Christopher Brauchli

These two GOP senators are in a head-to-head battle for most disgraceful man in the chamber

This is what you shall do... stand up for the stupid and crazy...
— Walt Whitman, Preface to the first edition of Leaves of Grass

A number of readers wondered whether, following my recent piece on The Triplets in the House of Representatives, I was being unfair to the United States Senate, a body that includes at least two people deserving recognition as much as the triplets in the House. I can only acknowledge my oversight with a mea culpa and make amends by directing the readers' attention to two Senators who, with each utterance, warm the cockles of the trumpian heart and the hearts of all who love and miss the trump.

The two Senators are Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Josh Hawley of Missouri. Great minds can differ on which of the two men is the dumbest man in the Senate. NBC's Joe Scarborough bestowed the label on Josh, calling him the dumbest guy in the Senate, but I prefer to bestow that honor on Wisconsin's Ron Johnson. Ron does not have the academic credentials of Josh. Josh attended Stanford, and Yale law school. The lack of those credentials does not, however, deprive him of the right to being first, not second, in the competition.

Ron has served in the Senate since 2010. During that time ample opportunities for him to show his stupidity have presented themselves, and he has rarely failed to take advantage of them. In 2021, however, he has taken positions that in the opinion of this writer give him an insurmountable lead over Josh Hawley. Among his most memorable demonstrations were his comments on the rioters who stormed the United States Capitol as Ron and his colleague took refuge in a safe space in the Capitol building. Ron said of his time being sequestered in a safe space in the Capitol that: "I never felt threatened I didn't foresee this. They made up their own standards in terms of incitement. The first question was 'Was this predictable? Was it foreseeable? And the answer was no, it wasn't. I don't know any Trump supporters who would do that."

In an interview in March he said of the rioters that: "I know those were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn't concerned." He went on to say that had the rioters been members of the Black Lives Matter crowd he would have been more concerned for his safety. He did not explain why he joined his colleagues in being taken to a refuge where they were protected from the people showing their love for the country by storming its capitol nor has he explained why more than 400 of them have been criminally indicted for trying to prove their love of country.

Ron's observations about the good intentions of the rioters by themselves, would perhaps not earn him the distinction I have granted him. It is also his expertise on the Covid-19 vaccine. He has repeatedly downplayed the need for people to get vaccinated against the virus. In an interview with Vicky McKenna on April 23 he explained that if a person had the vaccine he or she didn't need to worry about whether anyone else got the vaccine. As he explained: "So if you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not. I mean, what is it to you?... So why this big push to make sure everybody gets vaccinated?" The more than 570,000 American who have died could explain why taking the vaccine is important. Anthony Fauci responded to Johnson's comments saying they were nonsense. He said we have very effective vaccines and it makes no sense to take the Johnson position that if he's been vaccinated no one else needs to take the vaccine.

Johnson's competitor is Josh Hawley. Josh is better credentialed than Ron. Josh received his undergraduate degree from Stanford University and his law degree from Yale Law School. Both of his degrees have served him in poor stead proving, as a president of Harvard once said, the mere fact that you graduate from a great university does not mean you are an educated person. On December 30, 2020, Josh announced by means of a trump like tweet, that he would refuse to certify the vote that Joe Biden had been elected president. "I cannot vote to certify the Electoral College results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws." Not content to express his unwillingness to certify the electoral college results, as the rioters gathered on January 6 preparing to launch their attack on the Capitol, Josh walked by them pumping his fist in the air in a gesture of support. What happened next is history.

Commenting on Josh's tweets and conduct, John Danforth, a former Missouri Senator said: "Supporting Josh Hawley. . . was the worst decision I've ever made in my life. He has consciously appealed to the worst. He has attempted to drive us apart and he has undermined public belief in our democracy. And that's great damage." Senator Danforth got that right. Josh Hawley is a national disgrace. So is Ron Johnson. The nut jobs in the House of Representatives have not upstaged the ones in the Senate. The electorate has made sure there are enough to go around.

The art of 'court packing': Trump has appointed almost one-fourth of all active federal judges in the US

"[T]he Senate is much given to admiring in its members a superiority less obvious or quite invisible to outsiders. . . ."

— Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

Federal courts are a lot like suitcases as events over the last 5 years have shown. There are many different ways to pack them. This would be of no particular interest except for the cries of alarm being sounded by the packers in chief. They keep demanding that presidential candidate, Joe Biden, disclose whether, if elected president, he would use the only method of packing the United States Supreme Court that Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, have not needed to employ—expanding the number of Justices who sit on the United States Supreme Court.

The question is posed not because Republicans object in principle to the idea of increasing the size of the United States Supreme Court in order to create a majority aligned with their views, but because of the success they have enjoyed packing the entire federal court system without resorting to such an obvious tactic. There is strength in numbers and that has enabled Mitch and his cohorts to effectively pack the United States Supreme Court, and many Federal Courts of Appeal and Federal District Courts with conservative judges. Their success ensures that the political alignment of those courts will comport with the politics of the packers far into the future.

The first method of packing that was demonstrated by the Republicans took place in 2016 after Justice Antonin Scalia's death. Following years of precedent, when Scalia's death created a vacancy on the Court, President Obama did what all presidents before him had done on such occasions. He sent to the Senate the name of a replacement. Mitch did what had never before been done by a Majority Leader of the Senate-he refused to meet with the person who had been nominated by the president or to hold hearings or permit a vote on the nomination. Even though the 2016 election was 10 months away, Mitch said that a successor should not be selected until after the election and the people had spoken. The vacancy remained until after the 2016 election when the vacancy was given to the trump to fill, a much-valued gift that was the first example of Mitch and his colleagues packing the Supreme Court without expanding its size. If the Scalia vacancy had been a suitcase, upon arrival at its destination the traveler would have discovered the suitcase was well stocked with the traveler's needs.

The next example of packing the suitcase and the Supreme Court occurred 3 ½ years later when Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, died less than 2 months before the 2020 election. With her death, the opportunity to select her successor was presented to Mitch and his cronies. Notwithstanding their earlier concern that any seat of a Supreme Court Justice who died in the same year as an election should remain vacant until the election had been held, Mitch concluded that his reasoning, following the death of Justice Scalia was wrong. The vacancy was immediately filled by Mitch and his gang thus once again demonstrating what had become their tried and true method of packing the Supreme Court.

Of course lower courts, like suitcases, can also be packed and Mitch and his followers did that throughout the last two years of the Obama administration and the 3 1/2 trump years. During the last two years of the Obama administration, Mitch effectively blocked the appointment of new Judges to the United States Courts of Appeals. In contrast, during the administrations of Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, the latest nomination to a Court of Appeals made by them and confirmed during the end of their respective tenures was submitted in the same year as the presidential election and they were confirmed that same year. Of the seven Obama nominees submitted by him in 2015 and 2016, none was confirmed, and their seats were vacancies that Mitch and the trump were able to fill after the trump became president.

Of course the Mitch method of packing the court applies equally to the Federal District Courts. There were 42 unconfirmed Obama nominees to the Federal District Courts when the trump became president. Nineteen of them had been nominated in 2015 and 23 of them had been nominated in early 2016. Those were vacancies that, before packing, would have been filled by the Senate before the election in 2016. Instead, and to the Trump's and Mitch's great delight, they were all filled after the trump's election by nominees submitted by the trump and confirmed by a Senate controlled by Mitch and his colleagues.

According to one study, the trump has appointed almost a quarter of all active federal judges in the United States, That's a record of which Mitch can be proud. Demanding to know whether the Democrats might try to pack the U.S. Supreme Court by adding Justices to the Court, the only means of packing the Republicans did not need to invoke in order to change the political make-up of the Federal Judiciary for many years to come, seems disingenuous. There's a reason. It is.

Here's what the location of the FBI headquarters has to do with Congress' $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill

The great problem of legislation is, so to organize the civil government of a community . . . that in the operations of human institutions upon social action, self-love and social may be made the same.

— John Quincy Adams, Society and Civilization

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Here's a brief guide to understanding Trumpian sarcasm

Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, the language of the Devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it.

— Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus

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Trump-style vengeance is not limited to individuals. He can also exact revenge on an entire population

The evil that men do lives after them. . . .

— W. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

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Trump team titans spotlight: Former Florida AG Pam Bondi can grift with the best of them

Birds of a feather will gather together.

— Robert Burton, The Author’s Abstract

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Defrauded students and Betsy DeVos

That shut her up real horrorshow and lovely. —A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

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How pro-Trump memes mirror the frightening ways Nazi propagandists got their message to the people

[A]fter the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace. . . which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.

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Betsy DeVos is at it again: The education secretary's new rule is a win-win for everyone but defrauded students

They're back — the folks in the Education Department.

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"Suffer me that I may speak, and after I have spoken, mock on."

The Book of Job, 21:3

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Lucky siblings: How Donald and Maryanne Trump managed to avoid consequences for what tax experts call fraud

Happy families are all alike. . . .— Leo Tolstoi, Anna Karenina

I’m sure Maryanne and Donald have enjoyed some good laughs over it while contemplating how different the outcome would be had their roles been reversed.

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The Tax Collector Cometh

It is just as everyone feared. No sooner do the Democrats take over Congress than they begin to undo some of the legislation so carefully crafted by the Republicans when they were in control. A recent example of this distressing state of affairs manifested itself on July 18 when repeal of one of the best parts of the American Jobs Creation Act was approved by the House Ways & Means Committee.

The American Jobs Creation Act (AJCA) became law in 2004. It remembered by most of my readers as an international tax reform bill that eliminated the extraterritorial income exclusion that had been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. (I will say no more about that part of the Act since most of my readers are more informed about its provisions than I.) Tucked away in a little noticed corner of the Act, however, was a provision demonstrating the Republicans' belief that whatever government can do, someone in the private sector can do better. The Act provides that the IRS may use private debt collection companies to locate and contact taxpayers owing outstanding tax liabilities of any type and to arrange payment of those taxes by those taxpayers. The AJCA was a brilliant move by Republicans since any time one can privatize something the government has long done, that is of obvious benefit to the country.

Outsourcing collection procedures was expected to generate about $1.4 billion in revenue between 2006 and 2014. That is money that the IRS would not have collected because Congress refused to give it adequate funds with which to undertake collection efforts. Testifying before the IRS Oversight Board in 2002, Charles Rossotti, the former IRS Commissioner in the Clinton administration, said that if more revenue agents were assigned to debt collection every $1 invested in the effort would yield $30 in revenue. That would, of course, make the government bigger.

The joy of those who like anything that shrinks government was unbounded when the private tax collection provisions became law. Their joy was not diminished by the knowledge that the new program would cost the taxpayer $350 million out of the expected $1.4 billion it would collect, a figure 8 times higher than what the cost would be were collection efforts undertaken by the IRS. That's because the IRS set commission rates for private contractors at between 21% and 24% of the revenue collected by them. Similar efforts by existing IRS employees cost 3 cents for every dollar collected. Mark Everson, IRS commissioner under George Bush until May 4, 2007, has also said that IRS employees could undertake collection at less expense than collection agents.

The program flourished until the 2006 election when Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. One of the things they did was begin efforts to free the taxpayers from the clutches of private debt collectors.

On June 28, the House passed the IRS appropriations bill by a vote of 240 to 179. Democrats tried to get rid of the IRS's private debt collection program by reducing its budget from a little more than $250 million to $1 million. The effort failed. Deterred but not defeated efforts to get rid of the offending provision in the AJCA continued.

On July 18, the House Ways & Means Committee took action on H.R. 3056 that had the catchy name of the "Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007." An amendment to that act introduced by the Chairman and approved by the committee on a 23-18 vote repeals the use of private debt collection companies to collect federal income taxes thus restoring to the IRS the right to collect that which it is owed

If this amendment becomes law it will be a sad day as far as private debt collectors are concerned since it removes from their possible stable of clients one of the better ones. (A knock on the door from a private collection agency mouthing the mantra "I'm here from the government and I'm here to help you" is more intimidating than a knock on the door from a collection agent representing a friendly credit card company.) It is a sad amendment for those who like to see more of the taxpayers' dollars flowing into the hands of the private sector than into government coffers. It is a sad amendment for those who like to see the ranks of government employees shrink even if the shrinkage actually costs the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a welcome amendment for those who think that the federal government should do those things that it can do more efficiently and less expensively than the private sector. That is such a peculiar idea, however, that it is only believed in by Democrats.

The Ashcroft Garbage Dump

The war against terror continues to be accompanied by critical acclaim from its authors, George W. Bush, Richard Cheney and John Ashcroft and criticism from much of the rest of the country. A study of its successes explains why.

One of the administration's proudest early achievements in the war against terrorism was the arrest six days after 9/11 of four Arab immigrants living in Detroit. John Ashcroft was terribly excited by their capture and let it be known that he believed the men were members of a sleeper cell associated with al Qaeda and had plans to obtain weapons and attack domestic and foreign targets. Because Mr. Ashcroft knew that they were the epitome of evil he kept them in solitary confinement for more than two years which gave them a taste of the society he believed they were trying to destroy.

As excited as the Attorney General was at their capture, he was even more excited during the trial. He could not resist praising one of the government witnesses and making other extra-judicial comments, comments that caused Judge Gerald E. Rosen who was hearing the case to rebuke the Attorney General for violating a gag order that had been imposed by the judge. The judge said Mr. Ashcroft demonstrated "a distressing lack of care" in public statements he made about the case. Who could fault him for his enthusiasm, however? These were the first terrorists to be brought to trial and their conviction, when obtained, would be the first conviction of terrorists since 9/11. The convictions would also justify the harsh treatment given them by Mr. Ashcroft.

In June 2003, one of the defendants was acquitted, one was convicted of document fraud and two were convicted of conspiring to support Islamic extremists plotting attacks in the United States. Mr. Ashcroft hailed the Detroit convictions as a clear message that the United States would work diligently to disrupt and dismantle terrorist "sleeper cells" at home and abroad.

The judge ordered the prosecution to review how it had handled the case. At the review's conclusion on September 1, 2004, the Justice Department acknowledged that it had uncovered evidence that completely undermined the case. It asked the judge to put an end to the terror case and try the three men only on document fraud. John Ashcroft being only voluble when he touts guilt before trial had nothing to say about the dismissal of the terrorism charges.

Another arrest that was loudly trumpeted as an example of success in the war against terrorism was the arrest of Yaser E. Hamdi, an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and held incommunicado in solitary confinement for more than two years. At the time of Mr. Hamdi's arrest Mr. Ashcroft suggested that Mr. Hamdi was responsible for the death of CIA agent Johnny Spann (although that was mere speculation on his part since he gave and had no evidence to support the charge.) He also created the impression that Mr. Hamdi was directly involved in the events of 9/11.

That case has joined the Detroit case and can be found in the Ashcroft garbage dump. In June the United States Supreme Court told Mr. Ashcroft that he did not have the unchecked authority to detain Mr. Hamdi and other enemy combatants indefinitely without access to legal counsel. On August 16, Robert G. Doumar of Federal District Court in Norfolk, Va. said of Mr. Hamdi 's detention: "This case appears to be the first in American jurisprudence where an American citizen has been held incommunicado and subjected to an indefinite detention in the continental United States without charges, without any finding by a military tribunal, and without access to a lawyer." On August 27 the judge told the government that Mr. Hamdi's confinement clearly raised constitutional issues and asked for an explanation of the solitary confinement imposed on Mr. Hamdi. Mr. Ashcroft has repeatedly demonstrated his lack of familiarity with the constitution but very likely asked one of his assistants to see what the judge meant. The task wouldn't have been too difficult since the judge gave Mr. Ashcroft a hint. He said Mr. Hamdi's confinement might violate the 8th Amendment which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment.

As a result of the court's rulings and negotiations between Mr. Hamdi's attorney and the U.S. attorneys, Mr. Hamdi will soon be, if he is not already, freed and on a plane heading to Saudi Arabia where he grew up. As soon as that happens Mr. Ashcroft will probably hold a press conference to explain to the American people why one of its citizens was held in solitary confinement for more than two years without charges being filed.