PHOTO: Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they push barricades to storm the Capitol in Washington D.C., Jan. 6, 2021.
(January 6, 2021, Washington, DC)

“Tis the season to read Trump books, fala la la lah…..”  It appears this summer is the publishing season for monographs on the final year of the Trump administration.  A number of important books are available, i.e., Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta’s NIGHTMARE SCENARIO, Michael Wolff’s LANDSLIDE: THE FINAL YEAR OF THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY; Michael C. Bender’s “FRANKLY WE DID WIN THIS ELECTION, and Carol Leonnig and Paul Rucker’s sequel to A VERY STABLE GENIUS, I ALONE CAN FIX IT: DONALD J. TRUMP’S CATASTROPHIC FINAL YEAR.  All zero in on Trump’s final year in office which has turned out to be one of the most consequential years in American history since the flu pandemic of 1918.  Leonnig and Rucker’s latest effort continues to take readers deep inside Trump’s chaotic and impulsive presidency and Leonnig must be recognized as a few months ago she released another important work ZERO FAIL: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SECRET SERVICE.

Leonnig and Rucker are Pulitzer Prize winning reporters for the Washington Post and have had access to numerous sources inside and outside the Trump administration.  They have consulted over 140 sources that include senior most Trump administration officials, career government officials, friends, Trump himself, and outside advisors.  As in her previous book, Leonnig along with Rucker have produced a well sourced, crisply written monograph that is equal to her previous efforts.

What separates the first three years of the Trump administration from the last is that between 2017 and 2019 Trump faced no major crises.  It was a period dominated by Trump’s bluster, self-aggrandizement, scandal, and self-preservation, characteristics that were not conducive to the events of 2020.  As Trump made loyalty and personal power the number one traits that dominated his management skills his immigration policy that ripped children from their parents, his denigration of the rule of law, his threats to democracy, his support for white supremacy, his contempt for allies are all important, but he faced no economic or military crises, or a public health disaster until his last year in office.

Donald Trump

( June 1, 2020, President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House)

The authors give Trump credit for Operation Warp Speed in helping to develop vaccines in record time, but his ineptitude, back biting, lack of empathy and cruelty in combating the virus through mask wearing and making vaccines a partisan political issues have resulted in the death of over 600,000 Americans and the infection of tens of millions of people with Covid-19.  Apart from the pandemic, Trump’s White House oversaw the collapse of the economy, heightened racial tension after the George Floyd murder, conducted political rallies that became super spreader events, and the policy of “law and order” was being manipulated to the point that advisors had to talk him out of giving orders to shoot demonstrators.

Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 election result created further chaos as he resorted to misinformation and lies that the election was stolen from him.  He created a “personality cult” that politicized any effort to combat the virus and introduced disastrous treatment options such as bleach and hydroxychloroquine. The result is that 50% of the American people are fully vaccinated and the country is now on the precipice of a fourth wave of the disease as cases are rising in areas that are under or not vaccinated.  We have become a country that is split between those who are and those who are not vaccinated.  As an aside Trump and his family are also fully vaccinated at the same time, he fueled the distrust in government that led to the January 6th insurrection to overturn the election of Joe Biden.

Leonnig and Rucker correctly point out that the concept of the “common good” is alien to Trump as every issue; race, economics, health, immigration, foreign policy, and finally the pandemic is seen through the lens of what he believed to be in his best personal and political interests.  Trump’s toolbox of bluster, bullying, and manipulation would not work during a pandemic.  Muzzling experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, picking feuds with public health officials, holding super spreader events, and refusing to be a correct role model during the pandemic helped to spread the virus further.

Leonnig and Rucker provide a detailed narrative outlining the cause of the virus, the role of China, and how it spread to Europe and the United States.  They relate the efforts of Dr. Robert Ray Redfield Jr., Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, Matt Pottinger, former Deputy National Security Advisor of the United States,  Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Coordinator, Stephan Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, Francis Collins, head of the National Institute of Health, and others who worked to control the virus but who also were targets of President Trump as he railed against Public Health professionals.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley speaks at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on Feb. 26, 2020, in Washington.

(Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley)

The dysfunction inside the Trump administration as it sought to deal with the pandemic are numerous and the authors present a series of them to support their points.  Jared Kushner was brought in to deal with the lack of PPE and ventilators.  He in turn brought in a bunch of his friends and associates, called “financial whiz kids,” who knew nothing about government procurement or how international markets functioned.  One person described them as “the whiz bang crew of numb nuts” as Kushner’s “sourcing team” were in way over their heads and chaos reigned.  The turf battles, messaging, fealty to Trump, and inability of advisors to get along dominate the narrative as the White House tried to speak with one voice, but the leaks proliferated.  Leonnig and Rucker’s recreation of dialogue between HHS Head Alex Azar, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Trump advisor Michael Caputo, White House Director of Strategic Communications Alyssa Farah, and White House Spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany places the reader inside the room where the dysfunction takes place.

If there is a hero in Leonnig and Rucker’s account it is Joint Chiefs of Staff Head Mark Milley.  A good example of the role he played is depicted in his comments toward Stephen Miller, Trump’s sycophant and immigration guru.  After listening to Miller spout his hatred, Milley told him to “shut the fuck up,” and that US troops could not be used against peaceful demonstrators.  The conversations that led up to the clearing of Lafayette Square of demonstrators by Park Police, National Guard and others so Trump could have a photo op in front of St. John’s church fit Leonnig and Rucker’s ability to explain why and how things evolved and their implications.  Once Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke out against what occurred the tongue lashing he experienced by Trump is available for all to read.  Milley and Esper were in a constant battle with Trump over the politicization of the military as the former president became laser focused on demonstrations in Seattle and Portland and having a large military parade on July 4th.  For Milley and Esper it was all about preserving democracy and preserving the constitution.

The misinformation seems to appear on every other page as the Trump administration tried to develop a narrative that the president was doing all he could to stave off the virus.  At one point Kushner’s “whiz kids” and others were asked to develop new models to offset public health predictions of the number of Covid-19 cases for the future if something was not done.  They were to do so by prioritizing economic recovery over public health.  This goes along with Trump’s attitude that things were doing well no matter what the evidence reflected.  Trump was obsessed with the number of covid-19 victims as it reflected negatively on this reelection.  The stock market was another Trump obsession and when it did not cooperate he would blame others and accuse them of “killing him!”  Of course, it was all the fault of the “deep state.”  Once the senate voted 52-48 not to impeach him, Trump received the memo that no accountability for his actions existed, and he went on his revenge crusade getting rid of the likes of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and Olivia Troye once an advisor to Vice President Pence who publicized the illegalities in dealing with Ukraine.

Leonnig and Rucker do not miss a trick even including Melania Trump’s attempts to speak some sense with her husband in February 2020 to no avail.  They recount advice particularly by former New Jersey governor Chris Christie among others on how Trump could win reelection but as in the case of his spouse, the former president felt he knew what was best by going after “Sleepy Joe” and discarding a series of sound suggestions.  According to the authors the turning point in fighting the virus came with the arrival of Scott Atlas. For Trump, the virus stood in the way of his continuation in office and finally in July 2020 he found a public health official who would parrot his medical beliefs, Dr. Scott Atlas.  Atlas was a neuroradiologist at the conservative Hoover Institution who knew nothing about contagious pathogens, but he wanted to open up the economy, refused to endorse the wearing of masks, and was an advocate that the US was approaching herd immunity.  Atlas’ views were used to undercut public health officials and he went after Anthony Fauci with abandon. 

As Leonnig and Rucker shift to discuss the election about halfway through the book they bring the same talent and relentless reporting as Trump ratcheted up misinformation about the virus and every other issue as he tried to ignore the virus, but events would not let him, i.e.; the disastrous super spreader rally in Tulsa in June.  By the end of July Trump began his campaign that would result with the accusation that the election was stolen.  He suggested on July 30 that the election should be postponed, and fraud dominated mail in voting.  Further on September 23, 2020, Trump stated for the first time he might not honor the results of the election if he lost.  Tweets concerning the election  such as “the most INACCURATE AND FRAUDULENT election in history” still reverberates today as the House began its hearing concerning the January 6th insurrection. 

The William Barr-Trump relationship receives a great deal of coverage apart from the Attorney-General’s role at the Justice Department.  Leonnig and Rucker recount Barr’s repeated attempts to prevent the former president from self-sabotage.  Barr, known more for his role in defining the Mueller Report for Trump’s benefit and interfering with the sentencing of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, offered Trump advice about his campaigns shortcomings and what he needed to do to win reelection.  Barr’s political advice was mostly ignored and the author’s recount the numerous examples of  how Trump was his own worst enemy in trying to improve his position in the polls visa vie Biden, i.e., allowing Mark Meadows to cut federal funding for the CDC while Redfield was trying to get the billions needed for vaccine distribution once it was available.

Rudy Giuliani emerges as a comical figure with his conspiracy theories, distorted advice to Trump over election fraud, and trying to get Trump to just declare victory despite the evidence that he had lost the election to Biden.  Leonnig and Rucker’s daily account from January 2020 to January 2021 doesn’t leave out much that occurred or important conversations that took place.  They culminate their story of administration incompetence and back biting with the run up to January 6th by explaining why it occurred and who in their view is to blame.  The book offers a strong narrative, but is a bit light on analysis and interpretation, but if you are looking for an engrossing recapitulation of the last year you cannot go wrong consulting I ALONE CAN FIX IT.

PHOTO: Supporters of President Donald Trump climb on walls at the U.S. Capitol during a protest against the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election results by Congress, in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.
(January 6, 2021, Washington, DC)


Amazon headquarters located in Silicon Valley Jan 24, 2020 Sunnyvale / CA / USA - Amazon headquarters located in Silicon Valley, San Francisco bay area Amazon.com Stock Photo

Remember when Amazon first came online in 1995, they would discount books by 33-40%.  This pricing lasted for a good 10-15 years then the discounts were reduced under the theory that once they conditioned you as a customer, they could slowly increase their profit margins.  After a year of Covid-19 restrictions Amazon’s popularity and bottom line boomed as people were sequestered at home.  Today the discount on books is usually 10-15%, and sometimes less, reflecting Amazon’s commitment to the bottom line.  Only speaking of book pricing, but I have noticed similar trends with other products.  The question is how we arrived at the present juncture, who is responsible, what are the historic trends when it comes to Amazon, and lastly what role has Jeff Bezos played in the process.  These questions are answered in full along with a partial biographical portrait of Bezos and how he built Amazon into the most dominant consumer source in the world and a company worth $1.76 trillion today in Brad Stone’s new book, AMAZON UNBOUND: JEFF BEZOS AND THE INVENTION OF A GLOBAL EMPIRE.

Stone, the senior executive editor of global technology at Bloomberg News has written an in depth account of Amazon’s phenomenal growth from 2010 through 2021 focusing on the managerial style of Jeff Bezos and his incredible ability to support, develop, and implement projects that would be worth billions.  Stone also digs deeply into the culture at Amazon and its mantra of putting the customer first, however, that “bumper sticker” is disingenuous as its record of employee safety, philanthropy, and demanding a certain belief system from executives and others reflects.

WIRED25 Summit: WIRED Celebrates 25th Anniversary With Tech Icons Of The Past & Future
(Jeff Bezos)

Bezos’ genius and overbearing personality are on full display in Stone’s account.  According to the author the watershed year for Amazon’s overwhelming dominance in multiple markets with varied products is 2010.  From its inception through 2010 Amazon was not a very profitable company, but the infrastructure groundwork for what Bezos was able to achieve was in place.  Stone covers every facet of the Amazon experience and how it developed into the economic behemoth it is today.  Stone delves into the development of Alexa, Kindle, Amazon Go, Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon advertising, the creation of Fulfillment Centers, its success in India, development of third party sellers, and the purchase of Whole Foods and the Washington Post in detail.

Bezos was the driving force behind Amazon’s technology innovations harnessing artificial intelligence, robotics, and other ingenious developments.  However, his management style pushed his engineers to the breaking point in many instances and his nasty commentary when not happy at meetings are legend.  Bezos could be “remorseless with those that did not meet his exacting standards, but he seemed to have an unusual wellspring of patience for those who practiced the challenging act of invention.”  Bezos gets a great deal of the credit for the Amazon experience and success, but he had tremendous executive talent and engineers to work with.  Stone explores the work of people such as Dilip Kumar, Greg Hart, Andy Jassy, Dave Clark, Jeff Wilke, Stephanie Landry among many others.  Bezos and his deputies believed that algorithms could do the job better and faster than people.  In many ways it explains the insensitivity that exists at Amazon toward certain employees especially in Fulfillment centers. 

Amazon's Newest Robotics Fulfillment Center Holds Grand Opening In Orlando : News Photo
(Amazon Fulfillment Center)

According to Stone the ultimate goal was turning Amazon’s retail business into a self-service technology platform that could generate cash with a minimum amount of human intervention.  In accomplishing their mission, a number of negatives emerge.  Stone’s research uncovers a male dominated culture at Amazon reflected in the lack of women in upper echelon positions.  Women complained about the working environment and deals made with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey, Jeff Tomba, and Ray Price all for naught.  Female anger emerged at the same time the “Metoo” movement gathered momentum as sexual inuendo, jokes, touching etc. came to the fore.  Casting a net around Amazon working conditions and treatment of employees also does not enhance the company’s reputation.  The use of robotics at Fulfillment Centers created repetitive motion/health issues; pressure on workers to gather products quickly and package them; worker performance was monitored  by tyrannical invisible robots, poor benefits and low pay, periodically firing people at the lowest level of the employee chain, in addition to the constant threat of termination, all take the luster off of Amazon’s workplace propaganda.  Further, Bezos and company are very anti-union and went out of their way to expand in areas, i.e.; airplane procurement and location which were also anti-union.  During the pandemic when Amazon’s work force passed one million and its annual earnings exceeded $380 billion as sales rose by 37%, the company pursued a virulently anti-union policy.  A way to sum this up is that the monograph highlights genius, innovation, and greed.

Stone is not a stylist, but he has the ability to explain a great deal of technical jargon in a very easy manner.  Whether explaining the role of artificial intelligence in the creation of Alexa or Amazon Go the reader can easily comprehend the arguments presented at executive conferences and meetings, particularly those of engineers.  Stone explores numerous topics aside from the development of new products or strategies that in the end created billions in sales and profits.  A key part of his discussion is not to reinforce the role of retail in Amazon’s success but focus on “Cloud Computing” which generated the revenue to fuel Amazon’s supercharged expansion.  As Mark Levinson points out in his review in the Washington Post, “with cloud computing, an organization can rent computers, programmers and security experts from an external provider such as Amazon instead of maintaining its own data centers. Amazon pioneered cloud computing in the early 2000s, and by the 2010s it was easily the market leader.  Bezos divined that finding new uses for Amazon’s burgeoning cloud infrastructure was the key to the company’s future.”

Bloomberg's Best Photos 2014 : News Photo
(Amazon workers)

Stone’s discussion of the location process for a second headquarters when difficulties developed in Seattle with the city government and the ability to expand facilities is eye opening reflecting Amazon’s insensitivity toward local government.  In addition, the chapter on Amazon Web Services which became the most profitable component of the company is key as was the formation of their own advertising strategy and the creation of an airplane fleet and purchase of delivery vans to bring about next day delivery.

The Amazon story is one of amazement.  How could one company become so powerful economically and culturally as most people seem to consult Amazon on a daily basis, even before the onset of Covid-19 which would allow Amazon to expand exponentially as people had few alternatives to acquire products they needed while they quarantined.  By the end of 2020 “Amazon boasted a $1.6 trillion market cap and Jeff Bezos was worth more than $190 billion.  His wealth had increased more than 70% during the pandemic…a breathtaking achievement.”  Stone stresses that the key aspect of how this was achieved was Bezos’ management style as his underlings knew if the boss had an idea, it was their job to bring it to fruition which in most cases they did.  To his credit Stone has laid out the Amazon success story for the general public, but also its warts.  Though at times the narrative gets bogged down in details it is worth the read if you wonder when you “click” how did it come to that action by your finger for everything you need.

TRESPASSER by Paul Doiron

(ATV Riding in Maine)

After whiling away the hours reading Paul Doiron’s THE POACHER’S SON and enjoying it immensely, I decided to move on to the second iteration of Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch in TRESPASSER.  The book lived up to my expectations as Doiron develops a taut plot that carries through the three hundred plus pages that justified the time spent with Warden Bowditch.

Doiron continues to develop Bowditch’s life story and character after the events in THE POACHER’S SON.  In TRESPASSER, Bowditch continues to show up at murder investigations and when the higher ups warn him off and tell him to tend to his “warden” duties” he can’t control his curiosity which are based on his empathy and sensitivity to the cases that emerge.  In the current situation Bowditch finds himself chasing a demented family bent on using their ATVs in order to anger their neighbors as they destroy private property and deal drugs.  Further, there is another father and son partnership engaged in similar activities as Doiron’s commentary of the “interesting” types of people who live in certain parts of Maine seemed justified.  Apart from his Warden duties, Bowditch has a sixth sense when it comes to crime.  Bowditch follows up a call of an accident where automobile has struck a deer and the driver just walks away from the accident and disappears.  The State Trooper who showed up late to the accident scene is incompetent and full of himself leaving Bowditch holding the bag.  Later, Ashley Kim, a graduate assistant at the Harvard Business School is found dead after being sexually assaulted in her mentor’s house – of course discovered by Bowditch.

The problem that emerges is that the crime is reminiscent of a murder seven years previous where a young lady is raped and murdered, and controversy surrounds the conviction of one Erland Jefferts who receives a life sentence.  However, the prosecution withheld evidence and cut corners raising the question as to whether Jefferts was railroaded.  A group referred to as the J Team made up of Jefferts Aunt and Uncle and a series of lawyers are convinced he is innocent which creates a number of theories as to whether Jefferts was in fact guilty and what is the relationship to the death of Ashley Kim.  Of course, Bowditch pursues his own investigation and lo and behold he locates the individual who was the prime suspect, Professor Hans Westergaard dead in his car.

Doiron is master in plot development.  He slowly allows his story to unravel with numerous twists and turns that draws the reader in.  In my case after a few pages, I was hooked and I decided to get comfortable and read the novel through in one sitting absorbing the plot, the author’s commentary describing “Mainers,” the ecology of the region, and the intricacies of Bowditch’s life.  As Doiron develops his whodunnit the two murder cases come together as number of people begin to feel uncomfortable. Among them is one of Doiron’s new characters, Assistant Attorney General Danica Marshall, a tough and attractive prosecutor who does not care for Bowditch.  Other new characters include Calvin Barter, a sexual predator and drug dealer; Dave and Donnie Drisko, poachers who replicated the actions of the Barter family; Knox County Chief of Police, Dudley Baker, among others. 

Doiron reintroduces characters from his first novel. Sgt. Kathy Frost, Bowditch’s boss reappears as does Charley Steven, the retired Game Warden pilot, Sarah Harris, Bowditch’s girlfriend, and Detective Mike Menceri, who seems to be in a running argument with Bowditch throughout the novel.  For our protagonist he seems to have a career death wish as he continually angers higher ups by his actions.  But he is obsessed with finding justice for victims whether they are non-human or human.  For Bowditch, whose own life was recently shattered by violence turning away from these crimes is not an option.  His investigation has reopened old wounds among the locals and the rich summer “invaders” and because of his persistence he puts his life in danger as well as the women he loves as he has touched a nerve among certain people who refuse to allow him to solve the case.

Doiron’s first two novels can stand alone but I would recommend they be read one after the other and then move on to third the installment in the Mike Bowditch series, BAD LITTLE FALLS.

(ATV Riding in Maine)

THE POACHER’S SON by Paul Doiron

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were browsing in a wonderful bookstore in Camden, Maine and I asked the lady behind the counter for any recommendations by local authors that were of the “mystery” genre.  She immediately mentioned Paul Doiron, the editor and chief of Down east: The Magazine of Maine.  I purchased a copy of Doiron’s first iteration of his Mike Bowditch series; THE POACHER’S SON and it did not disappoint.

Doiron’s main character, Mike Bowditch is a game warden in northern Maine and through his eyes the author conveys what that avocation entails on a daily basis.  His descriptions are impeccable especially dealing with vacationers, particularly those who emanate from Massachusetts.  The usual approach that Bowditch takes during boating and fishing season is to check boat registrations, fishing licenses, and floatation devices and periodically he will come across people who resent his questions and only offer abuse until they comply with his requests.  The stories he relates are priceless as he discusses the traffic on Route 1 as Massachusetts residents clog the roads heading north and to his credit, he refrains from describing their regional nickname, “Mass holes.”

Doiron also relates Bowditch’s job description, expectations, and the public’s view of what he does.  Bowditch is perfect for the role based on his longing for privacy and his commitment to the animals he must police and prevent being abused by the public.

Aroostook County Foliage Scenic Drive

The novel itself revolves around the murder of a Somerset County police officer, Bill Brodeur, and Jonathan Shipman, a lawyer for Wendigo Timberland LLC, a company who purchased a great deal of land and forest in the northern timberland which would result in the eviction of numerous lease holders who have lived in the region for over thirty years.  One of the lease holders is Mike’s father Jack who he had been estranged from for years.  It seems the state police and local authorities are convinced that Jack Bowditch was the murderer, and for some reason Mike, who has a very low opinion of his father and describes him as a “saloon brawling logger with a rap sheet of misdemeanors and the public persona of a Tasmanian devil.”  Mike is fully aware what an SOB his father is, but he could not accept the fact that he was a murderer.  Despite his feelings concerning his upbringing and his father in general he decides to risk his career in order to prove his innocence as Jack believes that he is being framed.

The hazards of Mike’s career choice are on full display as he must confront people who have vendettas against animals, particularly bears who take the law into their own hands when their property is attacked.  In this current situation he is up against law enforcement, local individuals, and even his stepfather who believe that his father is a murderer.  Mike’s fear is that if his father does not turn himself in, he will be killed as he killed a police officer.  As Doiron develops his plots, he integrates Mike’s upbringing, and we learn a great deal about him as well as his dysfunctional parents who divorce when he is nine years old.

Doiron develops a series of interesting characters, the first of which is Charley Stevens, a retired game warden who still fly’s his pontoon plane throughout the region to assist the state police.  Stevens is a perceptive individual who served as Mike’s mentor when he decided to become a game warden.  Katherine Frost is a Sergeant and Mike’s boss who does her best to help salvage Mike’s career when he engages in a number of  self-destructive actions while trying to save his father.  Other important characters include Sarah Harris, Mike’s ex-girlfriend who he still loves; Brenda Dean, Jack’s girlfriend; Russell Pelletier who ran the Rum Pond Sporting Camp, Vernon Tripp, the owner of the Natanis Trading Post, and Truman Dellis, Brenda’s father, all of whom had reason to kill the Wendigo lawyer.  Lastly, Detectives Wayne Soctomah and Mike Menceri who are in charge of the murder investigation and believe Jack is guilty.

Doiron’s environmental views are front and center in each chapter as is his love for the ecology of the region.  He writes with wit and a certain amount of sarcasm and weaves a web of intrigue that enhances the story line and contributes to the reader’s experience.  Two key themes that dominate the novel are Maine’s changing landscape and unconditional love between a father and son despite their negative history.  The novel is about relationships and  outdoor adventure and is a sterling debut which became an Edgar Award finalist and easily absorbs the reader’s attention. Having completed THE POACHER’S SON, I will begin the next installment of Mike Bowditch’s path in life, TRESPASSER and other books in the series.

Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park
Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park


Plan your visit to the CDC Museum

For those of us who live in a world defined by facts and not an alternative universe it is clear that over thirty-three million people have contracted Covid-19 and over 600,000 have died from the disease in the United States.  From the time of the first case to our current drive to vaccinate all Americans there have been a number of predictions made by the Trump administration as to how to deal with the disease.  At one point President Trump said it would be gone once the weather warmed up, then it would be done by Easter, then all we needed to take was the drug hydroxychloroquine or inject ourselves with bleach.  These absurdities would be comical if not for the fact that people took Trump’s words seriously as how they should proceed, but what was even more ludicrous was the Trump administration’s overall strategy to cope with the disease.  In Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, both Washington Post reporters’ new book, NIGHTMARE SCENARIO: INSIDE THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION’S RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC THAT CHANGED HISTORY the authors accurately convey the inner workings of the Trump presidency and how they produced a strategy that exacerbated the effect of the pandemic on American citizens and still impacts the government’s response under President Biden.

One could argue that it has all been said before.  The lies, misinformation, and the stupidity just to secure reelection.  We all lived through it and despite Fox News and other obscure outlets of right wing media, most news organizations have explained what has occurred as have a number of important books.  However, none have gone into the detail and sourcing that Abutaleb and Paletta have put together and therefore if we want to become upset once again because of the crassness of the Trump administration and its dear leader there is a formidable volume that is hard to question, though the likes of Tucker Carlson and his minions certainly will.

(Dr. Anthony Fauci)


The authors have taken a deep dive into the events, decisions, personalities and results of decision making that have led to the catastrophic response to Covid-19 by the United States.  They hold no punches, and they dig up information beyond what has been reported in the media for the last year and a half.  Trump did not act alone in this process as he was enabled by advisers, cabinet members, friends, and family who shared his view about the virus and in a number of cases exhibited even greater disdain for the government’s scientific and public health experts than the president himself.  Decisions revolved around unforced errors, petty rivalries, and a perverted attitude toward the virus that devastated the government – the key being the assault on science by Trump and his minions.

From the outset the United States was at a disadvantage in dealing with the virus as China, despite Trump’s praise of President Xi was not forthcoming with valuable information that might have assisted in containing the disease.  One of the key figures was Matt Pottinger, Deputy National Security Head who had witnessed the Chinese response in dealing with SARS in 2003 as a member of the Bush administration and as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal who called for a travel ban with China and was ignored.  Trump had just made a trade deal with China and was up for reelection and did not want to rock the boat.  As the disease proliferated in January 2020, 1300 flights from China entered the United States carrying 381,000 passengers.  The situation was exacerbated by the lack of cursory coordination by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other agencies, and the inability of the heads of those agencies to come to agreement and leave their egos at the door.

The authors present many examples of Trump’s modus operandi of pitting aides against each other and believed that the virus would magically disappear if he willed it so.  Aides and advisors were completely unprepared for what was coming and focused more on their own survival as opposed to what was best for the country.  Once the concept of asymptomatic spread emerged the dysfunction and disagreements mirrored what would later occur over the importance of masks, testing, ventilators, and the overall messages from the Trump administration cascaded throughout the media along with the negativity put forth by the likes of Fox News.

Deborah Birx
(Dr. Deborah Birx) 

The authors have written a carefully crafted narrative of the steps or lack of steps taken by the Trump administration from the outset of the crisis until January 2021.  It relies on numerous interviews of government officials, culling of emails and other internal documents, along with speaking with people off the record.  The result is that the authors follow the progression of the virus as each chapter heading contains the date, number of cases and deaths that resulted from the lack of the government’s response.  They followed up the figures by discussing the decision making process in confronting the virus for that period of time.  The chapters that deal with cruise ships which Trump wanted kept at sea or possibly sending people to Guantanamo to keep virus numbers down, the lack of PPE and other supplies to fight the virus, the misinformation put out by the Trump administration, the need by aides and health officials to assuage Trump’s ego as he did not want to deal with the virus as he focused on his reelection, and Trump’s personal comments concerning those who did not kow tow to his viewpoints all reflect the disaster that was the US response to the virus.

All the important personalities are present.  Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC was unprepared to deal with Trump’s “team of vipers.”  Jared Kushner, the second most powerful decision maker next to Trump would bring in inexperienced people to deal with the lack of PPE and ventilators then when he became bored would move on to the Middle East or other issues.  Deborah Birx, the White House Covid-19 Coordinator who did her best behind the scenes to move Trump in the right direction.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, served as the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, became a foil for Trump who resented his popularity.  Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist who mirrored Trump’s views concerning opening the country and its economic impact was brought into the West Wing. Stephen Hahn, FDA head tried to cope with the pressure in approving certain “cures” for the disease.  Scott Azar, the head of HHS whose main goal after warning about the virus was to keep his job.  Peter Navarro, the bombastic assistant to the president for trade and manufacturing whose commentary was always over the top.   Mark Meadows, Trump’s Chief of Staff whose views were a detriment to the health of the American people.  Vice President Pence who privately seemed to agree with public health officials, but publicly fawned over Trump throughout.  The authors integrate others into the narrative as the US fell deeper and deeper into the viral abyss.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield holds up his mask as he speaks at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a
(Dr. Robert Redfield)

For Trump everything seemed to be about messaging.  Trump and his minions saw the pandemic more as a matter of public relations than of public health.  Reelection was his mantra and any information that was not helpful for that process was discarded.  As Trump lost interest in the virus by June 2020, he turned nastier toward those who disagreed with him, his rhetoric particularly after the death of George Floyd became more racist.  He would resort to threats of violence and prodded his supporters to go after Black Lives Matter protestors and used federal troops and police to create a photo op at Lafayette Square.  Further, Trump’s desire to open the country up economically and politically would lead to super spreader events like his rally in Tulsa, OK and other areas.  For Trump it was all about the economy and his reelection as his fear about appearing weak.  The end result is that the disease spiked from Memorial Day, 2020 throughout the summer, and the violence that Trump encouraged spread throughout the country.  Trump weaponized the virus as a tool that exacerbated existing divisions in our country as a means of retaining power for himself.

One of the most important discussions the authors raise was the link between the virus, the death of George Floyd, and the racial impact of what was occurring throughout the pandemic.  It is clear that the virus impacted brown and black citizens more than whites.  Due to the socio-economic makeup of the country, i.e., more minorities worked in jobs like meatpacking that spiked the disease, 33% of cases involved Hispanics, 22% of cases involved blacks resulting in half the victims were brown and black when they only made up 30% of the population.  In the end brown and black people were three times as likely as whites to contract the virus!

Scott W. Atlas

(Dr. Scott Atlas)

The authors cover every aspect of the Covid crisis.  Trump’s obsession with hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, the use of bleach, magical fantasy, pressure to approve vaccines as the election approached, and conspiracy theories are all present.  In addition, the authors weave the threats against public health officials, the bifurcation of the country over mask use as a political statement for and against Trump, the personal price paid by those who did their best to stem the disease, the errors made by public health officials and their attempts to overcome those mistakes, and many other aspects of the crisis are on full display.  The authors have written the most comprehensive study of what transpired from the outbreak of the disease through the beginning of 2021 and all Americans should consider what they have to say because another “nightmare scenario” is certainly something we will have to cope with in the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. An official said new guidance on coronavirus transmission had been posted “prematurely” and was still under review. 

(The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta. An official said new guidance on coronavirus transmission had been posted “prematurely” and was still under review. Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times)


Montauk Lighthouse and beach - Stock Photo - Images
(Montauk Light House, Montauk, Long Island)

Today Montauk, NY located on the eastern tip of Long Island finds itself in the middle of a major transition.  First, it is a vacation/tourist spot with million dollar homes and easy access to the Atlantic Ocean, Block Island Sound, and numerous freshwater ponds.  Second, are the locals who try to maintain the quaintness and hope to prevent the “Hamptonization” of their town.  It is a struggle as the commercial fishing boats still ply the waters that surround the area, but also it is exposed to more and more people who either settled in year round because of Covid-19 which allowed them to work virtually from anywhere, or others who used their second homes to escape the pandemic that overwhelmed New York City.

In her new book, THE LOST BOYS OF MONTAUK: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WIND BLOWN, FOUR MEN WHO VANISHED AT SEA, AND THE SURVIVORS THEY LEFT BEHIND, Amanda M. Fairbanks, a former reporter for the East Hampton Star and New York Times creates a history of the Montauk region as she presents the lives of Michael Stedman, David Connick, Michael Vigliant, and Scott Clarke who perished at sea on March 29, 1984, and the ramifications of those deaths for those left behind.  Fairbanks examines  the profound shift of Montauk from a working class village. “a drinking town, with a fishing problem,” to a playground for the wealthy.  In addition, the author explores why a fishing accident forty years ago still resonates so strongly in the minds of locals.

MONTAUK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 13, 2013: Montauk Lost at Sea Memorial by the Montauk Point Lighthouse at the edge of Long Island, New York. 

MONTAUK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13, 2013: Montauk Lost at Sea Memorial by the Montauk Point Lighthouse at the edge of Stock Photo

The book is a heartwarming and judicious account of the accident, what led up to it, how the different personalities involved interacted, and the implications for the future for survivors.  The motivating force in the story is Mike Stedman, a young man who was married to the water.  Whether he was surfing, running a party boat, or becoming a commercial fisherman, Mike was an intense individual who seemed to know what he wanted and did not want anything to get in his way.  His goal in life was to own his own boat and stop working for others, and in 1982 he purchased the “Wind Blown,” a commercial boat out of Freeport, TX.  His wife Mary felt bad karma from the outset, and many believed that the boat which had three previous owners and suffered mechanical difficulties on the trip back from Texas, was not seaworthy enough to engage in commercial shipping in the North Atlantic.

The crew of the Wind Blown formed a brotherhood despite their varied backgrounds economically and socially.  Michael V. and Scott C. were young deckhands from a hardscrabble background while Michael S., and Dave C. came from a privileged background.  Mike and Dave bonded easily as they shared poor relationships with their straight laced fathers and just wanted to be part of the water which their parents could not accept.  The four men worked as a team, many times to exhaustion as bringing in tilefish was very lucrative in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Fairbanks does a marvelous job explaining the rigorous life of commercial fishermen and its impact on their families.

On March 28, 1984, the National Hurricane Service in New York posted a gale warning, later it issued a winter storm warning as the Montauk Light House reported wind gusts of over 100 mph.  The Wind Blown which had been out to sea for a few days headed back to Montauk and ran into a full blown nor’easter, the worst since 1962.  In describing how the crisis transpired, the author relied on extensive research that included interviews with family members, friends, and local townspeople.  What was clear is that the four young men were well liked and respected throughout the community.  This was highlighted by many contributions that helped pay for the search and rescue operations performed by private groups once the Coast Guard had pronounced that the ship and men had vanished.

(Mary and Mike Stedman and their first child, Chris, in about 1974)

Fairbanks integrates a study of the socio-cultural nature of the region, even providing a history of the tilefish’s migratory patterns and the money it brought to commercial fisherman.  She also focuses on the Maidstone Club and its history to highlight the economic dichotomy that existed as well as racism and anti-Semitism.  It was a club the Connick’s belonged to and it was the epitome of “old money.”  Fairbanks provides insights into many of the characters who spent most of their lives in Montauk and its environs.  Most were fisherman, bar owners, surf shop owners and the like who formed a special bond who resented many of the interlopers that began to pour into Montauk.  Throughout one must keep in mind that Montauk is the largest commercial harbor in New York State.  Its home to the greatest sports fishing on the east coast – species such as shark, tuna, and marlin proliferate at certain times of the year which attracted many outsiders.

The issue of closure for survivors is an important theme that Fairbanks develops.  It is a very complex situation emotionally when no bodies were located, though parts of the Wind Blown and its crews’ personal effects were found.  The Coast Guard did conduct a full five day search that included the Air National Guard and the US Navy. Twenty fishing boats, five planes, and three helicopters scoured the 25,000 square miles of ocean between Block Island and the Delaware coast to no avail. Once completed the privately funded search continued for another ten days, but is that enough for closure?  For many to this day the snuffing out of four promising young lives is still hard to accept.

To Fairbanks’ credit unlike other books on boating disasters she focuses more on the living than the dead.  She also is able to seamlessly integrate the cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s and the impact on the crew and their families, in addition to the rift between townies and the weekend set from New York.  Fairbanks writes that she “wanted to understand how tragedies become imprinted in our memories, how trauma and grief wend their way through generations and become a kind of inheritance bequeathed to our descendants.”  If this was her goal, she has accomplished it with a well written and poignant book that exhibits a great deal of love, but tremendous sorrow and grief.

Historic American Lighthouses - Montauk New York
(Montauk Light House, Montauk, Long Island)