Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wolcott On Bolton

James Wolcott splattered John Bolton with this coconut the other day, and if you don't find it hilariously funny then you're probably at the wrong blog.

And for even more comic hijinks, might I suggest taking a peak at the right wing's attempts to smear Larry Johnson and Patrick Lang as a pair of love bead-wearin' hippies. If you have a fetish for the sort of humor where people make fools of themselves, you'll love this one, too.

Meanwhile, my Memorial Day essay was a bit later than I'd have liked, so if you missed it please take a look.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Way To Say Thank You

It's Memorial Day, when we're supposed to remember those who are no longer with us, particularly those who gave their lives in service to our country. But a wise man once told me that funerals aren't for the dead, they're for the living, and so it is with memorials as well. We build them to express our sorrow, our guilt at being alive when they no longer are, or just our wish to remember.

There are many veterans living today, far more than have died in our recent wars, I should think. They, too, need to be remembered. A story in my local paper discussed the experiences of a brigade sergeant major from Ft. Lewis in Iraq and after. It reminded me, as if it were possible to forget, that there are many veterans who returned home without parts of their bodies or with serious psychological problems. The latter, sadly, are all too often not addressed. As we've learned recently, veterans with more conventional injuries are not always treated well, either.

My father, like nearly thirteen million of his generation, enlisted in the U.S. military after World War II began. He became a pilot, learning to fly several heavy bombers, including the B-29. That's a flight of B-29s in the photo, flying past Mt. Fuji on their way to bomb Tokyo. Thankfully, my father's training didn't end before the war did, or he might have been in one of those planes.

What was it like for those who were on those planes? Typically, they'd get up early in the morning, or would wake up at a time most of us would still consider "night", to be briefed about the mission, after which they'd take off in planes loaded with as much fuel and explosives as they could carry. Here's a description of such takeoffs at one airbase on Saipan:

At Isley Field it was common on take off for the pilot of a fully loaded B-29 to hold the wheels to the runway until the final few hundred feet (the last two percent of the runway's length); hauling back at the last possible instant to lurch over the road along the cliff edge; then diving full throttle for the sea far below, gaining airspeed while retracting the wheels; and finally beginning the long takeoff climb as the belly of the plane virtually skimmed the water. More than one of the crews failed at this manoeuvre, especially at night.

B-29 Combat Mission Logs, 1945 of Wm. C. Atkinson, Radar Navigator

If they didn't manage to take off, they'd be hitting the water in an overloaded aircraft, with only a few small hatches from which to escape, if they were lucky enough to be conscious and uninjured after the impact.

Assuming they survived takeoff, they'd have a several hour flight over open ocean before trying to form up with the rest of the planes that would be taking part in the mission.

Sofu-Gan was the assembly point. Sofu-Gan is an item in the very damn middle of the Pacific and at the end of the vast Nanpo Shoto extending south from Tokyo bay. It is an item so small that it didn't appear in the radar until we were almost on top of it and even that never would have occurred if John hadn't had a small bit of luck on his last LoRaN fix. It is a mere finger of rock that sticks out of and breaks the surface of the sea like a stump in a swamp.

B-29 Combat Mission Logs, 1945 of Wm. C. Atkinson, Radar Navigator

Assuming they found whatever little point of land they were supposed to meet near, they would then have to hope that the rest of their group would be there to meet them. Often, that didn't go well:

The nearest B-29 must have been ten miles away. The formation was gone. The whole of Japan socked in like a cup of lousy coffee. After straightening out my muddled bombing problem [we] turned up Suruga Wan and [I] figured it would be just as easy to cross the bay with a long bomb run to Hamamatsu as to go to Motosu-ko and make a near 180 [degree turn]. We turned left and with a few course corrections were zeroed in on the yellow-green blob [on the radar] that was Hamamatsu. We passed Omae-zaka. Course 141 true.

There were, all of a sudden, ships all over hell and back. A lone wolf here, [a] three ship element there, some more single planes and a few larger groups that had managed to reassemble after making it into the clear. Some fellows were even creaming around below in the soup at the risk of an "egg" down the astrodome.

B-29 Combat Mission Logs, 1945 of Wm. C. Atkinson, Radar Navigator

Back then, bombers would fly together for mutual protection. To be alone on a mission was often fatal.

On their first mission, a night bombing raid, William Atkinson and his crew were caught by searchlights over their target, which meant that they drew much of the anti-aircraft fire in the area. Their plane was hit, and they may have only survived thanks to Iwo Jima having been captured by Marines a few weeks earlier.

In short, a typical heavy bombing mission was hours of boredom interrupted by moments of terror, when the animal inside a person's mind would realize that he's trapped in an aluminum tube miles above the earth, with nowhere to hide. If someone was wounded or the aircraft was damaged, the nearest help was hours away. Enough of that kind of stress could damage anyone's personality, I'd think.

Thanks to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or "combat fatigue" as it was then called, fliers who survived the war sometimes didn't do well in its aftermath. Taylor Marsh's uncle was one such man:

My uncle suffered from "battle fatigue." I'll never forget seeing him in the hospital with my mom when I was just a little girl. The once dandy of a man had shrunk to a shell of a human being. He flew bombing missions in WWII, my mom told me, with the never ending flights finally doing him in.

Even The Bravest Get PTSD

Or maybe it was just one horrible mission, who knows? One of the troubling aspects of PTSD is that its causes are still unclear. Some people get it, some don't. The only thing that is clear is that the more someone is exposed to such stress, the more likely it is that they will get PTSD. Contrary to what some believe, it's not just the sissies who get it. Here's a quote from the Seattle Times story about the brigade sergeant major:

At a dusty desert base in Kuwait, [Sergeant Major Thomas] Adams went from unit to unit, telling his fellow soldiers that he was not OK and would seek counseling when he returned. He urged others to do the same.

In the Army, where soldiers often mask the traumas of war, this was an unsettling confession from a leader who had unflinchingly tackled the grimmest of tasks -- even washing out the insides of armored Stryker vehicles bloodied by human remains.

Haunted by memories, a warrior seeks change

By sheer luck, my father didn't have to go through this. He was able to leave the army, go to college, and have a successful career in engineering. He was able to start a family. Would he have been able to do that if he'd been inducted a year earlier, and had to fly combat missions in the Pacific or Europe? Who can say? One thing's for sure, Taylor's uncle wasn't able to, because at the time we didn't understand even as much about PTSD as we do now.

There are many soldiers and marines coming back from Iraq with PTSD. Most are young, with most of their careers ahead of them. Think of the difference PTSD could have made in my father's life, multiplied by all the people who are suffering from PTSD coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. These people will be the engineers, lawyers, doctors, and leaders of tomorrow, if they can overcome what the war has done to them. The opportunity cost alone is almost incalculable, let alone the cost in human suffering.

To be a young soldier in a war is to learn the meaning of "choiceless". They are usually told what to do, where to go, and what not to do or where not to go. The consequences for not following those directions can be drastic. They are often even told when they can sleep and eat, in contradiction to what seems like the most basic human instincts. When they are sent to a war their only choices are to serve or face jail, or worse. That's their duty.

Our duty is to make sure that they aren't sent into a war for frivolous reasons, which as I've mentioned before, we have not done. The other part of our responsibility is to help the soldiers who are hurt in those wars as well as we are able. In that way we've also failed to do our duty.

I think the best way we can thank all these people for what they have done for us is to live up to our end of the bargain.

A good place to learn about how PTSD is being handled by the U.S. military is Ilona Meagher's PTSD Combat.

UPDATE: Added links to the Seattle Times story on Sgt. Maj. Adams, the lamentable opinions of Dr. Sally Satel, President Bush's "advisor" on PTSD, and a quote from the Seattle Times article.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Profiles In Cluelessness

image credit: New York Times - reduced by Cujo359

The Senate Democrats disgraced themselves today, voting 80-14 in favor of a bill that gives President Bush a blank check in Iraq for at least another six months. They'll most likely cave then as well, since the same dynamic will be in play, mainly that they have a weak majority (shored up by the despicable Joe Lieberman, which is to say they're standing by themselves mostly), a leader who says stupid things that he can't back up, and general spinelessness and brainlessness among the rank and file. The House Democrats did somewhat better, at 280-142.

Except for Joe Biden, all of the Democratic Presidential candidates voted against the supplemental bill. It's a silver lining, albeit a pretty thin one. Add that to the silver lining I found yesterday and eighty cents, and you can afford a small cup of coffee at any McDonald's.

Why is this a disgrace? Because there was no need to pass this bill now. President Bush is the one who wants to continue this war - he's the one who needs the money. The Congress appropriates that money, and with the public becoming increasingly negative about the war and our chances for any meaningful success there, he's the one in the hot seat. Yet the Democrats, as Digby observed yesterday, can't seem to grasp this basic concept. They can't seem to muster up the courage to do what's right, even when it's clear that ending the war is also a popular notion among the people they represent. Even as politicians they suck. Oh, and Christy agrees, as does Keith Olbermann, and I bet you could find lots more by clicking on those links on the lower left of this blog. Me? I'm too depressed right now. What this says about our country is pretty appalling, and I'd rather not think about this for a day or two to see if I have any optimism left.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, people are dying faster than ever. The New York Times featured a terrific story yesterday about an American squad in Iraq that was searching for those missing soldiers. I was going to write more about it, but I'll just say it's terrific, and there's video at Crooks and Liars. I'll warn you that it's pretty tragic - that's one of the wounded in the picture above. Read it to find out the sorts of things that our soldiers and their Iraqi counterparts are going through these days.

And be sure to thank the Democrats for putting them through another six months of it.

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher has a thing or two to say, as does TRex. TRex gets the last word, because at least he still can summon up a sense of humor:

P.S. DO NOT CALL AND ASK ME FOR MONEY. Then it really is over. Ask your damn mother for some money. And tell her I'm sick of doing her goddamn job.

Late Late Nite FDL: We Don’t Love You No More

Right now, online porn looks like a better investment.

UPDATE 2: (May 25) I take that back - Jon Stewart gets the last word.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thanks For Nothing, Again

Image credit: NYTimes photo reduced by Cujo359

To me, this photo is our Iraq experience in microcosm - an American soldier looking over the body of a dead Iraqi that's been discarded like trash after being murdered. There's nothing he can do to help, and nothing he can do to prevent the next one. I used it four months ago in this article, in which I wrote:

My, I sure am glad that's over. Now that the Congress has channeled its moral outrage, screwed up its courage, and decided to maybe pass a non-binding resolution on Iraq, I'm sure we can get on with the business of withdrawing from the slaughter we helped create in Iraq and get on with rebuilding our own country. President Bush will see Congress's resolve now and agree to play by what we Americans who actually stayed awake in civics class think of as the rules, right?

Yes, and I'm the King of England.

Four months later, and we're back where we started from. The Democratic leadership have decided to, essentially, give President Bush what he wants on Iraq. At least, a part of it has:

But even so, many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, indicated that they would not support the war money, meaning that a significant number of Republicans would have to sign on to ensure the plan’s approval.

Ms. Pelosi made clear that if money for the war was going to be provided without a timeline for withdrawal, it would be without her personal support. “I would never vote for such a thing,” Ms. Pelosi said as she entered the office of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, to put the final touches on the $120 billion proposal.

Democrats Pull Troop Deadline From Iraq Bill

Image credit: NYTimes photo reduced by Cujo359

Reid's picture from that article, throwing up his hands as if he has no power to change anything, may become another symbolic picture of this war. The symbolism is of the Democrats stopping themselves from doing what we Americans sent them there to do. Reid had the power. He allowed Joe Lieberman to slither back into the Senate, rather than support Ned Lamont. With that action, or inaction, he laid the groundwork for this failure, because he made it clear that ending the war wasn't his concern. I don't blame Speaker Pelosi - there's little she can do at this point but vote against a bill she helped shape.

A month or so ago, speaking on a related issue, Bill Maher said this about the Democrats in Congress:

They say evil happens when good men do nothing. Well, the Democrats proved it also happens when mediocre people do nothing.

Bill Maher on Sacrifice

Today, the Democrats as a group have taken mediocrity to new depths.

If there's any silver lining to this, it's that the problem with this bill clearly shows that there is a substantial difference in the character of the two political parties at this moment. For Republicans, the rebellion against the leadership that has caused this failure would have been unthinkable - they always follow the leader, as they did for the last six years from failure to disaster to humiliation. Now, we are seeing the way free people act. Sometimes, free people exercise the freedom to be fools and cowards, and this is one of those times.

For the soldier in that picture, and the family and friends of that dead Iraqi, that's precious little comfort, I'll bet.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann had a scathing commentary for the Democrats this evening:

This is, in fact, a comment about… betrayal.

Few men or women elected in our history-whether executive or legislative, state or national-have been sent into office with a mandate more obvious, nor instructions more clear: Get us out of Iraq.

Yet after six months of preparation and execution-half a year gathering the strands of public support; translating into action, the collective will of the nearly 70 percent of Americans who reject this War of Lies, the Democrats have managed only this ...

Special Comment: “The only things truly “compromised” are the trust of the voters…friends, and family, in Iraq”

This AP article indicates that part of the supplemental bill will be a $2.10 increase in the minimum wage, the first in a decade.

UPDATE 2: Digby hits it on the head (h/t Taylor Marsh):

This occupation is the most important issue to Democratic voters and things aren't going to suddenly "turn around" before the election. It's a disaster that will only get worse. I don't know what it's going to take to get the Democratic leadership to internalize that basic fact. On both a moral and practical basis, voting to continue this war on Bush's terms is just plain wrong.

Risky Business

They sure haven't internalized this fact yet. It's abundantly clear to anyone with the least understanding of history and human nature that this thing is going to continue to get worse, and that even if it somehow manages to only stay as bad as it is now, it's far worse than we, or the Iraqis, want to deal with.

UPDATE 3: (May 23) The supplemental funding bill passed 280-142 in the House, with all but two of the "nay" votes cast by Democrats, and 80-14 in the Senate, with ten "nay" votes cast by Democrats, one by Sanders, the independent from Vermont, and three by Republicans.

Read the roll calls, and remember. Those who cast yea votes have a lot to answer for.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Farm Bill Quandary

image credit: The Pennsylvania State University

Kerry Trueman asks an interesting question related to the upcoming farm bill:

Would you like to see your hard-earned dollars used to conserve precious wetlands and vital habitats, or would you prefer to see that money used to build football field-sized pools of pigshit generated by industrial pork producers?

Action Alert: Don't Let Conservation Buy The Farm

Hmmm, let's see. Pigshit or wetlands? I must have a coin around here somewhere ...

I'm nearly as stunned as Kerry is to discover that a place that's run so cheaply that they won't even pay to get rid of their pig droppings would have financial troubles, but I do know that organic farming hasn't been terribly profitable for the folks doing the work. Yet it appears that at least a few congresspeople want to divert funds from support for organic farming and other conservation measures in order to fund the pig manure pools.

Anyway, read, enjoy, and try not to let it ruin your breakfast.

UPDATE: (May 21) More on this issue Minnesota farm country by Sally Jo Sorenson at MyDD. If you have a congressman who's on the House Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research, or on the Committee on Agriculture, I hope you'll read these articles and make it clear to your congressman that you support sustainable agriculture. Better still, let them know that you think funding the development of toxic pools of pig crap instead sounds like a really bad (dare I say "stinky"?) idea.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why We're Not "Winning" In Iraq - The Illustrated Version

image credit: Associated Press

Sometimes, to paraphrase Colorado Bob, pictures beat text, and this is one of those times. Here's an illustration of why we're not "winning" in Iraq.

The first picture is of our huge, hideously expensive, "embassy" in Iraq. People familiar with history, and those who are interested in architecture, will immediately notice a resemblance to another form of architecture. For the rest of you, I'll provide another picture.

image credit: English Heritage

This is Portchester Castle, in southern England. According to the English Heritage website, it was originally built by the Romans in the late 3rd Century. At the time, the Romans were occupying England, and had to build fortifications like this to protect themselves from the Celts and the other natives, such as the unfortunate Boadicea. One wonders if Roman soldiers at that time felt that staying there was worth the trouble. Of course, no one asked their opinion.

image credit: Cadw

This is Harlech Castle, in Wales. It was built because the English were occupying Wales at the time. It was part of what was known as a "ring of iron" that kept the Welsh at bay for more than a century. In the BBC series Battlefield Britain, Dan Snow observed that there are more castles per square mile in Wales than any other country on earth. It was seized by the Welsh rebel Owain Glyn Dŵr in 1404. He was defeated a few years later, but it was only much later that the Welsh learned to accept the rule of England. If England had been as far removed from Wales as America is from Iraq or Rome was from Portchester, they probably would have lost.

These construction projects, separated by more than 1700 years, have three things in common besides thick walls. First, they have a perimeter defense to keep out hostile locals. Second, they have a large inner keep where a substantial number of people can hold out during a long siege. Third, they are all built by occupiers, not welcome friends or a military that has the support, or at least the tolerance, of the local population.

What do Iraqis think of our little construction project? Here's a quote from the Times of London:

Irritation grows as residents deprived of air-conditioning and running water three years after the US-led invasion watch the massive US Embassy they call “George W’s palace” rising from the banks of the Tigris.

In the pavement cafés, people moan that the structure is bigger than anything Saddam Hussein built. They are not impressed by the architects’ claims that the diplomatic outpost will be visible from space and cover an area that is larger than the Vatican city and big enough to accommodate four Millennium Domes. They are more interested in knowing whether the US State Department paid for the prime real estate or simply took it.

In the chaos of Iraq, one project is on target: a giant US embassy

And that, folks, is why we're not winning in Iraq. We're the occupiers. Sooner or later, we're going to have to give up and leave. I vote for sooner.

UPDATE: Corrected the name of the link to the Welsh castle. Turns out that's a word, "Cadw", which is Welsh for "to keep", not an acronym.

UPDATE2: (May 20) I neglected to quote this paragraph from that Times of London piece yesterday:

Iraqi politicians opposed to the US presence protest that the scale of the project suggests that America retains long-term ambitions here. The International Crisis Group, a think-tank, said the embassy’s size “is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country”.

In the chaos of Iraq, one project is on target: a giant US embassy

When you build a fortress in someone's capital city, it's likely that people there aren't going to believe you when you say you have their best interests at heart.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

New Farm Bill Looms

image credit: eric at ology.org

Matt Stoller over at MyDD has sent out a call of sorts for people who understand food production, the economics of food production, and food policy. There's a big new farm bill coming down the pike, and my guess, based on the history of these things, is that the agribusinesses are going to get far more out of it than farmers or consumers. Traditionally, these things have been largely interesting to the food industry and Congress, with little attention from the news. As with many of these things, some attention from bloggers could help fill in this gap and make activism more effective. If you're familiar with these things and you want to help out, I suggest you e-mail Matt or sign in and leave a comment.

What's wrong with the way we grow and sell food these days? To start with, as the MyDD article points out, it has a sort of perverse economics where carrots cost more than Twinkies on a per-calorie basis. It's also becoming increasingly clear that the food inspection system needs an upgrade, though I don't remember it being this bad before the current presidential administration took power. The other thing that concerns me is that the current system encourages overproduction, which isn't terribly good for the ecology or for long term use of farmlands.

This is one of those "I'm in a hurry" posts, so I really don't have much to add to this discussion except that I agree with Matt - we all like to eat, and making our food system more responsive to consumers' needs without making farmers' lives worse can only be a good thing.

UPDATE: For some examples of how agricultural policy can affect things like poverty and ecology all around the world, check out "How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor" in this month's Foreign Affairs magazine. I'm not sure I agree with the premise that more biofuel production is necessarily bad for the poor, but it does illustrate some of the tradeoffs to any change in our agricultural policy.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Pat Lang on Anbar and Al Masri

Pat Lang over at Sic Semper Tyrannis has posted three interesting articles in the last couple of days about the reported death of Abu Al-Masri, the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, and the tribesmen of the Anbar province who supposedly have been instrumental in finding Al-Masri. The third article is some background information from someone who was working with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the tribesmen of Anbar, and how the CPA screwed this effort up by attempting be completely in control of it.

Rather than quote from them, I'll just say go read. They're well worth the time if you want to understand why I've written that our trying to control Iraq and turn it into a society like ours was bound to be problematical, no matter how well we managed the occupation. As Americans, we live in a society with a strong national identity. I think it's hard for us to relate to societies that are organized along lines like those of these tribesmen. It's important to understand just how differently people can view the world through those two lenses.

UPDATE: On the Obama/MySpace situation, according to Micah Sifry at TechPresident.com, Joe Anthony has decided not to sue the Obama campaign, which I think is wise. Nothing good would have come from that action. Anthony also thinks he'll continue supporting Obama, which I don't think is wise. Obama is demonstrating that he doesn't deserve that support. However, unlike Obama and his staff, I think that Anthony should be the one deciding what his labors should mean, so if he feels that way, good for him. Here's the link.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


Yesterday, at least one Democrat was trying to push the boundaries of foolishness in the digital age. Not to be outdone, the Republicans showed that they, too, can dare to be stupid. At tonight's Republican Presidential debate, three among ten of the Republicans' best and brightest announced that they don't believe in evolution. In case you think I'm kidding, Crooks and Liars has the video. According to the article, the three were Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, and Mike Huckabee. The video shows that John McCain answered that he did believe in evolution. Beyond that, I can't say, mostly because I don't care enough to try to figure out who the three smudges were that were raising their hands.

To me, this isn't an issue about Democrats versus Republicans. I don't care what party you belong to, there are certain constants in this world, and one of them is that science deals in the realities of our existence. While there are sometimes colorful exchanges and the occasional argument that gets out of hand, there are no Spanish Inquisitions among scientists. Scientists don't condemn each other to death or exile for their beliefs. Instead, they discuss and argue about how evidence is gathered and analyzed, and about whether experiments were performed and recorded in ways that don't introduce errors. The scientific method, as it is now known, of observing the world, proposing theories that explain the observations, and testing those theories is the basis for the technological and medical breakthroughs of the last few centuries. In contrast to the fashion of assuming that all ideas are equally valid as long as their spokespeople are equally attractive, science says that there are theories that fit the facts, and there are those that don't. Those that don't are less valid than those that do.

The idea that life evolves into other forms on this planet is one product of that scientific method. It is supported by the facts, and more importantly, it is not contradicted by them. That people don't understand all the whys and wherefores of how bioligists came to that conclusion is understandable, but the idea that somehow this idea is on par with Genesis and other creation myths is patently absurd. Evolution is a tested theory, creationism, the scientific window dressing for the book of Genesis, is a metaphor at best.

That three educated men who are running for our country's highest office could raise their hands to such a question is disturbing, to say the least. They might as well have asked those gentlemen to raise their hands if they don't understand the difference between the truth and a fairy tale. That one of these people might conceivably become the leader of our country is astounding.

UPDATE: Back to that Democratic stupidity - Jerome Armstrong posted a followup article this afternoon. Seems Joe Anthony, the amateur blogger, has landed an interview on MTV. Obama's staff haven't done him any favors on this one, and I think it's becoming more imperative than ever that he find a way to resolve this as amicably as possible.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Actions Trump Words

If you stop by here regularly you may have noticed I haven't posted for a while. The reason is that I've been working on something else lately. All I'll say about it is that it pays money and it's interesting work. The important thing is that it occupies my time and my mind to a point where I can't do blogging the way I want to do it. Doing the research, writing and sometimes re-writing, and then formatting an article takes time, energy, and concentration. After writing an article, I'd generally spend a little time engaging in discussions at other blogs on the subject, and occasionally shamelessly plugging what I'd written. It might not look it at times, but writing here took a good deal of time and effort, sometimes even when there was no resulting article or essay. My hard disks are littered with the corpses of unfinished articles. Now that I'm working more-or-less full time, I don't have enough left at the end of the day to pick up a thread and start writing. One thing I've learned from all this is that the folks who do this for a living, or try to, are amazingly more productive than I am. Taylor Marsh, Christie Smith, and Josh Marshall, among others, often write several times what I could in a day.

All this leads me to Senator Barack Obama's actions this week. One philosophical difference between me and many of Obama's more ardent supporters is that I think actions speak louder than words. Saying things is easy. Doing things, particularly difficult or humbling things, is hard. I'm writing, of course, about the MySpace brouhaha. In this instance, Obama's actions were that he allowed his campaign to take over an unofficial MySpace website that had been run by a Los Angeles paralegal named Joe Anthony without any compensation. The campaign apparently pressured MySpace into allowing them to take it over without Anthony's consent, and without compensating him in any way for the work he'd been doing on the site for the last two and a half years. As someone who, like Anthony, put a lot of time and effort into something for nothing more than satisfaction, I think I can relate to Anthony's situation.

I've seen comments like this one at MyDD:

$40K for three months part-time?

pretty good deal. I guess I should start making fake celebrity myspace pages too.

I'll bet this guy doesn't come home after a full day at the office and try to rustle up the energy to write a few pages about whatever's happening, then answer comments and e-mails. In any event, Anthony put a lot of time and effort into the site, and all he received in return was this:

Speaking on background, Obama campaign staffers are spreading word that Anthony just wanted a "big payday."

The Battle to Control Obama's Myspace

Which reportedly was about $39,000. This may seem like lots of money, but over two and a half years it's barely poverty level wages. What's more, the Obama campaign, according to Anthony, didn't bother to negotiate, they just took the site from him. I think Obama's campaign staffers need to practice the phrase "no comment" a few hundred times so they get used to using it. Just how much of a clunk do you have to be to think that comments like "he just wanted a big payday" are going to win over anyone?

The second thing Anthony has gotten, according to this article he wrote late today, was a call from Obama:

I just received a phone call from Barack Obama himself.

He expressed his appreciation and we agreed that there is something to be learned by everyone involved at this point. (Frankly, I was a little surprised by the call, and was too nervous to remember any exact quotes)

I assured him that this is just a horrible thing that happened and obviously he wasn't responsible and shouldn't be held responsible. It's his campaign that perhaps mismanaged this whole thing. He of course stands by his campaign, but again. . . much to be learned by all.

TC from Barack Obama (!!!)

You can tell this guy's a fan. I would have asked Obama where my freakin' $40K was.

To me, this sounds pathetic. One of the things I, and a great many others, have been concerned about with Obama is his lack of experience in politics. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill used to say "All politics is local", meaning knowing what's important to people about their own situations and their neighborhoods is what's important, even for a national politician. Tip O'Neill didn't lose his job - he retired as Speaker. He would have known that there was no profit in pissing off a guy who's volunteered as much time as Anthony has and who has helped Obama's popularity with a segment of the populace most politicians can't seem to reach. Obama probably blows this much cash weekly on high-priced consultants who give him bad advice. His website, as Howard Fineman observed, is the most amateurish of all the serious candidates'. It's hard to imagine that you could make a campaign website hard to navigate, but they managed somehow. They were willing to push Anthony aside for what? To run this website the way they run this?

If I continue to write long enough, and if anyone sticks around long enough to read what I've written, they'll find out that I'm not much good at being a partisan. If someone's being a jerk, I'm inclined to say so no matter which party they belong to. Obama's being a jerk. He let his staff take this guy's site away and not compensate him, and then thought that a phone call and no actual compensation would be enough. Of course, there could have been all sorts of miscommunication going on in that call, including Anthony's having missed an offer or even completely misunderstanding the conversation, but for now I'm going to stick with he's being a jerk. I'm hoping Obama will prove me wrong in the days ahead, but I'm not betting on it.

If Obama had half the brains his fans think he does, he'd have hired this kid and used him as an adviser on courting the youth vote. Instead, he not only managed to honk off a considerable portion of those folks, but he's managed to make an ass of himself doing it. I think if he wants to salvage this situation he'd better do something tangible soon, which would include apologizing for his campaign's high-handed behavior. It doesn't matter whether Obama knew this was going to happen before it was done. It's his campaign and he's let this situation continue.

A real politician would know that.

UPDATE: Rob Joseph found this response by Joe Rospars, Obama's "New Media Director":

At the end of the day, this is all new for everyone -- this Joe, that Joe, and everyone participating or commenting on it. We're flying by the seat of our pants, and establishing new ways of doing things every day. We're going to try new things, and sometimes it's going to work, and sometimes it's not going to work. That's the cost and that's the risk of experimenting. Joe launched this profile for all the right reasons, and for a while grew it with us.

Our MySpace Experiment

It's a new medium, so apparently the old rules of giving someone something of value for his work don't apply.

He maintains that Anthony had given them access to the site, but then cut it off. As Chris Bowers noted in his introduction to the release, that changes things a little, but I don't think it changes the basic unfairness of the situation, nor that the Obama campaign decided to smear their own volunteer on background rather than either shut up or come out with a full and reasonable explanation. They did offer him some sort of job, so they at least did that part of what I suggested. Other than that, though, my opinion hasn't changed.

Is such a site worth $40K? Micah Sifry of TechPresident.com asked the question of several folks in the business this question:

But from talking with Joe, and even from Joe Rospars defensive post on the Obama site, it's clear he did a lot more than that and spent a great deal of time--at least five hours a day starting this January, he says--responding to individual emails, pointing people to information on how to register to vote (something he is rightfully intensely proud of), answering their questions about Obama, and so on. If you hired someone to do this for you to promote a movie or a product or a candidate on MySpace, surely you'd have to pay them something. Top internet consulting firms charge anywhere from $50-$150 an hour for staff time. If Anthony put in just 5 hours a day over the last 18 weeks, that could be anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000 in value.

How to Value a MySpace Mega-Group

In short, what he asked was toward the low end of what he could reasonably have asked for. Some of the experts had other ways of valuing what Anthony had built there, but none seemed to think he was asking too much.