Category: Tax Returns

James Comey’s Firing and the Obstruction of Justice

I think we can all agree that when your boss tells you he wants you to do [x], after which you don’t do [x], and then your boss fires you and says it was because you didn’t do [x], it’s pretty clear the boss felt he had ordered you to do [x]. We don’t have to imaginary time travel back to the initial conversation to parse words and wonder what they might have meant back then. We know! We know because we are in now time.

Also, if we have time machines I’d like to use them for something else. PM me if you’ve got one.

Would also accept a magic rainbow we could gallop a unicorn across while dropping colored stars off the side.

Matt says: I have several time machines—some even conveniently fit on my wrist—but they all appear to be stuck in “move forward as usual” mode, despite my best efforts at getting them to do something else. Also, they frequently lose power and have to be reminded when they are, but their failsafe mechanism seems to keep them safely where they were at when they lost power. (Granted, they are not space machines—not moving through the manifold on their own, but they enjoy it when I take them on trips with me)

Some are getting a little old and forget a few seconds every day, but they don’t seem to be any less happy than the others.

Congressional Reaction to Comey Firing

I’ve always looked at the U.S. presidency the same way I look at Santa Claus, where President Santa makes us feel excited about being good or worried about being bad, but adults know the presents and food are actually coming from your mom (Congress). Look at the Republican healthcare bill; that was Paul Ryan. Obamacare? That was Nancy Pelosi.

So when I obsessively follow the Russia investigation, it’s because I care how Congress conducts investigations of the Trump administration.

It’s a test. Of Congress.

The Trump administration has presented us with a bunch of potential Constitutional crises: foreign espionage risks; financial conflicts of interest; authoritarian moves like firing anybody who disagrees with (or becomes more famous than) Trump, praising brutal dictators, criminally charging a woman who laughed at Jeff Sessions, and having a reporter arrested for asking Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway uncomfortable questions in a hallway.

These remain potential Constitutional crises because Congress can act to counter them. They’re the sorts of things that were always risks of a Presidential system (and are the reason so many Presidential systems turn into military dictatorships after 10-15 years). Presidents try to expand their imperial power because they can act quickly, have a lot of resources, and are fairly unconstrained. But Congress can rein it in. (You could think of the President as the horse pulling the American cart, and Congress as the person in the driver’s seat.)

Most routes to stopping Trumpian excess lead through Congress, and this matters not just for stopping Trump but for telling us that Congress works – which we need it to do for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with Trump. Like that healthcare thing I mentioned.

The Senate is particularly important, and Senate Republicans (the majority party, Trump’s party) most of all. In response to the Comey firing, they are the ones who could appoint a special prosecutor, form a select committee, or ramp up funding to Congressional investigations already in progress.

(Although I doubt our motivations are the same, I agree with Mitch McConnell that I’d rather this stay with Congress than go to a special prosecutor. My reasons are the opposite of tactical; they’re entwined with my philosophy of government. I don’t particularly trust a crusading outsider beholden to no one; I vastly prefer career bureaucrats accountable to a lot of people. See also: I voted for Hillary instead of Trump.)

I don’t see how we’re more likely to get a brilliant special prosecutor than a brilliant new FBI director – in both cases pretty unlikely. And select committees aren’t magical. They’re not able to do anything other committees don’t do. Past select committees which have been great have been great because of the hard work of the people on them, not the fact of their being called select committees.

In other words, what I’m watching is…people. Republican Senators. Are they going to take the reins and keep America on firm ground instead of wherever this mule is determined to take us?

The Hill has collected the statements of all Republican Senators who have publically reacted to the Comey firing. Nuance is important, so read the statements. The Hill categorizes them as:

13 GOP senators critical/concerned
23 supportive of Trump
11 Neither

FiveThirtyEight sorts the same statements as:

15 GOP senators critical/concerned
12 defend Comey firing
21 ambiguous

(4 GOP senators still haven’t commented.)

On the subject of select committees not being more magical than other committees: the Senate intelligence committee has issued subpoenas for Flynn’s information. “This is the first time the Intelligence Committee has used its subpoena power since the joint inquiry into the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s the first time it has subpoenaed documents since the 1970s, a Senate historian told NBC News.” When Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) said Comey’s firing wasn’t going to impede his own investigation, he wasn’t kidding.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has also requested Trump team financial documents from the Treasury department – ones related to a money laundering investigation. Which is neat because it highlights that the Treasury department has its own crimefighting team, called FinCEN (financial crimes enforcement network) and, well, my Dad was an internal auditor until he retired, and one of my best friends is an internal auditor, and I love the kind of people who investigate financial crimes. Not just in the abstract. I love those people.

How the Stock Market Works, or the Myth of the Active Investor

Y’all, whenever I talk about the stock market being passive income, some bro shows up to valorize how much time an active investor spends on research.

This active investor is mostly a fiction.

The vast majority of individuals with stock holdings are buying ETFs or Mutual Funds, or received shares through an employer. (Or they’re indirectly invested through their insurer or pension.) They are not reading whitepapers and intensively researching investments in individual companies. What they are doing is not dissimilar from putting money in the savings account with the best interest rate and the lowest fee.

I know we’ve all seen exciting movies with people shouting on trading floors. But I know a lot of people (and I bet you do too) who have tried active investing, and almost all of them talked openly about how it was their “playtime” and treated it like going to the casino, clicking to buy things that were going up or down or had cute names, only risking money they were willing to lose. For money they were serious about, they’re in ETFs and Mutual Funds because they know they can’t beat the market and prefer a diversified portfolio.

Which is managed by someone else. Maybe a computer program.

So, you know, if you have a dream that through your insight and research you’re going to turn $100 into a fortune and the prettiest girl in town is going to swoon (maybe because she’s you! you can be a pretty girl and this fantasy still works!), that’s all well and good. But it’s not representative of most investors. Who are passive. Whose money does not come from working harder at understanding money.

Most of them don’t even fill out their own taxes, gosh.

(I’ve offered anecdotal evidence here as a kind of “search your feelings; you already know this” but my statements about the extremely low percentage of active investors in the market are data-driven. Look up any chart you want.)

Got To Look Out For Our Own

Really good to see all those “keep the refugees out and save those resources so we can help the poor and sick people who are already here” folks mobilizing hard to make sure endangered American citizens receive healthcare and other humanitarian aid like food and safe housing.

Great “band together and protect our own” hustle, everyone!

P.S. The taxes that have been funding expanded medical coverage are mostly on capital gains – on money people make by owning stock, not by doing anything. Stock market is doing just fine despite this 3.8% surcharge – doing historically wonderfully, making stockholders loads of money. Investment has not been constrained. But, sure, we need to protect those investors from the pain of passively accumulating free money that could be slightly more free money if it weren’t for those darned asthmatic kids.

No Trump Tax Returns; No Visitor Logs

To no one’s surprise, Trump continues to not release his tax returns, including for this year. He doesn’t have an excuse. He just doesn’t want to.

Meanwhile, he’s beset by so many conflicts of interest it takes thousands of words just to list them. He’s still spending tons at Mar-a-Lago, and using his office to advance his and his children’s business interests (including, recently, getting Ivanka some valuable permits in China).

As for drain the swamp, it’s looking more like “stop letting people measure this rapidly growing swamp.” He’s not releasing visitor logs, or allowing normal press access, and has not only opened up restrictions on hiring lobbyists as regulators, but is signing waivers to exempt people from ethics laws, and then keeping the waivers themselves secret.

But sure, I bet the taxes are above board and it’s AMERICA being made great instead of one fat pocket with which to buy friends.