Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marine Corps Birthday, Veterans Day; In Praise of Afghan War Vets and The Guys Without Foxholes

Today, November 10, the day before Veterans Day, marks the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps and coincidentally the 30th anniversary of my active involvement in veterans' issues, primarily those concerning Vietnam where I served as a Marine helicopter crewman and machine gunner.

This weekend also marks a departure of sorts because from here on I intend to focus on those who served or are serving in Afghanistan in the ongoing War on Terror. I'll provide details at the end of this article.

By way of background, on Veterans Day 1982 I traveled to Washington, D.C., to cover the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial for the Hartford Courant newspaper where I was employed as a reporter. I had no idea at the time, but an advance article I wrote on members of my helicopter squadron who died in combat and whose names are on The Wall would become the impetus for my first book; Masters of the Art, A Fighting Marine's Memoir of Vietnam.

I also couldn't foresee that when I wrote Masters of the Art it would become a launching pad for three decades of research into the Vietnam War; revealing how the military never lost a single major battle but were betrayed by politicians and bureaucrats back home, and falsely blamed for the deaths of millions of Southeast Asians at the hands of rampaging communists after Saigon fell in 1975.

My intent in writing that work of nonfiction was to offset the negative publicity that at the time dominated discussions of Vietnam. We were variously called Baby Killers, Murderers, Walking Time Bombs and much worse, and it seemed that few in the world of media or publishing wanted to know the truth.

In fact, the first hardcover edition of Masters of the Art was published by Carlton Press in New York in late 1989, with me paying the freight, after I discovered to my chagrin that few others were interested in my book. If you wrote that Vietnam was a travesty and ruined your life forever you were golden; but the truth? Never.

Nonetheless, after I made back my investment, the hardcover edition of Masters of the Art provided enough income for me to travel across the country; meeting other veterans, speaking to interested groups of vets and non-vets alike, learning their stories, compiling and eventually teaching history, piecing together a picture of the war that isn't found in the Mainstream Media. In time Random House made an offer to republish it in paperback form, which I gladly accepted, and it still sells today, with the electronic version now the format of choice. 

(I quickly learned that most book writers have to get out and work at their trade to make a living. The best way to obtain income on your books is to buy them wholesale from the publisher and sell signed copies from your website in conjunction with schlepping them all over creation to places where you can talk about them and sell them. You can earn a living, but you do have to work.)

It has been a difficult but gratifying experience to say the least, and while much of what I talk about is from a birds-eye perspective, there also have been some very personal moments of triumph. For instance, I know a US Army infantry Vietnam veteran who for decades said little to nothing about his tour.

But a year ago I learned of him surviving a bloody day in late 1966 along the Cambodian border. His squad was walking point on a brigade-sized offensive and they were caught in a company-sized ambush – meaning he and about 14 other troops were being fired upon by more than 200 enemy.

In mere seconds most of his squad was dead, and he survived only because he flattened himself on the ground to return fire and others who already were dead fell on him. He survived, physically unscathed, but he carried an undeserved burden of guilt for the events of that day for four decades.

I researched the history of his unit and found that he fought in a day full of heroics, in which the horrors of the opening salvo were returned overwhelmingly by others in his brigade. The advancing troops rescued the remaining wounded from the initial ambush, repulsed the communist troops and ultimately dominated the battle. A platoon commander was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for exposing himself repeatedly to enemy fire while he dragged other wounded troops to safety.

My friend knew none of this until I put it all together in a report and gave it to him at the post one night. He began reading it and then the unexpected occurred; he began to talk about Vietnam and what he did there. 

We were comparing notes and I told him that even though my job involved flying in combat, I spent many nights in foxholes or fighting trenches on the perimeter of the airstrip at Quang Tri as a member of the reactionary platoon. I noted that sometimes snakes would be in the foxholes or they would fill up with water in the monsoons.

"At least you had a foxhole," he responded, adding that his unit often moved at night and when he was given time to catch few winks of sleep he did it sitting on the hard ground with his poncho over his head to keep the mosquitoes at bay. You can learn a lot in a very few minutes if the right person is talking and you are willing to listen.

Another vet told me later that "I've known this guy ever since high school and he's talked more about Vietnam tonight than he did in the last 40 years." My friend never should have borne that burden; he did enough by going there and fighting for our rights and freedoms. Hopefully he will keep talking about Vietnam right up to his last breath.

While Vietnam was "my" war, the decision to turn my focus toward Afghanistan was influenced in part by an article I read that said according to recent surveys something like 90 percent of Americans hold Vietnam veterans in high esteem. Offsetting the media and political negativity toward us was my basic goal all along, and I do feel a sense of accomplishment after being a small part of the effort to provide an accurate portrayal of Vietnam veterans.

In retrospect, Vietnam vets actually became cool; everyone now wants to be in Special Ops, camouflage and jungle boots became a fashion statement; books were written; songs were sung about us; and we even have a few good movies on Vietnam led by Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers. We had Rambo for God's sake!

The 2010 census said that something like 13 million Americans claimed they are Vietnam vets even though a total of 9 million served in the military during the entirety of the Vietnam War, and 2.5 million actually were on the ground there; so now we have millions of posers and wannabes!

But I also believe it is our duty as veterans to ensure that our Afghanistan counterparts don't go through what we went through; and I feel this way primarily because we know so little about what is really going on over there. The media blanketed Vietnam with negative coverage, but there is hardly any coverage of the Afghan fighting.

Soon our troops are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and like their Vietnam counterparts, they will be scattered to the four winds with no way to collectively assess their experiences. Thus I have decided to make a new push on book sales of Masters of the Art,as well as Granny Snatching which is on a completely different subject, but should be of interest to Baby Boomers or people with parents that age, and my latest accomplishment, a novel that I just completed, and use the proceeds to reach out to this new generation of vets. (I am looking for a publisher and new agent if anyone knows someone they can point in my direction.)

I am not ignoring veterans of the fighting in Iraq, by the way, but at least they were able to declare victory. We simply don't have a corresponding information flow from Afghanistan and I believe we need it. I suggest to every Vietnam vet I meet that they should tell their stories, write books if they can, do articles, poems, songs, papers, and letters; print them and give them to their families even if they couldn't get them published.

It is my intent now to reach out to the Afghanistan vets with the same message, encourage them to communicate, tell their stories and make sure their accomplishments are recorded.

They should not spend decades reliving the brutality and horrors of the battlefield alone, in silence, with no means of putting their service into proper perspective. They are veterans of the US military who served their country in combat and they deserve to be honored for their sacrifices. 

Semper Fi!
Thursday, November 08, 2012

Romney of Queensbury Defeated by Street Fighter … Surprise! Cavuto, Polls and Ice Cream

So here were are, two days after Barack Hussein Obama, aka Street Fighter, was reelected president of the Deteriorating States of America and his opponent, Mitt "Mr. Nice" Romney is still writhing on the ground in pain moaning "You cheated. You fight dirty."

Obama for  his part, although taking a drubbing and losing nearly 10 percent of the support he enjoyed in 2008, is still dancing over Romney's prostrate form, doing the Ali Shuffle, and laughing as he chants "But I won, I won, I won! And I won by an Electoral landslide! Yeah!!"

And here I am again, saying one more time, "I told you so."

I have a question for all the incredibly intelligent and ever so knowledgeable pundits and commentators on the Republican side of the political fence; how is it that Mitt Romney received fewer votes in 2012 than John McCain did in 2008? Please, can someone tell me?

I understand to a point why McCain lost to Obama what with the Messiah nonsense being put out by the Democrats' propaganda machine, also known as the media, back in 2008. Also, Sen. McCain, although being referred to as a Vietnam War Hero every time he shows up on FOX News, didn't have the full support of the veteran community in 2008.

In fact, his partnership with Sen. John Kerry back in 1991 as co-chairs of the Senate Select Committee on POWs and MIAs, when they slammed the door on the fate of hundreds of POWs who were left behind in Laos in 1973 with the full knowledge of the US government, resulted in a significant percent of veterans opposing him in 2008.

So given that Romney was not carrying that baggage, why did he get fewer votes than John McCain?

Was it because he is a Mormon? Did Christian evangelists shun him, fearing that a Mormon in the White House might advocate that we all have more than one wife? I'm not kidding – and I don't support that concept. But in truth, we've been down that road ever since the 1960 election when John Kennedy's Catholicism was supposedly going to result in the Pope running America. It was not a valid reason to oppose a candidate back then and it is not a valid reason to oppose a candidate today.

I hope it wasn't religion but that still doesn't give us an answer for why nearly 3 million Republicans didn't vote in this election.

How about the women's vote? Did McCain, as many have said, pick up a huge amount of votes that otherwise would not have been in his column because he had Sarah Palin on the ticket as his VP candidate? Paul Ryan was a good vice-presidential candidate for Romney; nice, certainly smart and capable, but he did NOT generate the enthusiasm that Sarah Palin did; was that it?

Now, I should note here that I backed Romney from day one when he was campaigning against McCain for the 2008 nomination, and I personally thought Paul Ryan was a very good choice … but maybe in the minds of other voters he wasn't a GREAT choice.

Was Romney just too nice, or did he spread himself too thin in a constant effort to reinvent himself? I don't know the answer, but I do know this; with the significantly reduced voter turnout for Obama - 7 million fewer votes than 2008 - the GOP was handed the election on a silver platter and they blew it! The Grand Old Party didn't convince voters, despite hundreds of millions spent on ads, that the country is in dire straits and if they wanted it to get better Romney was the answer.

Granted, the GOP didn't get any help from the media; even from FOX News which spent so much time being "fair and balanced" that in the end you couldn't tell truth from fiction. I also believe this whole election was just a game to people inside the Beltway and on Manhattan Island, and they had a good idea how it was going to turn out long before anyone cast a vote.

I could be wrong about this but frankly, outside of Karl Rove who nailed FOX News for calling Ohio for Obama when his sources showed Romney coming on like gang busters in precincts that usually vote for Republicans, I didn't see any surprise or shock or anything similar regardless of who was talking when it was clear that Obama was going to win.

Even though most commentators were in the tank for Obama from Day One, and fed us a steady diet of bogus polls saying he was getting tremendous support, the polls that used the 2008 turnout as the basis for skewing the results in Obama's favor were dead wrong; regardless of what Neil Cavuto says. He was wrong too.

I was watching Cavuto last night and he was laughing it up with a pollster, paying off an election bet in quarts of ice cream, and lauding the polls as being accurate. I do not agree with his position on polling. Obama won the electoral vote in a landslide and the popular vote by some 3.5 million; hardly close in either case.

How can you have the incumbent president of the Deteriorating States of America lose 10 percent of his support, with most polling outlets using the 2008 turnout as a basis for oversampling Democrats by double digits just to give him the appearance of a tie, and say the polls were accurate?

They were wrong. They were dead wrong. And they were also wrong when they said there was far more enthusiasm on the Republican side because if they were right on that count, with such a precipitous drop in support for Obama, Romney would have won in a landslide instead of Obama.

Oh, and I heard Rush Limbaugh saying yesterday that even though lots of people were bringing up their concerns about voting machines that were registering votes for Obama even though they voted for Romney, he wasn't going to get into that subject.

OK, maybe Limbaugh won't go there, but I will. I was watching the returns Tuesday night and it occurred to me that you don't need to tinker with all the machines in a multi-state conspiracy to give your candidate the edge. You only need to do it in a few states, and frankly, in a few districts in those states.

The media was calling the election's outcome in state after state literally as soon as the polling places closed their doors, before even a single vote was counted. The election came down to a half-dozen states and in those states the vote was so close that the returns from a few cities or counties made the difference – and virtually all of this is predictable based on past voting patterns.

I wrote a few weeks back that if you could swing just 3 percent of the vote with scanners or automatic voting machines that have been sabotaged you would have the election. What was the final outcome? A tad less than three percent? Certainly worth thinking about and discussing wouldn't you say?

Frankly, I think Romney lost because he didn't come out swinging with brass knuckles on one fist and a baseball bat in the other. Especially toward the end he was way too conciliatory.

There was no good reason to vote for Barack Obama unless you believe in communism or at least hardcore socialism. His national policies are a disaster, his foreign policies are a disaster, his support dropped like a rock because even his supporters have lost faith in him, and the country's economy is in a tank and going right down the drain.

But Republicans didn't come out to vote either nationally or in my little state of Connecticut so they obviously didn't believe in their candidate to a large enough degree to change things. Do you know what Republicans have become in Connecticut? Placeholders. People who don't seem to really want the office but agree to have their names put in contention to hold the spot open until someone who does want the office comes along.

Know how many national offices the GOP won in Connecticut this election? Zero. That my friends is leadership - or not.

Well, that's enough navel gazing. Someone has to be honest and take the blame for this mess, so I'll be up front with you; I am a jinx and I will never again publicly offer my opinion on who should win a presidential election. Four years ago I said John McCain would beat Barack Obama and I was wrong; this year I said Mitt Romney would defeat Obama and I was wrong again.

Obviously, I jinxed Romney – McCain lost all by himself so I'm not taking the blame for that one. But by writing with such certainty that Romney would win, it is clear that I jinxed him and that is why he lost the election.

And if you believe that I have a few other fairy tales to tell you.
Monday, November 05, 2012

The Fallacy of Polls and Government Jobs Numbers

I am in the middle of a self-imposed blackout of all news coverage related to tomorrow's elections, having had my fill of bogus "opinion polls" that only report the "opinions" of the pollsters, and government unemployment figures that have no bearing on reality.

I literally can not stand to see one more report that starts out with the words "A new poll just out …" which is exactly how the news began on the night last week when I shut it off and vowed not to watch again until the election is over. And I can't stand to listen to one more pundit, whose future television appearances hang in the balance, claiming that obscure or non-existent data show how the election will go.

I even heard respected commentators last week saying President Obama will get a boost from voters because he "looked presidential" when he visited New Jersey and walked around with the governor viewing the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

Look, if you can't walk through an area hit by a natural disaster, say "Let there be light," and make the power come back on instantly, you don't "look presidential" unless the viewer defines "presidential" as ineffective, baffled and incompetent.

Frankly, I thought Obama looked helpless and a bit lost. Even the butt-kissing bleating of the alleged Republican governor of New Jersey, who just wanted to open the floodgates of federal disaster relief money so he can get re-elected or go on to national office, won't change the fact that Obama can't do any more for Sandy victims than George Bush could do for Katrina victims.

So sometime after 9 p.m. tomorrow I'll get myself a bowl of cherry-vanilla ice cream and sit down in front of the television to watch the returns come in.  I may not turn on the sound until there is some sort of clear trend.

Since I have not seen one single poll done by either national or regional polling outlets that uses viable methodology or is based on a simple desire to know what people are thinking - rather than to push the agenda of the polling agency - I don't for a minute think Barack Obama is going to win – at least in a relatively honest election.

I think that Mitt Romney will carry the popular and Electoral College votes by a significant margin and I base this on observable conditions around the country. People, lots and lots more people than the government claims, are out of work, and many more are discouraged with no hope of things getting better under the Obama Administration.

Don't agree? Then why does the national debt clock have a category for "official unemployed" (12,235,647) and "actual unemployed" (22,694,912) as of this writing?

Romney is offering a methodology to reverse the horrendous downward trend that has marked this country since Obama took office and no amount of scare tactics or abusive advertising can alter Obama's true record. His constant efforts to blame his failures on someone else, hell, anyone else, serve only to highlight the inadequacy of his administration.

Despite the all-out efforts of the news media to push people into voting one way or another I don't think for even a second that the general public is stupid or uninformed. We know what is going on, we live it every single day, and not in a Beltway Bubble either.

The so-called Mainstream Media and even alternative media outlets are reporting these bogus polls as if they are gospel. But most of the polls I reviewed call people at random and ask them if they are registered voters and have a party affiliation, or are "leaning" one way or another. In addition to being at the mercy of the person answering the phone there simply is no validation process in using that approach.

If you want to know what voters are thinking the best way is to obtain the voter registration rolls in the area you are covering, and cull the lists for the names of voters who voted in four of the last four elections – four/four voters as they are called here.

Then you call these people until you get responses from Republicans, Democrats and Unaffiliated voters that mirror the registration percentages in that area. If you are polling in a region where the voter registration is 32 percent Democrats, 28 percent Republicans and 40 percent unaffiliated voters, then you keep calling until your responses equate to the party registration percentages.

There is always a margin of error in this approach but generally speaking, the more people you call who regularly vote narrows that percentage. And it takes work, as opposed to the lazy man's polls we are seeing.

But calling random "adults" or skewing the percentages of people you interview by party – most polls have been oversampling Democrats, often by double digits – will only result in answers that give the pollsters what they wanted in the first place, not a realistic view of how people view the candidates or how they will vote.

The polling organizations claim it is appropriate to skew the sample because they are using turnout percentages from past elections. That is just plain bull! Everything that matters in the world of politics has changed since 2008 and if you want a realistic view of voter turnout this year you have to call verifiable four/four voters and ask them in the appropriate percentages if they intend to vote this year and for whom.

Otherwise you don't have a poll; you have a political ad shrouded in a cloak of obfuscation.

Then we have the jobless numbers. The government reported last week that the national unemployment rate is 7.9 percent; up one-tenth of one percent from the previous month.

That number is not accurate. It does not reflect the number of people who are out of work or "under-employed," it only reflects the number of people who are getting unemployment benefits. The number who are actually unemployed but who don't qualify for benefits or have exhausted their unemployment benefits is conservatively twice what the government reports.

But once an unemployed person loses their benefits the government makes believe they either have miraculously found work, or they just disappear. They don't exist, at least as far as the government is concerned.

The government also reported last week that 170,000 new jobs were created in the previous month. Another statistic, another lie. I saw exactly one report, during the Stewart Varney show on Fox Business Channel, noting that the government figure includes people who got a part-time job or were hired as day labor.

The report noted that some of these workers could have had as little as one day of employment last month but the government still reports them as fully employed. And we wonder why people don't trust the government?

The facts of the election are pretty straightforward. The country is in a downward spiral and unless Obama's Democrats can steal a huge number of votes they are going to lose. The only poll that will matter is the one at the end of the night when all the votes are counted.

By Wednesday, regardless of what is said on television or written in newspapers, we will know what the voters were really thinking. And we either will be looking forward to Mitt Romney's inauguration and be on the road to salvation, or dreading Obama's second term in which we will headed to hell in a hand basket.

On a positive note, if the latter turns out to be true and the USA does go to hell in a hand basket, we can at least be assured that we won't be alone because the nether regions will already be jam packed with the souls of pollsters and government workers whose job was to report false employment figures.
Friday, November 02, 2012

You Can't "Tweak" a Liar; Fraud in Early Voting

I'm not inclined to shout "I told you so," when I am right about something that otherwise is not believed by other people, but in this case ... well, read for yourself.

I am referring here to columns I have written going back four years noting the ease with which electronic vote counting machines can be manipulated, primarily through pre-programming the desired results so it really doesn’t matter how many people vote or for whom.

Now we find out that early voters in North Carolina, Ohio and Nevada who are choosing Mitt Romney are seeing their votes registered for Barack Obama! But elections officials and even some in the media are ho-humming the situation and acting as though voter fraud is business as usual. Well maybe they are right, but they shouldn’t be!

An Ohio elections official who must have received his information technology degree from the Fly-by-Night University of Flippancy even claimed there is no way to pre-program computers to register a vote for anyone other than the intended recipient. I guess he is the same guy who put a stake in the American space program on the belief that we never got anything worthwhile from either the research or the exploration!

Not to be outdone in the stupidity race an elections official in North Carolina said it is no big deal, machine malfunctions happen all the time and the voting machine merely need to be "tweaked."

Tweaked my rear end! Wouldn't you love to vote in that district? These are computerized voting machines and they do exactly what they are programmed to do. If these machines register votes for Obama even though people are trying to vote for Romney it is because they are wired that way and have been since before they were set up for this election.

Years ago, before I became a journalist and writer I spent nearly a decade in the electronics field, first as an avionics technician on Marine Corps helicopters, then after serving in the Marines I went back to college and earned a degree in electrical engineering. My engineering course load included computer programming, and in addition to my time in the Marines I spent a few years in the defense industry before going back to school and earning my English literature degree.

I realize that was a long time ago and when I was in the electrical engineering program I studied Fortran – Formula Translating system – which is used in engineering as opposed to COBOL COmmon Business-Oriented Language, which is used in business and finance. Both preceded Microsoft with its MS-DOS and were way before the rise of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Apple, or personal computers, but there are still some very basic concepts that haven't changed even with the advent of Artificial Intelligence.

Computers still do what humans program them to do and the claim that a machine which registers a vote for a candidate other than the one selected by the voter is just a matter of the computer being out of adjustment and needing "tweaking" is absurd. What those machines need is to be reprogrammed to do what the voters intend them to do; record each vote for the right person and nothing else.

Going back to 2008 I wrote about some of the ways that electronic voting machines can be manipulated – basically by writing code in the software that gives the desired result. It can be as simple as changing the number of votes cast to reflect a higher turnout than really occurred, or it can be what voters in Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio are experiencing – casting votes for Mitt Romney and seeing them counted for Barack Obama.

I guess it goes without saying that election officials in a precinct where voting machines are known to 'malfunction' on a regular basis, are not going to be in a big hurry to find out exactly what is wrong with those machines or correct the problem. At least, they don't want to do anything until after Election Day.

To drive this point home I'll share an anecdote from my college days. When we first started taking computer programming classes a couple of my classmates who were really, really into the new technology, sneaked into the computer lab late one afternoon and loaded their own program into the mainframe's control circuitry.

From that point on whenever someone ran a program that contained an error, the computer would stop in the middle of the run, at the time the error emerged, and print out a huge picture of a mouse lying on its side holding a sign that said "You Blew It Stupid!" All done in tiny x's by the way, since we didn't have modern graphics back then.

That was the first instance of computer hacking that I encountered, and after a bit of sputtering and red-faced indignation the professors realized that for their students to progress that rapidly they must be doing something right and no one was punished or reprimanded. But that was a college prank and this is reality; the future of our country is at stake and voter fraud should be dealt with quickly and seriously.

I have a solution for questions regarding automated voting machines and I'll repeat it for those who may not have paid attention in the past. If your district uses vote scanners in which a paper ballot is filled out and then inserted into a machine that reads and records the votes listed on them, do a test run before the polls open and again after the polls close.

I suggest filling out 600 test ballots – with SAMPLE – written across them in big bold letters so no one can mistake them for real ballots. Fill out 400 for Romney and 200 for Obama and run them through the scanners. The counter and vote tallies should register exactly the numbers on the samples and if they don't there is a problem.

It is unlikely that machines could be tampered with during the actual voting but I believe in double checking just to make sure, so a final test run after the voting is recommended.

For districts where touch screens are used, I recommend essentially the same procedure, but instead of inserting ballots into a scanner, elections officials should cast a similar number of votes for each candidate and check to see that the proper number of votes cast is recorded, as well as the proper number for each candidate.

I am recommending using a relatively large number of votes because it would pick up any anomalies in the programming that might be based on percentages rather than raw numbers.

In computer language this is called "do-loop" in which the computer is instructed to do the same task over and over until a pre-programmed result in reached; in this case simply registering the votes as they are cast. However, since coding for a "do-loop" usually includes a variable input, which results in a variable output – in this case the number of voters voting and the number of votes cast for each candidate – it also can be instructed that once it reaches a predetermined result, a "go-to" instruction can require it to do something different.

For instance, the "do loop" can register 97 votes for Romney, but after that threshold is reached it is programmed to give the next three votes cast for Romney to Obama. Once it completes the instructions in the "go to" coding, it returns to the "do loop" and starts all over. But this would mean than an extra 3 percent of the votes would go to the wrong candidate! This could not only alter the outcome of the election in a close race, but it also is outside the margin that triggers an automatic recount!

The late Soviet Union dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin is quoted as saying it doesn't matter how many people vote; it only matters who counts the votes. I believe we would be wise to remember this when we go to our polling places on Tuesday. The national polls, which I don't believe, say this is to be a close race.

I don't think it is going to be that close, but just to make sure, we should each take a few extra seconds to ensure that the vote we cast goes exactly where it is intended, and if it doesn't – raise holy hell and keep it up until the problem is publicized and corrected!


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