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A blogger who supports Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for president over Democratic primary challenger Barack Obama (D-IL) finds a birth announcement from a copy of the August 13, 1961 Honolulu Advertiser announcing Obama’s birth. The blogger publishes a scanned graphic of the announcement on his blog, and concludes that Obama was “likely” born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu as the campaign, and the senator, have always claimed (see June 13, 2008). Reprinting the annoucement, FactCheck (.org) notes: “Of course, it’s distantly possible that Obama’s grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his US citizenship in order to run for president someday. We suggest that those who choose to go down that path should first equip themselves with a high-quality tinfoil hat. The evidence is clear: Barack Obama was born in the USA.” (FactCheck (.org) 8/21/2008) Reporter Will Hoover for the Honolulu Advertiser notes that both the Advertiser and the Honolulu Star Bulletin published birth announcements for Obama. One of the announcements, the blogger notes, contains the actual address of Obama’s parents at the time they lived in Honolulu, 6085 Kalanianaole Highway. Newspaper officials tell Hoover that the announcements came, not from the parents, but from Hawaii’s Department of Health. “That’s not the kind of stuff a family member calls in and says, ‘Hey, can you put this in?’” Hoover explains. (What Really Happened (.com) 2008; Fairley 7/1/2009)
Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. (Simon and Schuster 8/1/2008; Corsi 8/12/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” (Rutenberg and Bosman 8/12/2008)
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” (FactCheck (.org) 2008; FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008) And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” (Wills 8/16/2008)
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” (Media Matters 8/4/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008)
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) (Media Matters 8/4/2008) Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” (Media Matters 8/6/2004) (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) (Free Republic 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi 8/7/2004) An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” (Wills 8/16/2008) FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” (Holan 8/20/2008)
FactCheck (.org), a non-partisan arm of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, certifies that its experts have verified that the birth certificate released by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is valid (see June 13, 2008). Since the release of the digitally scanned image, a firestorm of controversy (see July 20, 2008) has erupted over the authenticity of the certificate, even after Hawaiian officials verified its validity (see June 27, 2008) and the discovery of a printed birth announcement from a Honolulu newspaper (see July 2008). FactCheck notes that much of the controversy has been sparked by author Jerome Corsi, whose recent book Obamanation makes a host of negative claims against Obama (see August 1, 2008 and After), and who has told a Fox News interviewer that the birth certificate the campaign has is “fake” (see August 15, 2008). FactCheck releases the following statement: “We beg to differ. FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined, and photographed the original birth certificate. We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving US citizenship. Claims that the document lacks a raised seal or a signature are false. We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as ‘supporting documents’ to this article. Our conclusion: Obama was born in the USA just as he has always said.” The actual certificate is in the hands of Obama campaign officials in Chicago, FactCheck reports, and has the proper seals and signature from Hawaiian registrar Alvin Onaka.
Certificate Meets Requirements for State Department Passport Issuance - FactCheck reports: “The certificate has all the elements the State Department requires for proving citizenship to obtain a US passport: ‘your full name, the full name of your parent(s), date and place of birth, sex, date the birth record was filed, and the seal or other certification of the official custodian of such records.’ The names, date and place of birth, and filing date are all evident on the scanned version, and you can see the seal above” in a photograph reproduced on FactCheck’s Web site.
'Short Form' Certificate - The copy possessed by the Obama campaign is called a “short form birth certificate.” The so-called “long form” is created by the hospital in which a child is born, and includes additional information such as birth weight and parents’ hometowns. The short form is what is provided by Hawaiian officials upon receiving a valid request for a birth certificate: It “is printed by the state and draws from a database with fewer details. The Hawaii Department of Health’s birth record request form does not give the option to request a photocopy of your long-form birth certificate, but their short form has enough information to be acceptable to the State Department.”
Scan Artifacts - The digitally scanned version released by the Obama campaign does indeed show “halos” around the black-text lettering, prompting some to claim that the text may have been copied onto an image of security paper. However, FactCheck writes, “the document itself has no such halos, nor do the close-up photos we took of it. We conclude that the halo seen in the image produced by the campaign is a digital artifact from the scanning process.”
Date Stamp, Blacked-Out Certificate Number - The digital scan also contains an unusual date stamp and a blacked-out certificate number. Campaign spokesperson Shauna Daly explains that the certificate is stamped July 2007 because that is when Hawaiian officials produced it for the presidential campaign. The campaign did not release a copy until mid-2008, leading some to speculate that the date stamp proved the digital scan was a forgery. Of the certificate number, Daly says that the campaign “couldn’t get someone on the phone in Hawaii to tell us whether the number represented some secret information, and we erred on the side of blacking it out. Since then we’ve found out it’s pretty irrelevant for the outside world.” FactCheck writes, “The document we looked at did have a certificate number; it is 151 1961 - 010641.”
'African' Father - Obama’s father, Barack Obama Sr., is listed on the certificate as “African,” sparking claims that Obama is actually of Kenyan citizenship. Kurt Tsue of the Hawaii Department of Health tells FactCheck that the father and mother’s race are told to officials by the parents, and thusly “we accept what the parents self identify themselves to be.” FactCheck writes: “We consider it reasonable to believe that Barack Obama Sr. would have thought of and reported himself as ‘African.’ It’s certainly not the slam dunk some readers have made it out to be.”
Differences in Borders - The “security borders” on the digital scan do indeed look slightly different from other examples of Hawaii birth certificates. Tsue explains: “The borders are generated each time a certified copy is printed. A citation located on the bottom left hand corner of the certificate indicates which date the form was revised.” He also confirms that the information in the short form birth certificate is sufficient to prove citizenship for “all reasonable purposes.” (FactCheck (.org) 8/21/2008)
The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, runs an article that discusses the ACORN “voter fraud” issue in depth. It states that there is no evidence of the “democracy-destroying fraud” that Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused ACORN of, draws a distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud, and acknowledges that true voter fraud is relatively rare, citing a five-year investigation by the Bush administration Department of Justice that found no evidence of organized voter fraud. Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecutor who handled the largest ACORN voter registration case in the nation, in King County, Washington, in 2006, is quoted saying “this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting,” and “ACORN is a victim of employee theft.” In its headline and lede, however, the FactCheck article says that McCain’s Democratic rival Barack Obama is “soft-pedal[ing]” his ties with ACORN, placing this on the same level as John McCain’s statement that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” (Lampard 10/18/2008) The article is also run by Newsweek. (Henig 10/18/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that President-elect Barack Obama’s grandmother “suspiciously died virtually the night before the election,” in an apparent attempt to question Obama’s pre-election trip to Hawaii. Obama visited his grandmother in late October, shortly before her death on November 3. Savage ties in his questions about Obama’s grandmother and her “suspicious death” to discredited claims that Obama has been unable to verify his US citizenship. Savage tells his listeners: “Well, we don’t even know where Obama was born. His grandmother died the night before the election. There’s a lot of questions around this character that the media won’t answer. Let’s start with what country he’s from. Why was the birth certificate never produced? Why in the world did he take time off from the campaign to visit the grandmother who then suddenly and suspiciously died virtually the night before the election? Tell me about that.” Savage and other conservative commentators have suggested that Obama went to Hawaii, not to visit his gravely ill grandmother, but to address charges that his birth certificate is not valid. (Media Matters 11/14/2008) Savage is one of a number of conservative radio hosts to spread false rumors about Obama’s birth certificate (see October 8-10, 2008). Obama produced a copy of his birth certificate months before (see June 13, 2008). A number of organizations have verified that Obama’s birth certificate is valid and authentic (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008), as have Hawaii Health Department officials (see October 30, 2008). (Hollyfield 6/27/2008; Zahn 8/23/2008; FactCheck (.org) 11/1/2008) According to Talkers Magazine, Savage is third in talk-radio listenership across the US, behind fellow conservatives Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. (Media Matters 11/14/2008)
Robert L. Schulz, a wealthy anti-tax activist from upstate New York and the chairman of the We the People Foundation, takes out the second of two ads in the Chicago Tribune questioning whether President Barack Obama is a “natural born citizen” and thusly eligible to be president. Schulz confirms that his non-profit foundation spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on the ads. The ads echo long-debunked claims that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is fraudulent (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). Cases challenging Obama’s citizenship have been thrown out of numerous state courts (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and the State of Hawaii has vouched for the authenticity of the Obama birth certificate, which by state law is locked in a state government vault with all other such “long form birth certificates” issued by Hawaiian officials (see July 1, 2009). Schulz’s ad raises the following claims:
The birth form released by Obama was “an unsigned, forged, and thoroughly discredited” live birth form, Schulz says. Digital and real copies of Obama’s birth certificate have been examined by experts, including members of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and pronounced real (see August 21, 2008).
According to Schulz, “Hawaiian officials will not confirm” that Obama was born in their state. Hawaiian officials initially did resist releasing a copy of the certificate, citing state privacy laws. However, Hawaii’s health director and head of vital statistics reviewed Obama’s birth certificate in the department’s vault and vouched for its authenticity (see October 30, 2008).
Schulz says that legal affidavits state Obama was born in Kenya. Those affidavits were filed by challengers to Obama’s citizenship, and those challenges have been dismissed by a variety of courts (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
Obama’s paternal grandmother is recorded on tape saying she attended Obama’s birth in Kenya, Schulz says. Schulz is referring to claims by street preacher Ron McRae who interviewed the second wife of Obama’s grandfather, Sarah Obama, via long-distance telephone (see October 16, 2008 and After). The audiotape clearly shows that the assembled Obama relatives, and the translator who spoke to McRae, repeatedly stated that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Schulz says that “US law in effect in 1961 [the year of Obama’s birth] denied citizenship to any child born in Kenya if the father was Kenyan and the mother was not yet 19 years of age.” Schulz is incorrect. US law states that any child born in the US is a legitimate citizen regardless of his parents’ nationalities and/or citizenships. Obama’s father had dual Kenyan/British citizenship, and his mother was a US citizen. Had Obama been born outside of US territory and his mother Ann Dunham been under 19 years of age, which she was, Obama would indeed not have been a citizen at the time of his birth, though the provisions of this law were subsequently loosened and made retroactive for government employees serving abroad and their families. The point is moot, because Obama was born in a hospital in Honolulu.
Schulz says that in 1965, Obama’s mother relinquished whatever Kenyan or US citizenship she and Obama had by marrying an Indonesian and becoming a naturalized Indonesian citizen. Schulz has produced no evidence to back this claim; Dunham did not file any of the documentation required to renounce one’s US citizenship, and even so, would not have jeopardized Obama’s citizenship in doing so. Obama and his mother moved to Indonesia in 1968, and returned to Hawaii while Obama was still in grade school. Schulz provides a reproduced Indonesian school document that states Obama’s citizenship at the time as “Indonesian,” but the same document lists Obama’s birthplace as “Honolulu, Hawaii.” (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008)
Schulz claims his challenges to Obama are not motivated by political partisanship. “We never get involved in politics,” he says of We The People. “We avoid it like the plague.” However, Schulz has done battle with local and state authorities for years; in 2007, a federal judge ordered him to shutter his Web site because he and his organization were, in the words of the Justice Department’s tax division, using the site to promote “a nationwide tax-fraud scheme.” Schulz now says he is being targeted by government operatives who are attempting to silence him. He says his group attempted to buy a similar ad in USA Today, but could not afford the cost. (Olkon and Janega 12/3/2008; Koppelman 12/5/2008)
Salon columnist Alex Koppelman explores the widening sets of claims that purport to prove President Barack Obama is not a US citizen—the heart of the so-called “birther” conspiracy theory. The Obama campaign long ago produced a valid birth certificate that allowed Obama to run legitimately as a presidential candidate (see June 13, 2008), Obama’s mother Ann Dunham has also affirmed her son’s citizenship, and Hawaiian officials have confirmed that Obama was indeed born in a hospital in Honolulu (see October 30, 2008). However, some on the right continue to promulgate the tale of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship, or Indonesian citizenship, or British citizenship. The Chigago Tribune recently ran a paid advertisement questioning Obama’s citizenship (see December 3, 2008). Conservative news and opinion blogs such as WorldNetDaily run stories on a near-daily basis challenging Obama’s citizenship, or producing hoax “birth certificates” that “prove” Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya, or other locales (see July 20, 2008). Plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging Obama’s citizenship in a number of state courts, all of which have been rejected (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and a similar case goes up for review in the Supreme Court (that case also challenges Republican presidential contender John McCain’s citizenship, as McCain was born in the former Panama Canal Zone to parents serving in the US military, another legitimate way of securing citizenship—see March 14 - July 24, 2008 and August 21-24, 2008). Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, notes that some people will never let go of the idea that Obama is not a citizen, no matter what level of proof is provided. “There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” he says. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it.… Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.” Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant, he says. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates, agrees. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Berlet says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.” Social psychologist Evan Harrington adds: “One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special. The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they’ll have convenient ways to discredit [it].” Koppelman notes that during the presidential election, so-called “birthers” said that they would drop their claims if only Obama would release the “long form” of his birth certificate, even though to do so would be to violate Hawaii’s privacy laws, which keep all such documents under lock and key. During the campaign, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, released a statement saying she had verified that the state has the original birth certificate on record (see October 30, 2008), and that Obama’s Hawaiian birth is a matter of state record. Experts with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, part of the FactCheck (.org) organization, have examined the certificate and verified its authenticity (see August 21, 2008), as has PolitiFact (see June 27, 2008). Koppelmann notes that the conspiracy theory has grown to the point where talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage have suggested that Obama used the occasion of his grandmother’s death to go to Hawaii to alter the record (see November 10, 2008). Koppelman notes that many who align themselves with the “birther” movement are well-known conspiratorists. Author Jerome Corsi, who attacked Obama’s citizenship in a pre-election book (see August 1, 2008 and After), has spoken of “secret government plans” to form a “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, asserts that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the US government (so-called “trutherism”). Another critic, Andy Martin, who seems to be the source of the rumor that Obama is a Muslim and is a strong “birther” proponent, was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law (see October 17-22, 2008). Robert Schulz, who ran the Tribune ads, is a well-known tax protester and anti-government rhetorician. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) accuses the Obama administration of colluding with Democrats to include a “high-speed rail system” from “Las Vegas [Nevada] to Disneyland” in the administration’s economic stimulus package. “Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district,” he demands. (US House of Representatives 2/13/2009)
Claim at Odds with Facts - Boehner is joined in the claim by several of his House Republican colleagues, including Patrick McHenry (R-NC), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), and Candice Miller (R-MI), as well as Republican Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jim DeMint (R-SC). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) includes the claim in his response to President Obama’s address to Congress regarding the stimulus package. Many of these lawmakers add the accusation that the supposed rail line, which they call a “levitating train,” is an earmark inserted for Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-NV), whose state would benefit from the rail line. In reality, the stimulus bill does not set aside any money at all for a train of any kind between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The bill does provide $8 billion for unspecified high-speed rail projects, which includes “magnetic levitation,” or maglev, train systems. The money will be allocated by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, one of two Republican holdovers from the Bush administration in President Obama’s cabinet. A Department of Transportation spokesperson says it is “premature to speculate” about what exactly will be funded; the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense says there is “no way that this provision is an earmark for Senator Reid.” The governors of Nevada and California—both Republicans—have indicated they would support such a maglev line between those two cities. The nonpartisan site FactCheck.org writes: “We can’t predict the future, and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that the Republican who is Obama’s transportation secretary will decide to devote the entire $8 billion to a project that is nowhere near shovel-ready and that the Federal Railroad Administration says is not cost-effective—all for the benefit of the Democratic majority leader. But we wouldn’t bet on it.” (FactCheck (.org) 2/25/2009; Cooper 2/25/2009) The Center for American Progress notes that Republicans mock the idea of “levitating trains” because, apparently, “they [think] the term sounds funny.” FactCheck observes, “In truth, ‘levitating’ trains really do exist—but they are properly called maglev trains, and they are high-tech marvels” employed in Japan, among other places. (FactCheck (.org) 2/25/2009; Frick 3/2/2009)
Plans Include Ohio Lines - While there are no plans for a train line of any kind between California and Nevada in the stimulus package, there are at least two proposals for rail lines in and out of Ohio, Boehner’s state. The plans under consideration include a Cleveland-Toledo-Chicago line and a Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati-Indianapolis line. (Yglesias 2/13/2009)
Train to Las Vegas Brothel? - In March, a Republican House member will claim that the supposed “levitating train” will not just go to Las Vegas, but to a brothel. The claim is entirely false (see March 2, 2009).
The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks the recent spate of claims by Betsy McCaughey (R-NY) that the Obama health care reform proposal would mandate ‘death counseling’ (see July 16, 2009) and encourage seniors to die sooner to save money (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Days later, the Annenberg Political FactCheck organization will come to the same conclusions.
'Advance Care Planning Consultation' - According to HR 3200, the latest version of the health care reform legislation, the relevant section is entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” This details how Medicare would pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. According to the legislation: “such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.” Medicare will pay for one such session every five years, and will pay for interim sessions if a Medicare recipient’s health worsens in between those five-year sessions. Jon Keyserling, general counsel and vice president of public policy for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which supports the provision, says the bill does not encourage seniors to end their lives, it just allows some important counseling for decisions that take time and consideration. “These are very serious conversations,” he says. “It needs to be an informative conversation from the medical side and it needs to be thought about carefully by the patient and their families.” According to Jim Dau of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the legislation does not encourage patients to end their lives. Dau says McCaughey’s claims are “not just wrong, they are cruel.” He adds: “We want to make sure people are making the right decision. If some one wants to take every life-saving measure, that’s their call. Others will decide it’s not worth going through this trauma just for themselves and their families, and that’s their decision, too.” Keyserling says it is clear to him and his organization’s lawyers that such end-of-life counseling sessions are purely voluntary, like everything in Medicare. “The only thing mandatory is that Medicare will have to pay for the counseling,” says Dau. A press release from the AARP says that McCaughey’s characterization of the health care bill is “rife with gross—and even cruel—distortions.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009; Henig 7/29/2009)
'Scare Tactics' - The St. Petersburg Times concludes: “For our ruling on this one, there’s really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would ‘tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner’ is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn’t just wrong, she’s spreading a ridiculous falsehood.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009) The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, will write: “In truth, that section of the bill would require Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care, including designating a health care proxy, choosing a hospice, and making decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It would not require doctors to counsel that their patients refuse medical intervention.” The organization will note that inflammatory “chain e-mails” are making the rounds making claims such as: “On Page 425 of Obama’s health care bill, the federal government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every five years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes.… They are going to push SUICIDE to cut medicare spending!!!” FactCheck will respond: “In fact, [the part of the bill cited on p. 425] requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices—including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would ‘push suicide’ is a falsehood.” FactCheck will find that McCaughey “misrepresent[ed]” the bill in her claims, and she and other health care reform opponents are resorting to “scare tactics” to try to defeat the legislation. (Henig 7/29/2009)
The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, examines a claim being promulgated in a recent series of chain emails. The emails claim that President Obama has the ability, under the newly passed health care reform legislation, to create his own “private army” of 6,000 soldiers. The email states in part: “Obama Just Got His Private Army. Were you aware of the fact that the health care bill created a civilian army? A Ready Reserve Corps for service in time of national emergency. All commissioned officers shall be citizens of the United States and shall be appointed without regard to the civil-service laws (which means they will not be sworn to uphold the Constitution) and compensated without regard to the Classification Act 2 of 1923, as amended. Remember when Obama said he wanted a ‘national security force’? Not the national guard, but a civilian one that has not sworn to uphold the Constitution?” The email references then-presidential candidate Obama’s July 2008 speech, where he advocated the creation of “a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded” as the US military. Obama was talking about strengthening organizations such as the Peace Corps, Americorps, the USA Freedom Corps, and the State Department’s foreign service arm. (Republican lawmakers such as Michele Bachmann have accused Obama of wanting to turn Americorps into “re-education camps” designed to brainwash American children—see March 31, 2009). Since then, some have insisted that Obama wants to create a privately operated “national security force” answerable only to himself. They believe that Section 5210 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul recently signed into law, gives Obama just such power. The US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps now has the power to create and eventually deploy a “Ready Reserve Corps,” under the control of the surgeon general and designed specifically to help the Public Health Service (PHS) respond quickly and effectively to emergencies such as natural disasters. The Commissioned Corps has integrated the former, quite small reserve corps into itself, expanding its numbers to some 6,600 personnel—mostly doctors, nurses, scientists, and medical professionals. The new Ready Reserve is intended to augment the Commissioned Corp when the government sends response teams to offer assistance in areas that are stricken by natural disasters such as floods or hurricanes, or in the case of sudden pandemic outbreaks of dangerous diseases such as H1N1. The Reserve Corps is still being formulated, but PHS officials anticipate the number of Reserve Corps members as being in the neighborhood of several thousand. Most will be public health professionals. Jerry Farrell, executive director of the Commissioned Officers Association, says that the Ready Reserve can help the PHS avoid situations such as what happened after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when so many members of the regular and reserve corps were dispatched to New Orleans and other areas hit by the hurricane that “the corps discovered, for instance, that they had deployed a whole surgical clinic of the Indian Health Service.” FactCheck concludes “there is absolutely no support for this chain email’s speculation that uniformed members of the Public Health Service would be ordered to give ‘lethal injections’ (a.k.a. vaccinations) to ‘unworthy people.’” (FactCheck (.org) 4/7/2010)
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org finds that recent claims by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history” are wrong. In fact, far more Americans were added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls under President George W. Bush than under Obama. Gingrich has made the claim in a number of political speeches (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), but his reiteration of the claim during a recent Republican debate in South Carolina has drawn a great deal of media attention (see January 16, 2012). FactCheck finds: “Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it’s also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office. But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents.” Information from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)‘s Food and Nutrition Service going back to January 2001 “show[s] that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.” Moreover, “the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.” The trend in recent months has been for the number of food-stamp recipients to decline, another fact Gingrich fails to note. FactCheck finds that the rise in the number of Americans on food stamps—currently one out of seven—began during the second term of the Bush presidency. “In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007,” the organization writes. “To be sure, Obama is responsible for some portion of the increase since then. The stimulus bill he signed in 2009 increased benefit levels, making the program more attractive. A family of four saw an increase of $80 per month, for example.… The stimulus also made more people eligible. Able-bodied jobless adults without dependents could get benefits for longer than three months.” Part of the reason for the higher number of recipients under Obama is the new outreach to eligible citizens by state governments, according to the USDA; many state governments have worked harder to inform eligible citizens of their right to apply for government assistance, and have reduced the amount of information that claimants must provide to receive assistance. FactCheck concludes: “We don’t argue that the program is either too large (as Gingrich does) or too small. It has certainly reached a historically high level, and may or may not grow even larger in the months to come. But the plain fact is that the growth started long before Obama took office, and participation grew more under Bush.” And it quotes the USDA’s Kevin Concannon, who recently told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “I realize Mr. Gingrich is a historian, but I’m not sure he’d get very high marks on that paper.” (Jackson 1/17/2012) CBS News notes that the White House has called Gingrich’s claims “crazy,” and finds: “While the number of people on food stamps is indeed at a record level, that’s in part because of eligibility rules being relaxed under the administration of George W. Bush. It’s also due in part to the economic downturn that began under Mr. Bush.… [T]hat percentage increase hardly makes Obama the ‘best food stamp president in American history,’ at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush’s presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008—an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary.” (Hughes 1/17/2012) US News and World Report agrees with FactCheck, finding that “SNAP participation has been on the rise since well before President Obama took office. Nearly 17.2 million people in FY 2000 participated in the program, a figure that increased by nearly 64 percent by 2008.” (Kurtzleben 1/17/2012) The Associated Press accuses Gingrich of distorting the facts and notes: “It’s gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade but that is because of measures taken before Obama became president. It’s true that the number of people on food stamps is now at a record level. That’s due mainly to the ailing economy, which Republicans blame on Obama, as well as rising food costs. The worst downturn since the Great Depression wiped out 8.7 million jobs, pushed the unemployment rate to a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, and increased poverty.” (Associated Press 1/17/2012) The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that SNAP is a critical element in keeping poverty-stricken Americans, particularly children and the elderly, from starving during the economic recession (see January 9, 2012).
Analyses by the New York Times and FactCheck.org show that presidential candidate Mitt Romney made some fundamental misstatements when he criticized the Obama administration’s green energy program (see February 2009). During the October 3 presidential debate, Romney claimed Obama had given $90 billion of federal money to clean energy programs, saying at one point: “Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. Ninety billion—that—that would have—that would have hired two million teachers.” The Times reports that while the $90 billion is an accurate number drawn from the 2009 economic stimulus package, not all of it was spent on green energy, and much of the money that was spent on green energy programs was authorized during the Bush administration. Of the $90 billion authorized by the Obama administration, $29 billion went to energy efficiency programs; much of that was spent on retrofitting homes and apartments of low-income households to be more energy efficient and lower their energy costs. $18 billion was spent on fast, energy-efficient trains and $21 billion was spent on wind farms, solar panels, and other renewable energy. Much of these expenditures was matched by private investments. Romney claimed, “I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they’ve gone out of business,” and cited the example of Solyndra, a maker of solar equipment that went bankrupt, costing the government some $528 million. The Times notes that Solyndra began receiving money during the Bush administration, and that the government has been able to recover some of its funds from other firms that went bankrupt. The Times writes, “The defaults were far less than Congress had allocated to cover losses, and far, far less than half of the ventures, although some others may yet fail.” FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, goes further, noting, “In summary, Romney said a lot about the $90 billion in stimulus spending on clean energy—and very little of it was accurate.” FactCheck accuses Romney of making “numerous bogus claims” about the $90 billion energy funding. Only six percent of the firms loaned money by the government for clean energy technology have gone bankrupt, it notes, not “about half,” as Romney claimed. Romney also wrongly stated that the entire $90 billion was spent on “solar and wind” projects; in reality, less than a third was spent on those programs. His claim that the $90 billion was equivalent to “about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives” in tax breaks was doubly wrong; by his own figures, it would have been 32 years’ worth, but real data shows it is closer to about 10 years’ worth of oil and gas subsidies. The claim that Obama could “have hired two million teachers” was wrong, since much of that $90 billion was in the form of loans, and, FactCheck notes, “the government can’t hire teachers with loans.” Even data provided by the Romney campaign to back up its claims disproves Romney’s assertions. (Wald 10/4/2012; FactCheck (.org) 10/4/2012)
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