Early Spring Muses

The most impressive NCAA college basketball player this year is a woman, Paige Bueckers who plays for Connecticut. Only a freshman, she seems to be a better all around game than Diana Taurasi, who I had considered the best women’s college basketball player that I have seen.

***

With the announcement of the resignation of Roy Williams at North Carolina, the five best college basketball coaches in my lifetime:

  1. John Wooden
  2. Mike Krzyzewski
  3. Dean Smith
  4. Roy Williams
  5. Jay Wright (this choice may be a bit premature but I wanted a Big 5 coach on my list)

***

I would not need to sit on a jury for an hour, a day, a month, two months or however long the trial of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd takes. I had the correct verdict figured out in nine minutes and 29 seconds.

***

Many years ago I bought and read a book by Lawrence Shames and Peter Barton titled Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived. This book reflects the thoughts, actions and philosophies of Barton, a successful businessman who was dying from cancer in his early 50s. Barton began his book,  “There’s not one thing I regret or wish I could redo. There’s not one thing I wished I done, and didn’t. I’m contented and fulfilled.

Barton died at age 51.

Here are some sections of the book I have underlined as constant reference as I get older…

The stories of our lives have a due date, like books at the library.

A problem that can be fixed by money… is not a problem.

If I have anything at all to teach about life, it probably comes down to these two simple but far-reaching notions: 

Recognizing the difference between a dumb risk and a smart one, and 

Understanding when you need to change direction, and having the guts to do it.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t have a bad day for the rest of my life. If someone was wasting my time, i’d excuse myself and walk away. If a situation bothered me or refused to get resolved, I’d shrug and move on. I’d squander no energy on petty annoyances, poison no minutes with useless regret.

I would only work for someone I thought was wildly smart.

Duration, for him (Barton), is no longer quite the same as it is for most of us; he sees time not in terms of days or hours but in episodes of energy, bursts of attention.

There’s just one final thing I want to say. Probably it’s how everyone wants to be remembered. But that’s OK. I’ve said from the start that I make no claim of being special; I’m just one more person dying, revisiting his life. I think my father would’ve said the same thing, in the same words, If he had had the time. It’s simply this: I really tried. I did my best.”

***

Coincidently I have just finished a book by William R. Irvine titled the Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer and More Resilient. I reommend the book. Barton epitomizes the stoic philosophy that Irvine promotes. Barton comments on his acceptance of his diagnosis and prognosis, “My frame of mind was something I could still control,. Doing so would be a sort of victory I was not accustomed to valuing – – a totally inward, private victory – – but a legitimate accomplishment nevertheless. I resolved to control my own discomfort, to rise above them if I possibly could. In doing so, I came to understand the deep truth that, while pain may be unavoidable, suffering is largely optional.

My Basketball Books Hall of Fame

It’s March Madness time so I thought I would share a list of the top books that I have enjoyed about basketball. The first ten books represent my “top seeds” but let me offer at the outset that any basketball (or any other sport) books written by John Feinstein are Hall of Fame worthy.

  1. A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein
  2. The Miracle of St. Anthony by Adrian Wojnarowski
  3. The Last Amateurs: Playing for Glory and Honor in Division I College Basketball by John Feinstein 
  4. Basketball: A Love Story by Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew, Dan Klores
  5. Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby
  6. The Hoops Whisperer by Idan Ravin
  7. Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman
  8. To the Hoop: Seasons of a Basketball Life by Ira Berkow
  9. A Sense Of Where You Are by John McPhee
  10. Dream Team by Jack McCallum
  11. A March to Madness: A View from the Floor in the Atlantic Coast Conference by John Feinstein 
  12. Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel
  13. The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
  14. The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith
  15. Showtime by Jeff Pearlman
  16. Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson
  17. The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons 
  18. Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four by John Feinstein 
  19. Unfinished Business: On and Off the Court With the 1990-91 Boston Celtics by Jack McCallum 
  20. The Back Roads to March: The Unsung, Unheralded, and Unknown Heroes of a College Basketball Season by John Feinstein

Recommended Reading

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself and Win by Maria Konnikova (With help, a plan and a lot of preparation, a woman writer learns to play professional poker and beats the pros. Excellent psychological insights on mastering poker and life.True story!)

Three Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman (I really enjoy Pearlman’s sports books and this one is really good with a lot of interesting inside stories. You don’t have to be a Lakers fan to enjoy this book about a dysfunctional group of players and egos who manage to win world titles.)

Gods at Play: An Eyewitness Account of Great Moments in American Sports by Tom Callahan (Reporter’s memoir of covering great athletes like Muhammed Ali, Pete Rose, Oscar Robertson, Roberto Clemente, Arthur Ashe and others. His story about Bob Cousy and how Cousy took care of his sick wife was very moving.)

The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media by Harold Holzer ( a very long book with interesting anecdotes of Presidents vs. the Press going back to Washington; chapter on Trump is very interesting):

Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neuman and WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman (business book that reads like a novel)

Epitaph by Maria Doris Russell (Historical novel about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Tombstone. Great read!)

The Quiet American: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—A Tragedy in Three Acts by Scott Anderson (A Book Review and Introspection)

“In this, the United States really had no one to blame but herself. By the autumn of 1956, she had shown her preference for a dictatorship over democracy in Iran and Guatemala. She had so thoroughly shred her anti-colonial stance of the Roosevelt years as to aid her European imperial allies in quelling independence movements around the world. Under the leadership of the Dulles Brothers, the United States had compiled the hit list of foreign leaders to be removed, by assassinations if necessary. 

Most shameful of all, in the tumult of the autumn of 1956, America may have lost the best chance it ever had to bring the Cold War to an early close, and to avert all the tragedy that was to come.”

The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—-A Tragedy in Three Acts (page 431)

I am used to having my assumptions and preconceptions confirmed when I read a history related book. Sure there may be some minor surprises and some gaps of knowledge filled but when I close most books, there are no major changes in how I feel, especially about our country. Not so with this book…

This book impacted my current thinking about American exceptionalism and honor or lack of as the Pentagon Papers changed my thinking about the Vietnam War and the U.S government when I was in my 20s.

I have always looked at World War II and its aftermath as possibly our greatest hours, based on my knowledge of history. “The Greatest Generation” won a war fought on two fronts and after it was over, helped not only our allies but our vanquished in rebuilding their countries. The United States was respected not only for our military might but also what we stood for, freedom, liberty and democracy.

However as I read Scott Anderson’s well researched and well written book, I realized that much of my thinking was illusion about American history between 1945-1960. 

The events within the book post-World War II were viewed by four different men involved in the U.S. intelligence community. They had different backgrounds, personalities, missions and roles but shared disillusionment with many of our foreign intelligence and policy efforts including: 

  • No or little resistance by the U.S. and Britain to Russia’s ruthless takeovers of Eastern European countries including Romania, Poland and Albania. (Churchill negotiated a secret deal with Stalin to precipitate this.)
  • Intelligence fails by General Douglas McArthur (Philippines invasion by Japanese,; North Korea invasion of South Korea; Chinese troops cross border to fight in Korean War)
  • In house political fighting by J. Edgar Hoover and others to control collection of foreign intelligence. Damage created by Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-Communist crusade to morale and recruitment within U.S. intelligence services.
  • Failure by U.S. and Britain to identify Kim Philby and others as Russian spies. Russia was aware of our atomic weapon secrets and espionage plans.
  • Various failures at insurgency within Russian satellite countries that were anticipated by the Russian KGB resulting in failed missions and tortured and killed agents.
  • President Eisenhower’s refusal to provide any aid or support to Hungary and Poland in 1956 when revolts broke out in both countries. His refusal to do anything resulted in the revolts being crushed by Russia (who were ready to agree to pull their troops from the satellite countries), with thousands killed and imprisoned.
  • Successful violent overthrows initiated by U.S. intelligence over democratic elected governments in Iran and Guatemela. Ramifications over these events still felt today.
  • Intelligence and strategic planning failures (including assassination of South Vietnam President) in Vietnam that precipitated our military involvement there resulting in tumult and riots within the United States after tens of thousands of American soldiers injured or killed.

Just as we are experiencing in our govenment today, there was a lack of leadership, moral cowardice, unbridled ambition, poor judgment and incompetency during the 40s and 50s. Many of the failures committed in foreign affairs then are repeated today. We started a war over “missing weapons of destruction” that were never found but which the Bush administration said existed.

I recommend the book to all no matter your political affiliation or ideology. Very well researched and written.

Best Books of 2020

This year I focused on books that I enjoyed and that I think my friends and other readers will. 

I have read 57 books so far in 2020. I am recommending eight books that I enjoyed. Four are novels, two are history related, one is a business tale and the other is a sports book about basketball. I also offer two honorable mention books that may be of interest.

Novels:

The End of October by Lawrence Wright

This novel is about a global pandemic and other disasters and was written and published before the Covid 19 pandemic and what’s most surprising is how the author has eerily forecasted many of the events and issues that we are experiencing now. Surprising ending!

The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson

Instructive story on how the English people handled “the Blitz”, the bombing of their cities, homes and businesses by the Germans. Story focuses on the leadership skills of Winston Churchill in maintaining morale and discipline. This story makes an interesting comparison between the conduct of the British people and Churchill in 1940 in combatting the Germans to the conduct of the American people and our leadership today combatting Covid 19.

Fleishman in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

I saw this book listed on so many “Best of 2019” book lists that I wanted to read it. I am very glad that I did. It was a very entertaining story from the first page till the end. The story centered around a man recently separated with two kids trying to figure out the rest of his life. The story starts with his ex-wife literally disappearing and leaving him with the care of his two kids. He also has to balance his career as a doctor around the care of his children and his now burgeoning social life. 

Talk To Me by John Kenney

Ted Grayson is a 59 year old network news anchor (think Tom Brokaw) who endures a string of catastrophic personal events: his wife has found a new love and is divorcing him, his daughter, Franny is estranged from him and he is losing his highly visible and well paid network job after suffering a verbal meltdown caught online at a woman employee. The meltdown exposes him to national public ridicule and drives him to deep depression. Great insights on managing aging, the media and trying to find public and personal redemption.

Business:

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac

Well researched book. One of the best business management books available. Excellent storytelling by Mike Isaac. Plenty of business and personal lessons for would be and actual entrepreneurs. Fascinating look at how a business idea starts, gets funded, rolls out and tries to survive in a very competitive and regulated environment. Interesting background stories about the perks and peccadilloes of the executives and investors of the company.

History:

The Fall of Japan by William Craig

Explores the defeat of Japan in World War II. I had liked to think I was an armchair expert on World War II but I learned a number of things that I had not read in previous history books. (e.g. Even after two atom bombs dropped on their homeland, there was intense resistance to surrendering by the Japanese military.)

Evil Geniuses : The Unmaking of America by Kurt Andersen

This book is not a page turner. You are stopped nearly every page to digest what information the author has presented or to consider his analysis and thinking. It’s an analysis about how the rich got richer in America. It started in earnest during the Reagan years and grew into an unstoppable force supported by willing politicians, CEOs, journalists, conservative think tanks, investors and right wing economists. Some of the evil geniuses include Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist, Donald Trump, John H. Sununu, Stephen Moore, Lewis Powell and more. Who suffers? The middle and lower classes…

Sports:

Basketball: A Love Story by Jackie MacMullan

I loved the book! If you are a basketball fan (and I am), you will find the opinions, nostalgia and recountings by just about every major figure in pro and college basketball to be fascinating. This book covers both men’s and women’s college and pro basketball. This book serves as the literary companion to the ESPN documentary.

Bonus Book Recommendations:

Bringing The Heat by Mark Bowden

This is one of the best books about the NFL I have read! What made it special was that it covered the 1992 season for the Philadelphia Eagles. A nostalgic journey as it covered a season that was 28 years ago. But I remember so many of the characters covered in this book including Buddy Ryan, Norman Braman, Seth Joyner, Jerome Brown, Randall Cunningham, Wes Hopkins, Reggie White etc. Lots of great anecdotes and candid insights into a very good Eagles team.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer by Peter Elkind

Tragic story of a very promising politician and potential Presidential candidate. Smart guy with advanced family, education and financial pedigrees who became Governor of New York and loses it all after his involvement with a female prostitute. Tale reads like a political novel. Interesting to read the extent on how Spitzer tries to cover up his illicit activities.

The End of October by Lawrence Wright (A Book Review)

The End of October is a novel that incorporates the following elements = Horror Story + Political Novel + Family’s fight for survival + Cautionary Tale.

This novel was written and published before the Covid 19 pandemic and what’s most surprising is how the author has eerily forecasted many of the events and issues that we are experiencing now. (He even predicted the U.S. Vice President being in charge of the pandemic task force and failing.)

I have read two other non-fiction books by Wright: Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David and The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Those books, like this novel, are excellent.

The background of this book includes the following: Global pandemic (Kongoli) that kills hundreds of millions of people…no cures, no vaccines…famine worldwide…Middle East war between Saudi Arabia And Iran…terrorist attacks by religious fanatics…cyber warfare between the United States and Russia that destroys each nation’s infrastructure and economies…economic depression, fallen governments worldwide…

It’s not a pleasant read or a feel good story. One can easily imagine the parade of horribles that could happen under those events. Panic. Hospitals overwhelmed. Government ineffective. (Philadelphia becomes the first U.S. hotspot in this novel).

Within all this chaos is epidemiologist Henry Parsons desperately trying to develop a vaccine, stay alive (he has more adventures and near death experiences than Indiana Jones)  and find a way to get back to the United States and save his wife and two children.

For me, the book had a slow start but quickly became a page turner after the fourth or fifth chapter. There is also an unexpected surprise finding at the end of the book.

One of the two or three best novels I have read in 2020…

Dewey Beats Truman: A Cautionary Tale for 2020

I just finished an excellent book titled Dewey Beats Truman: The 1948 Election and The Battle for America’s Soul by AJ Baime. It serves as a cautionary tale of what could happen, particularly to the unpleasant surprise for Democrats, in this year’s Presidential election.

First, my admiration for Truman as a President continues to grow. His administration was dealing with post Second World War relations and issues with the Soviet Union. There was a genuine concern there may be war between the two countries, particularly when the Soviets tried to blockade food and supplies getting into Berlin. Civil Rights was a huge issue as black soldiers returning home from the war demanding equal opportunity and equal justice. Truman initiated a number of civil rights legislation that infuriated the Southern Democrats in his own party. Truman was an early supporter for the state of Israel. This angered many in his party who were concerned that the Arab states would cut back on the distribution of oil to the United States.

Second, there are some corollaries between candidates Truman and Trump. Polls showed that both candidates were/are behind 15-20% of their challengers. Political pundits and writers almost unanimously picked Thomas Dewey, the Republican candidate to win. Dewey was so confident of winning that he was focusing on who would be members of his Cabinet when he won in November. Major newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post endorsed Dewey. Both Trump and Truman were characterized as unpopular candidates. Congressional candidates running for reelection avoided having their endorsements or helping their campaigns with joint appearances. There were also concerns about one candidate winning the popular vote but the other winning the electoral college and causing a crisis. (Fortunately Truman easily won the popular and electoral college vote.)

Third, there were concerns in 1948, like today, of Soviet Union involvement in the election. During the campaign, Joseph Stalin exchanged letters with the progressive candidate, Henry Wallace. Stalin’s involvement intimated that he could work on building a peace with Wallace. The Soviet Union also engaged in certain military and political activities that were intended to discredit the Truman presidency and campaign.

Fourth, Truman’s path to victory was more problematic. Southern Democrats bolted the party as they opposed civil rights for blacks. They nominated Strom Thurmond as their choice for President. (Ironic that Strom was such a huge segregationist as he fathered a black daughter. To his credit, he did support and take care of her, surreptitiously.) The progressive wing of the Democratic Party nominated Henry Wallace as President. Wallace was not afraid to identify with the communist party. Wallace portrayed himself as a peace candidate, he was afraid that Truman would declare war on the Soviet Union.

Since Truman was not expected to win, campaign funds were very low. Customary Democratic party contributors decided to sit out this presidential election. This impacted Truman’s ability to get out his message, particularly with the advent of election coverage by television networks.

Sadly there were some things that happened in 1948 that still occur today. There were a number of incidents where innocent black men were killed by white mobs and gangs in southern states. These murders were often taken to suppress black voting turnout in the South. Despite overwhelming prosecution evidence presented at the trials of the of the people responsible and charged for the crimes, white juries in those southern states would not render guilty verdicts.

There are differences between the campaigns of 1948 and today. In 1948, both Harry Truman and Thomas Dewey refused to engage in character assassination and both treated their respective opponent with relative respect. When the votes were counted, Dewey respectfully conceded the election and wished Truman well. We certainly have not seen that courtesy exhibited today. In addition, the incumbent, President Truman engaged in a whistle-stop tour sharing his plans on foreign and domestic affairs. His speeches were disciplined. Truman addressed voters concerns, he did not engage in vitriolic language and focused on policies, not personality.

Evil Geniuses: the Unmaking of America : A Recent History by Kurt Andersen

This is a very sobering but not surprising story. The “evil geniuses” in this story include Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Milton Friedman, Lewis Powell, John H. Sununu, Mitch McConnell, Grover Norquist, Robert Bork and others. The Democrats own a lot of the blame too. Their Congress representatives were lobbied to support various deregulation efforts and tax cut packages. And now many Americans reap what has been sowed and plotted by the economic right.

The rich have gotten richer and the middle and lower classes have struggled the past 40 years. Listed below are some notes from my reading of the book:

In 1980, income above $700,000 (in today’s dollars) was taxed at 70% by the federal government, but today the top rate is 37%. And the richest Americans, who back in the day paid an average of 51% in federal, state and local taxes combined, now pay just 33%.

The richest 0.01% of Americans, the one in 10,000 families worth an average of $500 million, pay in effect federal income tax rate half what it was in the 1970s.

Before 1980, all Americans’ incomes grew at the same basic rate as the overall economy. Since 1980, the only people whose incomes have increased at that rate are people with household incomes in the range today of $180,000 to $450,000. People with incomes higher than that, the top 1%, have gotten increases much bigger than the overall economic growth. Meanwhile 90% of Americans have done worse than the economy overall.

The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit more than tripled from 1950 to 1980, adjusted for inflation, but it has increased by just half in the four decades since.

“The greatest lie is that the 401(k) was capable of replacing the old system of pensions,” says the regretful man who was president of the American Society of Pension actuaries at the time and who had given his strong endorsement to 401(k)s. Today only one in eight private sector employees are in line to get such a pension, and most American workers don’t even have a 401(k) or an IRA or any other retirement account.

Only a quarter of people graduating from four-year public colleges and universities in the early 1990s had student loan debt; by 2010, 2/3 did.

The United States economy since 1980 has grown as much as or more than those of most of our rich country peers, although not all —-Sweden, for instance, has continuously grown faster than America for the last 30 years. But while the average US income and GDP per capita have risen as fast as or faster than incomes in your European economies, in exceptional America the more real life relevant median income – – the amount of money going to the person who earns more than the poor half and less than the rich half has hardly budged for decades.

In every international ranking of healthcare quality, the United States is low, from 28th to 37th place. Until the 1980s too, life expectancies for people in all the rich countries were increasing right in line but now people in the other countries live 3 to 5 years longer on average than Americans. According to the health efficiency index compiled by Bloomberg News which combines longevity and healthcare spending into a single metric for almost every country, the United States is second from the bottom, better only than Bulgaria.

Book Review: Hoax by Brian Stelter

So there is a resistance movement within Fox News! Good to know! Today it was on display as many Fox “journalists” defended Jennifer Griffin after Trump wanted her fired after her sources revealed that certain allegations in the recent Atlantic article were confirmed by her sources. Trump accused our military dead, injured and POWs as being “losers.”

Fox Heroes: Carl Cameron, Shep Smith, Neil Cavuto, Chris Wallace and Brett Baier

Fox Zeroes: Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Jeanne Pirro, Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle

Listed below are some sections from the Stetler book to give one a taste of what it covered and was about:

The day after his on air powwow with Hannity, the president called the host with a question; “How did we do?” Hannity knew that the real meaning of the question was “How did we rate?” pg. 5

Hannity chose this life, so no one felt sorry for him, but the stress took its toll. “Hannity would tell you, off off off the record, that Trump is a bat shit crazy person,” one of his associates said. Another colleague concurred; “Hannity has said to me, more than once, “he’s crazy”. pg. 9

Most Americans knew that Trump was on trustworthy, but the Fox base still trusted him. They also trusted Hannity, who dismissed “coronavirus hysteria,” and Laura Ingraham, who called Democrats “the panDEMic party” and Watters , who said, “I’m not a bit afraid of the coronavirus and no one else should be that afraid either.” pg. 12

It’s worth stating the obvious here: Trump’s entanglement with Fox has no historical precedent. Never before has a TV network effectively produced the president’s intelligence briefing and staff the federal bureaucracy. Never before has a president promoted a single TV channel, ask the hosts for advice behind closed doors, and demanded for them to be fired when they stepped out of line. pg.22

Here’s what everyone should understand about Fox’s relationship with Trump, a former Fox and Friends producer said: “People think he’s calling up Fox and Friends and telling us what to say. Hell no. It’s the opposite. We tell him what to say.” pg.43

What works (at Fox): 

  • Stories about undocumented immigrants killing Americans
  • Stories about citizens standing up to the government bureaucracy 
  • Stories about college students disrespecting the flag 
  • Stories about hate crime hoaxes 
  • Stories about liberal media outlets suppressing the truth 
  • And whenever possible stories involving attractive women pg.50

Sex is what Ailes (Roger) wanted, and sex is what he got. He used his power to enforce the short skirts and “leg cams” and exploitive segments that kept men watching. He also abused his power by preying on dozens of women, including Gretchen Carlson, who hatched a plan to hold him accountable. Ailes downfall would coincide with Trump’s takeover of the American right. (pg.51)

(Kimberly) Guilfoyle’s cheerleading for Ailes confused some staffers, since Ailes was known to be dismissive of her in private. According to unsubstantiated allegations in a lawsuit filed by former Fox co host Julie Roginsky, Ailes once said to her that Guilfoyle would “get on her knees for anyone.” pg. 67

In private, during the 2016 primaries, (Carl) Cameron likened Trump to a con man and reminded people of all Trump’s documented fraudulent activity. He pointed out that Fox was owned by Murdoch, a phenomenally successful businessman who built a global media empire, while Trump merely sold his name to other people’s projects. pg.123

Rounding out the five was a “hot chick,” and in Ailes’ words — – two actually, Kimberly Guilfoyle and Andrea Tantaros, who took turns sitting at the end of the table so the wide shot shot showed off their legs. That was the “leg chair.” pg. 139

(Ailes) always wanted a certain southern beauty queen look from the women on his channel. Sometimes (Suzanne) Scott would convey his messages directly, by telling new hires to “let hair and make up do their job.” She wanted more glam, longer eyelash extensions, shorter skirts, bronzer legs. Some of the Fox make up artists called it the “Barbie doll look.” pg. 143

Poll after poll showed that Fox viewers were less concerned about the virus than average consumers of other news sources, strongly suggesting a linkage between the networks’ commentary and the audience’s beliefs. The Knight foundation and Gallup found that 57% of respondents with a “conservative news diet” believe that the new virus was less deadly than or as deadly as the flu. pg. 306

Book Review: The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton

I finished The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir by John Bolton. Bolton was Trump’s former National Security Advisor for about 18 months. Out of all the Trump related books written by authors who used to work with Trump that I have read, this appears to be the most detailed and documented. Since there has been no real pushbacks about the events described in the book, I assume that Bolton’s story is credible. Like many other of his appointees, Trump soured on Bolton but Bolton resigned first before Trump could fire him by Tweet.

It is a long book (494 pages) and drags at times. (If you are not into Presidential history, foreign affairs or the Trump presidency, you may want to skip this book and just watch Bolton’s various interviews on Youtube.)

Here are my six takeaways from reading the book:

1. Trump is incompetent. He runs his administration like he ran The Apprentice. He is disorganized, uninformed (doesn’t read or listens to intelligence reports), indecisive, easily manipulated and shows little respect or confidence in the opinions and expertise of those individuals who work for him. Hence the extremely high turnover in White House staff and cabinet officials.

2. Bolton devotes chapters to events and policies related to China, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran. Trump has managed to mishandle them all, particularly North Korea where Trump was schooled by Kim Jong Un.

3. Trump had a foreign affairs team that included Bolton, Mike Pompeo, General James Mattis, Jared Kushner, Nikki Haley, H.R. McMaster and General John Kelly. The Marx Brothers defending Freedonia  were more effective than Trump and his appointees in promoting our national defense and interests.

4. Trump does not have a dog in the White House. He does not need one—-he has Vice President Pence. Bolton claims that Trump has sole control over what Pence does or says. Trump has a touch leach on any ambitions that Pence may have. There are no examples of Pence trying to mitigate Trump’s influence or fix the various dysfunctions among various departments and cabinet members. Bolton alluded to the rumor that Haley could replace Pence on the GOP ticket.

5. Trump treats our allies (Britain, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea etc) with contempt while trying to cozy up to our enemies (Russia, North Korea and China.) Bolton claims that Trump asked for China’s help in his reelection campaign.

6. I have very little respect for John Bolton. My lack of respect also extends to most of Trump’s cabinet and appointees and to most of the Republican party. They all understand that Trump should have been removed as president and they have kept quiet about this. Now that the Trump presidency is ending, many former Trump supporters are bailing out so that history does not judge them as harshly as they deserve.

I have provided some notes and highlights from the book to provide a flavor of what Bolton was trying to communicate about Trump and how Trump mishandled foreign affairs:

Charles Krauthammer, a sharp critic of his, told me he had been wrong earlier to characterize Trump’s behavior as that of a 11-year-old boy. “I was off by 10 years,” Krauthammer, remarked. “He’s like a one-year-old.’ page 8

The White House announced Trump would make a major Iran address on October 12, so I (Bolton) decided to stop being shy, phoning Westerhout to ask for a meeting. By then, Tillerson had reportedly call Trump “a fucking moron,” which he refused to deny flatly. page 25

For a US president to grant Kim a summit with no sign whatever of a strategic decision to renounce nuclear weapons – – in fact, giving it away for nothing – – was a propaganda gift beyond measure. page 33

I met with Trump and Pence at 1:30 in the small dining room down the short hall from the oval. Trump spent a lot of time in his dining room, with a white screen television on the wall opposite his chair, usually turn to Fox news. page 53

Of course, Trump didn’t help by not being clear about what he wanted, jumping randomly from one question to another, and generally frustrating efforts to have a coherent discussion about the consequences of making one choice rather than another.” page 56

Although the first Abe (Japan’s prime minister)— Trump meeting was on political matters, our briefing room was filled with trade policy types who, having heard there was a briefing, wandered in. Trump was late so I said we would have a brief discussion on trade and then get to North Korea. It was a mistake. Trump, set off about a comment that we had no better ally than Japan, jarringly complained about Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Things went downhill from there.  pages 61 to 62

I joined one of the intelligence briefings Trump hat every week from the director of National Intelligence Coats, CIA director Haspel, and briefers who accompanied them. I don’t think these briefings were terribly useful, and neither did the intelligence committee, since most of the time was spent listening to Trump, rather than Trump listening to the briefers. I made several tries to improve the transmission of intelligence to Trump but failed repeatedly. page 89

Is it Finland kind of a satellite of Russia?” He (Trump) asked later that same morning if Finland was part of Russia. I tried to explain the history but didn’t get very far … page 128

He (Trump) then turned to his visits to Walter Reed, where the wounded soldiers had not the impact on Trump they’ve had on most people, impressing them with their bravery and commitment to their mission. Trump has simply been horrified by the seriousness of their wounds (oblivious also that advances in military medicine saved many men who simply would’ve died in earlier wars). page 219

As it was, Trump generally had only two intelligence briefings per week, and in most of those, he spoke at greater length than the briefers, often on matters completely unrelated to the subject at hand. page 224

I opened the door to ask where Kelly (Chief of Staff) was but no one knew. I went to the hallway; saw him speaking to someone; pulled him into the Roosevelt Room, which was empty; and shut the door. This was our second emotional conversation, even more intense than the first. “I’ve commanded men in combat,” he said “and I’ve never had to put up with shit like that,” referring to what just happened in the Oval. I could see his resignation coming, so I asked, “But what is the alternative if you resign?” Kelly said, “What if we had a real crisis like 9/11 with the way he makes decisions? page 232

Trump said approvingly (to Chinese President Jinping Xi) that there was great hostility among the Democrats. He then stunningly turned the conversation to the upcoming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win. page 310

Flying to Washington, I concluded that Hanoi (location where Trump and Un met) showed the US still didn’t know how to deal with North Korea and its ilk. We spent endless hours negotiating with ourselves, whittling away at our own position before our adversaries even got to it… page 33

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