Friday, October 01, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies, and Republican Election Strategies

The other day at work I noticed a small stack of photocopied items sitting on a counter where I needed to pick something up.  Being a compulsive reader I began to scan the message to see what it was about.  It started out:

Can this be really true???>

I checked this out and it is true. There will be a 1% transaction tax on any financial transaction with the exception of purchase and sale of stock.
If we make a $500 ATM withdrawal, we will pay $5 tax, and $300 on a $30,000 car purchase.
"You can take one, if you want," the person at the counter said. "I don't know who left them there."

"I'll check it out on Snopes and see if it's true," I said.

Now, one of my pet peeves with forwarded junk like this is when the message says something like "I checked this out on snopes" and then when you ask the person who forwarded it to you if they had actually checked it out on Snopes they'll reply, "Oh, no, I just copied that text from the e-mail I got."  In this case the message is in an anonymous photocopy that looks like it was edited from an e-mail.  Very old-school, really, from back in the days when photocopies and faxes were the preferred methods of spreading disinformation.

The message continued:
I checked this out on Truth or Fiction and it is true.  The bill is HR-4646 introduced by US Rep Peter deFazio D-Oregon and US Senator Tom Harkin D-Iowa.  It is now in committee and will probably not be brought out until after the Nov. elections.  Suggest that you pass this along and also to  your state senator and representative and US Congressman and Senators.
OK, at this point a red flag should pop up - two red flags, really.  First, I've never heard of "Truth or Fiction", so having someone anonymously claim "I checked this out on Truth or Fiction" doesn't carry any weight with me, though the site itself is something that can be investigated.  Secondly, why would "US Senator Tom Harkin D-Iowa" be introducing House Resolution 4646?  As Homer Simpson once said, "You call this a bicameral Congress?"

The message goes on:
One percent transaction tax is proposed President Obama's finance team

is recommending a transaction tax.  His plan is to sneak it in after the November election to keep it under the radar.  This is a 1% tax on all transactions at any financial institution.
Waitaminute.  Now this tax is being proposed by President Obama's finance team?  Are "US Rep Peter deFazio D-Oregon and US Senator Tom Harkin D-Iowa" on this team?    And what happened to the exemption for purchase and sale of stock?  Why does this seem to be a rephrasing of the first two paragraphs?  And what's with the wonky paragraph breaks and sentence structure, like this was sloppily edited together?
Banks, Credit Unions, etc.  Any deposit you make, or move around within your account, i.e. transfer to, will have a 1% tax charged.  If your pay check or your social Security or whatever is direct deposit, 1% tax charged.  If you hand carry a check in to deposit, 1% tax charged.  If you take cash in to deposit, 1% tax charged.  This is from the man who promised that if you make under $250,000 per year, you you will not see one penny of new tax.  Keep your eyes and ears open, and you will be amazed at what you learn.
Now this is President Obama personally proposing this bill?  This piece of legislation is very dynamic:  it has morphed several times in one photocopied page. 

Some will say aw it's just 1%...remember once the tax is there they can raise it at will.
So this goes from "informational" to "paranoid anti-Obama anti-government screed."  But is any of it true?

Well, some.  But not much.

I googled "HR 4646 snopes" to see what I got.  And what I got was this:

Unfortunately, makes its text uncopyable, so you'll have to actually click through to see what they have to say.  (And you should.)  But to summarize:

1.  There is a bill called HR-4646.
2.  It does function as described in the third and fourth sentences of the photocopy.  (From "There will be a 1% transaction tax..." to "...$300 on a $30,000 car purchase.")
3.  It is now in committee and will probably not be brought out until after the November elections.

Well, pretty much everything else.

This bill was not introduced by "US Rep Peter deFazio D-Oregon" and, in a weird show of cross-chamber cooperation,  "US Senator Tom Harkin D-Iowa."  It was in fact proposed by US Rep Chaka Fattah, D-Pennsylvania, representing Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district.  According to Wikipedia, "The district includes North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and a small part of Northeast Philadelphia and Cheltenham Township in Montgomery County." deFazio and Harkin were not even co-sponsors - which in the case of Harkin would have been technically impossible, anyway.  The bill has no co-sponsors.

This bill didn't come from President Obama's finance team, nor is it "from the man who promised that if you make under $250,000 per year, you you will not see one penny of new tax."  It was from a guy named Chaka Fattah.  What was he thinking?  I don't know.  Ask him.

The bill isn't being held up in committee until "after the November election to keep it under the radar."  It was immediately sent to committee to die.

Now, misinformation gets spread all the time.  Things get mixed up, Facts get confused.  That's not the case here.  It is very, very hard to make an honest mistake with such specificity.  What we're seeing here is a deliberate series of lies designed to slander Peter deFazio, Tom Harkin, and Barack Obama and his finance team.  Add to the lies an appeal to paranoia and fear and you have...well, a typical Republican election strategy.

And that's what this is all about.  Midterm elections are in a few weeks.  Control of the Senate and the House of Representatives are at stake.  Democrats control both the Senate and the House by slim margins.  Enough voters outraged over the information, the lies contained in this e-mail may give Republicans the edge they need to tip the balance in their favor.   How many people who read this will bother to do any research at all on this?  And how many people will assume that this is true because random forwarded e-mails and photocopies left lying around are always true?

By the way, the site "Truth or Fiction" actually does exist.  I didn't review the whole site, but what I saw did not fill me with confidence.

Here's what they had to say:

Summary of the eRumor:

This is a forwarded email that says President Obama's finance team is planning to impose a 1% tax on all transactions conducted in financial institutions and that they plan to sneak it in after the November election.

The Truth:

There is a Congressional House Bill, HR-4646, the Debt Free America Act that was introduced in Congress on February 23, 2010, but we have not found any evidence that the bill is being snuck in by any finance team members as the eRumor alleges.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Congressional Representative Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania and says that it is to "establish a fee on transactions which would eliminate the national debt and replace the income tax on individuals." Fattah has a description of the bill along with a press release posted on his Congressional web site. Fattah is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, not President Obama's finance team.

The Thomas Library is the official site where legislative bills are posted and progress can be monitored. The bill can easily be found and currently the Thomas Library site shows that the Debt Free America Act is in the House committee and then will be referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, the Committees on the Budget, Rules, and Appropriations. Click here for the Thomas Library for text and status of the bill.

This is a single sponsor bill and speculators doubt its passage.

The Debt Free America Act HR-4646 can also be found at the Govtrack US site, a civic project that tracks legislative activity. Click for information on HR-4646.

OK.  That matches what had to say.  The bill has nothing to do with President Obama, nothing to do with his finance team, and is not expected to pass.  So why do I have a sense of unease when I view this site?  Well, the bottom line - or, more accurately, the top line:

A Proposed 1% Tax On All Financial Institution Transaction-Mostly Truth!

How is it possible to review this rumor, discredit its most sensational bits, and then conclude that it is "Mostly Truth?"  I don't think the "Truth or Fiction" site is necessarily that clear-headed when it comes to drawing conclusions.

Just remember the next-to-last thing this anonymous, lie-filled photocopy had to say:
Keep your eyes and ears open, and you will be amazed at what you learn.
Amen to that.  And don't believe every random e-mail or anonymous photocopy you come across.

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