All posts by Dr. ESP

Lessons of Recent History

Israeli officials obtained Hamas’s battle plan for the Oct. 7 terrorist attack more than a year before it happened, documents, emails and interviews show. But Israeli military and intelligence officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, considering it too difficult for Hamas to carry out.

Underpinning all these failures was a single, fatally inaccurate belief that Hamas lacked the capability to attack and would not dare to do so. That belief was so ingrained in the Israeli government, officials said, that they disregarded growing evidence to the contrary.

~Ronan Berman and Adam Goldman
New York Times/December 1, 2023

When asked about this revelation, Israeli government officials replied the primary concern now is execution of the war against Hamas.  A full investigation of the October 7 terrorist attack will come later.  The United States can save whatever investigative body emerges the time and resources needed to explain the past mistakes and recommend changes for the future.  Just send them a copy of the report released on July 22, 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.  The commission concluded, “Above all, the failure on 9/11 was a failure of imagination.”  Despite intelligence which suggested Al-Qaeda was planning an assault on American soil, failure to imagine an enemy 6,700 miles away could coordinate an attack on New York City and Washington, D.C. Failure to imagine commercial airliners could be used as guided missiles. Failure to imagine the hijackers were suicidal.  

Ted Singer, former CIA official with years of experience in the Middle East is quoted in the New York Times story.  “The Israeli intelligence failure on October 7 is sounding more and more like 9/11.”  He added, “The failure will be a gap in analysis to paint a convincing picture to military and political leadership that Hamas had the intention to launch the attack when it did.”

However, such a “gap in analysis” was not supposed to happen after a similar failure in October 1973 when Egypt and Syria surprised Israeli troops in the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.  I’ll let Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’ son) explain the fundamental post-Yom Kippur War change in Israel’s intelligence process to ensure there would not be similar gaps in analysis in the future as laid out in his fictional account of a global conflict with a supernatural enemy.

In October of 1973, when the Arab sneak attack almost drove us into the Mediterranean, we had all the intelligence in front of us, all the warning signs, and we had simply “dropped the ball.” We never considered the possibility of an all-out, coordinated, conventional assault from several nations, certainly not on our holiest of holidays. Call it stagnation, call it rigidity, call it an unforgivable herd mentality. Imagine a group of people all staring at writing on a wall, everyone congratulating one another on reading the words correctly.

From 1973 onward, if nine intelligence analysts came to the same conclusion, it was the duty of the tenth to disagree. No matter how unlikely or far-fetched a possibility might be, one must always dig deeper.

~Max Brooks/World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

You might logically ask, “Why wasn’t there a tenth analyst who would make the case that the threat of a terrorist attack of the magnitude of October 7 was real?”  Actually, there was, a female analyst identified in the Times story only as “a veteran of Unit 8200.”  She argued the Hamas plan was more than aspirational, providing evidence of training exercises conducted by senior Hamas commanders in July 2023.  She shared her concerns with colleagues. “We already underwent a similar experience 50 years ago on the southern front in connection with a scenario that seemed imaginary, and history may repeat itself if we are not careful.”

The reason I raise these issues is not just the Israeli government’s failure to learn from the American experience on 9/11.  It is to ask whether Americans understand the underlying causes which enabled Hamas to carry out its attack on October 7 and the extent to which similar forces are on our horizon.  Without speculation about Bibi Netanyahu’s motive or intent, consider the following facts.

  • On November 21, 2019, prime minister Netanyahu was indicted on three counts: accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
  • In December 2022, Netanyahu became prime minister for the sixth time.  He filled his cabinet with far-right hawks and theocrats.  They include his national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a West Bank settler who opposes Palestinian statehood and was convicted of incitement against Palestinians in 2007.  And interior and health minister Aryeh Deri, an ultraorthodox rabbi who was convicted of tax fraud in 2021.
  • On July 24, 2023, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), with Netanyahu’s support, passed a law to weaken the nation’s judiciary.  The vote resulted in massive protests including many reserve officers who said they would no longer report for duty.
  • This year the Israeli government has authorized an additional 12,855 housing units for Jewish settlers on the West Bank, some in areas challenged by the Israel Supreme Court.

These facts point to a regime that, before October 7, was focused on self-interest, fealty to the most extreme members of its coalition, weakening national institutions, challenging long-established norms and creating distractions. 

I do not know if these actions were memorialized in a single document.  But if they were, and you want the English translation, just read about the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, which according to the Foundation website, “…paves the way for an effective conservative Administration based on four pillars:  a policy agenda, Presidential Personnel Database, Presidential Administrative Academy, and 180-Transition Playbook described as ‘a comprehensive, concrete transition plan for each federal agency’.”  Or the MAGA translation: tax cuts for the rich, loyal friends of Donald Trump, a federally-funded version of Trump University and weaponization of the entire executive branch to go after Trump’s perceived enemies.

Lessons of recent history class dismissed.

For what it’s worth.


Fool Me Thrice

NOTE:  I have been working on this entry since Israel greenlighted military operations in Gaza.  But was unsure of the intended message until today when I learned that China, which now chairs the UN Security Council, plans to introduce a resolution calling for a permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

I trust you are familiar with the adage, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  But what about those instances when we are fooled a third time.  Yet, that is what a large segment of the international community is asking of Israel.  The calls for a ceasefire in the current war on Hamas ignore the fact there were two previous opportunities for permanent ceasefires, and each time, Palestinians walked away.

The Oslo Accord

The first effort at a permanent ceasefire spanned seven years beginning with the signing of the Oslo Accord by then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman Yasir Arafat at a White House ceremony on September 13 1993.  Under the agreement, Israel accepted the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.  In return the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist and denounced terrorism.  Both parties agreed to the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) which would become the governing body for the West Bank and Gaza Strip within five years. In the meantime “permanent status” negotiations would address the remaining issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem.

Progress toward implementation of the Accord ended with Rabin’s assassination by an opponent of the agreement and new terrorist attacks by Hamas.  Both contributed to the 1996 Israeli election which resulted in a Likud majority and Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister, a staunch opponent of Palestinian statehood and Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.  In hopes of reviving the chance of a permanent peace, President Clinton invited Netanyahu and Arafat to a summit in Wye River, Maryland in October 1998.  The resulting memorandum addressed both Israeli and Palestinian security, economic development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, acceptance of international human rights and legal standards, resumption of negotiations to determine permanent borders and governance and a timetable for implementation. The PLO also agreed to amend its charter to eliminate any clause which was inconsistent with the agreement.

Despite opposition by members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, the agreement had the support of 74 percent of Israelis according to a November, 1998 poll.  Based on the internal dissension within his own party, Netanyahu delayed cabinet approval of the Wye Memorandum.  This resulted in a vote of no-confidence, leading to a general election in May, 1999 which produced a Labor Party victory and a new prime minister Ehud Barak.

Knowing Clinton had just over a year left in office, Barak urged the U.S. president to make implementation of the Wye Memorandum a priority.  In response, Clinton convened a summit with Barak and Arafat at Camp David in July, 2000.  The summit produced no additional agreement on issues related to borders, the status of Jerusalem and refugee right of return despite Israeli concessions.  In a statement reflecting on the failed summit, Clinton said, “I regret that in 2000 Arafat missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being and pray for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace.”  Furthermore, Arafat’s unwillingness to make concessions in return for an independent Palestinian state fueled an uprising–“the Second Intifada”–on the West Bank.  There were important political implications from the failed summit.  Arafat’s approval rating climbed while Barak’s decreased, eventually leading to a Likud victory in May 2001 and new Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Unwilling to give up, even as a lame duck occupant of the Oval Office after the November 2000 election of George W. Bush, Clinton launched what can only be called a “Hail Moses” or “Hail Muhammad” play (depending on your perspective).  Based on his personal assessment of a fair compromise between the interests of both parties, Clinton presented a “take it or leave it” proposal on December 23, 2000.  What became known as the “Clinton Parameters” included the following.

  • A Palestinian state consisting of 94-96 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip.  Israel would compensate the Palestinians for the remaining 4-6 percent, to be annexed, through land swaps.
  • Jerusalem would be divided along ethnic lines with Palestinian control over Arab neighborhoods. Palestinians would have sovereignty over the Temple Mount with shared responsibility for excavations.
  • Palestinians would waive their demand for unlimited “right of return” to Israel proper.  In return, Israel had no say in decisions to relocate refugees in the new Palestinian state.
  • Within 36 months, Israel Defense Forces would withdraw from the occupied territories to be replaced by an international peace keeping force.
  • Palestine would be a “non-militarized” state, but allowed to create its own internal security force.
  • Both parties would agree to end all hostilities and waive additional claims against the other.

Both sides accepted the proposal with “reservations.”  Among them was Arafat’s declaration that unlimited “right of return” was non-negotiable and Israel’s objection to Palestinian control of the Temple Mount for fear access to the Western Wall would be denied as it had been before the Six Day War in 1967.  Although there are disagreements about who was ultimately responsible for the failure of the Clinton initiative, most observers agree the parameters were the best deal the Palestinians were likely to ever get and Arafat’s refusal to negotiate further extended the conflict and more violence. In David Landau’s 2014 biography of Ariel Sharon, Saudi prince and diplomat Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud assessed the Clinton Parameters.  “If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won’t be a tragedy; it will be a crime.”

Gaza Disengagement

Politically, a majority of Israelis, with renewed concern about security, again turned to the hawkish Likud Party and its new leader former IDF general Ariel Sharon.  Surprisingly, Sharon’s ascension to leadership would lead to the second opportunity for a permanent ceasefire.  In a move that has been described as analogous to staunch anti-communist Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China, Sharon declared that continued engagement in the Gaza Strip had negative economic impact without adding to Israel’s security.  In February 2005, the Israeli Knesset passed the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law which included:

  • Palestinian Authority control over exits and entrances to the Gaza Strip.
  • Ability to move freely between Gaza and the West Bank.
  • A Palestinian seaport and airport.
  • Evacuation of 21 Jewish settlements within 6 months of enactment.

To affirm Israel’s commitment to disengagement, Sharon ordered physical removal of Jewish settlers who defied the August 2005 deadline.

Following accusations of corruption and administrative incompetence, Fatah, the political party founded by Yasir Arafat and led by Mahmoud Abbas since Arafat’s death in 2004, lost support of Gaza Strip residents.  This resulted in a January 2006 surprise electoral victory by Hamas, a militant off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which opposed any agreement for Israeli-Palestinian co-existence.  In 2017, Yahya Sinwar became leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and declared, “Gone is the time in which Hamas discussed recognition of Israel. The discussion now is about when we will wipe out Israel.”  This pronouncement fueled new attacks against Israelis including rockets and suicide bombings, culminating in the October 7 terrorist attack.

So when China proposes a new ceasefire without any tangible guarantees for Israeli security or the return of hostages, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand why Israel would oppose the measure.  What is equally distressing is that so many people do not appreciate the extent to which moderate Israelis have risked their political careers–and in the case of Yitzhak Rabin, his life–to reach a peaceful accommodation with the Palestinian people.  To those critics who oppose the policies of the current Israeli government and prime minister Bibi Netanyahu, you are not alone.  Many Israelis share your opinion and will likely hold Netanyahu accountable for October 7.  However, Netanyahu and Likud remain in power due to the fact on those occasions when Israel has offered the Palestinians close to everything they asked for, the response has been rockets, suicide bombers and terrorists attacks of an unimaginable nature and scale.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Individuals and governments who support those who try to fool me a third time, shame on them.

For what it’s worth.

The Found(er)ing Fathers

James Madison and the Philadelphia Gang of Six have taken quite a beating lately.  Recent tirades have focused more on amendments to the Constitution than the original document.  Particular topics of debate include:

  • The establishment clause of the First Amendment.
  • The right to bear arms in the Second Amendment.
  • Section 3 of the 14th Amendment which prohibits certain individuals who have engaged in insurrection from holding public office.

I will address them one by one, beginning with the current debate over the meaning of the establishment clause of the First Amendment which reads as follows.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Subsequent Supreme Court decisions have added definition to the phrase “establishment of religion,” while enumerating instances in which religious institutions can take advantage of federal funding (e.g., the provision of community services such as food programs and mental health counseling).

However, the individual who is now second in line in presidential succession Speaker of the House Mike Johnson rejects this balance as he explained during a CNBC interview.

The separation of church and state is a misnomer. People misunderstand it. Of course, it comes from a phrase that was in a letter that Jefferson wrote. It’s not in the Constitution.

Even if the Founding Fathers were less than clear when they drafted the Bill of Rights, the New Testament is not.  Therefore, one must assume Johnson’s copy is missing the page which includes Matthew 22:21.  “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”  Like Jefferson’s letter on religious freedom, this too is not in the Constitution, but Johnson claims the Bible must be taken literally.  Except, of course, when it contradicts his vision of America as a Christian theocracy.  I am still waiting for Johnson to inform Louisiana crabbers and shrimpers they must stop trafficking in taboo products according to Leviticus 11:12,  “That which has no fins nor scales in the waters, that is a detestable thing unto you.”

When it comes to the Second Amendment, rather than biblical verses, I will paraphrase work gang Captain (Strother Martin) in Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is…a failure of imagination.”  The Founding Fathers were visionaries in most cases, but not all.  Proponents of gun safety legislation regularly suggest the drafters did not envision individual citizens carrying assault weapons.  Maybe we give Madison, et. al., more slack than they deserve.  The weapon of choice when the Bill of Rights was ratified (1791) was the Brown Bess musket, a state of the art firearm which could fire three to four shots per minutes (dare I call it a barely-automatic assault weapon).  The introduction of flint to ignite the gunpowder was a major advance from earlier muskets, much less knives, bayonets, spears, rocks and clubs.  If only the Founding Fathers had anticipated firearms would continue to evolve over time, they might have distinguished between weapons for personal protection and national security. 

The Supreme Court could still do that, though I am not holding my breath.  They need only rely on the phrase “organized militia,” you know, what we now call the National Guard.  In other words, if someone wants to wield an assault weapon, instead of “playing” soldier, they can join the Guard, live out their fantasy under trained supervision once a month, and show that they actually support the military.  On occasion, they might actually mobilize to put down an insurrection, not by rebellious slaves, but by, again you know, cultists who storm the U.S. Capitol to overturn a free and fair election.

Which brings me to Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.  Colorado Judge Sarah Wallace is under scrutiny due to her response to efforts to keep Donald Trump off the primary ballot for having “engaged in insurrection.”  The language contained in her decision has drawn more attention than the decision itself.  While she found Trump had incited the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “within the meaning of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment,” she declared the clause does not apply to the president.  The plaintiffs have appealed Judge Wallace’s decision.  They cannot believe the president is not included in the laundry list of positions to which the ban applies, especially the catchall phrase “officer of the United States.”

This one we have to lay on “Founding Fathers: The Next Generation” who drafted the language which passed Congress in 1866 and was ratified on July 9, 1868.  And again it was a failure of imagination resulting from  wrong assumptions.  The Civil War was an insurrection against an institution, the federal government.  Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was an assault on the leader of that institution.  This latter event may well have influenced the language when it comes to the omission of a sitting president from the positions to which Section 3 applies.

Sponsors of the 14th Amendment quite logically may have assumed that a president, chief executive of the federal government, would never engage in an insurrection against himself.  It might come from a band of disgruntled citizens, rogue members of Congress or even his own cabinet, but not at his own direction.  They also assumed the executive branch would be the target of insurrectionists, an assumption we now know was also false.

It appears no one foresaw the situation in which a sitting president would refuse to leave office after having been rejected by voters or through impeachment and conviction of high crimes and misdemeanors.  Ironically, the question should have come up at the exact time the 14th Amendment was before the states for ratification.  On February 24, 1868, the House of Representatives impeached President Andrew Johnson by a vote of 126-47.  The Senate trial began March 5, 1868 ending in an acquittal on May 26, 1868.  What if Johnson had been convicted?  Since the executive branch under Article II is responsible for enforcing the law, who would ensure a president vacated the White House?  Was it possible the drafters of Section 3 understood this conundrum and decided the possibility a chief executive would turn against his own government was so slim they saw no need to resolve it?

Whatever one thinks of the ex-president and his right to serve in office again, a federal judge can only rule based on the law she is given.  As much as I wish Trump could not be a candidate in 2024, Judge Wallace faithfully executed her oath of office.  If only others followed her example.  Additionally, she would not have been in this position if the Founding Fathers and future lawmakers had adopted the mantra of this blog, “Consider All The Possibilities.”

For what it’s worth.



Demand Side Economics

We hear a lot these days about the effects of inflation on average Americans (whoever they are).  And we see a lot of finger pointing when it comes to the causes.  Greedy corporations.  Supply chain disruptions resulting from the lingering effects of the pandemic.  Federal Reserve policies.  The growing federal debt.  You know what we do not hear.  Anything about the responsibility of consumers to fight inflation.

Despite the fact the current inflation rate remains almost twice the Federal Reserve target of two percent, consumer spending continues to rise.  Which suggests, every consumer could help by following what I call the Dr. ESP “Fight Inflation Now” shopping principles.  Making discretionary purchases only when they are on sale or looking for a less expensive brand substitute or generic alternative.  Let me give you an example based on my most recent purchases at Publix.

  • Every Thursday, Publix publishes a list of BOGO (buy one, get one free) items for the next seven days.
  • Make a list of products you normally buy that are on the list.  Last Friday this included a favorite brand of cereal, Thomas’ bagels, Philadelphia cream cheese, side dishes such as Betty Crocker mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, pulled pork BBQ, buns for the BBQ and frozen pizzas.  For perishables, one is consumed immediately while the other is frozen for later use.
  • Next look for sale items, even if the sale price is at or slightly more than you used to pay “in the good old days.”
  • Finally, get the staples (e.g., milk) you need that may not be on sale.

Did it make a difference?  The receipt showed that even though I purchased milk and toilet paper at the retail price, the total bill was $58.67 after a savings of $38.13.  There has been one other side benefit from this system.  By substituting brand names, we have discovered new favorites which have permanently replaced old standards.

Why does the system work?  Instead of supply chain disruptions, consumers create demand chain disruption.  Consider the following.  If consumers follow the Dr. ESP “Fight Inflation Now” principles, prices decline as consumer behavior works its way through the demand chain as follows.

  • Sale items lower the retailers’ revenue, squeezing their already narrow profit margins (especially for grocery stores).
  • Stores will then order less from brokers or produce account representatives whose commissions will suffer.
  • These middle agents will then do one of two things.  Independent brokers will devote their time and energy to higher volume products.  Manufacturers’ product representatives will report decreased sales to the home office.
  • In either case, manufacturers, facing potential loss of market share, will likely reduce prices or offer more promotions.

Can it make a real difference?  I will let Arlo Guthrie answer that question.

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they’ll ignore him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re crazy.  And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking into Publix, only buying products on sale and walking out. They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking into Publix, only buying sale items and walking out. And friends they may think it’s a movement. And that’s what it is, the demand side inflation massacre movement.  And all you got to do is follow the Dr. ESP “Fight Inflation Now” process the next time you go into Publix or any other retail store.
For what it’s worth.

Not Rocket Science

If nothing else, Joe Scarborough is consistent when it comes to his schadenfreude over Donald Trump’s promise to his followers, “You will get tired of all the winning.”  Before viewing the following Tweet or tuning into today’s edition of “Morning Joe,” I knew how he would begin his recap of last night’s off-year elections.

He then pointed out why Democratic handwringing over a spathe of weekend polls was premature and why this seventh consecutive poor showing in the only poll that matters (an actual election) does not rest solely on the shoulders of the twice impeached, four times indicted, wannabe autocrat.  However, what he failed to do was explain it in simple enough terms even the leaders of his former party could understand.

There are only two factors which determine an election’s outcome.  The candidate and the issues on which he or she runs.  The sweet spot in politics is an intersection between the two.  However, sometimes the issues don’t matter.  John Kennedy comes to mind.  Analyses of Kennedy’s and Nixon’s 1960 platforms suggest their respective stances on the major issues of the day were almost indistinguishable.  Sometimes it is the nominee who is a non-factor.  Most Americans did not feel any personal affinity to Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but his commitment to carry on Kennedy’s agenda versus the (what  then seemed) extremist views voiced by firebrand Barry Goldwater made LBJ’s brash and often crude persona irrelevant.

Which brings us to the 2024 presidential election.  The Democratic Party will have a nominee who certainly does not make most Americans swoon.  But as we saw again last night, it stands with a majority of American on most key issues.  And when it articulates those positions in a way that resonates with even more Americans, Democrats win. 

Take the extreme example of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.  His opponent Daniel Cameron made an issue of Beshear’s veto of what the Associated Press described as “a sweeping Republican bill aimed at regulating the lives of transgender youths that includes banning access to gender-affirming health care and restricting the bathrooms they can use.”  Beshear knew he needed to frame his decision in a way that appealed to (or at least did not offend) the same people who wanted more parental control over the curriculum in their children’s schools.  In his veto message, he said, “This bill allows too much government interference in personal healthcare issues and rips away the freedom of parents to make medical decisions for their children.”  The result?  Beshear’s margin of victory against a Republican touted as an up-and-comer with a future on the national political stage was five percentage points higher than his narrow win four years earlier.

In contrast, the GOP will have a candidate who has an approval rating lower than Joe Biden’s.  In addition, the party’s position on most issues is the polar opposite of that of an overwhelming majority of American voters.  Reproductive rights, gun safety, American democracy and voting rights.  Gay rights.  Separation of church and state.

Any campaign, going into 2024, would prefer to have both an exciting candidate and a platform that resonates with a majority of voters.  But given the current landscape, one party is batting .500 while the other is 0 for 7 since 2016.  Despite the most recent polls, common sense should tell us Biden’s chances are much brighter than they appear.  But as Scarborough suggested on Monday morning, bad polls, regardless how accurate they may be, send the candidate and his campaign a message.  “Work harder!”  The same applies to every individual who dreads a second Trump term.

For what it’s worth.