Why Another Blog?

I've decided to set up another blog, (my other one is called Writer's Musings), because there are some topics just too weighty for that blog.

So here it is. In this space I'll explore more serious issues in more detail. I do not expect visitors to agree with me in all cases.
In this forum feel free to take off the gloves, grab a handful of mud and fight for what you believe in.

Simple rules, rather like cage-fighting in the blogosphere:
No direct name calling. No excessive profanity. No whining when smacked in the face with mud.
Sling inuendo. Feel free to ask leading questions even if in a snide tone.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Analyzing an Analysis

In my previous post, blogger “Jim” and I have carried on a discussion about Obama’s birth origins. During that discussion, Jim offered a link to a FactCheck “investigation” and “analysis” of the suspect digital image of Obama’s alleged birth certificate that has been floating around the Internet since first posted on the left-wing blog, “Daily Kos” in June. Jim averred that this “analysis” was convincing. I disagree and offered to explain why. Here is that explanation.

This was one of those FactCheck postings that given the seriousness of the subject, was far too cute and unprofessional. In fact the entire tone, rather than sounding like a dispassionate scholarly refutation, came across as simple partisan gimmickry, this from an organization that claims objectivism. Start with Bruce Springsteen's song title and theme and FactCheck’s analysis goes downhill from there. With that opening, how could we expect a dispassionate analysis of facts?

FactCheck does not even get the chronological sequence of events correct in relationship to how the original questionable digital image wound up being passed around the Internet. To set the record straight, the image first appeared on “Daily Kos” on 12 June 2008, followed by Obama’s “Fight the Smears” website on 13 June. This was then followed by a clearly partisan and unscholarly posting by FactCheck on 16 June, which they reference in their 21 August post and which, like the “Daily Kos” and “Fight the Smears” postings, provoked more questions than it answered.

As FactCheck points out in their attempted damage-control, that original digital image came under immediate fire, as well it should have. Set aside for a moment the utter absurdity of the Obama campaign providing a far left blog with the “hot scoop” of getting to post the certificate first. However much I may disagree with what Obama stands for, or how much I may find things his campaign has done unethical or outright lies, I can’t believe they would be that stupid. I can’t imagine that they would not recognize such a move as sure to trigger a backlash rather than quiet the rumble about Obama’s place of birth. But I may be wrong, as some statements by an Obama staffer quoted below may indicate.

In FactCheck’s second paragraph we find the first major falsehood of their analysis. FactCheck.org staffers have now seen, touched, examined and photographed the original birth certificate.

No, they did not, as they themselves admit a little further on in their report. What they touched was a “certification of birth” which is not the same as an original birth certificate. Their own analysis admits as much. Second, what are their forensic qualifications to be passing judgment on any document? Birth record forgeries are among the most common and exceedingly easy to produce documents that would pass muster under all but the most trained eye. Third, what proof do they have that that document was the source of the original image released by “Daily Kos?”

We conclude that it meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship.

Apart from my second point in the previous paragraph, there is the absurdity that naturalization papers also meet all the requirements for the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship. That is not the issue. The issue is proof of natural birth within the United States, which carries a higher standard.

We have posted high-resolution photographs of the document as "supporting documents" to this article.

The fact that the pictures are 1MB and larger does not equal proper digital documentation. Arm shadows, poor angles and lighting in addition to showing isolated segments of what they purport to be the document are all indicators of amateurish detective work by people who do not know the first thing about forensic digital photography.

I had been told that embedded EXIF data showed a March 2008 timestamp, but the images I was able to retrieve had no timestamp in the EXIF file, or any other EXIF data for that matter. If the former, then either the pictures were taken long before the issue came up and not so “recently” as the reporters claim, or it is just another glaring example of amateurism on the part of the FactCheck staff in not properly setting the clock in their digital camera.

If the latter, (the suspect timestamp and other EXIF data have been deliberately removed to inhibit investigation), then it is further proof of their blatant partisanship and an outright lie when they say they have not modified the images in any way. Any modification of a digital photo will alter the EXIF data and in most cases wipe out the timestamp.

While the FactCheck staffers may have spent time with a certificate, it is not necessarily the one from which the original image posted on Daily Kos, FactCheck’s report on 16 June, or still posted on “Fight the Smears” was created.

Given that what was posted created such a stir, a pertinent question would be, “if Obama had the document displayed in FactCheck’s most recent analysis all along, why did it take six weeks to get the “better” images posted?” If Obama had the certificate all along (and presumably still has it), why are better images still not posted on his own “Fight the Smears” site four months after the initial post?

The document is a "certification of birth," also known as a short-form birth certificate. The long form is drawn up by the hospital and includes additional information such as birth weight and parents' hometowns. The short form is printed by the state and draws from a database with fewer details.

Correct. The long form would provide definitive proof of having been born in the US since the hospital would be recorded on the certificate. Hawaii statute also allows a certification of birth for an infant born outside the US, who would then have a document like the one FactCheck examined.

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.

Irrelevant statement. The State Department has nothing to do with qualifying Presidential candidates. Their statement pertained to data required to obtain a passport.

We tried to ask the Hawaii DOH why they only offer the short form, among other questions, but they have not given a response.

Did they, or did they not ask? What does trying to ask mean? Their lips moved and nothing came out? They failed to apply postage to the envelope and it never got to Hawaii DOH? Did they ask if it was possible to get the long form and who would be allowed to do so? They never say.

Most questions one would need ask are answered on the Hawaii DOH website. Any other questions could be answered by calling the phone number listed on the site between 7:15 AM and 6:00 PM HST. There does not appear to be much due diligence on the part of FactCheck’s staffers.

We asked the Obama campaign about the date stamp and the blacked-out certificate number. The certificate is stamped June 2007, because that's when Hawaii officials produced it for the campaign, which requested that document and "all the records we could get our hands on" according to spokesperson Shauna Daly.

Without a Power of Attorney from Obama, the “campaign” could not have simply requested the document from Hawaii DOH, nor would have Hawaii DOH produced the document without a Power of Attorney as stated in their own statute posted on the Hawaii DOH website. Both parties would most likely retain a copy of the Power of Attorney document as proof of proper transfer of the certification of birth. Again, due diligence and an understanding of basic law would have been appropriate here to lend some credibility to their “investigation.”

The campaign didn't release its copy until 2008, after speculation began to appear on the Internet questioning Obama's citizenship. The campaign then rushed to release the document, and the rush is responsible for the blacked-out certificate number. Says Shauna: "[We] 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." The document we looked at did have a certificate number; it is 151 1961 - 010641.

What was the rush? Why not get it right in the first place? Again, I am highly skeptical of “couldn’t get someone on the phone in Hawaii.” How many times was this attempted? Were they smart enough to recognize the time difference and phone accordingly? Hawaii is not a Third World country with limited telephone access. I rather suspect that if you call during their office hours, you will get someone on the phone.

Secret information in a certificate number? Certificates are usually numbered in such a manner that they are unique. That is their purpose. There isn’t anything secret about it. If people working for a lawyer who wants to be President are this bloody clueless, then we are all in for a comedy of errors should this man get elected. He clearly can’t get smart folks to work for him or worse yet represent his interests to the public.

Now that FactCheck has put the number out there for all to see (two months ago now), why does “Fight the Smears” still have the original “questionable” document with the blacked-out number still displayed? One would like to think that Obama’s campaign would be careful to synchronize their online information with FactCheck’s after their little cooperative certificate photo-op. Clearly they are just as ham-handed as FactCheck.

We also note that so far none of those questioning the authenticity of the document have produced a shred of evidence that the information on it is incorrect.

Again, how clueless can an alleged “investigator” get? The point of a forgery is to look correct. Clearly false and easily refuted information on a forgery nullifies the forgery’s value.

We think our colleagues at PolitiFact.com, who also dug into some of these loopy theories put it pretty well: "It is possible that Obama conspired his way to the precipice of the world’s biggest job, involving a vast network of people and government agencies over decades of lies. Anything’s possible. But step back and look at the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and your sense of what’s reasonable has to take over."

A staffer at DOH by law cannot answer questions about the content of a birth record without the individual’s permission (Obama in this case). None of the DOH staffers allegedly queried by either FactCheck or PolitiFact were queried in person with the actual document in front of them. They were only viewing digital images and they only commented that the image appeared to have all the necessary components. None provided any definitive response on content or that the document was definitely not a forgery. It isn’t that the DOH staffers are part of a conspiracy or trying to hide anything; they simply cannot legally answer the questions in a definitive manner without Obama’s explicit approval.

It does not take a vast network of people or government agencies to produce a forged birth record. People do it every day. All it requires is the right amount of money and contact with the “right” people. Again, this demonstrates not only that FactCheck is pretty amateurish in their investigating or understanding how these things are done, so is Amy Hollyfield at PolitiFact. Speaking of loopy, their referencing each other as “evidence” is sort of an evidentiary loop. If we reference each other’s faulty analysis, that makes it accurate or some such logic.

In fact, the conspiracy would need to be even deeper than our colleagues realized. In late July, a researcher looking to dig up dirt on Obama instead found a birth announcement that had been published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961:

The announcement was posted by a pro-Hillary Clinton blogger who grudgingly concluded that Obama "likely" was born Aug. 4, 1961 in Honolulu.

Of course, it's distantly possible that Obama's grandparents may have planted the announcement just in case their grandson needed to prove his U.S. 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 U.S.A.

This birth announcement does not state where the individual was born. The announcement does not state who provided the information to the newspaper. Some newspapers have staffers who peruse official notices at the court house and some court houses provide daily feeds to the press. We cannot draw conclusions about where the information came from simply by looking at the announcement. A real investigation would have at least asked how this particular newspaper got its information for birth announcements, death announcements and weddings back in 1961.

All we know for certain is that it states the fact of birth on a certain date to a specific couple who normally reside at a certain address. Of course at this juncture Obama Sr. did not reside at that address, he was in Kenya (a point not in dispute) with his real wife. It has nothing to do with future plans nor would any deep vast conspiracy be required to post such an announcement. The fact that an alleged and unnamed pro-Hillary “blogger” made the conclusion stated above is also irrelevant to proving anything. Clearly his standard of proof, and that of FactCheck, is pretty low if this birth announcement sways their judgment.

We received responses to some of our questions from the Hawaii Department of Health. They couldn't tell us anything about their security paper, but they did answer another frequently-raised question: why is Obama's father's race listed as "African"?

Frequently asked by whom? What difference would that make? Why would you ask that sort of question of someone who might not even have been alive when Obama was born, let alone have any first-hand knowledge of how the data was originally submitted?

He [Kurt Tsue] also confirmed that the information in the short form birth certificate is sufficient to prove citizenship for "all reasonable purposes."

It is sufficient perhaps except for proving natural birth for the purpose of running for President. Methinks that one is slightly out of the realm of what a truly rational person would call “reasonable” usage.

Were FactCheck’s analysis a bit more professional, I’d expect to see more than the three sources they list. After all, they are purporting to be providing objective analysis that can be replicated. In fact, I’d expect to see a footnote for each quote they’ve included as well as references to appropriate statutes applicable to the issues at hand. As damage-control for their ham-fisted 16 June piece, this analysis is pretty shoddy and ham-fisted in its own right.

I didn’t have any objection to their pointing out the many equally shoddy criticisms and theories that emerged after the original document was put online. There were and are indeed many, but don’t mockingly criticize people who express skepticism of what appears to be a bogus online document. It is exceptionally easy to produce electronic images that portray just about anything and the vast majority of the public viewing them do not have the skills or tools to differentiate between real and fake, even though there are plenty of wannabe forensic specialists out there. There should be no surprise that the original image provoked more questions than it answered.

Of course all this is secondary to the very simple and straightforward solution that Obama himself refuses to take, namely take a copy of his long-form birth certificate, if one exists, to a judge or group of judges. Let them tell the public that “yeah, verily indeed ye have nothing to fear” and the situation would be put to rest with the finality of a stake through a vampire’s heart.

Obama refuses to do this. He’d rather take the route of obfuscating, prevaricating and dissembling rather than confront the accusation head-on (one he helped fuel with his own memoirs). He’d rather present his “evidence” to a bunch of amateur “investigators” who work for a friendly organization and who have not a clue on what to look for, what questions to ask, or how to properly document their pseudo-investigation.

Then again, it is quite possible that this is the only course Obama can take because he really cannot produce the long-form birth certificate since it does not exist. That doubt will always be there until Obama puts it to rest in a forthright manner, if he can. If he can’t, then Obama really ought not be President not for where he may have been born, but because he has lied to the American public and sought the office on false pretense.

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