Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Do not be discouraged: we need to fight on

Over and over, people tell me they are discouraged because of the "failed" lawsuits. It is true that lawsuit after lawsuit was dimissed, one after another (Cort, Donofrio, etc). However, this is not the time to lose heart.

According to the Michigan Law Review special issue a few months ago on the "natural born citizenship" challenges to both Obama and McCain, it is unlikely that these controversies will be settled in court, because of the "standing" issue and something called "judiciability".

The reason "standing" prevents many of these lawsuits from being heard is that there is apparently a long-standing precedent that ordinary citizens cannot challenge a candidate who might be ineligible in a court because the ordinary citizens supposedly have not suffered any direct personal loss because of any potential ineligibility.

"Judiciability" is something that the courts struggle with all the time. Judges ask, is a given complaint something that should be settled by the courts, or is it best addressed politically? If an issue is not "judiciable", then the courts will not rule on it, but pass it on to the political process instead.

These two difficulties with legal challenges (which were anticipated months ago and therefore are no surprise to at least some observers and experts) seem to suggest that few (if any courts) would be willing to hear these sorts of complaints. However, these academic opinions might not be correct of course, and events might unfold in a different way than the legal experts writing in the Michigan Law Review anticipated.

However, even if the lawsuits were dismissed, that does not mean that the lawsuits were worthless. The lawsuits were and are invaluable and even crucial. Six weeks ago, I read that only 20 percent or so of the Republican readers of a conservative Orange County Register columnist had even heard of the eligibility issue, according to an informal survey. Now, I suspect that the fraction that have heard of this eligibility problem is likely far far greater.

I track the number of "Google news hits" a Google news search returns for the term "obama birth certificate" each day. I have tracked this number for weeks. This ccrude statistic is a count of the number of stories on the topic, over the last few days. About half of the news hits are from stictly online sources, and initially many were just blogs. I noticed that the number of "Google news hits" rose from about 170 over 2 months ago, to about one thousand around the time of the election. Then it dropped precipitously to approximately 300 two weeks ago. With the recent lawsuit news, it rose again to a peak of 3000, and yesterday this "Google news hits" number was in the neighborhood of 1500 or so. This suggests that this story is of growing interest generally, and is still present in the public eye in a substantial way.

Because the US mainstream press has been very reluctant to cover this issue, people often do not know about it. Even the conservative media has been essentially silent on this topic. Where are our vaunted icons of conservative talk radio? Where is the belligerent and foaming-at-the-mouth, rabidly right-wing Fox News? For the most part, these two media segments have also "drank the purple koolaid". Those following this eligiblity issue and promoting it have been repeatedly dismissed as belonging to a lunatic fringe, or pejoratively called "conspiracy theorists". However, these charges are getting tougher and tougher to make as momentum builds. This is thanks partly to these lawsuits and the attention they place on the eligibility controversy.

There are signs our message is getting out there. One of our volunteers called an Illinois elector last weekend, and was informed that all of the Illinois electors were being called to the state capital for a meeting Sunday night before the voting, to discuss the situation with lawyers. This meeting apparently was to help them address their fears of the legal consequences of voting for Obama. Even if they all voted for Obama (and we have not yet heard if there were any faithless electors yet, something previously so rare that there were less than half a dozen in over two centuries), the fact that the Illinois electors had this meeting at all speaks volumes for the impact we are having. And a large number of the concerns these electors have are the result of the impact of our calls and letters and the lawsuits (even the dismissed lawsuits).

A second indication of the influence we are having is from another call that another volunteer made last night to a congresswoman. This congresswoman indicated her willingness and enthusiasm to speak out about this issue in Congress when it meets in January. Of course, this does not indicate that she will actually do what she said she would, but this sort of assertion never would have happened if it had not been for our movement raising the profile of this controversy. With the mainstream media and the conservative media essentially silent, we had to get the word out using "any means necessary"; phone calls, FAXes, emails, mail, lawsuits, petitions, etc. Even the dismissed lawsuits serve as an integral part of this effort, although that was clearly not the reason they were filed. Now is not the time to give up!

A third indication of the value of our approach comes from an amazing speech by left wing icon Noam Chomsky. Chomsky attacks Obama over and over for his lack of transparency, and for behaving differently than they expected (signalling his intention to pursue a bellicose foreign policy and showing evidence of being controlled by big money interests). Amazingly, this crowd of leftists cheered enthusiastically when Chomsky made these charges! I personally had pointed out these same shortcomings over and over for well over a year, but my complaints fell on deaf ears. No one wanted to hear that there were any problems with the "Messiah". Almost everyone laughed at me as a lunatic, and called me a "right wing nut", stupid, or worse. Now, our complaints about a lack of openness are gaining traction. We cannot stop now!

A fourth indication that momentum is building is the revelation that law enforcement, including the FBI, has been keeping close tabs on Obama and his criminal associates. A few weeks ago, when I was discussing my concerns with Obama with an FBI analyst, he dismissed me as a conspiracy theorist on the fringe, essentially parroting statements in the media. I doubt if he would do the same now. The emergence of serious legal charges swirling around the Obama Camp and its associates has made our claims far more credible, and adds to the general air of distrust that is accumulating.

Some of the electors we contacted have expressed their frustration at our efforts with expletive-filled replies. I would suggest that this is a hopeful sign; we are not being ignored. We are raising the issue. We want people to be aware of the eligibility controversy and to discuss it. There is no such thing as bad publicity, because we want this controversy to be examined carefully by the public. Most of the public is unaware of this controversy and has not studied the evidence yet. If people complain bitterly to their friends and the media about our efforts, so much the better. It will keep this topic in the public eye, and more will investigate the actual controversy. Some will reach the same conclusion we have reached, swelling our ranks. It is even worse for us to be ignored, as we were previously.

Finally, we have signs that the Republican party is finally waking about some of these issues and might be willing to pursue them. Because the Republicans were unable or unwilling to focus on Obama's eligibility problems, the fox almost got into the henhouse. The primary checks and balances to prevent something like this eligibility issue from being ignored and left unaddressed are (1) the challenges from the opposing party and (2) the scrutiny of the media. In the case of the eligibility controversy, both of these two important factors were inexplicably almost totally absent. If the Republicans will step up to the plate with their resources, the game will be very different. And the only reason they will commit to this project is because we have raised the profile of this controversy through grassroots efforts, including the lawsuits (even including the dismissed lawsuits, as disappointing as those results are). Let's not give up hope now!

What is needed now is to mount a concerted attack on these eligibility issues as Obama faces the next hurdles before becoming inaugurated at the end of January. The media, Secretaries of State, Election Commissions, State Governors, State Attorneys General, and State and Federal Legislators need to hear from us; FAXes, emails, phone calls, and snail mail. Let's keep up the momentum and continue to express our concern with these issues!

Tips for contacting legislators

I am no expert in this, but here are some useful suggestions I have culled from my reading.

Form letters are less effective. After seeing the first one or two, recipients will just ignore the rest.

Congressmen and Senators and state legislators are less interested in hearing from people who are not in their districts. So bear that in mind when you contact them.

Gmail will not reveal your location through your IP address, but many other email programs will.

Direct dialing Congressional and Senate offices will often reveal your location, but using the central congressional switchboards will supposedly not. You can also set your telephone to not reveal your originating number. There are many toll free numbers for reaching the Congressional switchboard. For example, a quick search turned up:










The name of the game in lobbying is irritation and impact. The more staff time it takes to deal with our contact efforts, the more aware our elected officials will be that we are concerned. And the more concern that is expressed, the more nervous these elected officials will be that they will lose their positions, replete with power and perks, if they do not respond to us appropriately.

So how do we have an impact? Email is easily blocked or deleted, but can be sent out in immense volumes, and with great frequency. If you have the option of requesting a response in your email, you should do so. This will force someone to expend effort and energy to deal with your message, and therefore have more of an impact. Faxes and snail mail occupy space and consume time and effort and resources. Phone calls draw on staff resources. The advantage of telephone calls is that they often can produce more useful feedback of the effectiveness of our efforts than other contact methods.

Therefore, I would guess that emails are not as effective as faxes, which are less effective than snail mail, which is less effective than certified letters. Telephone calls are also pretty effective, but I am not sure how they compare to regular physical mail.

Email attachments are often never opened. Email with attachments is sometimes discarded because attachments often contain viruses. Embed any attachments in the body of the email if possible. Gmail allows one to place images in the email body quite easily, for example.

Many elected officials are starting to use web-based tools to cut down on email spam. Looking at the source code of these webpages with email forms can sometimes reveal the true email address of the intended recipient. However, many of these emails sent from these sorts of tools are filtered to reject those that are outside the legislator's district. Even regular email to a legislator's office can go through a similar filter. Bear that in mind when you use these web-based tools. Many of the aides and staff of these legislators, who are often quite influential, still have regular email addresses and so can be contacted by conventional bulk email.

Shorter email messages and letters are typically better because there is a greater chance they will be read.

Placing a long list of email addresses in the "To" slot in your email program is not helpful. An email obviously sent to a long list of people might be discarded automatically as spam in some cases. Even if the software does not reject this sort of email, people receiving such an email might ignore it as spam. If they do read it, they will feel more comfortable ignoring the issues raised since they believe that surely someone else on this huge list will tend to the problem. Therefore, put any long list of email addresses in the "bcc" slot in your email program, and mail the message to yourself. That way the recipients will not know how many are on your email list and what their addresses are. Some email software is designed for bulk emailing and will do this automatically for you.

Robert Stevens