Thursday, October 30th, 2014

The 2010 e-mail Hall of Shame, election edition

They're at it again: People who write, "Forward this to everyone you know!"
They're at it again: People who write, "Forward this to everyone you know!"

Those wacky chain e-mails -- they just don't die. Even when we debunk something, we still get e-mails months from readers asking again, "Can this possibly be true?"

Well, usually, no, it's not true. We find the vast majority of chain e-mails to be Pants-on-Fire wrong.  But that doesn't stop people from forwarding them around the Internet. Some of them live on for years.

With Election Day upon us, we thought it would be a good time to again answer the questions we're still getting from readers about chain e-mails. Here, we're summarizing the most persistent chain e-mails we've been asked about recently, even if we did the fact-checking some time ago. Feel free to forward this to everyone in your address book.

Under the new health care law, "all real estate transactions will be subject to a 3.8% Sales Tax."

This chain e-mail wrongly claims that the 2010 health care law will institute a new 3.8 percent tax on home sales. Guess what? It doesn't. We suspect the root of this e-mail is that the health care law does institute a new tax on the investment income of the wealthy - a 3.8 percent tax increase. But that's far short of of a tax on all real estate transactions. We rated this chain e-mail Pants on Fire.

Democrats and President Barack Obama "will sneak in a 1 percent tax on all banking transactions."

PolitiFact Oregon looked into this e-mail when it named Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., as supporting a plan to tax all banking transactions. The e-mail says transactions like depositing a Social Security check or cashing a paycheck will be included. It further claims legislation is in the works that has the blessing of President Barack Obama's "finance team." But scratch the surface and the e-mail's claims fall apart: There is bill -- put forward by one House member to wipe out the national debt -- but it has no support from the Obama administration, and DeFazio has nothing to do with it. The bill seems to be dying a quiet death in committee. We rated this claim Pants on Fire.

Starting in 2011, "you will be required to pay taxes" on "the value of whatever health insurance you are given by the company."

This chain e-mail says that the value of your employer-sponsored health insurance will be printed on your W-2 and that it will be taxed as income. The printed-on-your-W-2 part is true, the tax part is not. In a weird twist, the e-mail directed us to a Kiplinger newsletter that actually undermined the e-mail's claim. The Kiplinger letter states that the bill includes "a requirement that businesses include the value of the health care benefits they provide to employees on W-2s, beginning with W-2s for 2011. The amount reported is not considered taxable income." We rated this e-mail Pants on Fire.

The Democrats' health care bills would provide "free health care for illegal immigrants."

Actually, nobody gets free health care from the new health care law. In fact, a major part of the health care bill -- tax credits to help people with modest incomes buy their own insurance -- specifically excludes illegal immigrants. This chain e-mail spins its tale out of claiming that the verification procedures aren't tough enough for enforcing that exclusion. That point is debatable, but it's not the same thing as free health care. We rated this one False.

"The Senate voted this week to allow illegal aliens access to Social Security benefits."

Funny how this e-mail claims that the Senate voted "this week" to give illegal aliens Social Security, because we seem to get copies of it week after week after ... We were able to track this e-mail all the way back to 2006. Needless to say, the Senate has not voted to give Social Security to illegal immigrants. And unless our senators are trapped in a time warp, debating and passing the same bill every week, such a claim is impossible. It's Pants on Fire for this e-mail.

Presidents Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower collectively ordered the deportation of at least 15 million illegal immigrants.

A chain e-mail purports to give a mini-history lesson showing that Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower ordered the deportation of at least 15 million illegal immigrants. "Now ... if they could deport the illegal's [sic] back then -- they could sure do it today," the e-mail concludes. In its details, the e-mail is fairly accurate about the policy under Hoover; flat wrong about the policy under Truman, and dramatically exaggerated when talking about Eisenhower. Overall, the 15-million number is hugely inflated. The official total from 1930 to 1960 was 477,000 formal removals and 5.4 million who left voluntarily. We rated this e-mail False.

Once the U.S. government signs a U.N. treaty on conventional arms, "all U.S. citizens will be subject to those gun laws created by foreign governments."

This chain e-mail warns that the Obama administration is pursuing a United Nations treaty that would be "the first major step in a plan to ban all firearms in the United States." We investigated and found the treaty hasn't passed. But if it does, Supreme Court justices will have to use the treaty as a foundation for overturning longstanding interpretations of the Second Amendment -- not very likely. And it is simply not true that, in the e-mail's words, "once the U.S. Government signs these international treaties, all U.S. citizens will be subject to those gun laws created by foreign governments." So we ruled the e-mail False.

You must list all your guns on your 2010 tax return.

Another chain e-mail says you will now have to list all your guns on your tax return. Such a bill was introduced in Congress ten years ago, but it died in committee. We found no evidence that a similar proposal is under consideration today. And the e-mail wrongly stated that Obama's staff can introduce bills in Congress. Actually, only members of Congress can. We rated this e-mail Pants on Fire.

The Obama White House is renaming Christmas trees "holiday trees."

This one crossed our e-mail in-box last year. The claim was repeated in blogs and got picked up by Colorado's Republican Senate contender Ken Buck in his campaign. And we expect to see it again soon. The e-mail claims that the Obama White House has renamed Christmas trees "holiday trees" in the service of political correctness. But it's not so. The trees have been, and remain, Christmas trees. "The trees in the White House will be called Christmas trees, and the tree on the Ellipse will be called the National Christmas Tree. There will be no name changes," a White House spokesperson told us last year. We gave this e-mail a lump of coal in its stocking and a Pants on Fire.

"The ACLU has filed a suit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed."

An e-mail claims that the American Civil  Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to have all military cross-shaped headstones removed. The problem is that not only did the ACLU deny it, but so did the presumed defendant, the National Cemetery Administration of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. We even tracked down the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission maintains overseas cemeteries, mostly in Europe, that are the final resting place for some of the American troops killed during World War I and World War II and feature cross-shaped headstones. There's no lawsuit from the ACLU or anyone else, the staff told us. We rated the chain e-mail's claim Pants on Fire.

Obama said troops "whine about bearing the costs" of going to war.

Sometimes, chain e-mails pick up a piece of satirical commentary and attempt to pass it off as the real thing. That's what happened with this chain e-mail, which claims that Obama said, "Look, it's an all volunteer force. Nobody made these guys go to war. They had to have known and accepted the risks. Now they whine about bearing the costs of their choice? It doesn't compute." Obama never said anything like that. Instead, humorist John Semmens dreamed it up as part of his critique of a cost-cutting plan for the Veterans Administration. The plan was scuttled after protests from veterans' groups. We rated the e-mail Pants on Fire.

"The Obama Administration wants to have soldiers and officers pledge a loyalty oath directly to the office of the President, and no longer to the Constitution."

This e-mail also takes clearly labeled satire and claims it's real news. In this case, a satirical blog post by graduate student Matthew Avitabile claimed that "The president feels that the military has been too indoctrinated by the old harbingers of hate: nationalism, racism, and classism. By removing an oath to the American society, the soldiers are less likely to commit atrocities like those at Abu Ghraib." For trying to pass off fiction as fact, this e-mail got the Pants on Fire rating.

Obama used $20 million in federal money "to emmigrate (sic) Hamas Refugees to the USA."

This e-mail misconstrues federal money for humanitarian aid overseas as money for an immigration program in the U.S. for "Hamas refugees." Because this e-mail got so much attention, the U.S. Department of State had to clarify that $20.3 million drawn from the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund (ERMA) "will be used to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza. None of these funds will be used to resettle Gazans in the United States." And part of that money went to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency to supplement $85 million the U.S. contributed in December 2008 under President George W. Bush. We rated this e-mail Pants on Fire.


President Obama is not a citizen: He admitted it, his college transcript proves it, and Justice Antonin Scalia agreed to hear the case.

Finally, we still get e-mails that try to prove President Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and therefore not eligible to be President of the United States. One e-mail purports to have video of Obama admitting he's not a citizen. Actually, it's video that's been clumsily edited to make Obama appear to be saying something he's not. Another e-mail claims that a transcript released by Occidental College, which Obama attended, proves he was an Indonesian citizen. Actually, because of student privacy laws, Occidental College has never released Obama's transcript. The e-mail also says that Obama was awarded a fellowship for foreign students from the Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program while at Occidental. But Fulbright scholarships are almost never given to undergraduates, which Obama was when he attended the school. Finally, chain e-mails claim that Justice Antonin Scalia has agreed to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear a case challenging Obama's citizenship. Actually, an individual justice cannot speak for the court when agreeing to hear a case. The case was, in fact, denied a hearing before the court, formally known as a "writ of certiorari.' So these e-mails are all wrong, wrong, wrong, and we rated all three Pants on Fire.