Hidden History: Inside the Bungled Trump Transition

The Fifth Risk

By Michael Lewis

W W Norton (2018)

Book Review

This is a fascinating book about the bungled Trump transition following his 2016 election. As of February 2016, federal law required all remaining primary candidates to set up transition teams – in the off chance they actually won the presidency. Two million people work for the US government, with 70% employed in national security. Of these, 4,000 are political appointees who lose their jobs on the day the new president takes office.

Although the federal government provides office space for transition teams, the candidates have to pay transition staff from their campaign coffers. No one (including Trump himself) believed he would win in November. In fact he was livid on discovering former New Jersey governor Chris Christie was running his transition team from campaign funds.

Lewis’s book is a collection of in-depth interviews with the Obama appointees who spent most of 2016 attempting to orient a handful of Trump appointees to take on the massive work of these three federals departments. Their main fear was that without understanding the essential work undertaken by key agencies, the incoming Trump administration might eliminate or massively downsize vital work. In the end, this is exactly what happened.

Largely because there was no one on the Trump campaign team (other than Chris Christie or Rudolph Giuliani) with prior political experience, Christie was unable to send teams of 30-50 people (as Obama had done) to accept the handovers. So essentially they didn’t happen.

Lewis focuses on three departments, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Commerce. I found his book a real eye opener concerning the actual work they do. For example:

  • The Department of Energy (DOE) has a $30 billion budget, of which half goes to safeguard the US nuclear arsenal. This $15 billion covers programs to detect and prevent espionage and to prevent accidental loss or explosion, as well as the international monitoring of all weapons grade uranium and plutonium stores, the training of all international nuclear inspectors and the clean-up of the extremely hazardous (and leaking) Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State. When Trump took office on Jan 20 2017, the Obama appointee in charge of the nuclear weapons program notified a number of senators that Trump had failed to appoint his successor.*
  • The USDA runs the US Forest Service and its massive firefighting program. This is in addition ensuring the safety (?) of all meat Americans eat (the FDA regulates other foodstuffs). The are also responsible for food stamps, school lunches and programs offering catastrophic crop insurance to farmers and (using Weather Bureau data) advising them on the best dates to plant, fertilize and harvest their crops. Ironically they also run a Rural Development Program** providing grants and loans to the struggling rural communities that turned out for Trump in such large numbers.
  • The Department of Commerce runs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Weather Bureau and the Census, as well as a massive data bank created to assist other departments (eg global atomic weapons numbers, violent crime statistics, consumer complaints against banks, cop shootings of civilians). Much of this data has disappeared from government websites since Trump took office.

*These Republican senators forced Trump to temporarily re-appoint him.

**Which Trump cut by roughly 16%. See https://www.dailyyonder.com/trump-budget-cuts-usda-16/2018/02/12/

Corruption, Federal Farm Subsidies and the False Economy of Cheap Processed Food

Food Fight: How Corporations Ruined Food

Real Stories (2017)

Film Review

This is a documentary about the rise of the organic/local food movement in the late sixties and early seventies and the ongoing battle to end a corrupt federal food subsidy program. The latter plays a major role in the US epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

The film depicts the organic food movement as arising out of a 1960s hippy counterculture that viewed America’s growing system of industrial agriculture as intimately linked to the military industrial complex waging the war in Vietnam.*

Ironically the organic food movement began to take off just has the Nixon administration was repealing New Deal agricultural subsidies that supported small family farms and redirecting USDA subsidies to corporations producing the cheap commodities used in processed foods, such as corn, wheat and soy.

The activists interviewed decry the federal emphasis on cheap food as a false economy – we will never save enough to cover skyrocketing medical costs related to processed food diets.

Despite the rapid growth of small organic farms across the US, food activists face an uphill battle without major changes to the USDA farm subsidy program which makes cheap processed food the only affordable option for many low income families.

The high level of corporate-financed corruption becomes clear as the film follows Representative Ron Kind’s efforts to get his Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment added to 2016 Farm Bill.


*Monsanto and Dow, the corporations producing Agent Orange and Napalm also produce the toxic pesticides and herbicides used in industrial agriculture.

 

The Growing Freshwater Crisis

Last Call at the Oasis

Directed by Jessica Yu (2012)

Film Review

This is a wide ranging documentary about the global freshwater crisis. It focuses mainly on the US, which has the largest water footprint per capital. However it also briefly addresses even more severe water issues in Australia, the Middle East and India.

The film addresses numerous issues contributing to the shortage of fresh water – climate change, causing more frequent droughts and declining snow backs (an important source of fresh water), the rapid depletion of groundwater (many US aquifers are predicted to be totally gone in 60 years), and the contamination of remaining freshwater by unregulated toxic chemical discharge, factory farm waste and fracking wastewater.

As usual the federal regulatory agencies (EPA, FDA, USDA) come off looking really badly in contrast to their European counterparts. It also comes across loud and clear that poor Americans suffer the most from contaminated drinking water – especially when government looks the other way.

The film also highlights how spoiled and entitled many Americans are in their attitudes towards water conservation.

My favorite part of the film features renowned anti-toxics activist Erin Brokovich, who continues to work tirelessly for poor communities suffering epidemics of cancer and other debilitating conditions stemming from contaminated water

Unfortunately there are no easy solutions to contaminated drinking water. Drinking bottled water isn’t one of them. As the filmmakers point out, bottled water is even more poorly regulated than tap water. Neither is desalinization, which is extremely polluting, both in terms of CO2 pollution and a nasty brine residue that’s nearly as harmful as nuclear waste to human health and the environment.

It appears that the cheapest and most environmentally friendly solution for desert areas like the Southwest and Southern California is one adopted by the city of Singapore: recycling purified waste (sewage) water. Most Americans resist this approach due to the “yuck factor.” Reportedly Los Angeles is on track to begin waste water recycling  by 2019.

The film, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed free for the next 2 weeks at the Maori TV website: Last Call at the Oasis

 

 

Raw Milk and Civil Disobedience.

Milk?

Real Stories (2017)

Film Review

An over-the-top campaign by the FDA to arrest and intimidate US producers and distributors of raw milk has led the sale and consumption of raw milk to be the third most common form of civil disobedience, after marijuana possession and tax evasion. See The Federal Campaign Against Local Health Food

This is the first time I’ve seen the issue of raw milk portrayed as a form of civil disobedience, which it clearly is. Otherwise I had a problem with the way this documentary was divided into pro-milk and anti-milk camps. People who wish to consume milk need clear and accurate information about some of the health risks. Unfortunately this film leaves viewers  with the sense that milk-related health risks are far too complex for consumers to reach any clear conclusion.

The Powerful Dairy Lobby

Owing to billions the dairy lobby has spent on marketing (and a fair amount of bribery and corruption at the US Department of Agriculture) the supposed health benefits of milk, milk and dairy product are the most consumed food on earth. Milk and dairy products account for 46% of the average American’s diet.

The filmmakers interview a host of independent researchers, government scientists, dairy farmers and industry lobbyists. Some of the research presented is highly concerning, such as the 27-year China study linking casein (milk protein) to liver cancer and studies linking Monsanto’s genetically engineered growth hormone (given to US cows and excreted in their milk) to prostate cancer. This dangerous Monsanto product is banned in everywhere but the US.

Among other significant facts filmmakers omitted is that many from specific ethnic groups (especially those of African or East Asian origin) become ill when they drink milk. This is either because they lack the enzyme necessary to digest lactose (milk sugar) or the enzymes needed to digest casein (milk protein).

The Raw Milk/Pasteurization Debate

I was also irritated by the portrayal of the pasteurization/raw milk issue as a matter of conflicting opinion. Numerous studies have documented that pasteurization doesn’t destroy micobacterium avium paratuberculosis (MAP), the organism linked with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic, severely debilitating and sometimes fatal intestinal condition (see Mycobacterium Avium Tuberculosis).

What pasteurization does accomplish very effectively is the destruction of all the beneficial enzymes and bacteria in raw milk. Raw milk is used therapeutically in Europe for a number of health conditions related to dysfunctional gut bacteria (irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, diabetes, autism, mental illness, depression, anxiety, immune deficiency, Parkinson’s Disease, eczema and psoriasis).

 

The Federal Campaign Against Local Healthy Food

Farmageddon

Directed by Kristin Canty (2011)

Film Review

Farmageddon (unrelated to the book Farmageddon) tells the story of a deliberate campaign by federal and state regulatory agencies to harass small family farmers and buying cooperatives.

Kanty begins by briefly outlining the major food safety problem which has accompanied the boom in industrial farming and agrobusiness in the US. Instead of addressing the unhygienic conditions factory farmed animals are raised in (with animals being confined in small cages and pens with their own feces , Congress has imposed an array of useless regulations on all food production and processing.

These regulations allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct warrantless raids on small family farms and private coops. The film tells the story of various families who have been raided at gunpoint by federal and state SWAT teams – often where no or only minor infractions have occurred. Most face confiscation of their animals, product and equipment, as well as destruction of their livelihood.

Many of the raids relate to raw milk production. The latter has proven health benefits in asthma, eczema and allergic rhinitis – due to to beneficial bacteria and enzymes that are destroyed when milk is pasteurized.

The laws regulating raw milk vary from state to state – in California you can buy it at supermarkets but can’t sell yogurt or cheese made from raw milk. In some states you can only buy it at the farm gate. In others it’s illegal to sell it at all. Although it’s legal in all states for farmers and farm cooperatives to produce raw milk for their own consumption, the film depicts SWAT teams shutting down several farms and coops for doing so.

In no instance, were any of the confiscated products found to be contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. This is the implicit guarantee you get from sourcing food locally from farmers you know and trust: no  farmer selling milk that makes people sick will stay in business. The source of supermarket food, in contrast, is extremely difficult to trace.

The message that comes across loud and clear in this film in this film is that food regulations created by the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are written by agrobusiness. The latter are clearly threatened by growing consumer demand for locally produced, unprocesssed, organic food. These regulations clearly serve the interests of Food Inc rather than the public.

Don’t Eat the Chicken!

512px-Industrial-Chicken-Coop

The Problem with Chicken

Directed by Rick Young (2015)

This documentary can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at the following link:

http://www.pbs.org/video/2365487526/

Film Review

The Problem with Chicken is a PBS Frontline documentary about a year-long Salmonella Heidelberg epidemic in 2012 that infected more than 600 people in 29 states.

Salmonella Heidelberg is a particularly virulent form of salmonella that is increasingly prevalent in factory farmed chicken, as well as increasingly antibiotic resistant. Salmonella Heidelberg infection frequently results in hospitalization and occasionally death.

The film examines a hopelessly corrupt regulatory system in which the USDA* inspectors test whole birds, but not chicken pieces (the most common source of salmonella infections) and in which the USDA couldn’t compel Foster Farms to recall their contaminated chickens until they located an an unopened pack of Foster Farms chicken with the specific strain of Salmonella Heidelberg that had infected a specific chicken.

This obscure legal technicality meant that despite clear DNA evidence identifying Foster Farms as the source of contamination, an outbreak that could have been stemmed in a few weeks went on a full year and officially sickened 634 people.

The Problem with Chicken also explodes the chicken lobby myth that chicken-related infections can be prevented by proper cooking and handling of chicken. Studies show that thorough cooking doesn’t kill either salmonella or campylobacter, another human pathogen commonly carried by chicken.

The main shortcoming of this documentary is its failure to examine why potentially deadly pathogens are increasing in factory farmed chicken: namely the process in which battery chicken are raised in a cesspool of feces in tightly packed cages and continually fed antibiotics (the main source of increasing antibiotic resistance). See Food Inc.

Surely these are the practices that need to be banned by regulation. It’s ridiculous to expect that a few hundred USDA inspectors are going to protect us from food-borne illnesses by spot checking hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens for pathogenic organisms.


*The US Department of Agriculture is the federal agency responsible for guaranteeing food safety.

 

Photo credit: איתמר ק., ITamar K. (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Role of Western Medicine in the Epidemic of Obesity, Diabetes and Heart Disease

Carb Loaded: A Culture Dying to Eat

Directed by Lathe Poland (2014)

Film Review

Carb Loaded follows the personal journey of a 40 something male (one of the filmmakers) who suddenly develops type II diabetes, despite being physically fit and follow a “heart healthy” diet. What he discovers is that the low fat, high carbohydrate promoted for fifty years by Food Inc, the USDA, and the American Dietetic Association is responsible for a global epidemic of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and most likely Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Food Pyramid was an Experiment and Americans the Guinea Pigs

The documentary begins by tracing the history of the “food pyramid,” which the FDA and corporate cronies foisted on the unsuspecting American public in 1977 – without a single clinical trial supporting its safety and effectiveness. With the adoption of the “food pyramid,” doctors and dietitians induced hundreds of millions of patients to drastically reduce their intake of protein and fat and to increase foods previously associated with weight gain (bread, pasta, potatoes, high carb snacks, etc). in other words it was a vast experiment and Americans – and citizens of other industrialized nations – were the guinea pigs.

Statistically the prevalence of diabetes, obesity heart disease and Alzheimer’s began to take off in the late seventies, the widespread adoption of the low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Over the last decade the researchers have identified the mechanisms by which a high carbohydrate diet causes these conditions.

A high carb diet causes diabetes by triggering excessive insulin production, which over time leads to insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which cells fail to respond to insulin, leading to higher blood sugar levels.

It causes obesity by reducing brain sensitivity to leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that notifies the brain when we’re full.

It causes heart disease mainly by triggering an inflammatory response in our blood vessels that increases cholesterol production. Contrary to popular belief (driven by relentless corporate marketing), most cholesterol is produced by the body in response to inflammation and is totally unrelated to diet.

Alzheimer’s: Type III Diabetes

Most ominous of all, high carbohydrate diets can cause the accumulation of “glycated”* proteins in the brain. These are linked to the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, which doctors and researchers have begun referring to as Type III diabetes.

The film goes on to explore numerous lifestyle changes which have led many residents of the industrialized world to cook less and rely more on cheap, carbohydrate-rich fast foods. It also explodes the myth that fast food is cheap, with a recent study that the average American spends $3,000 a year on fast food and $8,000 on doctors visits for medical problems caused by fast foods.

Potential Solutions

The filmmakers finish by reviewing a range of possible solutions at the government, community and individual level. High on the list of policy changes are an end to the US corn subsidy (responsible for the ubiquitous presence of damaging high fructose corn syrup in most processed foods) and a tax on sugary beverages similar to those enacted by Mexico, Denmark, Hungary and France.

On a community level, they talk about what activists can do to eradicate food deserts and increase the availability of fresh, unprocessed food.

On a personal level, they explore the importance of understanding the addictive effect of sugar and specific behavioral changes people can make to gradually wean themselves and, most importantly, their children off sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

 

Why the Low Fat Diet Makes You Fat (and Gives You Heart Disease, Cancer and Tooth Decay)

The Big Fat Surprise

The Truth About Animal Fat: What the Research Shows

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet lays out the scientific case why our bodies are healthiest on a diet rich in saturated fat from animal products. Analyzing study after study, Nina Teicholz leaves no doubt that the number one cause of the global epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is the low fat high carbohydrate diet doctors have been pushing for fifty years.

Blaming the Victim

My initial reaction on learning how the low fat diet became official government policy was to feel ripped off and angry. For decades, the medical establishment has been blaming fat people for being obese, portraying them as weak willed and lacking in self control. It turns out the blame lay squarely with their doctors, the American Heart Association (AHA), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Congress and the food manufacturers who fund the AHA (Proctor and Gamble, Nabisco, General Foods, Heinz, Quaker Oats and Corn Products Refining Corporation) for foisting a diet on them that increases appetite and weight gain.

The law fat diet is based on a “theory” put forward in the 1950s that heart disease was caused by elevated cholesterol levels – and a few deeply flawed epidemiological studies. In other words, the low fat diet is a giant human experiment the medical profession conducted on the American public while attempting to prove that saturated animal fats cause heart disease. Fifty years of research would show the exact opposite: not only do low fat high carbohydrate diets increase the risk of cardiac death, but they’re also responsible for a myriad of other health problems, with obesity and diabetes being the most problematic.

The studies Teicholz cites also debunk the myth that animal fat increases the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Heart Attacks Rare Prior to 1900

Coronary artery disease and heart attacks were virtually unknown prior to 1900. When Ancel Keys, the father of the low fat diet, began his anti-fat crusade in the 1950s he claimed that industrialization and an improved standard of living had caused Americans to switch from a plant based diet to a diet that was higher in animal fats. This was total rubbish. Prior to 1900, Americans had always eaten a meat-based diet, in part because wild game was much more plentiful in North America than in Europe. Early cookbooks and diaries reveal that even poor families had meat or fish with every meal. Even slaves had 150 pounds of red meet a year, which contrasts unfavorably with 40-70 pounds of red meat in the current American diet.

What changed in the twentieth century was the introduction of cheaper vegetable fats into the American diet, starting with margarine and Crisco in the early 1900s.

Keys was also responsible for the theory, again without research evidence, that high cholesterol levels cause heart disease. This was also rubbish. Fifty years of research negates any link between either total cholesterol or LDL* cholesterol and heart disease. In study after study the only clear predictor of heart disease (in study after study) is reduced HDL. The same studies show that diets high in animal fats increase HDL, while those high in sugar, carbohydrates and vegetable oils reduce HDL.

Teicholz also discusses the role of statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) in this context. Statins do reduce coronary deaths, but this is due to their anti-inflammatory effect – not because of their effect on cholesterol.

Researchers Silenced and Sidelined

For decades, researchers whose findings linked low fat diets with higher rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and tooth decay were systematically silenced and sidelined. As frequently happens with doctors scientists who challenge the powerful health industry, their grants were cut off and, in some cases, their careers destroyed.

For fifty years, the medical establishment simply ignored the growing body of research linking the high sugar/carbohydrate component of the low fat diet to heart disease, as well as those linking vegetable oils to cancer. Vegetable oils oxidize when cooked, leading to the production of cancer causing compounds such as aldehyde, formaldehyde and 4-hydroxnonene (HCN). Unsurprisingly diets in which vegetable oils (other than olive oil) are the primary fat are linked with an increased incidence of cancer. Several studies overseas have found high levels of respiratory cancer in fast food workers exposed to superheated vegetable oils.

The Atkins Diet

The Big Fat Surprise includes a long section on the Atkins diet, a popular high fat/protein low carbohydrate weight reduction diet in the 70s and 80s. The use of a high fat low carbohydrate diet for weight loss dates back to 1862 and was heavily promoted by Sir William Osler in his 1892 textbook of medicine. According to Teicholz, recent controlled studies totally vindicate Dr Robert C Atkins, who was ridiculed as a dangerous quack during his lifetime. They also debunk claims that high levels of protein in the Atkins diet cause kidney damage. In addition to being perfectly safe, controlled studies show it to be extremely effective for weight loss and treating diabetes.

The USDA and AHA Quietly Reverse Themselves

As Teicholz points out in her conclusion, the nutrition researchers who blindly pursued their anti-fat campaign – and politicians and corporate funders who supported them – have done Americans an immense disservice by creating a virtual epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

A few years ago, the tide began to turn, largely due to the 29,000 subject Women’s Health Initiative launched in 1993. In 2013, the USDA and AHA quietly eliminated fat targets from the dietary recommendations. Because they made no real effort to publicize their change of heart, many doctors are still giving their patients the wrong dietary advice and hounding them about their cholesterol levels.

Dump the Skim Milk

The take home lesson from this book is that it’s virtually impossible to eat too many eggs or too much red meat, cheese, sausage and bacon. Americans (and their overseas English-speaking cousins) need to dump the skim milk and margarine down the sink because whole milk and butter are better for you. People need to go back to cooking with lard, bacon drippings and butter. Cooking with vegetable oils can give you cancer.

Anyone with a weight problem needs to totally eliminate sugar and carbohydrate (the Atkins diet recommends less than half a slice of bread a day).

And if your doctor hassles you about your cholesterol tell him or her to read this book.


*LDL (low density lipoprotein) is referred to as “bad cholesterol” due to its alleged link to heart disease. HDL (high density lipoprotein) or “good cholesterol” appears to provide some protective effect against heart disease.

Also published at Veterans Today