Thursday, September 21, 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

“The Auditor Is Here”

Having spent the last fifteen years working with budgets, accounting, and how money is spent and tracked, I can tell you that nothing makes the blood run cold more than hearing the words, “the auditor is here.”  It has nothing to do with the people who are doing the audit or a sense of guilt for having tried to pull off something shady.  It’s more to do with the fact that if there is a record missing or a number that is off, they will find it and patiently ask you to find it, rectify it, or prove why it shouldn’t be brought to the attention of the authorities, be they your boss or the people who issue subpoenas.

In short, don’t mess with them.  They have a job to do, they do it well, numbers and math don’t lie, and if they have a sense of humor — and many of them do, along with pleasant personalities — they are all business when it comes to doing their job.  And the best of them work for the IRS.

So this should be interesting.

Special counsel Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS. According to sources familiar with his investigation into alleged Russian election interference, his probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS’ Criminal Investigations unit.

This unit—known as CI—is one of the federal government’s most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities. Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering. A former colleague of Mueller’s said he always liked working with IRS’ special agents, especially when he was a U.S. Attorney.

And it goes without saying that the IRS has access to Trump’s tax returns—documents that the president has long resisted releasing to the public.

Potential financial crimes are a central part of Mueller’s probe. One of his top deputies, Andy Weissmann, formerly helmed the Justice Department’s Enron probe and has extensive experience working with investigative agents from the IRS.

“From the agents, I know everyone has the utmost respect for both Mueller and Weissmann,” said Martin Sheil, a retired IRS Criminal Investigations agent.

And he said Mueller and Weissmann are known admirers of those agents’ work.

“They view them with the highest regard,” Sheil said. “IRS special agents are the very best in the business of conducting financial investigations. They will quickly tell you that it took an accountant to nab Al Capone, and it’s true.”

[…]

It’s been widely reported that the special counsel’s team is trying to “flip” Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign CEO, in hopes he will provide evidence against his former colleagues. Former federal prosecutors tell The Daily Beast one of Manafort’s biggest legal liabilities could be to what’s called a “check the box” prosecution. Federal law requires that people who have money in foreign bank accounts check a box on their tax returns disclosing that. And there’s speculation that Manafort may have neglected to check that box, which would be a felony. This is exactly the kind of allegation the IRS would look into.

Like they said, that’s how the Feds nailed Al Capone.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey vs. Sandy

Not that anyone should begrudge giving as much help as possible to the people of Texas, but it is interesting to see how much the Republicans from Texas who voted against aid for recovery from Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast in 2013 now want a blank check from the federal government for recovery from Harvey.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Legal Moves

Paul Manafort has new lawyers.

Normally that kind of news isn’t a big deal; in Washington and other places where there’s a lot of complicated stuff going on, high-profile people change attorneys as often as some people change socks.  But this seems to be in reaction to the F.B.I. raid two weeks ago.

Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort on Thursday switched up his legal team amid several new reports on the federal investigation into his personal finances.

“Mr. Manafort is in the process of retaining his former counsel, Miller & Chevalier, to represent him in the office of special counsel investigation,” Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni said in a statement to Politico. “As of today, WilmerHale no longer represents Mr. Manafort.”

According to Politico, Miller & Chevalier is known for its work specializing in complicated financial crimes.

Manafort was Trump’s campaign chair in the stretch leading up to the 2016 election, and resigned in August 2016 amid scrutiny of his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

It’s about the money.  It always has been.  Who paid it, who’s taking it, what they’re getting for it, where it’s kept… those are the motivators behind it all.  And these legal moves are telling me that Mr. Manafort is going to be the one to turn states evidence on Trump.

Bonus Track: From Bloomberg Businessweek, Trump’s legal team is no match to that being put together by Robert Mueller.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Other Priorities

I am sure that the Republicans and Trump will try again and again to kill off Obamacare, but the voters are done messing with it, according to Reuters.

A majority of Americans are ready to move on from healthcare reform at this point after the U.S. Senate’s effort to dismantle Obamacare failed on Friday, according to an exclusive Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Saturday.

Nearly two-thirds of the country wants to either keep or modify the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, and a majority of Americans want Congress to turn its attention to other priorities, the survey found.

[…]

The July 28-29 poll of more than 1,130 Americans, conducted after the Republican-led effort collapsed in the Senate, found that 64 percent said they wanted to keep Obamacare, either “entirely as is” or after fixing “problem areas.” That is up from 54 percent in January.

The survey found that support for the law still runs along party lines, with nine out of 10 Democrats and just three out of 10 Republicans saying they wanted to keep or modify Obamacare.

The only problem with Congress turning its attention to other priorities is that they will probably make as much of a mess of them as they did of healthcare.  The budget will be worse, the infrastructure will continue to crumble, and the only thing that they might pull off is tax “reform,” which to the majority party means nobody pays for anything.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Monday, July 24, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

32 Million

That’s the new number, according to the CBO, of how many more people would lose health insurance if Congress just plain repealed Obamacare.

The legislation, which was posted shortly before the CBO released its score, tracks closely with a bill that Congress passed and then-President Barack Obama vetoed in early 2016.

The CBO report also said that premiums would double by 2026 under the Senate legislation, which eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s taxes, insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion, but keeps its regulatory regime in place.

The repeal of the subsidies and expansion would go into effect in 2020, while the elimination of individual mandate would take place right away.

That is roughly 10% of the U.S. population, and that’s 32 million on top of the current number of how many people are going without it now, which is about 11%.  So if that bill were to pass, we’d have somewhere around 20% of the nation uninsured.

What’s worse is the instability in the market; all this dithering by Congress and the right-wing nutsery to get rid of anything to do with Obamacare is driving insurers out of the health coverage business.  The CBO predicts that by 2026, three out of four Americans will be living in an area with no insurers.

In other words, you’d get better health coverage in Bangladesh than here.  Not to pick on Bangladesh, but if that poor country can provide better care for its citizens, why can’t we?

On The Hook

This explains a lot.

Financial records filed last year in the secretive tax haven of Cyprus, where Paul J. Manafort kept bank accounts during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, indicate that he had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016.

The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to the pro-Russia Party of Regions. The Cyprus documents obtained by The New York Times include audited financial statements for the companies, which were part of a complex web of more than a dozen entities that transferred millions of dollars among them in the form of loans, payments and fees.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is the same reason Trump is adamant about not releasing his tax returns; he’s probably on the hook to the same gang for a lot more, and they’ve got him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Not In Kansas Anymore

Let’s learn a lesson from the Great Experiment with voodoo economics in Kansas.

Since 2013, the national job growth rate has been 7.6 percent but it has only been 3.5 percent in Kansas. There are 34 hospitals in the state that are now at risk of going out of business. Both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded its credit rating, increasing their cost of borrowing. Public schools are so short of money that two districts were compelled to end their year early. Brownback found himself so desperate for operating capital that he looted the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and slashed funding for the state’s transportation system.

In short, things got so bad that the Republican-dominated legislature overrode Brownback’s veto and passed a budget that, among other things, rolled back his tax cuts and provided more funding for schools.

The Democrats should not ignore these results. They should study them and they should figure out a way to highlight them relentlessly so that as many people as possible internalize the lessons. No people should have to endure what the people of Kansas have endured if it can be avoided. Republican office seekers will continue to assure us that the best way to raise revenue is to ask for less of it and that exempting businesses and limited liability corporations from taxation will lead to job growth. They’ll continue to starve education budgets with talk about providing choice, and they won’t stop attacking Medicaid even as it results in devastation for the health care system. But we can point, in all these cases, to Sam Brownback and Kansas.

We can say that we tried all that and here is how it turned out.

We are seeing the same attempt at this magical thinking here in Florida with Gov. Rick Scott and a state legislature that thinks cutting taxes and privatizing public facilities like prisons and schools will be our way to prosperity.  The advantage Florida has over Kansas is that it’s a global tourist destination until the sea levels rise up and Orlando becomes a coastal city.  (But not to worry; if you don’t say the words “climate change,” it won’t happen.)

The conservatives who think like Gov. Brownback and Gov. Scott will tell you the reason the Kansas experiment failed is that it didn’t go far enough; when the true test came, the lily-livered moderates caved to reality and wouldn’t go on with draining the state dry of any kind of tax revenue and hindering real growth which can only happen when everybody keeps what they earn.  And the kids get two extra months of summer vacation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

It’s Worse

It’s even worse than you thought it would be.

Senate Republicans’ bill to erase major parts of the Affordable Care Act would cause an estimated 22 million more Americans to be uninsured by the end of the coming decade — only about a million fewer than similar legislation recently passed by the House, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The forecast issued Monday by Congress’s nonpartisan budget scorekeepers also estimates that the Senate measure, drafted in secret mainly by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and aides, would reduce federal spending by $321 billion by 2026 — compared with $119 billion for the House’s version.

The CBO estimates that two-thirds of the drop in health coverage a decade from now would fall on low-income people who rely on Medicaid. And among the millions now buying private health plans through ACA marketplaces, the biggest losers would roughly parallel the ones under the House’s legislation: The sharpest spike in insurance premiums would fall on middle-aged and somewhat older Americans.

In short: You’re screwed unless you can pay for your health care without insurance thanks to the huge tax cut you’re going to get.  And if you think that’s a great idea, you’re an idiot.

Over to you, Charlie Pierce.

Here’s how to know how much of a sucker you are. If you believe anyone on TV who says this bill is an “improvement” over the House bill, sign over all your property to your nearest sane relative.

If you put credence into the notion that the Senate bill has an upside because of its effect on The Deficit, hire someone to cut your meat for you for the rest of your life. Try to keep in mind the Blog’s First Law of Economics: Fck the deficit. People got no jobs, people got no money.

The only lightheartedness that I’ve gotten out of this is watching Republicans try to explain this clusterfuck on TV.  It’s like they know they’ve strapped a cancer on their genitals and trying to explain that it’s just awesome.  I’m also looking forward to seeing how they get by when they’re voted out of office, lose their employer-paid insurance, and have to find it on their own.  Good luck, sucker.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Perfectly Legit

I’m sure there’s nothing at all suspicious about a bank in Germany loaning the Republican candidate’s son-in-law more than a quarter of a billion dollars a month before the election.  After all, no one thought Trump would win, right?  So what’s a friendly transaction for real estate in New York going to matter?  The fact that the bank was negotiating a settlement on federal fraud and Russian money-laundering charges is just a coincidence, right?

We don’t know, but I think Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to look into it.

Here’s the thing: the actual crime, if there is one, isn’t as big as the attempts to cover it up; that’s practically an axiom in the scandal business.  So if someone goes to jail or ends up paying a huge fine, it’s not because of that; it’s because they tried to hide it from the people who had the right to know what was going on.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017

CBO On Trumpcare: 23 Million More SOL

No wonder the Republicans in the House wanted to whoop Trumpcare 2.0 through and send it on to the Senate without waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to tally up the numbers.  They knew what was coming.

Health-care legislation adopted by House Republicans earlier this month would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday — only a million fewer than the estimate for the House’s previous bill.

The nonpartisan agency’s finding, which drew immediate fire from Democrats, patient advocates, health industry officials and some business groups, is likely to complicate Republicans’ push to pass a companion bill in the Senate.

The new score, which reflects last-minute revisions that Republicans made to win over several conservative lawmakers and a handful of moderates, calculates that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026. That represents a smaller reduction than the $150 billion CBO estimated in late March, largely because House leaders provided more money in their final bill to offset costs for consumers with expensive medical conditions and included language that could translate to greater federal spending on health insurance subsidies.

As GOP senators quickly distanced themselves from the updated numbers, what became apparent is the difficult balancing act congressional leaders face as they seek to rewrite large portions of the Affordable Care Act. Some senators are eager to soften portions of the House bill, including cuts to entitlement programs and provisions that would allow insurers in individual states to offer fewer benefits in their health plans or to charge consumers with costly medical conditions higher premiums.

To give you an idea of just how desperate the GOP is to try to foist this monstrous turd of a bill before the Democrats start running ads hanging the “23 MILLION” number around the neck of every member of Congress with an (R) after their name, they’ve got minions running ads on cable TV here in Florida telling voters to call Congress to support this bomb.

I will be interested — and more than just casually — to see how the Republicans in South Florida explain why it’s good that premiums for the low-income elderly will rise 800%.  No, that’s not a typo.  That’s an 8 followed by two zeros.

The DNC should send Paul Ryan and his gang of granny-starvers a dozen roses and a box of candy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Short Takes

U.K. terror threat raised to “critical” following Manchester bombing.

Ex-C.I.A Director John Brennan said there is good reason to inquire into Trump/Russia connection.

Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas more documents from Flynn.

Fox News retracts nut-job Clinton conspiracy story.

Trump budget breaks 7 campaign promises.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Even The Russians Aren’t Buying His Budget Bullshit

The budget proposal put out by Trump is so fraught with lies, wishful thinking, and cuts to entitlement programs (which many fervent Trump supporters depend on) that even a Russian media outlet isn’t buying it.

So it has come to this: A Russian government-funded propaganda outfit schooling the Trump administration on the cruelty of its proposed federal budget.

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, unveiled Trump’s ghastly 2018 budget proposal Monday afternoon in the White House briefing room, and one point of pride was that it proposed that the child-care tax credit and the earned-income tax credit — benefits for working families — be denied to illegal immigrants. “It’s not right when you look at it from the perspective of people who pay the taxes,” Mulvaney declared.

But Andrew Feinberg, a reporter with Russia’s Sputnik news outfit, pointed out that many of the children who would be cut off under Trump’s proposal are U.S. citizens. “Whether they’re here illegally or not,” Feinberg noted, “those families have American-citizen children.”

Mulvaney, who probably didn’t know he was being interrogated by Sputnik, argued back, saying that Feinberg wasn’t duly considering taxpayers and that “we have all kinds of other programs” for poor kids.

At this, another reporter in the room interjected: “You’re cutting that, too.”

[…]

The budget claims it balances the budget over a decade without touching Social Security and Medicare, while spending more on national security, the border, infrastructure and more.

How? The budget would eviscerate aid to the poor, and it makes preposterous assumptions about future growth. In other words — a cruelty wrapped in a lie. Mulvaney on Monday acknowledged it’s a “fair point” that Congress will ignore the proposal. But this outrage deserves attention.

Trump, who once vowed “no cuts” to Medicaid, would now cut Medicaid by more than $800 billion, denying support to 10 million people. He lops a total of $1.7 trillion off that and similar programs, including food stamps, school lunches and Habitat for Humanity.

Like all White House budget proposals, this one will never become law.  But it does tell us what they’re thinking, and that is that the poor and the sick have no place in our society if they’re not productive.  Even the Russians aren’t buying that cruelty.