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A young girl grasps the hand of her newborn daughter. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/The Washington Post/Getty)

Why the GOP's paid-family-leave plan is not what it appears to be

03/13/19 09:20AM

Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), two of the most conservative members of the Senate, sat down for an interview with CBS News this week to tout their paid-family-leave plan, called the "Cradle Act." Asked why the United States is so far behind the rest of the world on this issue, Ernst didn't hesitate.

"We've decided now is the time to step up and really do something about this," the Iowa Republican said. "We think it's time to catch up with other countries."

That may sound encouraging, but there's less here than meets the eye.

The GOP duo promoted their proposal with a new op-ed in the Washington Post, touting the virtues of paid family leave "without burdening either employers or taxpayers."

Our proposal, the Cradle Act, would allow both natural and adoptive parents to receive one, two or three months of paid leave benefits. A few decades down the road, those parents would then "pay" for the benefit themselves by delaying their own retirement for two, four or six months.

To choose the paid parental leave option, parents would first have to notify the Social Security Administration of their plan to take paid leave before the expected birth or adoption. Then, after parents applied for their baby's Social Security number, payments would begin in two weeks.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because the Ernst/Lee plan is very similar to the "Economic Security for New Parents Act" unveiled by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), which we discussed last year.

In practice, both suffer from the same fundamental flaw: the plans are less of a benefit and more of a loan, from you to you.

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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Trump admin moves forward with policy against transgender US troops

03/13/19 08:40AM

In July 2017, Donald Trump announced a new policy via Twitter: the president would no longer allow transgender Americans to serve in the military. He hadn’t given anyone at the Pentagon a heads-up about his new discriminatory policy – officials throughout the executive branch were blindsided – and no one at the White House could explain the necessity of the change.

As regular readers may recall, Trump eventually defended the move by saying, "I think I'm doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it." I still have no idea what that meant.

Naturally, there was extensive litigation challenging the policy, but two months ago, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court allowed the White House to move forward with its ban.

Today, the Associated Press reports on how the administration is implementing the new policy, which will "largely bar transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex, and require most individuals to serve in their birth gender."

Under the new rules, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who has signed an enlistment contract by April 12 may continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after April 12, no one with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender will be allowed to enlist. And any currently serving troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria after April 12 will have to serve in their birth gender and will be barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

The memo lays out guidelines for discharging service members based on the new policy. It says a service member can be discharged based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if he or she is "unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender."

As important as these discriminatory developments are, it's worth emphasizing that the fight isn't yet over, at least not completely.

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Travelers make their way through Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 23, 2015. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Why hasn't Trump nominated someone to lead the FAA?

03/13/19 08:00AM

Following two deadly crashes in recent months involving Boeing 737 Max 8s, countries around the world yesterday grounded the aircraft, with some declaring that the plane can no longer fly in their airspace, even if they intend to land elsewhere.

In the United States, however, as the Washington Post reported, U.S. aviation safety officials "found themselves virtually alone."

The Trump administration resisted bipartisan calls to temporarily suspend use of the Boeing 737 Max 8, even as President Trump consulted by phone with the besieged company's CEO.

With the European Union and others following China's move to bar flights by some of the American aviation giant's most important airplanes, former transportation safety officials said the Federal Aviation Administration risked losing its status as the world's aviation safety leader.

This coincided with reports of complaints from American pilots, flying American commercial flights, some of whom have said they, too, have experienced difficulties with this specific plane.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration is resisting pressure. The president spoke directly with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg -- an executive who's cultivated ties with the Republican -- who insisted that the plane is safe, and at least for now, Trump isn't taking the steps we're seeing other countries take.

At this point, one might assume the president would initiate a series of conversations with his FAA chief. That, however, apparently won't happen -- because Trump hasn't nominated anyone to lead the FAA.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.12.19

03/12/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Venezuela: "As growing chaos took hold in Venezuela, a country whose people have had little power, water and communications for days, the United States announced plans to withdraw all remaining personnel from its embassy there this week."

* Afghanistan: "The United States and the Taliban now have a draft agreement on two thorny issues that signals concrete progress toward a peace deal to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan, U.S. presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday."

* For now, the U.S. appears increasingly isolated on this: "The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has grounded the Boeing jet involved in two crashes that have killed more than 300 people."

* On a related note: "U.S. lawmakers of both parties called Tuesday for the FAA to join a growing list of governments in grounding Boeing's beleaguered 737 MAX 8 jetliner -- a step that would threaten major disruptions of some domestic air traffic and one of the nation's top manufacturers."

* Brexit: "For the second time in as many months, British lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal with the European Union. Tuesday's defeat comes only 17 days before the United Kingdom is due to leave the 28-country bloc. It also casts doubt on whether Britain's departure will occur as scheduled -- or even at all."

* The White House probably isn't pleased: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, extended a bipartisan invitation on Monday to the head of NATO to address a joint session of Congress, in an unsubtle jab at President Trump's foreign policy that is meant to underscore broad congressional support for the alliance."

* As the budget debate unfolds in earnest, keep this detail in mind: "Trump's budget hinges on economic growth numbers no one believes."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump takes aim at the complexity of modern airplanes

03/12/19 12:52PM

An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed shortly after takeoff over the weekend, killing all 157 people on board. The plane, a Boeing 737 Max 8, was the same model as an Indonesian Lion Air flight, which crashed after takeoff in October, killing 189 people. This has, not surprisingly, touched off an international discussion about the future of the aircraft.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump decided to share his thoughts on the subject in a pair of tweets.

"Airplanes are becoming far too complex to fly. Pilots are no longer needed, but rather computer scientists from MIT. I see it all the time in many products. Always seeking to go one unnecessary step further, when often old and simpler is far better.

"Split second decisions are needed, and the complexity creates danger. All of this for great cost yet very little gain. I don't know about you, but I don't want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane!"

It's hard to know what precipitated these missives. Maybe the president saw something odd on Fox News again; maybe he thought all of this up on his own.

Either way, there's no reason for the public to worry about the "complexity" of modern air travel, and passengers shouldn't necessarily have greater confidence in "old" airplanes. On the contrary: modern technological advances have, overall, made planes significantly safer.

What's more, as The Atlantic's James Fallows' noted this morning, Air Force One is "probably the most complex passenger aircraft in existence," and Trump climbs aboard that plane all the time.

Stepping back, though, I think there's a larger point that's worth keeping in mind: Donald Trump loves talking about airplanes, despite knowing very little about the subject.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.12.19

03/12/19 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* A Monmouth poll released yesterday found former Vice President Joe Biden leading the Democrats' 2020 presidential field at the national level with 28% support, though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is right behind him with 25%. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), with 10%, was the only other candidate to reach double digits.

* On a related note, the same poll found that 57% of Americans -- not just Democrats, but the public at large -- believe it's time for a new president, while 38% believe Donald Trump should get a second term.

* As Rachel noted toward the end of last night's show, former Rep. Beto O'Rouke (D-Texas) has scheduled a trip to Iowa for this weekend, which bolsters suspicions that the Texan is gearing up for a presidential campaign.

* On a related note, the official reason for O'Rourke's Iowa trip is to support Eric Giddens' (D) campaign in a state Senate special election. Giddens has received quite a bit of support from prospective Democratic presidential candidates. The local election is a week from today.

* It may seem hard to believe but businessman Andrew Yang, who's running for the Democratic presidential nomination despite never having held elected office, has received campaign contributions from 66,000 donors -- which wouldn't be especially notable except it means Yang has qualified to participate in official DNC 2020 debates.

* Speaking of fundraising, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) received a "significant" financial boost yesterday following his well-received town-hall event on CNN, which aired on Sunday night.

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Trump's approach to the climate crisis gets even more embarrassing

03/12/19 11:10AM

The National Climate Assessment, reflecting the combined judgment of 13 federal agencies, from NASA to the Pentagon, was originally scheduled to be released late last year. The Trump administration, however, decided to move up the release date to Nov. 23 -- the day after Thanksgiving -- to help ensure the smallest possible audience for the information.

That's probably because the report was quite terrifying, warning of dramatic environmental, economic, and national security consequences resulting from an intensifying climate crisis. Asked for his reactions to the document, Donald Trump briefly pretended he'd "read some of it," before adding, "I don't believe it."

And who, pray tell, does the president believe? Some guy he saw on Fox News this morning. Trump published this tweet a few hours ago:

"Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace: 'The whole climate crisis is not only Fake News, it's Fake Science. There is no climate crisis, there's weather and climate all around the world, and in fact carbon dioxide is the main building block of all life.' @foxandfriends Wow!"

As is too often the case, Trump has no idea what he's talking about. As Greenpeace USA explained soon after, "Patrick Moore was not a co-founder of Greenpeace. He does not represent Greenpeace. He is a paid lobbyist, not an independent source."

The environmental organization added on its website that Moore has been a "paid spokesman for a variety of polluting industries for more than 30 years."

Moore also happens to be an adviser to the Heartland Institute, a conservative advocacy organization that rejects the mainstream scientific consensus on the climate crisis.

Oddly enough, Trump neglected to mention any of this in his misguided tweet.

But stepping back, the larger problem is the president's strained relationship with reality. When it comes to global warming, Trump has a choice between believing scientists and officials in his own administration, or accepting the word of some guy he saw on Fox News. Naturally, the Republican chooses the latter without hesitation.

This same epistemological dynamic has come to define his presidency.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

White House line on abortion becomes even more incendiary

03/12/19 10:18AM

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee moved forward with plans for an expansive investigation into Trump World abuses, prompting White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to release a rather intemperate press statement.

The congressional investigation, Donald Trump's chief spokesperson said, is intended to "distract" the public from the Democratic agenda -- which she said includes "killing babies after they're born."

In other words, according to the White House press secretary, Democrats support murdering children.

Yesterday, Sanders went a little further. Asked about the virtues of possibly lowering the rhetorical temperature in D.C., the president's chief spokesperson decided to do the opposite.

"Look, I think that the real shame in all of this is that Democrats are perfectly capable of coming together and agreeing on the fact that they're comfortable ripping babies straight from a mother's womb or killing a baby after birth."

The use of the word "comfortable" was of particular interest -- as if Democrats agree with the White House press secretary's incendiary rhetoric.

This comes just two weeks after Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "The Democrat position on abortion is now so extreme that they don't mind executing babies AFTER birth."

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Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents take inventory of seized cocaine packages, on the deck of the US Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, Oct. 6, 2014. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)

Cocaine bust makes White House talking points look a little worse

03/12/19 09:48AM

About a month ago, while announcing his emergency declaration for the southern border, Donald Trump focused his attention on the illicit drug trade. "[W]e have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country, much of it coming from the southern border," the president said. "When you look and when you listen to politicians -- in particular, certain Democrats -- they say it all comes through the port of entry. It's wrong. It's wrong. It's just a lie. It's all a lie."

He was badly confused. For one thing, the claims aren't just coming from "politicians"; the statistics come by way of Trump's own DEA. For another, new incidents like these keep coming to the fore that help prove how wrong the president is.

Authorities have seized the biggest shipment of cocaine recovered at the ports of New York and New Jersey in almost 25 years.

The massive bust Feb. 28 at the Port of New York/Newark in Elizabeth came after authorities checked a shipping container entering the country. They found 60 packages containing 3,200 pounds of a white powdery substance that proved to be cocaine, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement Monday.

The seizure, which has an estimated street value of $77 million, is the biggest cocaine bust at the ports since 1994 when about 6,600 pounds were seized, according to a CBP spokesman.

The container was recovered from a ship that originated in South America, the spokesman said.

If Trump were right, busts like these wouldn't happen. According to the president, who has no use for his own administration's evidence, drug smugglers, moving drugs from South America, avoid ports of entry like these.

The argument might be more believable if reality didn't keep getting in the way.

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New York AG's office issues bank subpoenas on Trump projects

03/12/19 09:42AM

This New York Times report seems like the sort of thing that might get Donald Trump's attention.

The New York attorney general's office late on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for records relating to the financing of four major Trump Organization projects and a failed effort to buy the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League in 2014, according to a person briefed on the subpoenas. [...]

The request to Deutsche Bank sought loan applications, mortgages, lines of credit and other financing transactions in connection with the Trump International Hotel in Washington; the Trump National Doral outside Miami; and the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, the person said.

As viewers of The Rachel Maddow Show know, Deutsche Bank was, for quite a while, one of the few lending institutions that was willing to work with Trump. It's also become the focus of renewed interest following Michael Cohen's recent congressional testimony, in which Trump's former fixer suggested the president engaged in alleged bank fraud before taking office.

Indeed, as Bloomberg News recently reported, "How President Donald Trump may have inflated and deflated his personal wealth is more than mere curiosity: "It could be of keen interest to any authorities trying to figure out if he misrepresented himself to insurance companies and lenders.... If falsehoods went to financial institutions, that would provide fertile ground for prosecutors in New York."

It's against this backdrop that the office of New York's attorney general, Letitia James, started issuing subpoenas yesterday about Trump-specific projects. In fact, the reference to the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago stood out for a reason.

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