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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Feb. 16-Feb. 22

This week, readers sent us a personal recollection of Obama’s Columbia years, and comments on climate change consensus and veep-to-veep combat.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

A Columbia Classmate Remembers Obama

Thank you for refuting the crazed claims that Barack was not at Columbia ["Obama at Columbia University," Feb. 16].

I knew him while he was there. He was remarkable then, but not in the way that most people think of as "remarkable." He was not trying to be noticed — he was studious and thoughtful. I said of him: "Whatever Barack decides to do for a career, he will be the best at it." When he left our group he was often on his way to a library.

We played soccer on the lawn in front of Butler — I was usually the only woman playing and he treated me as equally as the others: if I was open, he sent the ball into the space in front of me, if I wasn’t open — he never made the silly passes that some men did to try to act like they were being egalitarian. The "into the space" passing was consistent — he was a superior strategist — and many of us had been college or semi-pro players. We always wanted him on our team.

After games we had discussions — and we found that the same thoughtfulness of play was evident in his thinking about policy and social issues. He was a serious guy, but always had a ready laugh or twinkle in his eye.

I was doing my Ph.D. — I assumed he was a fellow grad student. When I saw him on television at the Democratic Convention I was only surprised that I knew him, but entirely not surprised at his achievement.

The people who are making these claims, Fox et al, do not understand Columbia. I recently told a father of a current student that he should visit the campus on a warm Friday night to see the school environment that is uniquely CU — it is the same as when I studied there: hundreds of us sitting on the library steps doing school work on laptops.

Cathie M. Currie, Ph.D.
New York, N.Y.


Climate Consensus Clarifications

I regularly go to your web site for help in assessing claims that are made in the political arena, and I recommend your site to others. I just read your article discussing some of the errors in the climate change report ["Climate Science Slipping?," Feb. 18] and am concerned that it does not provide enough context for "readers to make up their own minds." The article corrects several errors in the report, which is certainly important, but does not give any specific examples of valid claims in the report nor does it comment on the proportion of valid to invalid claims. Since I read yesterday that the governor of Texas is suing the EPA because he feels climate change research is invalid, I think that it is important to provide more background for your readers who may not be aware that the vast majority of scientists feel that climate change is a real issue.

Margaret Elman
San Diego, Calif.

You said: "We’ll leave it to our readers to judge how much these mistakes undermine the credibility of the IPCC, or of climate scientists generally."

Unfortunately, the bulk of your readers, and people generally, are not in a position to evaluate the science. So their ability to judge whether or not "these mistakes undermine the credibility of the IPCC, or of climate scientists generally" is spectacularly limited.

Judging how, and to what extent, the mistakes affect the reliability of the remainder of the work (which in a perfect world would be the only question at issue) requires a thorough grounding in a broad range of disciplines, any one of which is deep enough to require years of study to master. This is precisely why the IPCC was created — to bring together surveys of these enormously complicated topics in a (semi-)digestible form for policy makers.

The fact that the policies which are suggested by the scientific and political realities will cause a great transfer of wealth are not lost on those in possession of said wealth, and represent a great motivation to continue the status quo, and to ignore the signs that the status quo cannot long sustain itself.

You do your readers a disservice by pretending otherwise.

Derrell Durrett
Boulder, Colo.

In your Dec. 10th article "Climategate" you concluded that the stolen emails don’t change the scientific consensus on global warming. Unfortunately in you Feb. 18th article "Climate Science Slipping?" you fail to make a similar conclusion, leaving it up to the reader to determine whether a few IPCC mistakes undermine the credibility of climate scientists generally. It is cowardly to allow the enemies of the truth on global warming to frame the argument around a few unfortunate mistakes without again pointing out the truth: that the scientific evidence supports the conclusion that global climate change caused by human activities is happening now and threatens our way of life.

Edward Lynch
Winter Garden, Fla.

FactCheck.org responds: We did not mean to suggest that the weight of scientific opinion has changed. So far as we know, it hasn’t. In fact, our article made clear that the IPCC still stands by its main conclusions, despite its admitted errors. Whether these errors are trivial or weighty is a matter of opinion. We’ve always seen our mission as to lay out the pertinent facts, and leave the opinions to others.


An "Isolated" Incident

In your report "Dick Cheney vs. Joe Biden" [Feb. 17] you examine Cheney’s claim that Obama dismissed the underwear bomber as an "isolated extremist." You say "we can’t say what Obama meant when he said ‘isolated.’ " There are, however, strong indications that what Obama meant was not what Cheney claimed.

Dick Cheney’s argument clearly is based on an assumption that an "isolated extremist" is one who has no connection with other extremists. In his view, an isolated extremist is not somebody "who’d been trained by al-Qaida, who’d been part of a larger conspiracy."

On the other hand Barack Obama was talking about people on an airplane fighting the extremist. In this sense, any single attacker on a plane is isolated — confined to the plane and unable to call upon distant conspirators for help. The defense of the plane is a many-against-few situation. No matter what training the extremists had or what conspiracy may have preceded the attack, while on the plane, they are isolated.

Obama referred to plane passengers standing up to terrorists in "[t]his incident, like several that have preceded it." In what several instances in the past did passengers do that? There was the 9/11 plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. There was the shoe bomber. In both previous instances, the attackers were not isolated in the sense that Cheney describes. It has been well know for a long time that these attackers were associated with al Qaeda. It is ridiculous, then, to suggest that Obama meant "isolated" in the sense of having no connection to other terrorists.

It is clear, then that Cheney’s attack is false. Whatever Obama meant, it could not have been what Cheney claimed.

Richard M. Mathews
Porter Ranch, Calif.


Digging for Rumors?

I used to be a fan of your website. However, I have noticed since President Obama took office over a year ago your website seems to be focusing on "fact checking" rumors (in most cases ones most people are not even aware of) against the current administration. It seems to me a website such as yours was initially set up as a "watch dog" against current policies from any administration that could be irresponsible or reckless. In other words, there is plenty of spin coming from this administration & congress to keep yourselves busy.

I realize you might take offense to this criticism. In truth, I am not quantifying my criticism with specific numbers of the types of fact check items but I think if you did a deep drive into your archives, you might see I am correct. Just some perspective from a libertarian.

Matt Solodow
Keller, Texas

FactCheck.org responds: We only publish Ask FactChecks about e-mail rumors if we have received multiple questions about them (usually dozens or scores). If you are not aware of most of them, we commend your friends for their e-mail forwarding restraint.


Obama’s Citizenship: A Moot Point?

Looking at some of your previous posts about the ongoing controversy on whether or not President Obama is a natural-born American citizen, it suddenly struck me –- no one is denying that his mother is/was an American citizen. Isn’t it true that a child of an American citizen is automatically an American citizen? So even if he was born outside of the U.S. – which I don’t believe, since his mother was a citizen, he is a citizen also.

Kathy Pennington
Diggins, Mo.

FactCheck.org responds: Actually, the citizenship laws are a little more complicated than one might think. For someone born in 1961 outside the U.S. to one American citizen and one foreign national parent, there are additional rules governing how long the U.S. citizen parent must have lived in the U.S. (including 5 years after the age of 14 — an impossibility for Obama’s mother, who was 18 at the time of his birth) and how long the child must then live in the U.S. after birth. Of course, as you say, this is irrelevant for the president, who was born in Hawaii.



I am very pleased to have you as a resource. You enable me to expose truths to others without appearing to be a pompous know-it-all thanks to your non-partisan reputation and your citation of sources. Please continue to guard against any hint of partisanship.

Clifford Wiesner
Concord, Calif.