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Indicting Sheriff Joe and the Cold Case Posse

The charge

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Mike Zullo are charged with fraud and fabricating evidence.

The crime scene

On July 17, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference featuring the results of an investigation by his volunteer “Cold Case Posse” presented by “lead investigator” Mike Zullo. The centerpiece of their presentation was a claim that President Obama’s birth certificate is a fake because of internal inconsistencies. The argument goes:

The race of Barack Obama’s father is shown as “African” on the birth certificate, but next to that is a penciled data entry code of “9” that should indicate “not stated.” The code is wrong, proving that the form is a fake.

In support of that very serious allegation they presented a race code table taken from what they described as a “1961 vital statistics instructions manual.” They lied. Here is a screen shot from the Cold Case Posse video of the purported 1961 manual.


How do we know that they lied?

The US Public Health Service published Vital Statistics of the US – 1961 – Volume 1: Natality, a report of births in 1961 that’s available online.


In that report is stated on page 5-7:

Births in the United States in 1961 are classified for vital statistics into white, Negro, American Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Aleut, Eskimo, Hawaiian and Part-Hawaiian (combined), and "other nonwhite

Only the Cold Case Posse code table doesn’t have separate codes for Aleut and Eskimo and so it could not be the code table for 1961. Later on, the Natality Report includes  footnotes to table 4-2:


This shows unambiguously that the real coding in 1961 distinguished between Indian, Aleut and Eskimo. The Cold Case Posse codes lump them all together and so could not be what was used for federal birth reporting in 1961. Whatever codes were really used in Hawaii in 1961, they are not the ones the Cold Case Posse claimed.

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Pen spills ink, makes mess

One of the more unpleasant tasks in running this web site is wading through very long articles full of of misdirection, misinformation, rhetorical fallacies, plain stupidity and bald-faced lies. They offend my sense of honesty, insult my intelligence, and I feel obligated to comment on all of the misinformation — a tedious and tasteless task particularly with a long article. Case in point: FINAL REPORT: Obama’s Birth Announcements Fail To Indicate “Natural Born” Status by Penbrook Johannson on The Daily Pen blog.

Here’s the short form story of the birth announcements to set the context: Two competing Honolulu newspapers carried birth announcements from the Hawaii Department of Health. The DoH released the lists to the Hawaii News Service Newspaper Agency, who in turn provided them to newspapers. This process was described in a Honolulu Advertiser article in November of 2008 and the Health Department confirmed that the newspaper listings came from the State Department of Health, who got them from the hospitals (the Hawaii Newspaper Agency is no longer operating and Honolulu Advertiser is no longer publishing). The announcements show that a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Barack H. Obama on August 4 [1961].

Such vital statistics, however, were not sent to the newspapers by the general public but by the Health Department, which received the information directly from hospitals, [DoH spokesperson Janice] Okubo said.

Now how does that simple story gets spun into this?

A new investigation of Obama’s birth announcements appearing in Hawaii’s two primary newspapers in August, 1961 shows, conclusively, they were the result of a registration record taken by the municipal health authority, not a medically verified “Live” birth documented as occurring at a Hawaiian hospital, per an officially defined “vital event” by the U.S. Department of Health, National Vital Statistics Division protocols.

The overall framework of the article is a straw man argument that attempts to impugn the newspaper announcements by saying that the newspapers didn’t verify the list of births from the Department of Health, that they were not “medically verified”. However, no one has claimed that the Health Department announcements in the newspaper were independent verifications by the newspaper, only that they were contemporary proof that the Health Department reported the birth in 1961, and didn’t just fabricate it when Barack Obama decided to run for President. The Heath Bureau Statistics are not newspaper announcements at all, but are rather Health Department announcements carried by the newspaper.

What follows in Johansson’s article can only be described as a recipe for converting hot air into bullshit. I’ll select comments from the article in quotes, and add my reply in bold type.

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