some fellow Midwesterners.

Yes, that's the greatest comedian of our pathetic era, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. "This Bill Is Great..." he offers. "For Me To Poop On!"

Juvenile? Childish? Yeah. It would hardly be Triumph The Insult Comic Dog if it wasn't. But I'd posit it's a good deal less juvenile than locking people out of buildings, stacking the deck with dozens of of your suit-besotted best friends for support, faking news footage to prove a point, or using the term "conservatard". And as soon as you children are finished screwing windows shut and calling each other names, the adults in the room have some business they'd like to attend to. And yes, it might involve discussing a recall.