Category Archives: Culture

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.


Daddy Issues

You ask me what I’m thinking aboutI tell you that I’m thinking aboutWhatever you’re thinking aboutTell me something that I’ll forgetAnd you might have to tell me againIt’s crazy what you’ll do for a friend

~”Daddy Issues” by The Neighbourhood

Just when you thought there was the slightest possibility Republican “Team Sane” might eventually land the ship safely on Earth One, it’s leader former Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney proved that once Donald Trump is gone, it will be back to business as usual.  On what do I base this pessimistic view of a functioning two-party democratic system?  Her interview with Jake Tapper on the October 22 edition of CNN’s “State of the Union.” After an opening segment on the importance of plea deals by Sydney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro on Trump’s legal peril and Jim Jordan’s secret ballot reality check, Tapper turned to the Israel-Hamas War.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, just in terms of advising a country that is an ally — a lot of people are drawing parallels to 9/11, although, proportionally, this was worse. This is about — would be the same as killing 40,000 people in Israel, as opposed to 3,000 that happened here in 9/11.

On 9/11, your father was vice president. You came to work at the State Department after 9/11. Take a listen to what President Biden said in Israel this week.

VIDEO CLIP OF BIDEN: But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.

TAPPER: Given the goal of not just defeating Hamas, but a long-term goal of Israel living in peace, of a two-state solution, if that’s even a serious proposition anymore, what lessons do you think we have learned as a country that we could tell Israel, that we could share with Israel?

CHENEY: Well, look, I think probably the biggest mistake that we made post-9/11 was President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan the way that he did.

Leave it to Daddy’s little girl to conveniently skip over the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  You know, the conflict predicated on what we once thought was “the BIG lie” until Trump came up with “a BIGGER lie.” Actually it was two lies:  Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attack (not true) and his imminent development and potential use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States (also not true).

We can all agree the withdrawal from Afghanistan did not go as planned largely due to the fact that no one expected the Kabul government and military forces to surrender to the Taliban within days, if not hours, of the start of the evacuation.  At a time when some Americans are questioning continued support for Ukrainians who are fighting and dying in defense of democracy, they seem to forget we provided 20 years of both American treasure and lives for a regime that showed no interest in standing up for itself.  Since the U.S. withdrawal, Afghanistan, though ruled by the Taliban, has not been a credible terrorist threat to our homeland.  They have enough problems to deal with governing their own country.

Compare that to the consequences of the 2003 Iraq invasion. 

  • A total of 4,492 U.S. members of the arm services killed and another 32,292 wounded. 
  • Direct funding of more than $750 million.  Estimates of indirect costs at home and abroad raise that total to $3 trillion.
  • An ISIS resurgence in the region.
  • War profiteering of which the major financial beneficiary was Haliburton (you know, “Daddy’s corporation”) which received $39.5 billion in federal contracts during the conflict.

Perhaps the most devastating unintended consequence of the Iraq invasion was the removal of the single most efficient counter-balance to the rise of Iran.  After eight years of armed conflict between Iraq and Iran beginning in 1980, the Iranian clerics agreed to a U.N. brokered cease-fire.  According to a 2016 report by Satgin Hamrah of the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, “While the war may have ended in 1988, its legacy lives on in the Sunni versus Shia sectarian conflicts that currently exist in much of the Muslim world.”  Without Hussein’s presence to ensure a strong Sunni counter to the Iranian Shia theocracy, the threat to America is significantly higher than it was pre-2003. According to a 2022 assessment by the Council on Foreign Affairs:

Iran has built considerable political clout in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Its wide sphere of influence could be expanding, raising domestic tensions and alarming U.S. policymakers.

When the GOP accuses the Biden Administration of enabling Iran’s rise as a global menace, politely remind them who created the opportunity by removing their preoccupation with a hostile next door neighbor.


The other piece of news coming out of the interview was Cheney’s announcement she had not ruled out a possible run for the presidency.  My first thought?  She will not have to worry about campaign financing.  Certainly, she can self-fund her campaign with Daddy’s literal “war chest.”

For what it’s worth.

A Story for the Ages

In space, no one can hear you scream!

Tagline/Alien (1979)

Not all senior citizens are alike.  How do I know this?  Personal experience.  I am looking forward to celebrating my mother’s 101st birthday this month.  And, what is becoming less and less unusual for someone her age, she is still quite active and has all her mental faculties.  Furthermore, as strange as this may sound, she is wise beyond her years.  At 93, she knew it was time to sell her condo and move to independent living.  Two years later, she no longer felt comfortable driving and sold her car.  If and when the time comes she needs to move into assisted living, I trust she will tell me long before I ever need to suggest it.

I share this with you in response to the news Wednesday afternoon that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell unexpectedly froze during a press conference for the second time in five weeks.  During coverage of the incident on MSNBC’s “Deadline White House,” host Nicole Wallace asked an insightful question, “In the current political environment (clearly referring to both GOP and Democratic concerns about Joe Biden’s advanced age), can we have an honest conversation about what Senator McConnell is experiencing without being ageist?”  In McConnell’s case there may be a correlation between age and these episodes, but are they necessarily causal?  On March 8 of this year McConnell suffered a concussion when he tripped while attending a Washington dinner party.  One has to ask, “Absent that incident, would the Minority Leader be having these episodes when he zonks out during a press conference?”

Similar questions are understandably being asked about California Senator Dianne Feinstein who is nine years older than McConnell.  And Iowa Senator Charles Grassley (89).  But what about John Fetterman?  The junior senator from Pennsylvania is 54 years-old, ten years under the current Senate average of 64.3 years of age. In Fetterman’s case there are equally compelling questions about his ability to serve that have nothing to do with age.

Editor-in-chief of The Bulwark Charlie Sykes responded to Wallace with what I thought was a more prescient observation.  Does each of these individuals’ public stature prohibit their friends and family from doing what you or I would do with loved ones who similarly struggle with mental or physical limitations?  I believe Sykes was making a much more important point.  Despite the political ramifications of either McConnell or Feinstein stepping down, this is not a choice between party and country.  This is about party versus grace and compassion.

The best example to make this case is McConnell because he is both victim and perpetrator.  Feinstein’s early retirement should be a no-brainer.  California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom preemptively announced he would appoint an interim replacement who would not be a candidate in 2024.  Therefore, Feinstein’s decision would not effect the current Democratic majority in the Senate or provide advantage to one of the three announced candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to replace her in January 2025.  Except Feinstein is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is critical to the confirmation of Biden appointments to federal judgeships.  And McConnell, who infamously blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, said the Republicans will not allow Democrats to replace Feinstein on the 21 member committee consisting of 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.  Without Feinstein’s tie-breaking vote, committee votes on judicial confirmations will be deadlocked 10-10 and would not be forwarded to the full Senate for a final vote.

So, Republicans who are shedding crocodile tears about how sad it is to watch Feinstein’s physical and mental health deteriorate in front of a national television audience can put away their hankies.  McConnell and his minions are the ones who are preventing Feinstein from making what is clearly the most rational choice.

Ironically, McConnell is in a similar position thanks to Kentucky’s legislature which is ruled by a GOP supermajority.  As reported in the New York Times:

For decades in Kentucky, the power to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate was reserved exclusively for the governor, regardless of whether an incumbent stepped down, died in office or was expelled from Congress.

But with Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, in the state’s highest office, Republican lawmakers used their legislative supermajorities to change the state law in 2021.

Under the new law, a state executive committee consisting of members of the same political party as the departing incumbent senator will name three candidates the governor can choose from to fill the vacancy on a temporary basis. Then a special election would be set, and its timing would depend on when the vacancy occurs.

One more example of a Republican legislature changing the law when it no long benefits them politically.  But that is a discussion for another day.  Among the likely candidates put forward will be House Oversight Committee chair James Comer who has already signaled he will run for McConnell’s seat if he does not seek re-election next year.  Comer is a member of the Freedom Caucus, 2020 election denier and is leading the push to open a Biden impeachment inquiry though he has yet to identify the “crime or misdemeanor” the president might be guilty of.  The sane GOP members in the Senate who make up the caucus majority therefore prefer McConnell, which means the minority leader’s personal health and well-being, like Feinstein’s, are held hostage due to externalities beyond his control.

But age or cognitive ability are not the only criteria which determine fitness for office. Given a choice between an octogenarian who occasionally makes a verbal gaffe and a young, charismatic alternative who can race through a lie faster than A. J. Foyt, I will always take the former.  Which leaves only two concerns I have about one’s longevity in public life.  First, like my mother, an individual does not need someone else to tell them when to exit the stage.  Second, others do not create barriers which keep an individual from making that decision.

Let me close with one more personal observation.  I have occasionally been asked whether I ever considered a podcast.  I know my own limitations.  At the top of the list, I am no Casey Kasem.  I do not have a classic radio voice.  A close second is the fact I find, as I have aged, I often stop in mid-sentence to get my thoughts in order.  That too does not make for good audio.  Which is why I stick to the written versus spoken word.  To paraphrase the Alien tagline, “On WordPress, no one can hear you pause!

For what it’s worth.

What You Don’t See

There should be some limits to the kinds of weapons we can own but the gun people don’t think so. “I need an automatic weapon to defend myself.”  Really?  You can’t defend yourself with a pistol?  You have a constant onslaught of enemies rushing onto your lawn so you need 100 rounds a minute to mow them down?  If you’re that much of an ass you shouldn’t have a butter knife.

~Comedian Costaki Economopolous on the 2nd Amendment

In my “Imagination and Entrepreneurship” class at Miami University, I would start any discussion about the importance of observation with the following mental “warm-up” exercise.

Which way is this bus moving?

The solution is simple once you recognize this side of the bus is all windows. Can you imagine what the other side of the bus looks like?  There would be doors as well as windows.  Where would the front door be?  Opposite the window on the left, i.e. where the driver sits (unless you live in Great Britain or other countries where the driver sits on the right side of the vehicle).  Therefore, the bus must be moving to the left.  Consider this as the visual equivalent of reading between the lines of a manuscript to fully understand the author’s meaning.

Sadly, I was reminded of this exercise over the weekend while watching a video clip of a 21-year-old assailant with an assault rifle entering a Dollar General store in Jacksonville.  Why?  Because there are two perspectives from which we can examine this event. How many times have we been exposed to “this side of the bus” since the national assault weapons ban expired in September, 2004?  A well-armed loner, on the offense, staking out a location where he is sure to find his intended targets.

Now imagine the other side.  Instead of a front page headline or breaking news on CNN about a gunman (and they are almost exclusively male) leaving his residence with  an AR-47 to “hunt” his prey, how many times is the story about a property owner holding off a horde of invaders with his assault weapon? I found just two instances via a Google search.  These are the rare exception.  In every other case, a shot gun or handgun was sufficient deterrence.

I also Googled the question, “Why do you need an assault weapon for protection?”  Among the numerous hits was a March 2021 interview by then Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace with (drum roll) South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham.  Graham explained:

I own an AR-15. If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to because I can defend myself.

To be clear, Graham claims it is the intersection of these four factors that justify his packing an assault weapon.

  • He lives in an otherwise unprotected house.
  • Gangs are a present danger in his neighborhood.
  • South Carolina law enforcement is inadequate to handle an emergency.
  • A natural disaster creates the environment for violent crimes.

Graham resides in a 10,000 square foot McMansion in Clemson, South Carolina estimated to be worth $18 million.  Although I could not confirm whether the house is in a gated community, it is surrounded by equally impressive residences.  Most such communities have private security to guard the entrance and patrol the neighborhood.  Additionally, I am sure Graham’s home has its own electronic security system.

How about those ever present gangs (a dog whistle if I ever heard one.)  The crime rate in Clemson is less than half of that for the state of South Carolina.

Even if there is no private security, Clemson, like many college towns, has more police and emergency personnel than the average city.  Law enforcement in Graham’s jurisdiction is provided by the municipal police department and Clemson University’s security force.

All of the above would be irrelevant if there were no natural disasters to trigger Graham’s anticipated crime wave.  But this is the one thing he got right. Since 2000, South Carolina has had more than its share of hurricanes, tornadoes and coastal flooding, many of which resulted in FEMA emergency declarations.  Hurricane Kyle (2002).  Hurricane Gaston (2004).  Hurricane Hanna (2008).  Hurricane Dorian (2019) Hurricane Earl (2010).    Hurricane Zeta (2020).  Hurricane Ian (2022). A series of tornadoes in April 2020.

And yet neither the Senator or any other South Carolina resident is reported to have needed an assault weapon to deter those pesky “gangs” during any of these disasters.  Considering its projected path, Hurricane Idalia will again test Graham’s hypothesis sometime around noon on Thursday.  However, based on his behavior since January 6, 2021, we are more likely to find the Senator hunkered down at Mar-a-Lago than playing Rambo at his Clemson residence.

For what it’s worth.

The REAL Pronoun Issue

To clarify, I was betrayed by a fake friend and that’s what I meant with ‘they’ not anything more.

~Jamie Foxx/Instagram/August 5, 2023

The above quote is an excerpt from Foxx’s online apology for an earlier Instagram post which could be interpreted as anti-Semitic based on its historical use to blame Jews for the crucifixion. 

They killed this dude name Jesus … what do you think they’ll do to you???! #fakefriends #fakelove.

~Jamie Foxx/Instagram/August 4, 2023

As seems to be the case these days, celebrities, regardless of occupation, seem incapable of simply saying, “I know I screwed up.  I’m sorry.  And I know I need to work at being a better person.”  Instead, Foxx’s explanation only made the matter worst.  Why? Because his explanation makes sense only if one of the following must be true.

  • His #fakefriend is non-binary and refers to himself as “they.”
  • By simple deductive reasoning, if “they” refers to Foxx’s #fakefriend, Foxx accused this individual of killing Jesus.  Should we, therefore, expect a new comedy album in which Mel Brooks, in a role reversal, is the straight man to Foxx’s #fakefriend, the new 2,000-year-old man?
  • Foxx refers to every individual as “they,” as in “Joe, how are they doing this afternoon?”

Of course, Foxx is not alone, Donald Trump and his campaign played “can you top this” over the weekend.  It began with Trump’s now infamous post on “Truth Social.”

If you go after me, I’m coming after you.

~Donald Trump/Truth Social/August 4, 2023

Jack Smith correctly pointed out in a filing to Judge Tanya Chutkan it took Trump less than 24 hours to violate a federal magistrate’s warning not to intimidate or threaten anyone associated with his obstruction and conspiracy indictment.

It is a crime to try to influence a juror or to threaten or attempt to bribe a witness or any other person who may have information about your case, or to retaliate against anyone for providing information about your case to the prosecution, or to otherwise obstruct the administration of justice.

Her concern was not unfounded. This unusual admonition was likely tied to findings by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Attack on the United States Capitol’s finding Trump had contact one of their witnesses prior to that individual’s interview with committee staff.  And once Trump’s legal team realized their client might be in jeopardy of having his bond vacated, they backtracked quicker than Vin Diesel in the latest Fast and Furious movie.

The Truth post cited is the definition of political speech, and was in response to the RINO, China-loving, dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs, like the ones funded by the Koch brothers and the Club for No Growth.

~Unsigned Statement from Trump Spokesperson/August 5, 2023

If that is who Trump meant, why did he not mention them specifically?  I thought maybe he might have referred to the one security officer at his hush money arraignment in New York who did not cry when he was led into the courtroom.  The irony is Trump’s lawyers did not appreciate that the very statements and ads sponsored by the Koch Brothers and others, which so upset their client, are the “definition of political speech,” without the “fire in a crowded theater” threat to avenge a perceived wrong.

Despite the MAGA-verse “war on woke,” the real problem is not whether an infinitesimal percentage of Americans who could be described as gender fluid choose to attach a non-traditional pronoun to their persona.  The real problem is the use of pronouns such as “they” and “you” which are bandied about as a façade for moral fluidity.

For what it’s worth.