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Birther tax

A modest proposal

In the United States today’s tax day, the deadline for filing federal income tax forms for 2013. I E-filed mine yesterday and mailed my quarterly estimated tax payments today. Let’s just say that I have a lot less money today than I did two days ago. For some reason paying my taxes is an anxious experience, I guess because I am afraid that I will make a mistake.

If I may speak partially out ignorance for a moment, it seems to me that one of the differences between conservatives and liberals is that liberals want to distribute the burden of funding government programs using a formula where the largest share goes to those who can best afford it, while conservatives want the burden of funding government programs to fall more on those who use the programs, the latter approach labeled “user fees.”

I remember that when my son attended UC Berkeley, one of the mandatory student fees paid for unlimited public bus transit. Everybody paid the fee (and we could just as well call it a tax) whether they rode the bus or not. I pay property tax to support schools, even though I have no school-age children.

It seems to me that birthers consume an inordinate amount of government resources when they file repetitive lawsuits, say irresponsible things that require Secret Service investigation, file FOIA requests, bug congressmen, degrade public education by promoting false history, require police supervision for demonstrations, claim undeserved tax subsidies, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Why shouldn’t they pay a user fee for their conspiracy activism?

Here’s my solution: a birther tax:

birther tax

Just an idea.


Asymmetric commenting

Yesterday morning I had only a few minutes to put up something on the blog before I had to leave for a volunteer gig at the Special Olympics. The article, Obot Wars VII: A New Hope, was one of those articles that I expected to get few comments on, yet as of this writing the number of comments is 330.

I think that number of comments is not due to the article but to a comment left on it, the sixth:

William: Name one vital historical development in the world historically that met an exact deadline to the day?

Over the past week or so, I’ve been watching episodes of the TV series NUMB3RS. For the benefit of those not familiar with the program, a college math professor uses applied mathematics to help the FBI solve crimes and catch criminals. My math training was on the theoretical rather than the applied side and quite a bit on that show sounds like technobabble to me, but the general idea that human interactions can be quantified has stuck in the back of my mind and came forward as I was thinking of the reaction to the comment quoted above. A small commented garnered a big response.

While the comment seems simple enough on the surface, it really is a powerful topic-shattering statement, working in two ways. On topic, it appears to be a defense of Zullo’s continual promises of evidence that are don’t get delivered. It has the goading quality of unfairness, since Zullo is not just late; he has been delaying his last set of revelations for a year and a half, and now is holding out for next October or November. In addition to raising the unpopular (on this site) idea that Zullo should be given more time, it provides the opportunity to revisit everything Zullo ever argued against Obama and every argument that can be raised against Zullo, so we get topics like

  • The full faith and credit clause
  • The de facto officer doctrine
  • Commenter demands of other candidates
  • Donald Trump
  • Obama’s “questionable background”
  • Citizens’ right to an investigation
  • Hawaii verifications
  • Who in the Hawaii Department of Health holds a political office
  • The definition of “hearsay”

The second effect of the comment is to ask a literal question, sending readers scurrying off looking for vital historical developments that came off on time, leading the way for the introduction of topics as far from Obama Conspiracy Theories as could be, like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This online community has selected itself around certain consensus opinions, and gets along pretty well; however, once the topic ranges outside familiar territory, differences surface and arguments start, like secondary fires after an explosion. We get topics such as:

  • Pearl Harbor
  • Moon Landing
  • D-Day
  • Operation Sea Lion

Unlike our typical drive-by birther commenter, this one stayed around to keep things rolling, introducing:

  • Obama’s Selma speech
  • The authenticity of historical citations
  • Eric Holder
  • Anonymous office seeker somewhere who allegedly tried to seal records
  • John McCain birth certificate
  • Vladimir Putin
  • How candidates are vetted
  • Congressional certification of elections
  • Acton & Dystel bio
  • Birther lawsuits: dismissal vs. decision on the merits
  • Is Zullo a witch?
  • Insults, present and historical
  • Tea Party and anti-Obama rhetoric
  • The use of the name “tea bagger” and its origins

The asymmetric comment appears to either have been intentional or at least co-opted based on the closing comment for the day from the commenter that started it:

William: So works done for the day.

That was some hard earned dollars. But it rallied up the team Obots, for what is about to come.

We’re really a pretty soft target. Perhaps this will help explain why I sometimes bring in the topic police here.


Unfair and unbalanced

I just added Fritz Wenzel to my list of “Birthers From A – Z,” based on an article at Media Matters for America. They wrote:

Wenzel is a birther who has called President Obama an "imposter," and teamed up with conspiracy site WND to push dubious polling about the president’s birth certificate.

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Gabriel Sherman’s book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country. The book documented what I empirically observed, Fox News is intentionally propaganda and entertainment, not news. Their trademarked “fair and balanced” means that they will go as far as they can to the right to balance what they perceive as a media bias to the left. I also learned from that book that Media Matters for America was created largely as a response to Fox News.

As a general rule I don’t watch Fox News or read Media Matters. While I find useful material at the MMA web site, I am also troubled by their readiness to label someone a birther, and in this case it’s Fritz Wenzel. It is not without some hesitation that I added Wenzel to the “Birthers from A to Z” list. I followed the MMA article to a source at RightWingWatch a site belonging to People for the American Way, and from there to two WorldNetDaily articles questioning President Obama’s eligibility (2009) and his legitimacy (2010). Those WND articles left me wondering whether Wenzel was a birther or simply a propagandist, and I am also wary of any claims that someone is a birther today based on what they said before April of 2011 when President Obama released his long form, and the number of birthers in polls tumbled. I’ll go with the preponderance of evidence in the case of Wenzel and leave him on my birther list, but proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not there in my mind. (I have a similar pause with the non-rigorous use of the “racist” label.)

The Ailes biography has certainly spawned much thought on my part about propaganda. I have a long-standing aversion to any attempt to mislead others with tricky words, and misrepresented facts. I personally believe that the best way to fight fire is not with fire, but with water; or un-metaphorically, the best way to fight bias is with non-bias, not more bias in the opposite direction. This is why when I want news, I go to NPR and PBS, not MSNBC.

Lacking an edge

What’s my motivation?

I’ve made a number of small mistakes on the blog the last couple of months. Sorry about that. It’s a lack of attention to detail. Let’s face it: I’m bored.

The real edge in birtherism was the question of whether they might sway a close  presidential election. Well, they didn’t. That was really the end of the story.

Sure there are some lawsuits, and Orly Taitz is running for California Attorney General, and Zullo is being his usual inflated faux law enforcement self. You could almost write a computer program to automate an anti-birther blog with a headline generator based on “[insert birther name] fails again!” or “Orly Taitz: [insert crazy thing]!”

But look at me: I’m reduced to covering comments at Birther Report for news. What is the drama in a court decision you substantially knew before the case was filed? (I have to give credit to blogger NBC who seems to have gotten his second wind of late.)

I got an email today from birther Al Halbert who said it was a “slow news day,” as an excuse for writing about my “Private Obot Thread” (I couldn’t find his piece).

The shattering of the Universe is a non event, the only question being whether it will not shatter this month or not shatter some other month. Even ridicule, the last bastion of comfort against the crazies, sounds flat, like beating a dead horse.

As they say, the night is darkest before the dawn.

Giving up commenting at Birther Report for Lent

So I was over at BR today and something in the exchange of comments led me to try to explain why I bothered to show up over there, when they don’t listen, I didn’t want their respect, and we just end up exchanging angry words. I was stumped. I couldn’t honestly explain it to myself, much less to them. That was the last straw that ended a process that started last Sunday when our Pastor talked about giving up things for Lent that were bad for us rather than things we enjoyed. Commenting at BR brings out the worst in me.

And it was a profound sense of relief and release I felt when I closed the BR web page, knowing that I would not have to interact with it again for a few weeks. Given the Shrimpton thing and the “March Reveal,” I’ll probably read some articles at BR, but I won’t be commenting until after Easter.

Birthers will say that I ran away, but one can’t help what birthers say.

★FALCON★ v. Dr. Crunt

A commenter here pointed to some remarks by a user at Birther Report, who comments anonymously under the name ★FALCON★, threating legal action against anyone who should start guessing at his real name online:

I’ve never told anyone my name. …

It’s helpful to remember that I have a family of attorneys and all of their names and addresses. Lawsuits could ensue should they keep trying to figure out my identity and coming up wrong.

The statement seems farcical. If one guesses correctly, then the statement is true and hardly seems grounds for a lawsuit. If one guesses wrongly then the name given is somebody else, giving ★FALCON★ no grounds to sue either. The other obvious problem is that in order to sue, ★FALCON★ would have to reveal the identity that he so carefully hides. That led me to ask whether it would be possible for ★FALCON★ to sue someone anonymously, as “John Doe.”

There are special occasions when parties to a lawsuit can remain out of the public record, when justice requires it. I don’t think that this situation fits. On the other hand, a lawsuit hypothetically filed against ★FALCON★ for defamation could force disclosure of his identity. Here’s a sample statement from him that some might consider defamatory:

Further, anyone relying in the reliability of Dr. Crunt, Faggy and R.C. are sorely mistaken. These dumbshits can’t figure out if they’re male or female, let alone discern my identity.

I am confident that better examples could be found if one took the time. Any number of BR commenters have, for example, called me a Communist (I am not now, nor have I ever been …).  Armed with a defaming statement, can one find out the identity of an anonymous blogger? While I am not a legal expert, the answer appears to be yes. Golfer Phil Mickelson won a legal battle against Yahoo and cable company Videotron to force them to name a person who defamed Mickelson on a Yahoo forum. ABC News reports that a Texas couple won $13.78 million in damages from anonymous posters at the popular Topix local forums web site after Topix was forced to disclose the IP addresses.1

The defamation in those cases was much more serious and specific (extramarital affairs, murder, child abuse) and the damages more clear cut than the mental defect alleged by ★FALCON★, but it bears remembering that anonymous commenting is not always anonymous and juries are all over the map when I comes to awarding damages. Forum owners (IANAL) like me who are merely conduits for user comments are immune from libel suits. I’m only responsible for what I say.

I think that if I ever received a subpoena for the IP addresses of commenters here, I would to resist it to the extent the law and rules of the court allow. But that’s as far as I would go.

1Internet users seriously trying to stay anonymous might try to use a non-US proxy server to obscure their location.