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Kapi’olani digging

So Rambo Ike asked me over at Birther Report (before I gave it up for Lent) just when was the earliest reference to Obama being born at Kapi’olani hospital. Of course I wasn’t going to kick over a hornet’s nest and mention the birth certificate, which in all fairness didn’t see the light of day until 2011. I had to do a little digging, and here’s my reply:

The earliest Kapi’olani reference is a really good challenge. Most of my interest started with the birthers, and my knowledge of pre-birther history is pretty light. But let’s see what I can do.

The earliest Kapi’olani reference I know of without looking is the one in the Honolulu Advertiser from November 9, 2008, citing “family sources.” You can read about that here:

That’s the interview that contains Tong’s comment;

“We don’t have plans to do anything,” said Kapiolani Medical Center spokeswoman, Claire Tong, when asked how the center plans to commemorate the soon-to-be 44th U.S. president, who, according to Obama’s family and other sources, was born at that hospital on Aug. 4, 1961.

“We can’t confirm or deny it — even though all the information out there says he was born at Kapiolani Hospital. And that’s because of the HIPA (sic) law.”

Tong acknowledged that the center has received daily inquiries from news agencies far and wide asking for confirmation of Obama’s birthplace. Much as she wishes she could do it, Tong said it’s not possible.

“Our hands are tied,” she said.

David Maraniss, who would later write a Biography of Obama, wrote of Obama’s birth at Kapiolani in an article in the Washington Post August 24, 2008. Maraniss doesn’t give a source

The Honolulu Star Bulletin article: “Punahou left lasting impression on Obama” from February 8, 2007 says Kapiolani.

Another article from the Star Bulletin from March 21, 2004 also lists Kapiolani as Obama’s place of birth. That article was copied, mentioning Kapiolani, at the Free Republic forum also in 2004, so we can be pretty sure it wasn’t changed.

FR - Kapiolani 2004

That’s as far back as I can find.

Alinsky v birthers

Photo of Saul AlinskyI haven’t read Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and in fact I had never heard of it before some right-wing type accused someone else of using “Alinsky tactics” online. I was reminded of it again by one of the birthers at Birther Report listing the rules (according to the Wikipedia article correctly). What I thought I would do here is take each rule and think about how it has been used, or might be used in the birther context. Some of the rules I think are good ones to follow, and some I do not.

The Rules

image“Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”

That’s certainly true. I can go as far back as the story of Gideon in the Bible for an example. This is a poor rule to start off with, because I don’t see much application to birtherism. I suppose that the birthers do overestimate the power of their opponents (that the entire government, courts and media are all against them), but their actions don’t appear to be dampened by that belief and call into question how genuine it is.

At the beginning, I suppose I overestimated the potential for birtherism to reach a tipping point, but that proved not to be the case and I don’t think any anti-birther today is concerned about any future birther ascendancy. We think that birthers are toothless.

“Never go outside the expertise of your people.”

This is wonderful advice for everyone, and everyone is guilty of violating it at least sometimes. Birthers, however, build their entire world view on crank experts from their own ranks. Not following this rule is their greatest weakness.

“Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”

This is an anti-birther tactic, and it is easy to employ because the birthers themselves are so utterly inexpert—from the pathetic legal briefs of Orly Taitz, to crank image analysts too laborious to list. Using this tactic is not a conscious anti-birther choice, but it is rather forced on us—birther expertise is so tiny that it is hard not to go outside it.

“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”

If birthers have any rules, I haven’t been able to discover them. Their tactics, such as making stuff up, claiming false expertise, and invalid argument are definitely not consistent enough to make a birther live up to them. Sometimes we do point out the hypocrisy of a birther asking for proof from Obama that they wouldn’t ask of another president, but we have never had success at making birthers be consistent.

“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

Pretty much any time you hear Alinsky invoked as a counterargument (i.e. a diversion) it is in relation to this rule. I would point out that the Alinsky defense against ridicule is itself ridicule. I personally think that ridicule can be overdone. I regularly use phrases like “nonsense” (fairly and accurately), but I reserve “complete idiot” for special cases.

One tactic I have use against the particularly vulgar commenters at Birther Report is to say “does your mother know you talk like that.” It is often effective at ending a thread. A tactic that I want to try to use more is the whining defense, something like:

Anti-birther: That’s a stupid thing to say.

Birther: You’re using Alinsky tactics.

Anti-birther: Stop whining.

“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

I don’t know what birthers enjoy except saying degrading things about Barack Obama. I like figuring out rigorous refutations of birther theories; debunking is a tactic I enjoy, as do I think many others on the anti-birther side. I also think a number of anti-birthers enjoy the ridicule tactic.

“A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”

The birther tactic of appealing to future evidence is certainly one that has  been over used and has worn thin, with even the birthers becoming frustrated with it. The lawsuit as political theater tactic has also lost its luster. I don’t think debunking the one thousand and first birther claim has much impact either.

“Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”

Photo of may carrying signThe birthers have certainly followed this rule well. Some birther blogs have closed down, but most of the main characters are still birthin’. Birther Report publishes multiple articles per day, even though many of them are old, or repeats of recent articles. I remember the blog, The Steady Drip, as having a title exemplifying this principle. The Cold Case Posse (more on that later) also uses this tactic, and the continuing meritless lawsuits against Obama and others falls under this category.

One must give the birthers credit for taking an unsubstantiated remark on a right-wing blog and convincing a majority of Republicans that it was true, and for rebounding magnificently after the hit caused by the release of President Obama’s long form birth certificate. Clearly steady pressure has had an effect, but not on the people that matter (the electoral majority).

“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

Birthers do not use this to effect. For example, I get threats all the time that I am being investigated or that I will be tried for treason. For a threat to be believed, it has to have some grain of truth behind it, and these threats do not.  I think very few consider anything the birthers do a threat. Birthers use threats to motivate other birthers to more effect, creating anxiety about the destruction of the country, marshal (sic) law, economic collapse and dictatorship. (Note: the subtle ridicule in the previous sentence).

“The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”

Birther organizations don’t seem to have been effective—birthers don’t play well together. Conspiracy theorists are by nature loners in the first place. The only organizations that hold together in birtherism are a few online communities, such as this blog, The Fogbow, the Free Republic and Birther Report. The problem with those operations is that they don’t really maintain any pressure upon the opposition.

The closest thing that the birthers have to an operational tactic is the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Cold Case Posse, that attempts to maintain pressure through press releases and lobbying Congress. The problem with the CCP is that its pressure is ineffectual.

I would draw a sharp contrast between the success of the Tea Party and the failure of the birthers. This alone speaks strongly against birthers having the kind of funding and resources that the Tea Party did.

“If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”

This was explained by Austin Cline saying:

You can’t win every battle, but you also need to avoid admitting to having lost any battles. Losing can breed an attitude that you’re losers; winning can breed the attitude that your winners. So, whatever happens, you need to find ways to turn losses into victories.

Birthers are big on not admitting that they have lost. The Cold Case Posse has made so many stupid mistakes that I’ve lost count. There is an entire Facebook group dedicated to the lies of Mike Zullo and Carl Gallups. Still Zullo has never, ever, admitted a mistake. Birthers in general never admit defeat in arguments—they just advance to the next talking point.

On the other hand, folks like myself, regularly admit when they are wrong (fortunately it doesn’t happen all that often). And when we do that, the birthers are instantly on the offensive, to divert from their own failures that they do not admit to the failures of others who do admit them.

Birthers operate more in an excuse making mode than pressing negatives; birthers who lose lawsuits blame it on the judge or technicalities.

The best example I can think of for turning a loss into a victory was when Donald Trump, after the humiliating refutation of his crank claims by the release of President Obama’s birth certificate, declared victory for clearing the issue up by forcing the President’s hand. President Obama countered with ridicule a few days later at the White House Correspondents Association dinner when he said:

Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately but no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter, like, “Did we fake the moon landing?’” “What really happened on Roswell?” And “Where are Biggie and Tupac?’”

“The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”

Birthers will never have a “successful attack” so they really don’t need to find a constructive alternative. Their goal is destruction and they do not see beyond that.1 The anti-birther alternative is the 2016 presidential election.

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

I think that both sides use this tactic. A number of folks have tried to “out” their opponents, to publicly identify anonymous persons with an opposing viewpoint. Especially the birthers tend to go to extremes to make up wild accusations about the persons they personalize.


I haven’t detected anyone consciously basing their strategy on Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Maybe someone like Sam Sewell thinks about it, but I don’t know. The only principles that I have made any attempt to follow beyond basic integrity are the occasional reference to a chart on correcting misinformation that I have taped up next to my monitor.

1When I wrote that, I was reminded of the ending of Bernard Malamud’s novel, The Fixer. The protagonist had been unjustly accused of a crime by the anti-Semitic Russian authorities and mercilessly badgered by the police. At the very end, he is being conveyed to court and somebody throws a bomb that I suppose was part of a revolutionary plot. (The story is based on a historical event.) The book (as I recall) ends at the point of violence, not the redress of the wrong.

Birther witnesses

The web is populated with lots of folks who believe the birther story that President Obama was born somewhere besides Hawaii: Check our Twitter feed, or visit web sites on the “Bad” and “Ugly” lists at the bottom of the page. Beyond the believers, there are individuals who tell their own personal stories and put their own credibility behind a birther anecdote. These lone individuals tell stories often inconsistent with majority birther belief and with each other. Birther opponents ask the birthers to show some evidence to justify their claims; these people claim to have seen it!

What follows is a catalog (in alphabetical order) of the ones I can think of, with hyperlinks to articles about them:

  • Linda Joy Adams – claims the President was born in Kansas. In this version, Obama’s mother was only 15 (making the President 3 years older) and Barack was born at Forbes AFB in Topeka. The evidence is DNA in the back seat of a ‘48 Chevy where Dunham’s water broke. Adams is a prolific blogger.
  • Tim Adams – Was a chief clerk for the Honolulu Elections Division. He first said on a white supremacist radio program that he knew Obama had no Hawaiian birth certificate because of what he found while working for the Elections Division in some unspecified “database.” Later he changed his story to say that someone in a supervisory position at the Elections Division provided that information to him. The supervisor was never named, nor the database where the information was found. The Elections Division does not have access to birth records at the Department of Health.
  • James (Race Bannon) Bancroft  – Bancroft, a poster at the Free Republic, blog tells a story of meeting a young black man who either is or may be Barack Obama (depending on when the version of the story) in Honolulu in 1980. The story goes that the unnamed black kid said he was born in Mombasa and raised in Indonesia.
  • Andrew D. Basiago – Claims to have been involved in a secret government teleportation project with Obama, whom he met on Mars between 1981 and 1983.
  • Laurie Hathaway [link to Taitz web site] – Whistleblower for Orly Taitz who claims to have seen paperwork at the Higher Education Services Corporation in New York that Barack Obama obtained a foreign student loan as an Indonesian national to attend Columbia University. The HESC only assists New York residents. Obama transferred to Columbia from Occidental College in California.
  • Tom Fife – made frequent trips to Moscow, Russia in 1992-1994. He claims that a Russian Communist told him that a black man with an African father and an American mother was being groomed to be President of the United States. This Communist sleeper was from Hawaii and lived in Chicago. The Russian said. “have no doubt: he is one of us, a Soviet.” “Soviet” in Russian means “advice” or “consulting group” and makes little sense when the country, the Soviet Union, had ceased to exist the year before. “Communist” or “Bolshevik” might work in context, but not “Soviet.”
  • Allen Hulton – a postman who claims that he had a conversation with the wife of Tom Ayers (father of Bill Ayers) who told him Ayers was paying for Obama’s college, Obama being a “foreign student” or he thinks it may have been Obama. The story changed over time in multiple interviews.
  • Paul Irey – did an analysis of typed letters on Obama’s birth certificate, but he stated that before doing that he already knew the certificate was a forgery because of what a Secret Service agent involved in vetting candidate Obama told him–or was it a “look” the agent gave him? Irey did not say what the agent told him precisely, nor explain why the Secret Service was involved in vetting political candidates.
  • Nancy Ruth Owens (Molly Nancy Owens, Nancy Owens Barger) – a Florida woman, claims to have been hired by Pablo Escobar to forge President Obama’s birth certificate in 1985. She also says that she is Obama’s sister and took some of the photos of Obama’s in his “college years.” She explained how Floridian Obama had Hawaiian newspaper birth announcements in 1961 by saying Pablo Escobar was very powerful. She didn’t explain why she (not a professional forger) was hired by the powerful Escobar.
  • Lucas Daniel Smith – claims to have traveled to Kenya and obtained a Kenyan birth certificate naming Barack Obama. Smith maintains a web site promoting Obama conspiracies.

The true believers among the list above remind me of UFO abductees. Some of them seem like fraud, some false memories, and the others downright crazy. None of them actually present evidence for their story (except Smith whose Kenyan birth certificate was shown to be a fake).

What case?

Here’s a comment that appeared on The Free Republic forum:

Undoubtedly, the walls are closing in on Obama. Reed Hayes will serve as an unimpeachable witness before Roy Moore’s Alabama Supreme Court and from there the United States Supreme Court will have no options but to declare Obama ineligible.

With Roy Moore on our side and the fact that both of Obama’s appointments to the Supreme Court and the others appointed by Clinton will have to recuse themselves from the case, the outcome is certain.

I was wondering exactly what case is before the US Supreme Court, is going to be. The Alabama Supreme Court is going to decide a narrow question of whether the Alabama Secretary of State does nor does not have an obligation to verify eligibility of candidates for office. The Republican secretary of state says “no.” The original trial court and the court of appeals have said “no.” And they are certainly not going to hear any testimony from anybody.

How is this going to make any difference to Obama. Even if the case went to the U. S. Supreme Court (and I find it hard to believe that a case solely involving Alabama law would be taken up by the U. S. Supreme Court, even if someone appealed it there, and the only way it would get appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court, it seems to me, would be if the birthers LOST at the Alabama Supreme Court headed by Roy Moore.

There’s no rule at the U. S. Supreme Court requiring any justice to recuse themselves; it’s solely a personal decision. Given that there are not any justices on the Supreme Court showing signs of dementia, recusals won’t help. In fact, there has been no report that any U. S. Supreme Court justice has the slightest interest in hearing a birther case, and certainly none of the cases have been selected to be heard.

Birthers are such irrational optimists.

I left this comment for the Freepers; we’ll if it actually appears.

Some confusion there. First, the Alabama Supreme Court is not going to hear any witnesses. Appellate courts don’t do that; they decide questions of law.

The question of law before the Alabama Supreme Court is whether or not the Alabaman Secretary of State Chapman has a duty to investigate the eligibility of candidates for office in Alabama. Chapman says she doesn’t, and the original trial court and a court of appeal agreed. The question of Obama’s eligibility is not before the Alabama Supreme Court, despite attempts to argue that in plaintiffs’ briefs and the amicus brief from the Alabama Democratic Party.

The only way this goes to the US Supreme Court is if McInnish LOSES (your hopes in Roy Moore notwithstanding) and the Alabama Supreme Court affirms that Chapman had no duty to investigate candidates. McInnish could appeal but if he can’t win in Alabama with Roy Moore on the bench, how could you expect him to win before the US Supreme Court?

It is hard to see how the US Supreme Court would hear a case from Alabama that is solely a matter of Alabama law. And even if it were an eligibility case, the Supreme Court has declined on multiple cases to hear them.

As for recusal, and I presume you meant Obama’s appointees and not Clinton’s, there’s no rule that says that any Supreme Court justice has to recuse themselves for any reason. It’s their personal choice. [See update below]

I would suggest that you not be overly optimistic about this lawsuit, which I predict will fare no better than the 200-odd others lost plowing the same ground.


There actually is a statute about the recusal of federal judges, 28 U.S.C. 455. The problem with applying that statute to the Supreme Court in this case is that there is no higher court to enforce it, basically leaving the decision to the individual justice as I said. Generally, however, justices are not beholden to the president that appointed them, and so this is not a cause for recusal. The Supreme Court decides cases all the time where the administration or the President is a party, and justices do not recuse themselves in those cases.

The relevance of the “natural born citizen” clause

I made a comment on another article, saying:

Based on my reading of the debates on Presidential eligibility and other commentary, my opinion is that the concerns that prompted the NBC clause are no longer relevant as our form or government is no longer novel, and that the US is now a powerful and wealthy nation. That said, I see no groundswell of sentiment that would reach the high bar necessary for a Constitutional amendment, so we’re left with what we have.

Commenters at The Free Republic seemed to think my remark was significant, and also somewhat misrepresented what I said. Let me dismiss out of hand part of the Free Republic’s beef:

What you just read is the mindset of a (sic) Obama supporter. I do not agree with his opinion, nor with his other supporters who agree with him 100%, that Article 2 Section 1 Clause 5 is no longer relevant. In my opinion, it has become more relevant than ever since we have had a non-natural born Citizen become president five (sic) years and counting.

Barack Obama is no more ineligible under the Constitution than he has been president for five years.

I wrote an article a while back, titled The Framers on “foreign influence,” in which I talked about the debates on eligibility for office at the Federal Convention of 1787. It is clear to me that there was a strong feeling among the delegates that they wanted to preserve liberty for their posterity, and that they wanted to preserve the constitutional form of government, and that they did not want to slide into monarchy. They wanted a President who understood the (at that time) uniquely American form of government. They knew all too well the intrigues of European politics, and wanted to keep that out of the new United States. They were afraid that some monied European interest could bribe their way into office in the United States.

Today, there are other constitutional republics in the world, and commitment to that form of government is not unique to Americans. I think that today the risk of money influencing a presidential election is far greater from America than from a foreign source. And today, the information available to the electorate is totally unlike what was available to voters in 1789, and foreign campaign contributions today are illegal. What I am saying here is that the specific concerns from the mouths of the Framers are not applicable, not relevant to the present day. We have new concerns, and new problems. It is certainly possible that those Framers, presented with a different set of conditions, might have proposed a different eligibility requirement.

It may be that the character of Americans today is such that it is properly represented only by a natural born citizen. Whether that is true or not, I can’t imagine Article II being amended in my lifetime,  and so our Presidents will be natural born citizens. The United States being a nation of laws is a far more important principle than argument about relevance. If the Constitution needs change, we can amend it, but we do not ignore it. Since the natural born citizen clause is law, it is relevant.

Apuzzo: Doc stereotyping birthers as racists

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that I reject the proposition that the birther movement is nothing more than a cover for racism. However, Mario Apuzzo wrote, republished at The Free Republic:

Dr. Conspiracy likes to give the appearance of being an unbiased scholar in pursuit of the truth regarding whether putative President Barack Obama is a “natural born Citizen.” He has also created an internet persona of being a champion of civil rights. He has even gone as far as to take the unabashed position that most people who question Obama’s “natural born Citizen” status are racists. To date, he has made no apologies for his outlandish position.

I’m not going to apologize for Mr. Apuzzo’s imagination. He likes to pick a simple idea and use it to define something or someone, ignoring a body of work and the context. (His legal arguments about citizenship work the same way.) Apuzzo aside, I suppose it might be a good time to review what I’ve written about racism and birtherism.

One of the first articles (December, 2008) I wrote here was titled, The Genesis of Obama Conspiracy Theories. In it I said what I have been saying, more or less, for the past three years:

The smears persist thanks to several interest groups including pro-Israel, anti-Muslim, white racist, anti-abortion, PUMA (pro-Hillary), anti-federalism, pro-gun and right-wingers in general. How much cooperation there is; beyond cutting and pasting each others’ material, I don’t know.

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