Belmont Club

The Birth Certificate

The Obama birth certificate is now in a secure place where it is viewable by only a single person: Alvin Onaka.

More than a month before Donald Trump began his media blitzkrieg over the issue of President Obama’s birth certificate, the document was quietly moved to a more secure location within a dual combination-key lock safe inside the state’s health department vault.

The certificate was moved there by Alvin Onaka, Hawaii’s State Registrar, in response to what had already become an increasing number of media requests by and others, according to sources.

“It is my understanding that the book has been placed in a smaller locked container in the same secure safe,” Chiyome Fukino, who served as Hawaii’s health department director for eight years until last December, told “The safe is still in the department.”

Fukino and others claim the additional security measure reduces the number of people with access to the much-sought-after document from a handful to just one: Onaka himself.

According to a Hawaii Department of Health website, Onaka is a distinguished archivist.

Onaka is a graduate of Iolani School and received a doctoral degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst as a Population Council Fellow in Demography. He has done postgraduate work in Epidemiology at the University of Minnesota. Nationally, he is an adviser to the National Death Index and chaired the U.S. Standard Death Certificate Revision Committee for the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Locally, he has been on the affiliate graduate faculty of the Population Studies Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa since 1982. He also serves on the Health Science Advisory Committee of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Cancer Society.

Will this end the controversy over Obama’s birthplace? Probably not. The birth certificate debate is going to become like a wrangle over the authenticity of a religious relic or an eternal mystery object, like the Grassy Knoll or Area 51. Most documents are accepted based on trust, not their physical characteristics. We are offered a dollar and take it unless some previous predisposition makes us examine in with special light, do serial number checks or look for security threads. For the most part trust suffices.

Since the birth certificate is unlikely to be subjected to tests for age of paper, ink intensities or compared to a reconstruction of all the serial numbers, all the skeptics are ever going to have is a glimpse of Obama’s dollar. That is all most of us have: an assertion of authenticity by normally trusted authorities. Obama’s supporters will argue that any demand for further proof  — tests that we ourselves would not routinely be subjected to — is tantamount to treating him like a felon. It springs from a pre-existing bias. They would be right. The reason people have been looking for the birth certificate isn’t because they mistrust official birth certificates in general. It is because they mistrust Obama.

At least part of this mistrust springs from the reticience of Obama himself. He has cloaked his school records and civil documents in confidentiality and it was normal to wonder at the contents of a locked box. It is impossible to understand the birth certificate drama without realizing that was never about the birth certificate document. It was about building or destroying trust in Obama.

Obama could use it to build up trust in himself via the False Pricker gambit, after the medieval occupation of those whose job it was to find the Devil’s Mark — an area of skin that wouldn’t bleed when pricked. Trump was the Pricker. Obama could face him confidently because he was in control of the physical evidence. He was the casino dealer with a card face down on the table; and Trump was the gambler daring him to turn it over. But it was his card. He had the advantage of knowing what the card was, or at all events, what he could put there. By getting a Pricker to dare him and showing it to the lady to his right to announce to the world, he was now able to claim that all subsequent challenges to his honesty — requests for school records, legal documents, etc. — were equally invalid. The good news for President Obama is that he looks to have won this hand. The bad news is that he has won it over Donald Trump.

Trump is expendable, and quite logically provided the service of being the Forlorn Hope, that sacrificial body of men who, in the Napoleonic Era, led the first suicidal charge against enemy walls.  Obama has trumped the least dangerous gambler at the table — Donald Trump. But the rest are unlikely to be dismayed.  For one thing, critics will note that Obama didn’t pass around the card. He merely passed around a photocopy of its contents. Why shouldn’t this be enough? Because the restriction of the source data to Onaka or a small group of people opens him to the “Nazi on the Moon Problem.”  That is when you claim a thing to be true based on evidence that you alone or your close associates can actually see.

The normal way of disproving a negative is to show the absence of collateral.  Suppose one asserted that Nazis were planning to retake the world from somewhere. You could disprove that by collateral. “If substantial groups of Nazis were plotting to retake the earth, then we would detect their extensive preparations. Since there are no detectable preparations, then these groups of Nazis probably don’t exist.” But that problem is obviated by asserting the Nazis are on the dark side of the moon. Then we couldn’t disprove the negative since the events take place in a place we can’t see (ignoring the fact that we have imaged the dark side already). Therefore the man who asserts he has proof of NaziS based on a classified photo (whose original imagery you are not allowed to directly examine) would be difficult to disprove because the evidence pro or contra is restricted.

But the underlying problem is the outrageousness of the proposition of a Nazi plot. Some people find it incomprehensible that a politician they loathe as much as Barack Obama could be born in the USA.  Therefore they are convinced that he is a fake. Obama’s ultimate exit from this problem is not more documentary evidence but to convince voters by his demeanor that he “acts American.” Once that is established, the issue will vanish. For Obama’s foes the problem is the reverse. As long as they keep up the level of distrust in Obama, documents don’t really matter either.

That circumstance means that the birth certificate issue won’t die completely, any more than theories about the JFK assassination have ended. They will not die because most documentary proof is really based on trust. And that was the problem to start with. Nevertheless, Obama has temporarily leveraged the BC issue to beef up trust in himself, which is what it is all about. Major politicians will avoid the birth certificate issue, even indirectly from now on.

But the Forlorn Hope has done his job. Trump has astutely observed that he has nothing left to lose. Donald is therefore going to say: “Since you’ve released the birth certificate, why not the school records?” The Donald’s biggest advantage is that unlike most of us, he has no fear embarrassment. Like a freak, Trump makes money from exhibitionism. He doesn’t mind being laughed at. That just boosts the ratings. Like Gaddafi, he has no obligation to give up just because he is expected to. So he may keep plugging away and the president may find that Trump will eventually recover and create another demand, to which the president will be forced to respond by releasing more and more and more data.

Hard-core skeptics of Obama should take comfort in the fact that if the birth certificate is a cover-up, every cover-up leaves tracks often more obvious than the original hidden fact. The thing about the  fraud is that all the data must remain internally consistent. The more is Out There, the more that inconsistencies may show up. Some people trust their instincts. When Groucho Marx met Lord Buckley on “You Bet Your Life,” the smooth manner of his guest prompted  him to ask:

Groucho: “Have you ever been in vaudeville?”

Lord Buckley: “Yes sir, I toured vaudeville for quite some time, sir.”

Groucho: “Well what kind of a racket are you in now?”

Lord Buckley: “At the moment sir, I’m working for a magazine called Dig. … I’m a professor of Hipology. I’ve been translating the works of the old masters such as Poe, Shakespeare, Lincoln … into the very instant of today, and on the fence of now and on the path of the avance.”

Groucho: “That’s wonderful … You look like a very wealthy and successful confidence man.”

Lord Buckley: “Thank you.”

The Donald has been following his instincts. Will he follow them to the end?

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