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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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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

White House suggests Obama's to blame for Trump's budget mess

03/12/19 09:29AM

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a rare appearance in the briefing room yesterday, in large part because it was a special occasion: yesterday was the unveiling of Donald Trump's new budget blueprint. After greeting reporters, Sanders declared, "President Trump's 2020 budget, which was released today, builds upon incredible success and keeps his promises to the American people."

That wasn't a great start. After all, Donald Trump promised voters he wouldn't cut Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security -- and the new White House budget plan cuts all three. This was not an ideal time to boast about "keeping promises."

But as part of the same briefing, a reporter asked Russell Vought, the president's acting budget director, about a different Trump promise.

Q: One, you mentioned what the president promised during the campaign. During the campaign, he also promised that he would eliminate the national debt within eight years. And as you know, the debt at the end of his first year was at $20 trillion; last year it went to $21 trillion; last month, $22 trillion. So what happened to that promise? I mean, the president has added historically large numbers to the national debt instead of keeping a promise to actually pay it off.

VOUGHT: Look, again, the last administration nearly doubled the national debt.

Well, sort of. The national debt grew in the Obama era, just as it has in every modern presidential administration, but the annual budget deficit shrank considerably. In fact, during Obama's first five years, the deficit was cut in half, and by Obama's seventh year, it was down a trillion dollars as compared to when he took office.

To hear Russell Vought tell it, the deficit is still too large to start paying off the national debt. That's true. The president promised Americans he'd start shrinking the debt "very quickly," but that's only because Trump is so unfamiliar with the most basic elements of fiscal policy.

The real trouble, however, is the idea that this is Obama's fault. Eventually, the White House should probably recognize Trump's responsibility for creating his own mess. Perhaps a chart would help.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.11.19

03/11/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An important ruling from Friday night: "A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Trump administration is responsible for migrant children separated even before it instituted a 'zero tolerance' policy."

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

* As U.S./China trade talks continue, Donald Trump doesn't want to answer our allies' calls: "Trump continues to keep European allies at arm's length, declining to share details of the draft trade agreement -- which he has called 'my deal,' according to these people, who include officials from several European countries."

* The effects this spiral will have on our democracy matter: "Town by town, local journalism is dying in plain sight."

* A wild story out of Lewiston, Maine: "A Republican mayor in Maine resigned on Friday after a woman he was having an affair with released a racist text message he sent her, according to several local media reports."

* Making a difficult situation worse: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is the homeland 'only of the Jewish people,' in a new jab at the country's Arab minority ahead of April's election."

* Important domestic-security findings: "Most people arrested as the result of FBI terrorism investigations are charged with non-terrorism offenses, and more domestic terror suspects were arrested last year than those allegedly inspired by international terror groups, according to internal FBI figures reviewed by The Washington Post."

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