Still Ve.gan, af.ter all these months – 8 and counting

With a sprinkle of salt and pepper flakes

Still a vegan after 8 months, correction, still following a vegan diet. Why do I make the distinction? Well, I still think of this meatless, dairy-free, plant-focused diet as an experiment. Now, if I make it to the New Year, without giving in to temptations – I think I will have earned the right to call myself a vegan.

Full disclosure: I might not be the best spokesperson for causes that attract some to the vegan way. I do love animals but am not an animal rights activist. If I’m being honest, I don’t have a particular affinity for cows and pigs except for the ones in Animal Farm, and of course, Arnold the pig on Green Acres. What’s more, I have a fishing license and enjoy catching (and releasing) large mouth bass. Fishing is in my DNA. Though, in the main, I’m not a fan of animal cruelty on farms, and the thought of slaughterhouses is appalling. For the record, I don’t have a problem with scientists experimenting on lab mice in pursuit of medical knowledge. Nor do I have a particular problem with people who choose to eat meat. I also have to acknowledge that up until recently I had been a life-long meat eater and felt no shame or guilt whatsoever. It would be highly hypocritical for me to shame others for doing what I had been doing my whole life.

What I do have a problem with is the meat packing industry, especially now during the pandemic, as workers have been forced back to plants, at great risk of catching COVID-19 all because their jobs have been declared essential by an unfeeling and unhinged president who ignores science (unless it benefits him personally.) To my credit, I’ve been down on the meat packing industry ever since I read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle back in college years ago. Similarly, I don’t support Big Agri with their profit over people AND the environment model. I find their tampering with genetics, use of pesticides and herbicides, and low standards for cleanliness, not to mention their giant carbon footprint, to be inexcusable. Read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for some historical context on the dangers of toxic chemicals widely used today in homes and on farms and lawns. She was one of the first environmentalists and were she alive today, she’d be appalled by the growing anti-science movement.

And while I do want to reduce my carbon footprint and do my part to mitigate the affects of climate change, and while I enjoy being a part of a community of like-minded people, the main reason I am becoming a vegan is for my own health. It’s not that I was unhealthy before, but I did carry a few extra pounds that I could not shed in the normal course of being, and my cholesterol levels could have been better – they weren’t off the chart bad but still. As of this week, I can report with pride that after 8 months, I’ve dropped 12 pounds, my total cholesterol is down 14 points, my LDL number has dropped precipitously, and my HDL is up by nearly 20 points. And while my white blood cell count is down, apparently this is a thing peculiar to vegans, it’s still within the normal range. However, to maintain a normal count, I am going to begin taking a vegan friendly B-12 lozenge several times a week.

I’ve been tracking my food intake to ensure I get enough protein, and to monitor my intake of calories. I’m not disciplined enough to make or buy a constant supply of protein shakes and frequently run out of protein bars, so at times, I fall short of my daily target of 60 grams of protein. Getting enough protein has been one of the main challenges of the diet. But I usually can get close even without a shake, by eating bread, peanut butter, quinoa or rice, lentils, and other beans, fortified cereal, hemp hearts, tofu, yogurt and nuts. And I’m fortunate to have another vegan in the family who enjoys cooking vegan meals. I pitch in when I can be useful even if only to clean the pots and pans. Recent dishes have included soups, beet falafel, chili, pizza made with nan dough, vegetable stir fry, biscuits and white gravy with fake sausage, and veganized omelettes made from mung beans with onions and tomatoes.

To be honest, I continue to indulge my sweet tooth with vegan ice-cream (Ben and Jerry’s offerings always satisfy), Oreos (on rare occasions), vegan jelly beans (Jolly Ranchers are said to be vegan – no confectioners glaze), and Twizzlers – the Orange Cream Pop, oh my. And I’ve found a vegan bakery that makes pies to die for.

On the balance, I feel great. I have plenty of energy. I’m not constantly craving junk, despite my sweet tooth and love of chips. Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili are vegan, by the way. I don’t even crave beer or reach for the occasional glass of wine anymore. I’ve not had a drink in a month, unless you count Kombucha. About wine, I’ve had some trouble finding vegan friendly wines I like. Wait, you might ask, aren’t all wines vegan? It’s just grapes, sugar and some yeast, right? Well, not always. Some winemakers, most in fact, use animal products like fish bladders and egg whites as fining agents in the filtering process so that the wine doesn’t come out lumpy and crunchy. You want to drink, not eat wine. Fortunately, there are winemakers who produce unfiltered wine or use alternative fining agents that are considered vegan friendly. Natura, pictured below, is one such brand.

I’m just a few months away from calling myself a vegan. And when that moment comes, I’ll raise a vegan friendly glass. Cheers!

Vegan friendly unoaked Chardonnay from Chile

Trump’s COVID-19 Failures Cost Lives

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It is what it is

As of this writing, 173,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 on Trump’s watch. His fatal failures early on from his insistence that the virus would disappear, to his inability to get states the resources it needed such as PPE and test kits, and his utter lack of leadership undoubtedly helped the virus spread and kill thousands of people. His utter lack of leadership on the pandemic, leaving the states to make all the decisions so that he could conveniently blame the governors he does not like is shameless and spineless. From the outset, Trump has used his bully pulpit to deny the seriousness of the virus, to suggest it would just disappear, despite the science. He has acted as if he knew more about science that the medical professionals, floating ridiculous cures like light and disinfectant therapy and unproven drugs that do more harm than good. He’s refused to wear a mask and had until recently held irresponsible campaign rallies where many of his supporters were not wearing masks or socially distancing. What’s more, he’s repeatedly pressured states to return to normal, to open back up and demanded that all children return to school threatening to hold back federal funds to school districts that delay opening due to the pandemic. He wrongly claims that young people don’t get sick from the virus – they do, and doesn’t seem to understand or care that they can become infected with the virus, be asymptomatic and spread it to others. All he cares about is  being reelected and getting the invitation to the dictator club. Putin, being head of  initiation activities, keeps asking for “one more thing.”

And while Trump has refused to accept the science of the pandemic and ignored the advice of the experts, he’s been trying desperately to make Americans think that he’s been doing a great job, that compared to other countries, the numbers in the U.S. are good. He floated this theory in an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios declaring that the death rate in the U.S. is low and that we do far more testing than any other country. The testing claim is true, we do a lot of testing but not nearly enough. However, the death rate statistic Trump cited, as Swan pointed out, was the percentage of deaths per positive cases, which is not a meaningful comparative metric. The statistic that shows fatalities rates per 100,000 people is one that is not so easily manipulated and one in which the U.S. is a world leader. Trump can’t spin this number unless he is behind a scheme to underreport COVID-19 deaths. As reported, death rate per 100,000 people in the U.S. is 52.11. If you want to track this number yourself, the formula is: number of deaths/total population*100,000. Now, 52 sounds really low, right? Comparatively, though, that number is high. In fact, there are only 9 countries in the world that have higher death rates. Our neighbors to the north and south of us, Canada (24.49) and Mexico (45.19) have faired better with lower death rates.

You may think that you live in a safe state – safe meaning that not so many residents have died or have come down with the virus – Wyoming is an example. But even the so-called safe states are not immune to the virus and its deadly impact. It takes one super spreader in a crowd to spark an outbreak, so safe states, don’t let your guard down. By the way, what makes a safe state? Why is it that there aren’t many cases in Wyoming, Maine or Vermont? The key, according to the data I have tracked, is population density. Wyoming has one of the lowest population densities of any state. And it only has about 3,300 positive cases and 33 deaths to date. It has a 5.82 death rate per 100,000. (But even safe low density states are not immune to upticks, even without a super spreading event as I will show later.) By contrast, the more densely populated state of New Jersey has a death rate of 178.93 per 100,000 residents.

One note of caution – death rates are trailing statistics and don’t necessarily indicate the severity of the current outbreak. New York, for example, has a high death rate but has managed to flatten its curve and as a result seen fewer cases in the last few months. Whereas, mid- level density southern states like Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia have seen dramatic rises in cases in the past 4 weeks, and now have higher rates of cases per capita than New York, New Jersey, and other high-density states. This suggests that while low-density is a metric to explain why the virus initially didn’t make much of a splash, it is starting to create waves in the south and even in sparsely populated states like Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Idaho, and Vermont that have social distancing baked into their geographies.

A final point here. Not long ago, a conservative meme making the rounds attempted to prove that influenza was far more deadly than COVID-19. It took the year 2018, a year when flu deaths spiked in the U.S. at about 60,000 deaths, and it reported the deaths in each U.S. state alongside the current deaths (as of April 2020) attributed to COVID-19. As one may recall, in the early stages of COVID-19, when the meme was published, COVID deaths were fairly low and not projected to even reach the 60,000 mark. Those numbers were revised over time and now are estimated to reach up to 300,000 deaths by November of 2020. 34 states have more COVID-19 deaths than flu fatalities reported for 2018 and some by orders of magnitude – Georgia, Colorado, Florida, and Illinois by 200%; Arizona by more than 300%; Louisiana and Connecticut by more than 400%, and Massachusetts and New York by more than 500%. Therefore, the flu, while deadly, is far less deadly than COVID-19 statistically speaking and as long as there is no vaccine and no leadership from the Trump administration, COVID-19 deaths will continue to rise.

In fairness, Trump has lead – but lead astray. His response has been to ignore the numbers, or call them into question; to encourage the governors to reopen the states which has been a disaster – just look at Florida, Texas, and Georgia, and as mentioned in the opening, he has threatened school districts if they don’t go back to in-person instruction. This plan has been an effort to downplay the virus, to gaslight the people into believing that their concerns over the virus are not grounded in reality, and that the virus is nothing more than a plan by the democrats to take Trump down.

Trump is doing everything in his power to undermine confidence in the election process. He says it’ll be rigged, that mail in ballots can’t be trusted, that voter fraud is certain. This is from his 2016 playbook. And if he wins, perhaps with the aid of Russia hacking and a powerful disinformation campaign, he’ll say the election wasn’t rigged after all.

But whatever happens, Trump is the reason COVID-19 is still raging out of control and killing thousands of people in the US every day.  And as the death toll rises, remember that it didn’t have to be like this.

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It ain’t what it ain’t

3 Months a Vegan

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A vegan offering from an Argentine winemaker. Highly recommended.

This is follow up to my “3 Weeks a Vegan” post. I am happy to report that I am still a vegan, or more accurately, still following a vegan diet. No intentional lapses. No dairy, no meat. I have eaten lots of beans, greens, grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables, as one might expect, and I occasionally consume pickles, sauerkraut, Kombucha, peanut butter, tofu, beer, and wine. I’ve cut out sweets for the most part, although I just finished a four bag marathon of Jolly Rancher jelly beans that happen to be vegan.  Most jelly bean makers use animal ingredients, like beeswax, and confectioners glaze (shallac) which consists of bug secretions to give the bean its sheen.

I feel reasonable healthy, lost and have keep off about 5 pounds, and have at least as much energy as before, maybe more although I’ve become lazy during the pandemic.  Because of the COVID-19 outbreak and the shelter in place order in my city, I have had to cancel my physical examination, so I haven’t yet had any blood tests that would determine whether my diet has conferred any health benefits. If my numbers suck, I’d consider returning to my old diet. What’s the first dish I’d have? Bacon and eggs. I really miss bacon.

What else do I miss? One of the most difficult challenges for me has been the dairy prohibition. I love cheese, Kefir, yogurt, eggs, milk, and butter. Imagine not being able to put sour cream and butter inside a piping hot baked potato. And while I miss these ingredients, I have kept my sanity and found decent plant-based substitutes. At the 3 week mark, I was struggling to find a suitable non-dairy creamer for my morning coffee. Fortunately, I have found two excellent vegan products that I can recommend without hesitation: Nut Pods and Califia. It took a while to get used to having coffee without the 2% milk I had been accustomed to, but now that my taste buds have adjusted to almond and coconut-based creamers, I find morning coffee once again to be an enjoyable experience.

So what do I eat? What’s a typical meal? A salad for starters. I like mine with mixed greens, sweet onions, radishes, green and red peppers, green olives, tomatoes, and Italian dressing. Main dishes have included pasta with red sauce, beans and rice, burritos, tacos, chili, eggplant dishes, Indian, Thai, vegetable stir fry, veggie burgers and tofu hotdogs, vegan frozen pizzas, and a variety of soups. Sides have been too numerous to mention but my favorites include baked potatoes, peas with tomato relish, corn on the cob with cashew-based butter, hush puppies, tater tots, french fries, rice, okra, spinach, grilled brussel sprouts, and onions, basically, most of the sides I used to have with meat.

One challenge remains. Wine. Many winemakers use fining agents from animal proteins found in eggs, milk, and fish to help clarify the wine. There aren’t labeling requirements regarding the use of fining agents, but some winemakers indicate if the wine is unfiltered, in which case it would be vegan friendly.  I have found some organic wines that are labeled vegan but not many, and the quality of the wines vary.  So for now, I am just buying varietals that I like in hopes that the wines are not filtered or that the fining agents used are clay-based.

I’ll post an update in 3 months.

Thoughts on COVID-19

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Corona viruses have been around for a long time and the world has seen its share of pandemics, plagues, and disasters of all kinds. This one seems modern, illusive, yes, even novel. It is one that developed countries should have been prepared for despite the challenges of combatting a largely invisible menace. Those countries and U.S. states that have taken the threat seriously from the beginning by implementing social distancing measures, quarantines, shelter in place and stay at home orders, who shut down businesses and emphasized sanitary protocols, and conducted mass testings, are now in better shape in terms of hospitalizations and death rates. In the U.S., states like California, Washington and Oregon, fiercely fought the virus from day 1 and managed resources efficiently, with some help from the federal government but not nearly enough.

The federal response to the virus outbreak in the U.S. has been an absolute disaster. Trump dithered and downplayed the seriousness of the virus in the early stages arguing that it would go away, that it was just another flu, and a political hoax, that the flu was much more serious in terms of the number of deaths and no one was talking about it – he suggested that liberals should be more alarmed about drownings and car accidents. His confidence in the hoax theory gave Republican governors in states like Florida and Georgia the license to ignore the warnings of public health officials. Until recently, many Floridians could be seen frolicking on beaches as if sand, sun, and salt water provided protection against the virus.

By the time doctors and scientists finally got through to Trump, it was too late to prevent the spread of the virus and to martial the resources states needed to protect health workers and save patients. And even though Trump has been conducting daily briefings suggesting he might actually care about the devastating impact the virus has had on people, unfortunately these have turned into campaign rallies and sparring matches with reporters. Rather than using the full powers of his presidency to issue a national stay at home order and to require companies to retool in service to the needs of hospitals and front line workers, Trump is attempting to weaponize the virus for his political advantage. Instead of giving states what they need, he appears to be strategically fulfilling requests to governors who say nice things about him. Those who dare to criticize, Trump attacks like a fifth grade bully.  He called Governor Jay Inslee a snake.  He lies about the quick U.S. response – it was not quick, it was delayed. He claims that he has saved millions of lives because he closed off the U.S. to Europe and China, which is not true; he even had a UK exemption initially, perhaps due to business interests, and the UK has had one of the worst outbreaks and least effective responses to it in the world.  And none of this even mattered because the virus was already spreading in the U.S.

The death toll projections for the U.S. are expected to be around 60,000 which is a much lower number than originally anticipated, and Trump is already taking credit for this, saying his swift action has made all the difference. Where is the empathy? To date, almost 100,000 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide and nearly 17,000 in the U.S.  Other than Trump and his blindly loyal supporters, who could argue that 60,000 U.S. dead is a winning number? By the way, 60,000 would be twice the number of deaths from the flu in a typical year in the U.S. and nearly twice as many car accidents. How many of these senseless deaths could have been prevented if Trump had really taken swift and decisive actions like some countries did, had he heeded the advice of experts long before the pandemic hit, and had he not dismantled a pandemic task force that was in place because it had Obama’s stamp of approval?

Look at the numbers in Finland, Germany, and So. Korea.  What do these countries have in common? They acted early by massively testing and by locking things down. They prevented rampant community spread so that their hospital systems wouldn’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Neighboring countries of Germany and Finland like the UK and Sweden that acted late have been hit much harder and have significantly higher death rates.

Trump claims that the U.S. is testing like no other, more tests than anyone, and that may be true, but not more tests per capita, not even close to Germany or So. Korea. And he said that anyone could get a test who wants one, which was probably the most impactful lie of the 60,000 plus he has told while in office to date, because as everyone knows in the U.S., it’s next to impossible to get a test unless gravely ill. Even health workers in some areas are not able to get a test.

The failure of the federal government to effectively deal with the COVID-19 outbreak will be Trump’s downfall. Trump’s incompetence has cost American lives, not saved them. His lies are insidious and designed to mask his failures as a leader. Rather than owning up to his errors, he blames the governors – saying they acted too late. This is classic gaslighting. In fact, states have mostly had to act on their own – secure their own ventilators, buy their own PPE. They’ve had to recruit volunteer resources where there are shortages of nurses and doctors. They have had to lead the U.S. response because the federal government refuses to step up or is not prepared to. Now that is not to say that the federal government has done nothing. They have deployed the army corps of engineers to build temporary hospitals. They have sent some supplies to various states – ventilators, PPE, test kits in a disorganized fashion. They did steer two military ships to ports in California and New York to treat patients. They did issue some basic guidelines to stop the spread of the virus – first it was 15 days, as if the virus would be defeated in two weeks, then that was revised to 30 days giving some the false hope that it would go away in a month. Trump desperately wants the country to get back to work, to boost the economy and improve his election chances, the virus be damned.  And that attitude may cost more Americans their lives.

And this is not to say that there are currently no efforts to fight the virus and treat the victims. Far from it. The front line workers, the nurses, the doctors, EMTs and other emergency responders are working tirelessly. They are heroes. They risk their lives everyday to save and protect others even without the proper gear to protect themselves in some cases. They are literally the ones saving lives, not Trump. Additionally, many governors and mayors throughout the country have responded much more  effectively than the federal government, taking cues from health officials rather than partisan politicians who question data and dismiss science as a hoax. They make the Trump administration’s response look small, petty,  ill-informed, and dangerous.

We will get through this pandemic together. But it will take a coordinated response. If the feds won’t lead, the states and cities will have to continue to take charge and keep the pedal to the metal to paraphrase Dr. Anthony Fauci. Trump may encourage businesses to re-open before it is safe to do so, and may claim that the virus has been defeated – maybe he’s stupid enough to believe his own lie. But most Americans know the truth that no one is safe anywhere until there is a vaccine, and that might be 18 months out.

So, stop the spread. Stay home if you can. If you have to go out, keep your distance, wear a mask and gloves, wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, cough into your elbow, disinfect anything you bring into the house from the outside. Wash clothes after going out. Disinfect door handles. Don’t shake anyone’s hands. Self-isolate if sick and call/contact the doctor. Have food or medicine delivered. Get supplies of prescription meds for 90 days if possible. Look after your loved ones especially the elderly and infirm. Check in on friends (by phone or computer). Listen to the doctors and public health officials. Be safe. Better days are ahead.

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2020 Las Vegas Dem Debate

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And then there were 6 – Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar and Bloomberg.

If I were Warren, Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar or Bloomberg, I’d go after Sanders primarily tonight. I think the Bernie Bros would be one issue worth bringing up.  I would demand that Sanders disavow – that he pledges to investigate and root out the divisive intimidators in his campaign. Second, I’d question his ability to unify the country.  The Democrat tent is much more than a progressive block of activists, socialists, college students, and people 40 and under.  I would question whether a socialist can win the support of Democrats in the critical states of PA, OH, MN, MI and WI.  Any Democrat can win HI, CA, IL, NY, DE, and the NE states.  If I were one of the other 5 candidates, I’d make my case that I could win the key rust belt states. I’d argue that I would expand access to health care (and not end it for those who have it). I’d pledge to kill the tariffs that have hit farmers hard. I’d promise to clean up the environment and rebuild the EPA.  I’d commit to an agenda that would tackle the issue of climate change. I’d end fracking and invest in alternative energy sources, thus creating more jobs and would look to invest in  the nuclear energy sector. I’d commit to other infrastructure projects including upgrading the electrical grid, repairing roads and bridges and modernizing rail and airports.  Finally, I’d commit to visas for all migrant agriculture workers and a path to citizenship for all who want it as part of a comprehensive immigration reform.

This debate should not be about taking Bloomberg down.  He’ll likely do that himself.  No, it’s time to take Bernie down a notch and once the race tightens, the field should go after the Bloomberg candidacy.  Do we really want another billionaire running the country?  The one in office now has nearly destroyed the nation and all of its democratic institutions.

Hey, Dems – it’s anyone’s race.  It’s not too late.  Hang in there.

3 Weeks a Vegan

I’ve been a meat eater all my life.  A carnivore’s carnivore.  I once went on an all-meat diet and took desiccated liver supplements to maximize my protein intake.  That was a long time ago.  I’ve been eating more sensibly since and have started following a vegan diet. I did it not so much for health reasons or ethical reasons but because my daughter challenged me.  Once I accepted the challenge, I began to think about the many dietary changes I needed to make and I had to convince myself that it was in my best interests to eat healthy.  I figured I’d add a few years to my lifespan, maybe even become immortal, if not immortal, at least help to keep the planet alive longer by reducing my carbon footprint. I have not been able to convince myself that eating meat is cruel to animals or a savage practice.  It would be quite hypocritical of me to adopt that stance after so many years of eating meat and fishing.

After three weeks of not eating any meat or dairy and getting all my nutrition from plants, I can say that I feel pretty good.  I have the same amount of energy, perhaps even more than before.  I’m snacking way less and consuming fewer calories and losing weight – not that I need to – about 6 pounds so far.  After I eat a vegan meal, I generally feel quite satisfied, but never stuffed.  I also find that I don’t have as much of a lingering aftertaste like I did after eating meat and dairy.  Though there is one issue that has almost been a deal breaker – not being able to put milk in my morning coffee.  I have never liked non-dairy creamers or any kind of cream for that matter. The only thing I like in coffee is 2% organic milk.  Now I’m stuck with coconut/almond creamer that really takes the fun and taste out of coffee.  Soy is better but it irritates my throat.  I’m getting used to almond milk though.  And it does seem to fare reasonably well in lattes as a replacement for milk.

I have also begun taking B12 and D3 supplements and probiotics to fight off deficiencies.   I go for a physical in March and if my blood work is stellar, I’ll stay on the vegan diet for as long as I can.  If there are no changes or negative changes to my health as measured by blood tests, I’ll ditch the vegan diet in favor of a vegetarian one but limit my dairy.  We’ll see.

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On to SC and NV

Now it’s on to Nevada and South Carolina.  Dems in the more diverse states will have to figure out who they think can beat Trump and also speak to their issues.  Who is best on the economy? Who can unite the country? Who can lead the charge on immigration reform that can pass both chambers? Who has less baggage? Who can solve climate change? Who can bring back the rule of law but also put forward criminal justice reform? Who is best for down ballot candidates to give the dems the best shot at keeping the House and winning back the Senate. Who will make gun control a priority?

Is the rest of the country in love with Bernie? Can he expand the base and turn out more voters? Will his rhetoric motivate baby boomers, independents and former Trump supporters.  Have the electorate given up on Biden and Warren? Is Mayor Pete for real? Does Klobuchar have appeal in states outside of Minnesota with a diverse population? Is Bloomberg a spoiler who will guarantee a brokered convention and become the billionaire who saved the day?

Lots of questions to answer.  Stay tuned.

 

Farenheit 451 Book Review

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought I had read this when a kid but upon reading it “again” I didn’t remember any of it which is ironic given the message of the importance of memory to the preservation of books that may one day disappear. In fact, those days are already upon us as evidenced by the attack from the anti-intellectual alt right that have created an alternate universe where fact is fiction, knowledge is suspect, and the arts are impractical. In the error of Trump, the U.S. finds itself “led” by a man who reportedly refuses to read anything that is not about himself.

In Fahrenheit 451, books are banned and people’s lives are consumed by idiotic TV broadcasts. While today, books compete with the Internet, social media, video streams, movies, video games, and televised sports.  Books have lost their luster in the digital age and are even feared.  There have been regular bans and ritual burning of books that are found by certain communities to be objectionable.

In Fahrenheit 451, an obsession with war and destruction culminates in near nuclear annihilation. People are so dumbed down that they have no idea what is going on. In today’s society, some 63 million prideful low information voters elected a failed businessman who does not like to read who once wondered why we have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them. We are living in dystopian times.

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Fear: Trump in the White House Review

Fear: Trump in the White HouseFear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not sure what I was expecting but not this. I was struck by how it read like an episode from The West Wing full of chaos and drama. Woodward managed to inject order into the chaos and in doing so, painted Trump in a somewhat sympathetic light. His journalistic sense of neutrality is on display as he presented the first year and half of the Trump presidency as a series of huge moments where Trump’s “instincts” enabled by manipulative forces from Steve Bannon, to Peter Navarro and Fox News clashed with the views of key advisors, like the generals and Gary Cohn, who tried to be the adults in the room. Woodward takes us through defining events including the bungled response to the tragedy at Charlottesville, the Twitter wars with North Korea, the steel tariff, and Trumps pulling out of the Paris accords and trade agreements. At every decision point, Trump seems to look through a lens with three filters that revealed how he would look to supporters and the media, how much it would cost and what would the U.S. (or he) get in return. For example, he couldn’t understand why the U.S. couldn’t mine all the minerals in Afghanistan, or why the U.S. had to spend so much on NATO and the defense of South Korea. He couldn’t understand why we don’t just put the U.S. military out for hire. His instincts are to run the country like a Trump business to make money or enhance the brand. And to Trump, the brand should be about toughness and winning. Everything is winning or losing. He scoffs at the word globalism, a term he clearly learned from Steve Bannon.

Significant attention is paid to the carping between the president and his advisors and their battle for power and influence. The narrative is critical of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner who seem to have their own agenda and to have unlimited access to the president, undermining others. Some of the more incendiary bits revealed how Trump’s closest advisors viewed him. One of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, called Trump (charitably) incapable of telling the truth. Secretary of State Tillerson called Trump a “moron”. Chief of Staff Kelly offered a variation on the theme calling Trump an “idiot” while National Economic Council Chair Gary Cohn called him an “asshole”.

What becomes clear in the narrative is just how impulsive Trump can be (something I think we all have observed) but also just how easily he can be talked down from a bad idea. Increasingly, though, trying to put controls on Trump so that rational and ordered decisions could be made became so frustrating and impossible that many of the “adults in the room” left the administration. Now Trump has few guardrails in place to save him and the country from his bad instincts, one of the reasons he was impeached. To compound matters, he is surrounded by yes men and manipulators who have their own (very often bad) agendas – think Pompeo, Miller, Kushner, and Barr.

What Woodward did not explore were the origins of Trump’s bad ideas – that free trade and a free press are bad, and by extension that democracy is bad; that alliances and agreements are bad; that regulations are bad; that immigration is bad; and that protests against white supremacy are bad. Trump’s racism has been on display for years dating back to housing discrimination rulings against Trump properties, the Central Park 5, and Trump’s erroneous claim that Obama was not born in the United States and was an illegitimate president. Woodward does not explore the roles of Bannon and Miller in any detail or the influence of Fox “News” propaganda on Trump’s world view. And importantly, there isn’t much on the cozy relationship between Putin, Trump and the Republicans. Trump appears to support policies that favor Russia over the interest of the U.S. Why is that?

But the book is really more of a document of the Trump presidency up close and behind the scenes as experienced by the major players. It does not attempt to explain how or why Trump got elected, or to suggest that Trump is a bad president, though definitely one we should fear. Nor does he suggest Trump should be impeached and removed. That is left up the reader, including the meaning of the title, Fear: Trump in the White House. My own interpretation is that we should fear Trump more than ever now precisely because the guardrails are off and all the adults are gone or have flipped and become enablers (like Lindsay Graham) leaving the controls to an impulsive, unpredictable, failed businessman who has terrible instincts, undemocratic ideas, and no clue how to govern.

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The Plot to Destroy Democracy Review

The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the WestThe Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West by Malcolm W. Nance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to know how the failed businessman and narcissistic con artist Donald J. Trump managed to become the president of the United States, read this book. To understand what he has done to erode our democratic institutions and norms, and who this benefits the most, read this book. Our collective knowledge of the consequences of the 2016 election could help prevent another kleptocracy from ever taking root again in the U.S. While Malcolm Nance’s writing in spots has a bureaucratic wonkiness to it, his arguments are clear, well-supported, and eye-opening. The Plot to Destroy Democracy is an important and timely work.

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