A Philosopher's Blog

Zombie Birther

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on May 23, 2012
English: Anti-Barack Obama demonstrator at an ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ken Bennet, Arizona’s secretary of state, seems to have gone through a minor bout of birtherism recently. Fortunately, he seems to have recovered somewhat. Sadly this shows that the birther thing is a zombie of sorts-while it should be dead and buried, it just keeps lurching about and infecting people.

While folks who support Obama are obviously not fans of the birthers, the sensible folks on the right (of which there are many-they just don’t get much attention these days) are also not fans of this movement. Not surprisingly, I think it is far past the point at which the birther movement should have ended. I also contend that folks who oppose Obama should also be against the movement-if only for purely pragmatic reasons.

One rather important reason to be against the birther thing is that the core claim, that Obama was not born in the US, seems to have been disproven beyond all reasonable doubt via the appropriate legal documentation as well as by claims from reputable sources. As such, to believe in this claim is irrational and to push it seems to be morally suspect.

One pragmatic reason for anti-Obama folks to be against this birther thing is that it associates those who oppose Obama with a movement that taints the opposition with what seems to be craziness and absurdity. While guilt by association is a fallacy, it is generally best to avoid association with these sorts of movements. On the left, for example, it is generally best to steer clear of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

Another pragmatic reason for anti-Obama folks to be against the birther thing is that it is actually a distraction and a time waster. There is a wealth of issues on which the Republicans can legitimately criticize Obama (such as using drones to kill Americans apparently without due process and his ties to Wall Street). It makes far more sense to spend time on these issues without having to deal with the distraction of the birther thing.

Romney and other top tier Republicans should make it clear (in a polite way) that the birther thing needs to stop. This is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart thing for them.

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Is Perry a Birther?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2011
Perry Event 2/1/2010


Rick Perry was recently interviewed by Parade  and he was asked whether or not he believed Obama was born here or not. The exchange is as follows:

Q. Governor, do you believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States?

A. I have no reason to think otherwise.

Q. That’s not a definitive, “Yes, I believe he”—

A. Well, I don’t have a definitive answer, because he’s never seen my birth certificate.

Q. But you’ve seen his.

A. I don’t know. Have I?

Q. You don’t believe what’s been released?

A. I don’t know. I had dinner with Donald Trump the other night.

Q. And?

A. That came up.

Q. And he said?

A. He doesn’t think it’s real.

Q. And you said?

A. I don’t have any idea. It doesn’t matter. He’s the president of the United States. He’s elected. It’s a distractive issue.

Not surprisingly pundits and media folks have taken this as evidence that Perry is a born again birther. Karl Rove has taken the matter rather seriously and was extremely critical of Perry, noting that this sort of thing makes him an associate of certain nutty folks.

On the face of it, Perry did seem to be taking a somewhat coy birther position. While he did not assert outright that he believes that Obama was not born here, he clearly seemed to be indicating that he had doubts about the authenticity of the birth certificate. Also, by bringing in Trump and his (alleged) doubt, he also seemed to be moving himself into the birther sphere.

However, immediately after stating that he has no idea whether the birth certificate is real or not, he said that it does not matter and that “it’s a distractive issue.” This seems to be something of a rejection, albeit a very weak one, of the birther view (after all, they regarded it as rather important).

I agree with Perry’s second claim-bringing up the birth certificate is a distraction. In fact, it is more than that-it has the potential to make Perry seem a bit ridiculous given that the birther movement seems to have largely faded away in the face of overwhelming evidence. It also seems like a bad idea to try to play this card-if only from a practical perspective. After all, any gain he might make among the remaining birthers would probably be greatly offset by a losing ground with other folks.

In regards to his first claim about it not mattering, he seems to be right and also wrong (in different ways, of course). He is right that the birther thing does not matter anymore (except perhaps, as something that will damage his chances of getting the nomination).

However, if he actually has no idea whether the the birth certificate is real or not, then this does matter. First, if he has reasonable grounds on which to doubt its authenticity then this entails that he has reasonable grounds to believe that Obama is not legally president and that Obama has been perpetuating a great fraud (and with the support of people like Rove). If this is the case, then this does matter a great deal. Second, if he has no grounds for not having any idea and is simply refusing to accept the overwhelming evidence that Obama was born here, then this indicates that Perry has some rather significant flaws in his rationality and his epistemic capabilities. This, as one would imagine, would matter a great deal. After all, he is running for president and we certainly do not want to elect someone who cannot properly assess overwhelming evidence.

Interestingly enough, Perry seems to have decided to keep flirting with the birther thing and intends to keep it alive to “poke” at Obama. This leads me to infer that Perry is lacking in certain mental faculties, that there is some sort of pranking going on, or that Perry is destroying his campaign as part of the political theater leading up to Romney being handed the nomination. Or something else. In any case, I would suspect that Perry’s chances of getting the nomination are very low indeed.

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Shall it Never End?

Posted in Epistemology, Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on September 26, 2011
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 19:  Maricopa County, Ariz...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Somehow I ended up on the Amato for Liberty list (I infer that one of my friends did this as a joke). The most recent email featured an article about Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio (a fellow famous for making inmates wear pink underwear). While I thought the birth certificate matter was over, apparently it is not. Unless, of course, I am getting hoax emails purporting to be from Amato. Here is the text:

“I got over three hundred complaints about Obama’s birth certificate from the people of Maricopa County. When I get allegations brought to me by the citizens I don’t just dump it into the wastebasket. I look into the allegations just like I am doing here,” he told me.

“So that’s why I’ve assigned five members of what I call my cold-case posse to look into it.  I don’t know what they’re going to find. But what’s the big deal here? I don’t get it?  It isn’t costing the tax payers anything. It’s all volunteer work and what does it hurt to look into it?”

Naturally, people have a right to do this sort of thing on their own time, just as they have the right to look into UFOs, Big Foot and the secret Bush plot behind 9/11. However, it is a bit worrisome that people are apparently filing complaints about Obama to an Arizona sheriff. I do suspect that most of these folks are aware that Obama is legitimate, but that they are doing this as a sort of expression of extremely dislike. What is more worrisome is that the sheriff is apparently taking the matter seriously, despite the fact that Obama’s legitimacy has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. I wonder if he would assign investigators if enough people made allegations of witchcraft or demonic possession.

Fortunately, he is not wasting much in the way of state resources to conduct this investigation. However, it would seem more sensible for him to simply inform such complainers that the matter is settled and that there is, in fact, nothing to investigate.

In terms of what it hurts, it serves to lend unnecessary credence to a claim that has been shown to be false beyond all reasonable doubt. Encouraging this sort of thing encourages irrational belief formation and undermines critical thinking. People should not, from both a moral and critical thinking standpoint, be encouraged to believe things that are obviously not true and certainly should be known by those doing the encouragement to be false.

Also, from a practical standpoint, it risks making Arizona look bad-something the state certainly does not need.

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The Twilight of the Birthers

Posted in Epistemology, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 9, 2011
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

Image via Wikipedia

Shortly before ordering the successful hit on Bin Laden Obama released his long form birth certificate. The Washington Post recently conducted a poll to see the impact of this release.

On the one hand, I thought that it might have little impact. After all, it seemed reasonable to think that if the short form did not convince people, then a long form would have no greater effect. On the other hand, since some of the birthers had been demanding the “real” birth certificate as proof, it seemed possible that they would accept the sanctification of their demand as proof.

Interestingly, the Washington Post’s poll results show that there has been a significant change since April 2010. In 2010 20% of the adults polled claimed that Obama was born outside the United States. This has fallen to 10% in 2011. The largest change was among Republicans. In 2010 31% of Republicans claimed they believed Obama was born outside of the US. In 2011 only 14% held this view. For conservative Republicans, the change has been from 35% to 16%. Interestingly, 7% of Democrats, 12% of Independents, and 3% of liberal Democrats still claim they believe he was born outside of the US.

While other factors might be involved in the decline, it seems reasonable to consider that the release of the long form birth certificate had some impact. It also seems reasonable to take into account the fact that certain notable conservatives, such as Rove, have been critical of the birther approach. It is also worth considering the fact that movements generally tend to lose members over time as people move on to other things.

While the percentage of people who believe that Obama was not born in the US has declined significantly since 2010, it is still rather worrying that 10% of those polled still hold to this belief. After all, the evidence seems to be rather overwhelming.

Interestingly, the people who still claim to believe that Obama was not born in the United States tend to admit that they lack definitive evidence for their claim. Rather, they seem to take the line that they have suspicions about Obama’s place of birth. This could be taken as being more of an expression of dislike for Obama as opposed to a significant epistemic failure.

I suspect that the birthers will never vanish completely. After all, conspiracy theories often have an amazing endurance. There are, for example, still people who claim that the moon landings were faked.

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I’m With Karl Rove on this One

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on April 25, 2011
Karl Rove Assistant to the President, Deputy C...

Image via Wikipedia

The birther issue is like a zombie: though it should be dead and buried, it keeps shuffling along. Also like a zombie, it seems to be able to infect and transform people, such as Donald Trump.

Various states have been considering birther legislation, such as Louisiana. The bill being considered would require and  affidavit, a birth certificate and a sworn statement identifying a presidential candidate’s place of residence for the past 14 years. There are also comparable requirements for those running for congress. Similar bills have failed in Maine, Connecticut, Montana, and Arizona (by veto). These bills seem to be needless-after all, the constitution requires that the president be a natural citizen and there seems to be no rational reason for individual states to require this sort of proof for candidates. There is also the concern of the bureaucracy that would be needed to handle this paperwork.  In any case, these bills seem to be intended to make some sort of political statement against the president. They might also provide a means by which candidates could be kept off ballots. After all, paperwork can be “misplaced” in bureaucracy and other problems can arise proportional to the amount of paper required.

Some potential Republican candidates have taken up the birther cause, such as Donald Trump. Others, such as Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, have stated that they take the president at his word. Karl Rove has claimed that this move has made Trump a “joke candidate” and Rove has consistently attempted to convince Republicans to avoid embracing the birther movement.  I’m with Karl on this one and will simply go along with his arguments here.

I do suspect, to a degree, that Trump “embraced” the birther movement to get more air time. After all, as a possible candidate he would get some coverage. However, by appearing to take up the birther cause, he boosts his media coverage significantly. This allows him to generate attention for himself and his TV show (which generates more attention). By being a “joke” candidate, he gives himself a vast amount of free advertising. If he is, in fact, doing this intentionally, then it is certainly clever showmanship. If he really believes what he is saying, then he is a joke.

Of course, there are a lot of people who believe that he is not joking and agree with Trump in this matter. While about 75% of Americans believe that Obama was (or probably was) born in America, 40% of Republicans believe that he was not. This does give some candidates a reason to embrace the birther movement. After all, they can use it to appeal to a fairly significant chunk of the population. However, this does come with an obvious risk. Many of those who are not birthers seem to regard embracing the birther movement as a negative thing. As such, a candidate that appeals to the birthers might do well with them, but fare poorly in a general election.

While the idea of birther embracing candidates is a matter of concern (at least to some folks), what is of greater concern is that fact that about 25% of Americans believe that the president was not born in America, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the fact that believing this also requires believing many other absurd things. To believe this, they would also presumably have to believe that people in power (including Republicans) are allowing him to stay in office. After all, if Obama really did not meet the citizenship requirement, then John McCain or Hillary Clinton would have been able to simply point this out and Obama would have been out of the running. Since they did not, the birthers must presumably believe that McCain and Clinton are “in on it” and would rather lose to Obama and preserve his secret than expose it. This seems like an absurd thing to believe.

That said, it is worth considering that some birthers say they have doubts about Obama’s place of birth because they do not like him, as opposed to actually believing that he was not born in Hawaii. Then again, it seems likely that many birthers really are true believers.

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LaBossiere 2012?

Posted in Humor, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 3, 2011
Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

My predecessor to be?

Until Obama is finally exposed as a Kenyan-atheist-Muslim-socialist, he will be the Democrats 2012 candidate.  Heck, even after that he will still be the candidate. We are, after all, talking about the Democrats. As far as the Republicans go, the field is still open. There has, however, been a cry from the masses for a true champion of the people. That someone is obviously me.

Before formally accepting the corporate cash that marks the start of a campaign, I’ll have to establish my basic qualifications for president:

  • Native born American citizen? Check. My family has been documented to have been here since 1620.
  • 35 or over? Yup, though I tell myself I don’t look a day over 44.

So, I am totally qualified. But, am I qualified to be a Republican candidate?

  • White? Well, white enough looking.
  • Tall? 6 feet 1 inch of presidential potential.
  • Pee standing up? Yup, I’m male.
  • Birth certificate? Yup.
  • Guns? Many. Why are you asking?
  • Birth certificate? Yup, I was definitely not born in Kenya. Just check my slow running times.
  • Rich? In Warcraft, sure.
  • Muslim? Nope, my love of bacon exceeds my love of Allah.
  • Willing to impose the will of the corporate masters on the ignorant masters under the guise of freedom? Hey, you’re not supposed to mention that.

Clearly I am. I’d ask for your vote, but that would involve assuming that your vote actually matters.

So, RNC, give me a call and let’s get this party started.

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Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 17, 2011
the 44th President of the United States...Bara...

Image by jmtimages via Flickr

A poll of 400 Republican primary voters revealed that 51% of them believe that Obama was not born in the United States. 28% believe that he was born in the United States while 21% were unsure of his place of birth.

This is hardly surprising. First, the birther movement has been quite active in pushing this idea and it has also gotten support (if only via innuendo) from Republican leaders. Second, Obama is disliked (or even hated) by most Republicans and people are inclined to believe negative claims about people they dislike-even when actual evidence is lacking. Third, Obama’ “exotic” background (non-American father, time spent outside of America and  so on) help create the impression that he is not a proper American. Fourth, some folks on the left (such as the fine folks at MSNBC) have been harping on the birther movement and their attacks might, ironically, serve to encourage people to accept it as correct-or at least to feel sympathy in response to their dislike of these left leaning folks.

While I am well aware that most people are poor at critical thinking and reasoning, the fact that 51% of those surveyed hold a belief that has been shown to be false beyond all reasonable doubt and that only 28% believe in a claim that has been established as true beyond a reasonable doubt worries me. After all, this would seem to indicate that these people base their beliefs on something other than evidence and reason and this bodes ill in regards to their ability to assess the candidates they will be voting for and against.

Of course, it is well worth considering that some or even many of the people surveyed gave the response they did based not on their actual belief but based on their dislike for Obama. If so, this would not be a case of people simply denying facts and holding to a delusion. Rather, it would be an indirect way of expressing their dislike of the man. This does have  a certain plausibility and is worth considering when pondering the implications of the survey.







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Abercrombie vs the Birthers

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 10, 2011
Neil Abercrombie, 109th Pictorial photo
Image via Wikipedia

Just when it seemed the birther movement (folks who believe that Obama is not really an American citizen) had faded into the background, Hawaii governor Neil Abercrombie stepped in and stirred things up once more.

Abercrombie has stated that he intends to prove that Obama was born in America. While it would be nice to see this matter laid to rest, there are some problems worth considering.

First, I would think that a state governor would have more important tasks to worry about than trying to prove that Obama was born in America. It would be one thing if a retired person decided to take this on as a hobby, but if I were a citizen of Hawaii, I would hope that my governor did not have so much idle time on his hands.

Second, I suspect that his efforts will simply be a waste of time. After all, the evidence that Obama is really an American seems to be adequate. If Obama was not actually qualified to be president on these grounds, the Republican leadership would have certainly taken action. The fact that they have not seems to be a reasonably good indicator that he is, in fact, a natural born American. If folks are not convinced at this point, it seems likely that there is no evidence that would convince them otherwise.

Third, by taking on the birthers, the governor is actually giving them a certain appearance of credibility. After all, this makes them seem like a movement that is worth engaging and this probably serves to bolster the members and make some other folk feel that there just might be something to this movement. It would seem wiser to simply leave the movement alone and wait for it to quietly diminish over time. In some cases, one must confront crackpot movements in order to defeat them. In other cases, it is best to not feed them and to not keep getting them mentioned in the media. I think that the birther movement is, at this point, best ignored rather than engaged.

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