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obama_apTomorrow’s Chicago Tribune will publish “An Open Letter to Barack Obama” by Robert L. Schulz, chairman of the Foundation for Constitutional Education.

For several years, rumors swirled regarding Barack Obama’s birthplace, with partisans and concerned citizens alike contending that he was not really born in the United States, but in Kenya. The Obama campaign tried to squelch these rumors by posting an official copy of official copy of the candidate’s birth certificate online, at FightTheSmears.com. But that only gave conspiracy theorists a concrete document to inspect and discredit, upping the ante for those committed to bringing down Obama’s campaign.

“Where is the embossed seal,” they asked, “and the registrar’s signature?”

Obama’s detractors knew this could be more politically damaging than attending a church with an unpatriotic pastor. With the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate in question, what choice would voters have but to conclude that the black guy was an un-American liar after all? So the silly questions persisted.

“Why is there no crease from being folded and mailed? And what’s up with the ‘07 date stamp bleeding through the ‘08 document?”

tin-foil-hat

Increasingly, the conspiracy theorists weren’t just playing in Tinfoil Hat City. Some of their questions were genuinely intriguing. And we Americans tend to embrace illogical and scandalous explanations when logical and mundane ones aren’t immediately readily available. The observation that Obama’s birth certificate is a bluer shade of green than most Hawaiian birth certificates, for instance, leads many an uncritical thinker to conclude that Obama’s must be a forgery. Never mind that dyed paper fades over time, or that our laptops’ color and brightness settings may cause digital images to look slightly different from how they appeared in the real life light.

As this game went on, it almost looked like another Swift Boat had arrived to taxi all of us out to sea again. But when nonpartisan watchdog organizations launched their own independent investigations, they concluded that the birth certificate was authentic.

Obama's birth certificate

Barack Obama's birth certificate.

Though the elections are long over, this rumor and its adherents evidently will take one last swipe at the President-Elect in tomorrow’s Chicago Tribune.

Dear Mr. Obama:

Representing thousands of responsible American citizens who have also taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America, I am duty bound to call on you to remedy an apparent violation of the Constitution.
Compelling evidence supports the claim that you are barred from holding the Office of President by the “natural born citizen” clause of the U.S. Constitution. For instance:

  • Legal affidavits state you were born in Kenya.
  • Your grandmother is recorded on tape saying she attended your birth in Kenya.
  • You have posted on the Internet an unsigned, forged and thoroughly discredited, computer-generated birth form created in 2007, a form that lacks vital information found on any original, hand signed Certificate of Live Birth, such as hospital address, signature of attending physician and age of mother.
  • U.S. Law in effect in 1961 denied U.S. citizenship to any child born in Kenya if the father was Kenyan and the mother was not yet 19 years of age.
  • In 1965, your mother legally relinquished whatever Kenyan or U.S. citizenship she and you had by marrying an Indonesian and becoming a naturalized Indonesian citizen.

First of all, the last two bullet points are completely superfluous, though I do appreciate the heads up about four-decade-old citizenship clauses in Kenya and Indonesia. How old his mom was at his birth, and what rights she relinquished when he was a toddler is irrelevant. They only remotely apply if you buy into the first three, in which case we’re drawing straws about whether to deport the guy or just impeach him.

One wonders at this point, what is the goal? Even if Obama’s birthplace can neither be confirmed nor invalidated, the most they can hope to prove is that Hawaii is as bush league as Alaska. As of Obama’s birth in August of 1961, Hawai’i had been a state for less than two years.  Perhaps the Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women & Children had taken its time adopting the standard bureaucratic formats of American bureaucratic forms.  Do the birth certificates of other babies who were born at Kapi’olani in ’61 include their moms’ ages and the hospital’s address; and if not, shall we revoke their citizenships, too? Or perhaps our rule of thumb will be to take everyone at their word as long as they’re less than 49% black.

Regarding the Kenyan affidavits, I’m assuming they contain the “vital information” that Obama’s birth certificate lacks, such as the “hospital address, signature of attending physician and age of mother.” It would be logically inconsistent to offer the former as evidence after calling the latter inadmissible for similar omissions. As Christopher Hitchens once wrote, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”

All of that aside, the tape-recording of old lady hearsay does sound “compelling.”

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Some right wing bloggers have declared today Victory in Iraq Day. I think this is a good idea, actually.  If our goal was to kill Saddam, we’ve killed him. If it was to make sure the US wasn’t susceptible to a surprise nuke attack, that too was accomplished when we confirmed what weapons inspectors and the majority of intelligence insisted all along: that the WMDs never existed in the first place!

Even our improvised afterthought “to give the Iraqi people a chance at freedom” has now been achieved. And what better way to demonstrate independence than for Iraq’s democratically elected government to boot out its occupiers.

If we don’t declare victory soon, we’ll have to redefine our goals again.

I said something to that effect in an online forum the other day and got the following response:

So riddle me this…the war is won, and the people are free…we fought Germany and Japan, two countries who were far beyond the levels of infrastructure and civilization that Iraq was at the time…what’s the rush? We still have military presence in Korea, Germany, Japan, etc…none of which we have annexed…why the fear of colonization? They can boot us when they want, but I believe we will have a presence there for some time…

I’m not concerned about colonization because colonization is impractical. If we officially annexed Iraq, then we’d have to offer its citizens the same rights and benefits that we enjoy here in the U.S. And that’s not happening anytime soon, nor could it, after the debacle that ensued after we invaded.  But that doesn’t mean our indefinite presence in Iraq benefits the Iraqi people.

The Germany/Japan/Korea argument was valid until Iraq explicitly told us to leave. They are in effect testing our claims that we respect their sovereignty. If we don’t leave, then we’ll yet again come across as disingenuous in the eyes of world opinion. More importantly, we forfeit our ability to claim we’re over there for the good of the Iraqi people.

Our military presence in the countries you mentioned was mutually beneficial both to the occupiers and occupied, especially during the Cold War. Our presence in Eastern Europe and Asia during the Cold War decreased the likelihood of a Communist invasion in the countries we occupied. On the other hand, our presence in Iraq lures terrorists into their country; who wish not only to inflict physical harm on American troops, but also attack the Iraqi people in order to create an even greater public relations nightmare for the US.

The damage to the infrastructure in 1946 Europe, was far greater than in Iraq today. While we helped save the economies of the countries we occupied after WWs, we are hurting the economy in Iraq. In post-war Europe, we employed the Marshall Plan. This created jobs for the European and Asian people. Germans construction firms employed German manual labor workers. This enabled the European people to actively take part in their own recovery, and it prevented the economies in these countries from self-destructing. In post-war Iraq, our overbearing debaathification policies left many of Iraq’s most competent men unemployed, forcing many of them to pursue less legitimate forms of work in order to feed their families. Any reconstruction efforts employ American firms, as does much of the war effort in general. KBR, Halliburton, Blackwater, Parsons, TITAN, CACI, etc. have been awarded no-bid contrasts for services ranging from laundry-washing to truck-driving to construction of military bases to firefighting. That some of these corporations are affiliated with Vice President Dick Cheney (and perhaps with high-ranking characters in Obama’s administration, too) makes this a conflict of interest. So not only does the Iraqi economy suffer as the war drags on, but the longer we stay in Iraq, the more money these war profiteers stand to make.

Some of the Asian countries rejected the Marshall Plan, saying that it amounted to economic imperialism on our part. We respected their wishes and did not impose our will upon them. If we overstay our welcome, as you and I agree that we probably will, then this shows yet another disparity between post WWII reconstruction and our current foreign policy.

When our occupation becomes solely about our interests, that’s when it’s time to go.

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new_sheepLast night I was trying to find the latest news on Barack Obama’s cabinet appointments, when I ventured to the front page of the CNNPolitics.com, and was thoroughly annoyed by the headline they’d placed atop all the others: “Is Romney the Man to Save GOP in 2012?”

This is not news now, and might not even be news later. Something that may or may not happen four years from now is not a current event. Yet, there it is, the top story at CNN.

Presidential elections in this country now last for over half the length of a sitting president’s term. The 2008 elections are barely a week behind us, and already we’re blitzed with speculation and hearsay about what’s in store for 2012. Perhaps Americans wouldn’t be so economically screwed today if, back in 2004, when the mortgage crisis was still avoidable, our citizens been less concerned about when Hillary would officially announce her future plans to run for President?

As unprofessional as our friends in the mainstream media have been, the “dumbing down” of the news is as much our fault as it is theirs. They are, after all, in the business of making money. The higher their ratings soar, the easier it is to find sponsors willing to pay to advertise during their programs. That means what we see on the so-called “news” is a function of what we most desire to see—and not a reflection of what is important. If, collectively, we were more informed, we’d be outraged over the fact that this bullshit passes as newsworthy. We’d cry out for details about Blackwater shadiness, or about the growing U.S.-Pakistan conflict. Were we an engaged citizenry, our sneaky Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wouldn’t have gotten away with his $140 billion gift to banks, courtesy of taxpayers.

In fact, fuck it; I’m deleting CNN.com from my Mozilla bookmark icons. For too long I’ve let that network remain my “most trusted source” of Internet news every morning, the site I check when time only permits me to check one. As MSNBC leans Leftward and Fox News bends unapologetically back toward the Right, many viewers remain convinced (as I was until recently) of CNN’s fairness and neutrality. Is that because they dump on all U.S. presidential candidates equally? Of course, nearly all my early assumptions about media bias were misguided or wrong, starting with the premise that “news” should be considered “objective” and “fair” so long as it doesn’t clearly favor one major political party over the other. That might have made sense; but only if all possible worldviews and political stances were covered by one major political party or the other.

But another imbalance exists, taking the form of an apparent consensus, by all mainstream news channels, to over-report on the presidential race and under-report on everything else. That’s where the real bias lives. They do it because they’re lazy and self-absorbed; they get away with it because, so are we.  Far from being fed up with these overblown non-stories, we rather prefer to read trumped up rumors about John McCain’s mental health fluctuations or Barack Obama’s scandalous adolescent acquaintanceships—while American wars persist on multiple fronts and our economy continues to crumble.

I don’t mean to imply that election outcomes are not important. But the day-to-day gossip mill that churned out pages of useless trivia about different spats among presidential hopefuls is not (as CNN would have you assume) the most pressing news event on any given day.

ashley-dupre-spitzers-prostitute2So engrossed were we in our own insular political sideshows that it barely registered when noteworthy events occurred outside of U.S. borders. So, if you’re from one of those countries that are having a crappy decade, please pardon our outward indifference to your plight. We have no idea what’s happened in the world these last two years. We missed it all, or tried to. Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute’s sucky MySpace songs got more play than genocide in Sudan, the Cyclone Nargis, and the Sichuan Earthquake combined.

The hyping and overmarketing of presidential campaigns lets the media to ignore the crucial or controversial news stories. This is good for the media because it can refrain from reporting real-life news that might aggravate their sponsors. And while this is problematic on their part, we viewers give them an excuse by reinforcing the notion that we care more about the presidential race than we do about other important happenings in the world today. That we care more and more about the presidential rumor mill means we care less—or not at all—about Congress passing some obscure, quickly buried bill that will allow domestic spying or torture. We care more about which presidential candidate’s religious affiliates offended which rich white person today.

Rather than solely condemn CNN and Fox News for the stories they choose or refuse to supply, one might blame the American citizens for our own spoiled ignorance and the information we do or do not demand.

As a result of the media’s failure to cover stories outside the soap opera, any sly scumbag with aspirations to cheat, swindle or manipulate large majorities of people knows to wait until election season to do it. Alas, perhaps that’s why the next campaign season is starting before our wet-behind-the-ear President Elect even knows who his Secretary of State is.

Still, there are some who saw and see nothing wrong with the saturation of Election ’08 coverage. They believe they need to mull over the vibes they get from the candidates, and that requires constant surveillance. As long as we crave that overconsumption, CNN will happily pour provide it; see which comes up with the goofiest Freudian slip; inspect their medical records; condemn the drugs they did in high school; make sure the male candidates don’t act too flamboyant; make sure the women are both feminine and sufficiently masculine; evaluate their acquaintances; insist they ditch the ones we deem too rude.

It’s a tough job—being an American citizen, juggling so many pertinent subplots at once. But we’re happy to do it, because we are “the American people”, whose honorable character is exceptional in every respect. All we ask is that there are no distractions as we’re diligently scrutinizing our candidates; our mainstream media must never burden us with trivial headlines, like:

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Below are two maps.  The first shows the parts of the U.S. population most likely to have fewer than nine years of education.  The second map, oddly comparable to the first, highlights which of our nation’s counties were more likely to vote Republican in 2008 than in 2004.

edu9

mccainmap_2

This brief entry is intended only for those who would agree with me that, in general, education is a good thing–i.e., that schooling beyond a middle-school level prepares us for the real world and enables us to make informed decisions as adult citizens and voters. If you don’t count yourself among such believers in education, then your way of thinking may prevent you from seeing my point. Or it could be that you’re just not particularly apt at reading maps, or converting raw numbers into meaningful conclusions.

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Countless times we’ve been reminded that “the world changed on 9/11.”

In both parties’ National Conventions, we heard it again.

Everything changed.

This durable one-liner isn’t just a limp platitude anymore. Nowadays, it’s the alibi when politicians tinker with democracy, and the rationale when citizens lower their standards of what it means to be American and Free.

Tragedy and fear have ushered in a new politics—a blueprint for how to be corrupt without appearing evil. Usually “the change” is mentioned in order to legitimize some aspect of the shady shift that’s now occurring—whether in business, politics, ideology, world policy, military strategy, civil liberties, or the advent of barefaced media propaganda.

Everything changed; thus, we govern in a new way now—for your safety.

With crooked leaders come docile followers who believe it’s patriotic to be scared and vulnerable but not to participate in democracy. In time new catchphrases emerge, and are even more effective.

The Republicans put “Country First.”

The Democrats are all about “Securing America’s Future.”

A population trusts and complies, convinced that things have fundamentally changed and must change again, ASAP.

While surface references to things changing are ample, clarity about what exactly changed (and why it had to) is hard to pin down.

Concretely, many things did change on September 11th, 2001. Jumbo jets disappeared into towers; towers toppled like tiny wooden blocks in a “Jenga” game. Thousands of Americans never came home, and thousands more will never come home the same.

But while airplanes vaporize on impact, empires disintegrate gradually, over time. The lasting casualty of that fateful morning may be the loss of a great nation, one that remains unable to function as it did in its glory. Great nations do not collapse violently, as do great buildings made of steel, but softly, a little more each day, one parcel at time.

Nations die lingering deaths.

If ours crumbles, it will do so in slow-motion, with no loud explosions to mark the moment when at last we finish our fall. This second, slower death will be the enduring legacy of 9/11, the important ending heard not with the bang but only inside the relative whimper that follows.

The changes history shall remember aren’t necessarily about the people who died on 9/11. It may be that our most profound changes have yet to occur.

This newly updated, wounded America is one the victims never knew. It belongs now to the three-hundred-million of us who weren’t murdered that morning–Americans from other regions of the country; New Yorkers who worked in other parts of Manhattan; WTC employees who called in sick or were running late that morning; those who raced out of the buildings moments before they fell.

We are the survivors, and 9/11’s ramifications matter to us.

Yes, our hearts are with the victims. But must our minds fixate solely on the dead as we ask what should come next in life?

“Everything changed” is one version of 9/11, the favored myth in our national monologue and, for some, a therapeutic way to cope with loss. But change is not fait accompli; it is just one possibility among many from which to choose.   That is a choice that we as citizens were never given, and one that’s still rightfully ours to make, together.

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