This Travesty of a Presidency

The charges: “erratic conduct and behavior”; making “a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations—wild outbursts on the internet and television”; engaging in “frenzied commentary”; and facilitating “the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos.” If you thought someone was criticizing President Trump, and this travesty of a presidency, you’d be wrong, though forgiven for the mistake. The president delivered (projected?) those charges against former CIA Director, John Brennan, then revoked his security clearance.

The president has revealed his own enemies list and attacked several other former government officials whose security clearances he’s considering pulling, among them James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence; Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA, in addition to other intelligence services; Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor; and Bruce Ohr, the only person currently employed by the government (Justice Department, Criminal Division).

President Trump stepped outside the normal revocation procedure and simply withdrew Brennan’s security clearance himself. Ordinarily, revoking a security clearance would begin in the agency of which Mr. Brennan was once a part, in this case the CIA, but the agency had initiated no action against Mr. Brennan—he’s revealed no classified information—and directed questions back to the White House.

Former intelligence officials keep their security clearances in case present-day officials need to consult with them about past policies and actions, and how they inform the present.

None of this is to say that Mr. Brennan hasn’t participated in the president’s politicization of the intelligence agencies. In his manner of saying the things he’s said publicly about the president, however much people agree with him, Brennan may have lowered himself to Trump’s level. The Dozens is Trump’s game; it’s foolhardy to take him on. Just ask Marco Rubio.

For former and present government officials, best practice may be Mr. Mueller’s steady, quiet plodding.

–Sobering News

Kobach Recuses Himself

One could almost replace recuses with accuses in the title, and we’d have an equally valid report. The Secretary of State for Kansas, Kris Kobach, he of Trump’s voter fraud commission infamy, recused himself from one of the chief functions of his office. As the Kansas Secretary of State, his office oversees state elections. He’s in a close election battle vote count with present Governor Jeff Colyer. Mr. Kobach challenged the governor in the Republican primary election last Tuesday (Aug. 7).

Gov. Colyer wrote in a letter to Mr. Kobach’s office after the election the following:

It has come to my attention that your office is giving advice to county election officials – as recently as a conference call yesterday — and you are making public statements on national television which are inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote in the ongoing Kansas primary election process.

More specifically, the secretary’s office is accused of provided misleading information to county election offices about mailed ballots and provisional ballots. The governor has requested the secretary to appoint a neutral party to oversee the Tuesday primary election results, namely the state’s attorney general.

Kobach should have recused himself from oversight of this election before it occurred. That’s why his recusal is almost a self-accusation. In a race predicted to go down to the wire before the vote, what ethics-minded individual overseeing the vote would not recuse himself beforehand? It takes a genius to figure that out? If not before, then why not recuse immediately after when fewer than 200 votes separated the candidates? Why did the governor’s letter have to initiate a recusal? Oh, wait a minute; this is the Trump era. Under him, ethical governing is an oxymoron. Kobach is simply another iteration of it.

Well, so much for Republican unity in Kansas, which both candidates have pledged to uphold.

–Sobering News

The Briefing

I’ve consumed Sean Spicer’s book, “The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President.” Literally. I made a fricassee of it, eating it in one sitting. Beginning with the chewing of the first two morsels, my saliva began the long process of digesting it. Getting those first morsels into my esophagus, however, proved a challenge. Swallowing, in other words, was difficult but gradually improved the more Bordeaux I drank.

As the chewed book moved through the esophagus to my stomach, I worried about heartburn, but since my ex-wife once told me I had no heart, I didn’t worry too much.Complete_GI_tract_-_sized Surprisingly enough, my stomach acids made quick work of the book, and I could definitely feel the peristalsis as it moved through my small intestine. Pancreatic enzymes struggled to do their work (I’m now worried about pancreatitis), but liver bile actually seemed stimulated. My duodenum sought out any nourishment the book might hold, but my jejunum and ileum refused to enable any nutrient absorption, including, alas, my white sauce.

Well, you can probably guess what happened next. Yes, nearly the whole book passed into my large intestine, WHERE IT REMAINED LODGED FOR NIGH ON FIVE DAYS! Such constipation I have never experienced before, except possibly for the pound of sharp Wisconsin cheddar I ate for lunch in 1982. (Someone, my ex-wife I think, dared me.)

Thankfully, on the sixth day, the dam broke. What relief! Except now my toilet’s clogged. I couldn’t face it and called the plumber. Shocked, he asked if he could take a picture (wanted to show his buddies). We can all expect it to go viral any day now. I don’t recommend any of you view it, however, unless you’re into that sort of thing. (Please tell me you’re not.)

On the seventh day, tomorrow, I shall rest. From now on, I won’t consume any political books written by anyone in the Trump administration. That, of course, is the biggest lie of all. I’m just going to make sure I have a ready supply of laxatives on hand as I ingest all that cellulose. Next time, I may forego the fricassee and try a ragout.

–Sobering News

Uncle Vranyo

A particular kind of Russian lying, vranyo, has spread to America. Its chief practitioner here in the U.S., it won’t surprise you, is the so-called leader of the free world, one Donald J. Trump. I suspect the import has come in duty-free or, perhaps, already resided in the man, a kind of home-grown vranyo, the practice of which has become widespread, especially within and throughout the Republican Party.

What is vranyo? It’s the kind of lying that involves a disregard for truth, not only by the person telling the lie but also by the people willing to ignore it. Elena Gorokhova, a Russian exile living in the U.S., describes vranyo in a 2011 op-ed called “From Russia with Lies” in the New York Times.

When Gorokhova was a little girl growing up in the Soviet Union, a preschool matron the children called Aunt Polya (not really their aunt) watched and commanded the children to drink their warm milk and eat their slice of buttered bread. As Gorokhova tells it, “We all knew she was watching us, she knew that we knew and we all knew she knew that we knew.” The pretense that such watching wasn’t going on, but everyone, including preschoolers and matrons, understood it was, was a microcosm of Soviet society at large.

Fast forward to 2011. Gorokhova, living in America since the early 80s, sees a photo of Vladimir Putin walking out of the Black Sea in a wet suit carrying nearly intact amphorae. Her nose senses the odor of vranyo, and she recognizes this as Putin stagecraft meant to depict him as the strongman and re-elect him as President of Russia (it does). She understood immediately what was going on: “Putin was lying to us, we knew he was lying, he knew we knew he was lying, but he kept lying anyway, and we pretended to believe him.” A week later another Times article proves her suspicions accurate. The whole incident was staged.


Creative Commons Attribution 4.0–

Substitute Trump for Putin in the line above, and you’ll understand now what’s going on here in America under Trump’s brand of governing. We all know Singapore, Helsinki, and repeated denials of collusion are lies, Trump knows we know they’re lies, but he keeps lying anyway, and too many of us pretend to believe him.

In the Republican party especially, such doublethink is the only way to get re-elected. Don’t believe me? Ask, among others, Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), defeated in a recent primary because he dared criticize the president (he wasn’t Trump enough).

This is the America we now live in, where 60,000,000+ people elected such a man to office, and where the latest Gallup Poll shows him retaining a base of support within the Republican Party of 87 percent. How divorced from reality the overwhelming majority of Republicans seems shouldn’t surprise us. What is disturbing and dangerous is the man running the con. The only brake on him is that provided by Democrats. If you’re a Republican opposed to Trump, or have left the party because of him, it is time to consider seriously voting Democrat in November. If you don’t help apply the brakes, the country may crash. That’s nothing any patriot should want.

–Sobering News

Letter of Application


White House Office of Personnel
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Sir or Madam:

With the amount of clean-up needed after nearly any speech or news conference or cabinet meeting or tweet the president makes or holds, I’d like to offer my clean-up services to the White House. I personally own a John Deere 5403 tractor, with hydraulic bucket scoop attached, which can extend to a breathtaking fifteen feet. That can make a sizable pile of manure, especially of the type that comes out of the back end of bovines, including bulls.

Consider this a standing proposal. I know the president is busy, mostly creating more messy chaos, but, hey, you folks in the White House must be getting worn out by this time. I can help.

I’ve used said equipment to clean out barns, barnyards, feedlots, and other places in Wisconsin where waste can accumulate. Without question, I know my tractor and I could certainly be of service to the White House, even when he visits foreign countries like Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Finland.

How would I transport my equipment for clean up to such foreign places? The answer is I wouldn’t have to. All of those nations, and most of the nations of the world, have similar equipment to mine that can be leased on a daily or weekly basis to effect a clean up. Some even have John Deere equipment, unless they’ve leveled a retaliatory tariff, which, I understand, may indeed be the case. That will make leasing any equipment in a foreign nation more costly, but as I’m sure the White House understands, that’s what happens in a trade war.

How much money do I expect to earn from each clean-up? Depends on the size of the mess, where it is located, and the amount of red tape I have to cut through to accomplish the task. On average between 2007-2009, D.C. lawyers billed $600 per hour ($700 per hour in NYC). That study of course is ten years old. Given the rate of inflation and increasing demand for lawyers during the Trump administration, billing hours will have gone up, possibly as high as $800 per hour in D.C. (if not more). I propose a rate for me of $400 per hour. That would save the president $400 per hour. You will have to admit saving $400 per hour in lawyers’ fees (even for just one lawyer) is a significant savings for the president. I feel certain that my clean-up method will save the president not only lawyers’ fees now but also untold ones in the future.

I would expect to ride along on Air Force One with the president to any place he travels to. The plane’s hold may have room for the John Deere if it’s needed, or, again, I can lease equipment at the destination. I do own a pooper scooper that I can use on the plane if necessary. I’m also not averse to cleaning up after tweety birds.

Just one further stipulation: I will need three-fourths of the money up front, with the remaining quarter to be paid at the successful completion of each task. If in dispute, success or the alleged lack of success will be determined by an impartial arbitration panel of three recognized jurists. Bob Mueller, if he’s acceptable to you, would be an excellent choice to head the panel. He may be tied up, however, with other matters for the foreseeable future. How about another Republican, say, Jim Comey? I understand he’s looking for a job.

Thank you for seriously considering this proposal. I know the White House and I can be of mutual benefit to each other. The president spews a lot of, well, you know what; I’m just the man to help clean it up. Looking forward to hearing from you. Let’s make a “dirty” deal!


Fred Farmer
Wisconsin, U.S.A.
#MAGA, #AmericaFirst, #Cohen’sABum, #WitchHunt, #Putin’sFine, #MariaLovesNRA

PS: For greater efficiency, I have access, if necessary, to a large labor pool, many of them soybean farmers who need the work to stay in business and support their families. My hourly fee, it goes without saying, will have to be significantly higher, depending on how many of them I’ll need. We’ll discuss that when we meet in D.C.

–Sobering News

A contraction! A contraction! My kingdom for a contraction!

In a July 16 news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump responded to a question about whom he believed regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election, his own intelligence agencies or Putin. “I will say this,” he answered, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia],” meaning he could find no reason why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Just as important, his answer indicated he trusted Putin more than his own intelligence agencies.

After arriving back to an outraged Washington on Tuesday, Trump offered this “clarification”: he meant to say “wouldn’t” not “would,” which would change the Monday statement to read, “I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be [Russia],” and then mumbled something about double negatives. Ah, yes: A contraction! A contraction! My kingdom for a contraction!

Trump, apparently, wants to ride that horse. Well, so be it. We’ll see how far it takes him. Of course, Shakespeare’s King Richard III never got the horse he called for at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485; he was defeated there, ending his reign after two years.

What reasons could Putin have for his interference? Let’s see, the violent annexation of Crimea and the on-going violent conflict between Ukraine and Russia in eastern Ukraine, resulting in economic sanctions against Russia; murdered Russian journalists and Western criticism of such acts; jailed political opponents, with more Western criticism, though a congratulatory call from Trump to Putin for the latter’s election victory; and hundreds of thousands killed in Syria (and millions of refugees created) at the hands of Assad, Putin, and Iran and its Hezbollah allies. Right, a former KGB agent, deeply disgruntled over the fall of the Soviet Union and its empire, would see no value in undermining American democracy or the democracies of its European allies. What purpose could Putin possibly have for meddling in an American election?

Trump may think the summoning of a belated wouldn’t for would will satisfy his supporters. He may well be right. They may accept it and continue their fervid support of his presidency. The congressional Republican leadership has voiced its concern over Trump’s appeasement summit, but what Republicans do will be more important than what they say. With the notoriously short memory of the American public and the speed of the present-day news cycle, they may decide against doing anything. With the ongoing denial of objective truth, how many in November will remember Trump’s disastrous July trip to the NATO summit meeting in Brussels, his interview with Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun, wherein he undermined the English Prime Minister, Theresa May, or the betrayal of America in Helsinki?

It might well take a book to describe all the incidents of chaos this president has spawned, that have already receded to the back burner of the nation’s collective memory. We’ve moved on from so many: the separation of families at the southern border, the gaseous Singapore photo-op, Charlottesville, the G-7 summit— well, you get the idea.

Sometimes in life we get what we deserve. Possibly because of our lassitude, our not paying enough attention, our current penchant for tribalism, we deserve Trump. He’s the man for this time, the man for a spent, seemingly demoralized nation peering into the abyss. Tough language, I know. As the nefarious Richard III intoned, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.” Nothing glorious about him. Hmmm, whom else could that apply to? Don’t get demoralized yet. Think November; vote Democrat. Conservative Republican? Hold your nose if you have to.

(A slightly different version of this piece was published in the July 29, 2018, edition of the Appleton Post Crescent.)

–Sobering News

Dog and Pony Shows


By Henry B. Gentry [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

His photo-ops weren’t just another dog and pony show, like so many other politicians’. If his lacked substance, which they did, that was intended. The difference, despite the lack of anything telling, was that he always left the audience wanting more. They were shows, after all, and one of the prime motivations of any entertainer is to leave your audience wanting more. Besides, the camera loved him as much as he loved the camera, and the networks, cable news, and their cameras, even after his election, continued to oblige him with mountains of free publicity. What was not to like?

Dogs and ponies were a wonderful distraction and paved the way for the real show (in the 1920s the hoochie-coochie show, which, if he were honest—Stormy and the playmate—, he reveled in as well). The shows were fronts for the real substance of his policies like Zero Tolerance, no matter how much he bungled their roll-outs. Others then had to clean up the mess much as others cleaned up after the dogs and ponies. He never dirtied his hands.

The NATO meeting was mere prelude to his meeting with Putin. He’d work the former—ruffle a few feathers, allow allies to get their dander up—as a build-up to the latter. He’d seal a deal with Putin—not exactly forgive Crimea but acknowledge the fait accompli, start the torturous process of rolling back the sanctions, and make the G7 the G8 once again. That should keep Putin at bay for a while. Sometimes the poodle had to perform for the master without expecting a treat in return.

He loved the prime-time show he put on for Brett: A room full of supporters, the nominee’s family close by, how the younger daughter liked sports and talking—that was so funny—Brett’s speech hitting all of the right marks. Brett wouldn’t now dare to go against the text he wrote in 2009, the one in which he warned against conducting investigations against sitting presidents. As the sitting president under investigation and a possible future subpoena, he’d just taken out an insurance policy. Yes, he loved the idea of an “independent” judiciary, as long as it wasn’t independent of him.

Before all of that, the Montana rally, a bona fide dog and pony show if there ever were one. He’d managed to insult Pocahontas and the #MeToo movement, not to mention Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in the same sentence. He slighted President George H.W. Bush and his 1000 points of light. Those dogs and ponies kept attention away from the president’s Zero Tolerance border policies, in particular the separation of children from their parents and the resulting chaos of trying to reunite them. Trump ought to worry less about her genes, said Sen. Warren, and more about the DNA tests he’s having to conduct in order to reunite families his policy separated.

As many of us realize, any number of the president’s photo ops qualify as dog and pony shows. They’re unmistakable. Will the networks ever tire of bringing them before the public? Unlikely. Ratings are high and there’s too much money in it for them. Will his supporters ever see what the shows really are? It’s likely they already do. They simply love the shows. They’re more entertaining than big-time wrestling. His presidency has become a popular spectator sport. No, that understates. They’re an event, a kind of pseudo-event that Boorstin defined, for many must-see TV. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to America in mid-summer, 2018.

–Sobering News