Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Some of you may not have noticed, but there's been a bit of a controversy lately over certain letters, originally reported on by CBS, which say that a certain Lieut. George W. Bush of the Texas Air National Guard was taken off flight status for not taking a required physical, and defied orders to do so. So far, my favorite skeptical analysis is this one which gleefully goes on for paragraphs about how the silly forger referred to a nonexistant Air Force Manual, only to concede in an "update" that it did exist after all. For a real good time, observe that some of the "fundamental style and format errors" he complains of, in the typing of ranks and so forth, also appear in the order grounding 1st Lt. Bush, released by the White House months ago, whose authenticity is beyond any reasonable question.

The point of this, of course, is that if the documents are fake, then Dubya's supporters don't have to deal with their contents, which are damning. But most of what's in them is on the public record, which is damning anyway. There is absolutely no controversy that he missed a flight physical. The order grounding him says so in plain English, and he hasn't denied it. Instead, his spokesman says:

the bottom line is President Bush did not take that physical.... And the reason why is as I stated, that it was clear, as it says in your own documents, that President Bush talked to the commanders about the fact that he'd be transferring to a unit that no longer, or did not fly the plane that he was trained -- he was trained and a fighter pilot on F-102, which he flew for four years. And in this case, he was going to a unit in Alabama that didn't fly that plane.

So, after the Air Force spent hundreds of thousands of 1972 dollars training Dubya to be a fighter pilot -- a billet for which there were many, many applicants more qualified than Bush, who would have been thrilled to serve the whole term -- he just chose to stop flying, move to Alabama, and drop all the associated obligations. The National Guard may at the time have been a softer branch of the service than, say, the Marines -- but puh-leeze.

Oh, by the way, the only formal transfer request Dubya had made at the time he missed the physical, to of all things an Alabama postal unit, had been flatly denied. And then there's the matter of his drill attendance record, even after he was mysteriously allowed to let his flight status lapse, which was poor enough that by any applicable standard, he should have been drummed out of the Guard and drafted; this U.S. News report is as good a summary of that matter as any.

For more on Dubya's attitude toward his service commitments, here's the man himself:

I was not prepared to shoot my eardrum out with a shotgun in order to get a deferment. Nor was I willing to go to Canada. So I chose to better myself by learning how to fly airplanes.

He's talking here about ways (including self-mutilation!) to avoid combat in a war which he openly advocated at the time.

So, we already know that Dubya blew off a required flight physical. We already knew that his attitude toward the obligations of the service was... well, casual at best. And we already knew that he sought to avoid the sacrifices of a war which he was happy to urge on the rest of the country. So, ummm... what was it that this memo was supposedly forged to prove again?

What really matters here is whether Dubya did his best to fulfil his duty as a member of the service, or whether he tried to blow it off -- and the public record already speaks well enough on that point that this purportedly forged document adds little or nothing. Unfortunately, the guides of our national discourse in the responsible press don't seem to want to talk about what really matters here. It's more fun to talk about typewriters. So we get stories like this, from Kit Seelye and Jim Rutenberg, which breathlessly report every rumor and bit of noise that the reporters can get, like so:

Farrell C. Shiver, a forensic document examiner based in Georgia who said he was a Republican, said the superscript "th's" throughout the memos were "something you would expect to find being done with a computer" and were "not consistent with something that you would expect to find from someone typing a document; they used typewriters in that particular time." ...

CBS News executives also produced a document released earlier by the White House about Mr. Bush's service that was clearly from a typewriter and had a superscript "th" in it.

At which point, the only possible response is, "Say what?" The released documents establish beyond any doubt that typewriters of the time could do a superscript "th", and the soi-disant expert "forensic document examiner" who claims otherwise doesn't know what he's talking about. So why the frink is he being quoted as an expert in the New York Times?

In fact, the whole purported flood of forgery evidence boils down to political partisans blowing smoke. [Not anymore: the typography complaints are still nonsense, but someone in Dallas finally did some decent reporting, and at least raised legitimate doubts about the style of the memos -- though not about the contents. See update below.] Shoveling through the whole sordid mess is a crap job which I don't have to do, because the crowd at the Daily Kos has already done it. But here are the two things you need to know. [Well, about the typography, at any rate.] IBM had at least three different models (Executive C, Executive D, Selectric Composer) which could duplicate all the typographic features of these memos. Also the letters in the memos are on an uneven baseline -- different 'e's on the same line are at slightly different vertical positions, which is normal in typewritten documents, but very hard to duplicate in, say, Microsoft Word. (And as to the apparently credentialed commenters who are quibbling over precise letterforms -- ummm, these are sixth-generation photocopies, folks. Those details are smudged).

Unfortunately, the smoke gets in peoples' eyes. A few days ago, Josh Marshall posted that:

Over the last twenty-four hours I've received literally hundreds of emails that point out that each specific criticism, on its own terms, doesn't quite hold up. Thus, for instance, there definitely were proportional type machines widely available at the time. There were ones that did superscripts. There were ones with Times Roman font, or something very near to it.

My reaction would be that that argues in favor of the documents -- there were at least dozens, if not hundreds, of right-wing bloggers scouring the documents for typographical anachronisms; if there were any, you'd think they'd have found one. And apparently, I'm not the only person who thinks like that. But Josh Marshall -- investigative reporter, and professionally trained historian -- doesn't: "taken all together, the criticisms raise big doubts in my mind about [the memos'] authenticity." So, a lot of nonsense is more persuausive than a little. Again, say what?

More: Matthew Yglesias links to a new Washington Post article and says, "now it looks like they're forgeries". But looking at the article itself, I see mostly stylistic nitpicking even sillier than Seelye and Rutenberg, particularly in light of the failed "stylistic analysis" I quoted up top, which would have flunked a clearly genuine memo as well. The Post does raise two supposed factual issues. One of the memos uses a home address for Bush which would have been out of date at the time -- surely a sign of sloppy record-keeping, but as likely in 1972 as at any other time. Another supposed problem is a reference to political pressure from someone named Staudt who was retired from the Guard at the time. I'll buy that when someone shows me the Air Force procedures manual for favoritism and graft in corrupt guard units which dictates that political pressure may only be applied by superior officers in the formally constituted chain of command. Once again, where there's smoke, there's right-wing shills blowing smoke.

Update: Well, there's now (much to my surprise) a complaint that stands up to scrutiny. The Dallas Morning News found and interviewed the secretary of the purported author of the memos, who is absolutely not a right-wing shill; she tells the paper that Bush is "unfit for office". She also says that the memos are not her typing, nor her typewriter, which I certainly believe, but it's not inconceivable that her boss might have had someone else type up a memo or two. More seriously, though, she has stylistic quibbles which (unlike the nitpicks in the Post) actually make a little sense -- the use of Army terminology such as "billet", for example. However, she goes on to say that the memos are similar enough to documents that did exist that the conclusions that CBS drew are entirely justified, regardless.

As long as I'm on the subject, there's yet another document of mysterious provenance surfacing, in which he promises to keep flying for five years after his training. If that holds up, well then, the idea that he might have simply chosen to go off flight status looks bad. But hey, it looks bad regardless.


Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

Oh so now Yglesias is a right wing shill? ...I'M KIDDING.

Yes, everyone keeps throwing in the towel on this, maybe half because everyone keeps thinking "I can't believe I'm discussing superscript-tee-aytches" and "either way, Bush is a weasel."

Bottom line for me is no one knows a thing for sure without the original documents, but nothing I've seen proves to me what I'm seeing is a copy of a forgery, and plenty (font details, misaligned letters) suggests CBS has real items.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Dubya was grounded because he was going to a unit in Alabama that didn't have his jet? Why was James R. Bath grounded at the same time -- in the same memo? Were they both headed to Alabama?


8:34 PM  
Blogger charles said...

In response to the comments: first off, I obviously didn't mean to refer to Yglesias as a right wing shill, any more than Josh Marshall; that was meant to refer to the sources of the WaPo story.

As to why Dubya missed his flight physical -- the Alabama thing is his spokeman's story, not mine...

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hang loose, Blood. Wasn't dissin' your contribution. Just asking a rhetorical question. Or questions.


1:39 AM  
Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

My attempts at humor often fall flat; I really meant it when I said I was kidding about you calling Yglesias a right wing shill. It won't happen again!

11:39 AM  
Blogger John said...

What's DAMNING is that you guys seem to consider this your best shot. So let's suppose it's true (I don't think it is) that Bush blew off the last couple of years of his service. WHEN is this happening?

1. AFTER he completed 2 years of active duty, with high marks.
2. AFTER the war was over.
3. At a time when the AF was glutted with pilots, and was encouraging people to leave early.
4. At a time when the F-102 was being taken out of service.
5. In a country where citizen-soldiers normally lose interest in military service when wars end, and clamor to get back to civilian life. And reservists often miss miss chunks of duty, and make up their points later.
THEN Bush misses a flight-physical? 30 YEARS ago?

This is IT? This is what Dems have been harping on since Ann Richards? This is what Dan Rather has been working on for 5 YEARS? (And only NOW discovers Killian's secretary?) This is a BIG DEAL?

You people have just prepared a glowing testimonial to George W Bush. If this is what is "damning," he's going to heaven. If this is worth your time, he's obviously one of the best men in American public life.

If, after 3 years as CinC during a war, you guys are getting excited about Bush's flight-physicals in 1973, you are just advertising what a bunch of losers you are. Not only do you seem to have NOTHING positive or exciting to offer us, you only have long-ago chicken feed to support your hatred of Bush. The voters will be SO impressed...

4:09 PM  
Blogger charles said...

I don't believe, nor did I suggest, that this stuff is the best reason not to vote for Bush. But since we seem to be discussing it anyway: Bush lit out to Alabama in May 1972, while American draftees were still fighting and dying in Vietnam; combat there continued until early 1973. The F-102 was not retired from Ellington Air Force Base until 1974. And I think most of my readers can figure out that there's a reason why even an armed force that's demobilizing has headquarters decide who gets to walk away and when, particularly when it comes to highly trained specialists like fighter pilots, rather than just letting people wander off whenever and wherever it pleases them.

As to why it's relevant at all -- it speaks to character. Which wouldn't be my reason for voting for the guy, but I'm not voting for him anyway.

For what it's worth, the best reason not to vote for Bush is his record in office. A brief and incomplete recap: ignoring real WMD threats from Iran and North Korea, he used a trumped up threat -- based on forgeries far cruder than anything shown by CBS, and similarly thin and bogus evidence (as was obvious to careful observers at the time) -- to stampede the country into a war on Iraq. He also justified the Iraq attack as part of the "war on terror", though the initial preparations for it diverted both money and specialist troops from Afghanistan, and the hunt for the people actually responsible from the 9/11 attack, to Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11 at all. Dubya himself has admitted that planning for the Iraq adventure was poor -- poor enough that the Army now finds itself putting "stop loss" orders on Guard units which were never meant for long overseas deployment to keep itself in troops, arranging emergency imports from Britain and Israel to keep itself in bullets, and unable to field a significant ground force for crises elsewhere. Iraq itself is sliding into chaos, and may well become the haven for terrorists that it never was before. Meanwhile, the flood of radical, fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine from Saudi Arabia, which is fueling Islamist terrorism the world over, continues unabated; in fact, by withdrawing American troops from that country, Bush has reduced our leverage there, while bowing to one of the demands in bin Laden's fatwas. Domestically, his homeland security efforts are regarded by qualified specialists as a bad joke. Both his first two anti-terror leads -- Clarke and Beers, each with a long record of service in administrations of both parties -- quit in disgust and became bitter critics. As, by the way, did his first Treasury Secretary. And so on, and so on, and so on. See the Shrill Blog for more caustic commentary, much of it from folks far more qualified than I am to give it.

1:40 AM  
Blogger John said...

Well, if I weren't already voting for Bush, you just gave me good reasons. Your subtext, like all Democrat messages, is, "We don't want to fight, and we will undercut our own country's soldiers during a campaign we VOTED for."

When I think about Beslan or Ma'alot, and how Islamic scum could be massacring MY children next, I think that there has never been a better time to send our forces into battle, no matter how bloody. (And I have teenage sons who have mentioned joining the military, so I'm not just being careless with other people's lives.)

Even if Iraq were the wrong place to hit, (I think it was exactly the RIGHT place to attack, I've listed my reasons here) that's OK with me, at least we are fighting. We'll just have to try hitting a few other vile terror-supporting scumbag tyrannies, and see how that works. I value Bush for the same reason Lincoln valued Grant; he's willing to keep fighting until the enemy is destroyed.

And I despise you so-called Democrats because you always have a thousand twisty arguments that ALWAYS add up to "it's wrong for the United States of America to fight for its freedom and safety, and to crush our enemies into the dust.

If Al Gore had been in the White House, he would have been forced to attack Afghanistan, but that would have been all. Then the WOT would have fizzled out in negotiations and police-work and hot air. Until the NEXT 9-11. Until the NEXT Beslan. That's your message: Afghanistan OK, anything else you're against. You guys pretend to oppose Iraq because it was the wrong place, or not "well prepared," but you would have opposed ANY major attack. Iran, NK, Saudi, wherever. Voted FOR it out of cynical political calculation, then started undercutting our troops with a thousand whines and sneers. "We were stampeded, we only had a year to think about it."

EVERY war America has fought has started with muddle and mistakes and shortages. That's NOT a reason to turn against our troops during battle. Dems like Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson each got us into wars that started with horrible mistakes and defeats and lack of preparation. Debacles costing thousands of casualties in a DAY. But Republicans NEVER sat on the sidelines to sneer and cast doubt and encourage our enemies. NEVER acted as if America's fights were none of their affair. NEVER picked and chose to support some battles and campaigns, and undercut others. And especially NEVER gave our enemies reason to think that America would fold if enough Americans were killed to get Republicans elected. Which is just what you guys are doing right now.

And because of it you will be crushed in November, and you will be the minority party for at least a generation.

I don't know why I'm bothering to write this, we have nothing in common. Anyone who thinks that support for our country in wartime is OPTIONAL, for only those battles that please them, for only the battles that are easily won and don't have any missteps--there's no possibility of debate here.

3:08 PM  
Blogger charles said...

Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Afghanistan did. Dubya started to fight there, pulled out with the job unfinished, and the place is once again becoming a terrorist haven. Saudi Arabia did, but Bush has done nothing about their open support for terrorist groups and jihaddi ideology, and actually worked to cover up the links. If that's your idea of a well fought "war on terror", you're welcome to it.

But don't expect people who disagree to stand silent. Criticizing the government is a founding American tradition. Republicans certainly have criticized the wars of Democratic Presidents, whatever you believe. When Clinton went after bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan, they called it "Wag the Dog". And during World War II, they took some very nasty shots at FDR for the way he was running things. FDR didn't whine, he just shot right back. If Dubya can't take the heat, he should get out of the White House.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

"Even if Iraq were the wrong place to hit, (I think it was exactly the RIGHT place to attack, I've listed my reasons here) that's OK with me, at least we are fighting."

That's insane.

In fact, Iraq was the wrong place to hit. The only reasonable justification was that it was close to making WMD or had already done so, thereby putting it in breach of UN resolutions. I thought -- mistakenly -- that there would be some WMD at the end of the rainbow; I thought -- mistakenly -- that I had a decent handle on the likelihood of that. I was wrong. If I were president, you'd be right to fire me, even if I made the mistake in good faith. Instead Bush is, and you ought to fire him.

Not only weren't there any WMD there, your favorite bunch of idiots allowed Saddam's uranium to get _looted_; true, much has been recovered (also true, 90lbs worth hasn't), but the whole thing gives me the idea that they, oh, I don't know, never gave much of a damn about that in the first place. Given that they don't appear to give a damn about Iraqi's lives, their human rights, or democracy either, I'm hard pressed to figure out what the Bush people do give a damn about. Maybe it's oil after all.

6:57 PM  

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