jeudi 20 août 2009

Birther de vive voix

Pour ceux qui aiment les feuilletons télévisés américains en VO, voici le dernier épisode de Birthers.

Pour ceux qui préfèrent lire, voici un excellent article de Jonathan Valania publié à Philadelphie par le Philadelphia weekly.

The Birther Theory Local lawyer Phil Berg is convinced the president is an illegal alien.

In the soft twilight of the first Saturday of August, a gray-bearded man in a dark suit stood on the grassy knoll in front of Independence Hall and declared for the benefit of a film crew on hand that we are, as a nation, through the looking glass, people. Black is white, up is down, cats are dogs and the President of the United States is a fraud and a liar, a “usurper,” a foreign-born alien unqualified to hold office and the fact that he currently resides in the White House represents a constitutional crisis on a scale not seen since the darkest hours of Watergate.
The man who said these things was one Philip Berg, Esq., a private practice lawyer based in the Philadelphia suburb of Lafayette Hill, a lifelong Democrat and a former deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania. The film crew was shooting a sky-is-falling exposé with the working title Fall Of The Republic: The Presidency Of Barack Obama , produced by Austin, Texas-based talk-radio host Alex Jones, whose previous work includes The Obama Deception, which alleges darkly that the president is a puppet of a multinational cabal of corporate oligarchs, and Loose Change, which claims that 9/11 was an inside job.
“Our nation is in jeopardy,” Berg gravely intoned, as clusters of tourists filed past, some doing a double-take when they noticed the cameras, briefly studying Berg’s face for the earmarks of someone recognizably famous and then moving on when he failed to register.
“There are three constitutional requirements to be president: first, you must be 35 years old. Second, you must reside in the U.S. for 14 straight years and lastly you must be a natural-born citizen. And on this last point, Obama fails ... ” As Berg spoke, a warm breeze gusted behind him, wreaking havoc on his back-to-front combover. Long strands of hair flapped wildly in the breeze, peaking out behind his ears only to disappear and then reappear on the crown of his skull, creating the disturbing impression on camera that white tentacles were sprouting out of the back of his head.
This simply would not do.
The cameras stopped rolling and the film crew asked Berg to fix his hair. He gamely tamped down the stray hairs, but this would prove to be a fight with the summer wind that Berg wouldn’t win.
“I wish I would have brought some hairspray,” he said, wetting his fingers and plastering down the stray hairs before turning and asking a passing woman if she happened to have some hairspray he could borrow. She didn’t.
“I am doing this for the 1.5 million Americans that have died defending the Constitution,” he said righteously when the cameras started rolling again, only to stop yet again when the tentacles reappeared.
This time the camera crew asked Berg to turn slightly, hoping to angle the tentacles out of the shot.
“I believe Obama is setting himself up to be blackmailed by other countries, and that may explain the reason he has relaxed travel restrictions on Cuba—because they are blackmailing him,” said Berg before the hair-raising breeze returned and the tentacles were back.
Welcome to the bizarro nation, where everything we hold true is in fact a lie, magical thinking trumps scientific analysis, hysterical partisan operatics drown out the low hum of objective connect-the-facts narrative, and a recent survey indicates that nearly 60 percent of registered Republicans openly question whether or not the President of the United States is a natural born citizen. The one prominent Republican naysayer is, shockingly enough, Anne Coulter who publicly called people who question the president’s citizenship “cranks.” Truly, when Ann Coulter is the voice of reason, we are through the looking glass, people.
Almost exactly one year ago, just days before Barack Obama received his party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Berg made headlines when he filed a lawsuit alleging that the candidate was not a natural born citizen of the United States and therefore not qualified to hold the office of president. In the time since Berg first filed suit, people who openly question President Obama’s place of birth have been dubbed “Birthers” by the media—a play on the nickname the media afforded believers in the so-called 9/11 Truth movement, aka Truthers. Because Berg has the dubious distinction of filing the first legal salvo in The Battle For Obama’s Birth Certificate, he is in essence the Alpha Birther, a status he both relishes and cultivates.
When the right wing fringes of the Internet began buzzing with questions of Obama’s eligibility early last summer, the Obama campaign posted a lo-res JPEG of his Certification Of Live Birth (COLB), the short form proof of birth currently used by the state of Hawaii. The poor quality of the JPEG provided an opening for self-styled forensic experts—emboldened by their triumphant debunking of the documents used for Dan Rather’s 2004 ill-fated 60 Minutes broadcast questioning George W. Bush’s National Guard service—to question the authenticity of Obama’s COLB., a respected non-partisan online outfit that truth squads various political claims, was able to examine Obama’s COLB and vouched for its authenticity (and posted a hi-res version of it online), as have Hawaiian state officials.
Still, the Birthers insist, the COLB is short on details such as the presiding physician and the name of the hospital where Obama was born. Those records are sealed, as per the federal Health Information Privacy Act of 1999 and Hawaiian state law, and will remain that way unless Obama greenlights their release, which to date he has not.
The Birthers take this as proof Obama is hiding something, while most others just assume he has more pressing concerns: two wars, a cratering economy and a health care reform effort that has triggered a right wing jihad.
most others just assume he has more pressing concerns: two wars, a cratering economy and a health care reform effort that has triggered a right wing jihad.
Although Berg’s lawsuit was quickly dismissed, he doubled down and took it directly to the Supreme Court, demanding an injunction to stop the November 4 election, then to stop the counting of the votes, then to stop the swearing in of Obama. In the end, the Supreme Court refused to take the case and turned down all his requests for injunctions. Not to be dissuaded, Berg filed the case again with the Federal Court of Appeals. And just to hedge his bets, Berg has filed two more suits in federal court using separate legal arguments: the first is a Qui Tam or false claims suit, usually used for recovering payments for bogus Medicare claims, alleging that because Barack Obama is in fact an illegal alien, he could not legally serve as a U.S. Senator and therefore his salary and benefits—totaling nearly $1 million—should be returned to the U.S. Treasury. This case was dismissed in June, but, as ever, Berg was not to be discouraged and filed a motion for reconsideration.

The third lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gregory Hollister, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. Because Hollister is on lifetime recall, he could, theoretically, be pressed back into active duty and sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. Therefore, he has a right to know incontrovertibly whether or not Barack Obama is the legitimate commander in chief.

In March, the presiding judge threw the Hollister suit out, calling it “frivolous,” and threatened to financially sanction Berg’s co-counsel John Hemingway. No matter, says Berg, he has already filed an appeal. By his own estimation, all three cases will be tied up in the courts for years. The ultimate goal of all these lawsuits is to get just one judge to let the case proceed to the discovery stage which would grant Berg the power to subpoena Obama’s complete birth records, which, he is fairly certain, would prove his theory that the 44th president of the United States was born in Kenya, not Hawaii.

“I would like to see him removed from office, thrown in jail and then deported,” says Berg when asked what would happen if he were able to prove in a court of law that Obama is not a natural born citizen of the United States.

Berg may have been the first Birther to file a lawsuit against the president, but he’s no longer the only one.

If Berg is the Alpha Birther, Orly Taitz—an Orange County dentist-
turned-lawyer who you may have seen melting down on a cable news outlet near you, decked out in her trademark platinum blond hair, thick black eyeliner and lowcut blouses—is the Acid Queen of the Birthers. But given Taitz’s demonstrable propensity to sue, intimidate and threaten anyone that gets in her way—she has a habit of calling those who question her “brownshirts” and routinely calls for Obama and all other enemies to be “purged”—perhaps She Wolf of the Birthers is more accurate.

Berg certainly thinks so. For the last six months Berg and Taitz have been trading insults on their respective websites. Berg thinks the combination of Taitz’s stalker-like aggressiveness (she has been known to show up at public appearances of various Supreme Court Justices and loudly demand that they hear her case), and combative incoherence during TV interviews, along with her dubious credentials (she got her law degree online) and self-sabotaging recklessness (two weeks ago Taitz caused quite a stir when she released what she claimed was Obama’s Kenyan birth certificate, but was in fact a deliberately doctored document created by an Obama supporter to punk the Birthers) only serves to hurt the cause. Although Berg is hardly blameless in this regard. His initial lawsuit included a Canadian Obama birth certificate that Berg was forced to withdraw and disavow after the anti-birthers pointed out that it was signed by DUDLEY DORIGHT.

Lisa Liberi, Berg’s paralegal, personally incurred the wrath of Taitz over perceived snubs. Taitz publicly accused Liberi of having a long criminal record (which Liberi says is ludicrous) and called for her to be “purged” and went as far as publishing Liberi’s social security number and home address online, presumably for the benefit of any of her rabid followers who might make good on her threat. Berg was in court last week asking a judge for a restraining order against Taitz.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she was put up to this by the Obama people to make us all look foolish,” says Berg. Liberi wonders aloud if she is working for German or Russian intelligence, noting that Taitz’s blog gets flagged by most web browsers as an “attack site.”

“I’ve been told that it installs malware on your computer and sends all your files to Russia,” says Liberi.

What makes Berg notable, beyond the Alpha Birther status, is that he doesn’t fit the profile of the typical Obama hater. At 65, he’s a lifelong Democrat, having spent 31 years as a Democratic Committeeman in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, as well as serving as chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party back in the late ’80s. He’s a lifetime member of the NAACP. He served as a deputy attorney general during both of Milton Shapp’s two terms as governor back in the ’70s. He ran as the pro-choice candidate for governor against Bob Casey Sr. during the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1990, and although he lost the nomination Berg did net a respectable 23 percent of the vote against a sitting governor.

During the 2000 Presidential election’s contentious Florida recount, Berg flew down to the panhandle to serve as one of Al Gore’s watchdogs, eventually filing a petition demanding the disbarment of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra
Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for not recusing themselves from Bush v. Gore.

But some time after 9/11 Phil Berg went off the reservation. “I just felt that we were lied to and I still feel that way,” says Berg. “There is no way that 9/11 could’ve happened without government help.”

In October 2004, Berg filed Rodriguez v. Bush, a civil lawsuit in federal court that named 156
defendants—including the United States Of America, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Walker Bush, Richard Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld. The 237-page suit was an epic medley of jaw-dropping allegations, including: The Twin Towers were brought down via “controlled demolitions;” FEMA is creating an “American Gulag,” a network of concentration camps which it will run after martial law is declared; some or all of the 156 defendants named in the suit engaged in treason, murder, conspiracy, kidnapping, arson, trafficking in narcotics, blackmail, embezzlement, insider trading, securities fraud, identity and credit card theft, trafficking in humans, and the abduction and sale of women and children for sex.

In the end, the case went nowhere but it did get Berg a lot of media attention. Speaking engagement offers poured in from around the country. A wealthy sympathetic benefactor even bankrolled a press junket across Europe that lasted more than three weeks. All of which was great cloak-and-
dagger fun for Berg, who loved the attention and the VIP status the case conferred on him in the more paranoid sectors of the public.

“I remember we had a police escort the whole time we were in Kansas,” he says with pride. But Berg spent so much time on the 9/11 suit that he neglected his once-thriving multi-lawyer practice, which shriveled and eventually died, forcing Berg to declare bankruptcy in 2005. Berg pretty much lost everything, including ownership of the spacious, 9,000 square foot, 200-year-old farmhouse that once housed his lucrative practice. Today he works out of a cramped, one-room office on the ground floor of a Lafayette Hill apartment complex. The space is crammed with boxes full of files and lawbooks stacked floor to ceiling, leaving just a narrow pathway around the perimeter of his cluttered desk. And though he was once, by his friends’ estimates, a millionaire several times over, Berg remains unrepentant. “Even my family has questioned what I have done,” he says, adding that the bankruptcy proceedings are still ongoing some four years later. “But I feel I was put on this earth to fight the good fight.”

Besides, he’s too excited about his impending guest appearance on
paleo-conservative talk show host Michael Savage’s radio show. “He’s got 10 million weekly listeners!” Berg enthuses, certain this appearance will trigger a healthy uptick of contributions on his website Turns out filing multiple lawsuits questioning the eligibility of the president of the United States is expensive—it cost $6,000 just to make the requisite copies of his lawsuit for the Supreme Court’s consideration—and the pay stinks. He refuses to disclose exactly how much he has collected in web donations, but you get the distinct impression that they barely keep up with his costs, and that’s not even factoring in a year’s worth of 24/7 billable hours he and others have put into the case, pro bono.
Hello to everyone in the Savage Nation,” says Berg when the show’s producer calls and puts him on the air. Despite his long track record with the Democratic party, he is, not surprisingly, persona non-grata in blue state circles these days. The person who answered the phone at the Montgomery County Democratic Party headquarters—where Berg served as chairman back in the late ’80s—declined to comment for this story and refused even to give his name. “They pretty much all hate me,” says Berg with a shrug.
Fortunately, Berg has a whole new bunch of friends in the talk radio/Internet echo chamber of the far-right, which, again not surprisingly, applauds the courage it takes for a lifelong Dem to file eligibility lawsuits against a sitting Democratic president, and takes great pleasure in parading Berg around like some special prize in a partisan hostage swap.
“I think that by pushing on, terrible things are going to happen,” Savage warns gravely. “We are dealing with the most dangerous people on earth. Wait until the Smear Machine fires up after we get off the air. Look out, because the loony left is coming after you.”
Berg shrugs off the warning. “People ask me if I fear for my safety, but if anything happened to me it would be front page news,” he responds. “I believe we can get him to resign by the end of the year, even if the legal process takes longer.”
Although all three of Berg’s cases have been thrown out of court, and the Birther controversy has been dismissed as a groundless partisan witchhunt by every major media outlet and debunked by every credible non-partisan truth squad—, Politifact, Snopes and McClatchy News have all looked into the Birther controversy and determined it to be nothing more than a far-right fantasia—don’t expect Berg or the Birther movement to go away any time soon. Not even if Obama were to release his complete birth records, as the Birthers and, as of late, even some on the left, including The Atlantic ’s Andrew Sullivan, have demanded.

“Paranoia is the most political of mental illnesses in that it requires enemies,” says Dr. Jerrold Post, Director of the Political Psychology Program at George Washington University and the author of 11 books, including Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred .
The paranoid’s position is that it is better to be the center of a plot against you than to be totally ignored and insignificant. A sense of powerlessness leads to compensatory delusions of grandiosity which sends people into a blind pursuit of confirming data. It is very hard to get people out of paranoid belief system because it is very comforting to them,” says Post.
n other words, the long national nightmare that keeps Birthers up at night—Googling furiously through the shadow of a doubt, fingers crossed, literally hoping against hope—has only just begun. And the rest of us should probably get some sleep. ■

Jonathan Valania is the editor-in-chief of

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