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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a speech outlining his vision for tax reform at his skyscraper on Fifth Avenue on Sept. 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Trump's tax plan surprises, but not in a good way

09/28/15 04:08PM

It was just last month when Donald Trump signaled a willingness to break with Republican Party orthodoxy on tax policy. The candidate's other flaws notwithstanding, Trump's ideas on taxes seemed like a breath of fresh air for a party with a borderline religious fealty to trickle-down theory.
The GOP candidate at times nearly came across as a populist. Trump complained, for example, that multi-millionaires are currently “paying very little tax and I think it’s outrageous.” Might he even be prepared to raise his own taxes? “That’s right. That’s right. I’m OK with it,” Trump said a month ago. “You’ve seen my statements, I do very well, I don’t mind paying some taxes.”
That was then, this is now.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump proposed slashing taxes for Americans and corporations alike on Monday in his most specific policy proposal to date.
I should note, somewhat sheepishly, that I took Trump's rhetoric last month at face value, assuming that he would not only offer a different tax policy than most Republicans, but also a different kind of approach to tax policy. That is, after all, precisely what the GOP frontrunner was describing in late August.
But it now appears there's a gap between what Trump said and what he's proposing. Put it this way: the far-right Club for Growth hated what he had to say in August, but the group is delighted with Trump's plan now. Grover Norquist is pleased, too.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent summarized the big picture nicely: "Donald Trump may have just played us all for suckers."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell looks on as Speaker John Boehner makes remarks during a signing ceremony in the Capitol's Rayburn Room for a bipartisan Medicare bill, April 16, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP)

For the far-right, it's one leader down, one to go

09/28/15 12:54PM

There may be 54 Republicans in the Senate, but only one has publicly expressed support for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). That endorsement came from none other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Paul's grudging home-state partner.
With this support in mind, it was curious to see Kentucky's junior senator on Fox News this morning, confronted with a simple question: do you support McConnell's position as majority leader? Three times the Fox host asked Rand Paul for an answer, and as TPM noted this morning, three times the senator dodged.
The furthest Paul was willing to go was this faint praise for his colleague: "Well, there is no election. There is no battle going on." In other words, Paul supports McConnell insofar as he has no other choice right now.
But for many Capitol Hill conservatives, the fact that there is "no battle going on" is precisely the problem. Far-right members have helped force House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) out of Congress, and Politico reported late last week that many of these same lawmakers are equally eager -- if not more so -- to change Senate leaders, too.
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), a hardliner who frequently worked at odds with Boehner, was texting Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Friday morning to make a suggestion: “Next guy in the crosshairs is probably gonna be McConnell.” Lee, who chairs the conservative arm of McConnell’s GOP conference, texted back to doubt that conclusion.
But Salmon and many other House conservatives are unswayed.
“Mitch McConnell is infinitely worse as a leader than Boehner. He surrenders at the sight of battle every time,” Salmon said.
To the extent that reality matters, Mitch McConnell, perhaps more than any Republican in the nation, has been the embodiment of anti-Obama obstructionism. No GOP lawmaker of the Obama era has gone as far as McConnell to reject every White House proposal -- regardless of merit, regardless of consequence, regardless of whether or not Republicans actually agreed with the administration.
The Kentucky senator has practically pioneered the art of mindless, knee-jerk obstructionism, relying on tactics with no precedent in the American tradition, undermining governance in ways that seemed impossible in the recent past.
But for far-right lawmakers, this record just isn't good enough.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.28.15

09/28/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The Values Voter Summit hosted a straw poll over the weekend, and Ted Cruz won -- for the third year in a row. The far-right senator received 35% support, followed by Ben Carson's 18%. Donald Trump, making his first VVS appearance, finished fifth in the straw poll with 5%.
* Speaking of Trump, the Republican frontrunner will unveil his tax plan today. The key details are not yet available, some initial reports suggest the Trump plan will be very good to the wealthy, his recent populist rhetoric notwithstanding.
* As recently as 2013, three years after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, Carly Fiorina supported the individual health care mandate. Though that's a break from GOP orthodoxy, her campaign said last week that Fiorina supports a mandate "that would require high-deductible 'catastrophic care' insurance plans and use federal dollars to subsidize state-based high-risk pools" -- which is far more in line with GOP orthodoxy.
* In North Carolina, an Elon University poll released over the weekend found Trump with a very narrow lead over Carson in the Republican presidential race, 21.5% to 20.9%. No other candidate reached double digits.
* Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz's father and campaign surrogate, delivered remarks earlier this month in which he condemned Houston for approving a non-discrimination ordinance. "It is appalling that in a city like Houston, right in the middle of the Bible Belt, we have a homosexual mayor," Cruz said, referring to Annise Parker.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec.10, 2013.

GOP rep: 'The crazies have taken over the party'

09/28/15 11:20AM

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is leaving on his own terms, at least insofar as the timing is concerned. The Republican leader faced the likelihood of an attempted coup -- whether or not the rebellion would have succeeded is an open question -- but by quitting, Boehner finally has some agency over how his career ends, if nothing else.
But there's no denying the fact that his hand was forced. No one has suggested, and few would believe, that Boehner started this Congress with the intention of resigning mid-way through the term. There were likely multiple factors that contributed to his surprise decision, but were it not for his far-right flank -- its obstinacy, its contempt for compromise, its insatiable appetite for confrontation, its ambitions for tearing him down -- Boehner would very likely have held onto his Speaker's gavel through January 2017.
Given this, Rep. Peter King's (R-N.Y.) assessment seems more than fair.
The abrupt resignation of House Speaker John Boehner shows that “the crazies have taken over the party,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Friday.
“I think it signals the crazies have taken over the party, taken over to the party that you can remove a speaker of the House who’s second in line to be president, a constitutional officer in the middle of his term with no allegations of impropriety, a person who’s honest and doing his job. This has never happened before in our country,” King said in an interview on CNN. “He could have stayed on.”
In a separate interview, King added that at "every stage" of his tenure as Speaker, Boehner "was undercut by people in his own party. And there’s 40 or 50 and that’s it. A small minority, but they were willing to hijack and blackmail the party.”
Those same "crazies," as King called them, are hardly satisfied.
Kim Davis, flanked by Republic presidential candidate Mike Huckabee waves as she walks out of jail, Sep. 8, 2015. (Photo by Chris Tilley/Reuters)

Kim Davis finds a new home in the GOP

09/28/15 10:40AM

It was never altogether clear why the detail was important, but as Kim Davis gained national notoriety, her far-right backers emphasized her official Democratic Party affiliation. No one had accused conservative activists of partisanship, so Davis' party ties were largely irrelevant, but the fact that the anti-gay clerk was affiliated with Dems became a part of the story.
At least, that was the case. As MSNBC's Emma Margolin noted the other day, the nation's highest-profile county clerk has switched parties.
The Kentucky clerk jailed for bucking a federal court order that requires her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples said Friday that she and her family had switched to the Republican Party, many of its members having rallied behind her in recent weeks.
“My husband and I had talked about it for quite a while and we came to the conclusion that the Democratic Party left us a long time ago, so why were we hanging on?” Davis told Reuters in an interview at a hotel in Washington, where she is being honored Friday by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. Davis said she switched political parties last week.
A spokesperson for the right-wing legal group representing Davis confirmed to the Washington Post that she'd officially made the change.
And all things considered, this was probably the most sensible professional move Davis has made in quite a while. She believes Democrats left her "a long time ago," and she's entirely correct -- Davis and the party have effectively nothing in common. A wide variety of high-profile Republicans have embraced her campaign, and even endorsed her willingness to defy court orders she doesn't like, so it stands to reason the clerk would align with the GOP.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum, Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Jeb Bush stumbles on 'the way it is'

09/28/15 10:01AM

Jeb Bush's tax plan, outlined a couple of weeks ago, is burdened by some fairly serious flaws. It is, for example, a multi-trillion package that the Republican can't pay for. It's also built on a series of trickle-down assumptions that are hard to take seriously.
But there's also the plain, political reality: in a year in which economic populism is striking a chord, the former governor is pushing a plan that disproportionately benefits the very wealthy. Fox News' Chris Wallace pressed Bush on this specific point yesterday, and pay particular attention to the Florida Republican's closing response.
WALLACE: Then there's another complaint, and that is the issue of who benefits. The Tax Foundation says the middle class would see after tax income increase 2.9 percent. But the top 1 percent would get a boost of 11.6 percent. An analysis of your tax returns for the last six years, which you have released to the public, the last six years indicates that you would save, under your tax plan, $3 million. Does Jeb Bush need a $3 million tax cut?
BUSH: Look, the benefit of this goes disproportionately to the middle class. If you look at what the middle class pays today compared to what they would pay in our tax plan --
WALLACE: But they get a 2.9 percent increase in after tax income --
BUSH: Because higher income people pay more taxes right now and proportionally, everybody will get a benefit. But proportionally, they'll pay more in with my plan than what they pay today.
WALLACE: Well, I mean, forgive me, sir, but -- but 2.9 seems like it's less than 11.6.
BUSH: The simple fact is 1 percent of people pay 40 percent of all the taxes. And so, of course, tax cuts for everybody is going to generate more for people that are paying a lot more. I mean that's just the way it is.
For Bush, the conclusion is simply unavoidable. He has no choice. To hear the GOP candidate tell it, the effects of the policy are effectively out of his hands -- Bush has to cut taxes across the board and he has to deliver the bulk of the benefits to the rich. "That's just the way it is."

The Republican presidential hopeful may hope voters find this persuasive, but to paraphrase Bruce Hornsby, who sang about those who say, "That's just the way it is," don't you believe him.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a presidential forum sponsored by Heritage Action at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Richard Shiro/AP)

Ben Carson makes his case in support of discrimination

09/28/15 09:20AM

It's been about a week since Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson appeared on "Meet the Press" and said that Muslim Americans, regardless of any other consideration, should be disqualified from the presidency. In the days that followed, the retired neurosurgeon has, at different times, insisted he "meant exactly what I said" while also falsely claiming he was taken out of context.
Yesterday, CNN's Jake Tapper pressed Carson for an explanation. The back and forth between them went on for a while, but it culminated in this exchange.
TAPPER: I think one of the things is just you are a member of a church that there's a lot of misinformation about, the Seventh Day Adventist church. You know what it's like for people to make false assumptions about you. And you seem to be doing the same thing with Muslims.
CARSON: In which way am I making a false assumption?
TAPPER: You're assuming that Muslim-Americans put their religion ahead of the country.
CARSON: I'm assuming that if you accept all the tenets of Islam that you would have a very difficult time abiding under the Constitution of the United States.
TPM noted that it was around this point that a Carson adviser intervened and ended the interview.
In case that wasn't quite enough, Carson sat down with ABC's Martha Raddatz and offered up this gem in defense of anti-Muslim discrimination:
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina fields questions from the press following the “happy hour” debate hosted by Fox News at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Carly Fiorina stubbornly pretends fiction is fact

09/28/15 08:40AM

The novice White House candidates have every reason to be pleased with their current standing, but they nevertheless find themselves at a crossroads, The Amateur Trio of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina -- who, between them, have zero days of experience in public office -- have done well enough in the cycle's opening round to claim first-tier status.
And while it's challenging for any national candidate to maintain that status, it's especially difficult for someone who's literally never won an election.
For a candidate like Fiorina, the goal appears to be demonstrating -- to voters, to donors, to potential endorsers, et al -- that she's the real deal. She may have struggled badly in the private sector, and she may have failed in her only other bid for public office -- Fiorina lost a Senate campaign in 2010 in her home state by double digits -- but the Republican is eager to prove that's she's a legitimate presidential contender anyway.
Brazen dishonesty is likely to make that task far more difficult.
Carly Fiorina on Sunday stood by her disputed description of a scene from the videos targeting Planned Parenthood, but refused to say definitively that Republicans should force a government shutdown to defund the organization.
"Not at all. That scene absolutely does exist, and that voice saying what I said they were saying -- "We're gonna keep it alive to harvest its brain -- exists as well," Fiorina said on NBC's "Meet the Press." [...] In a testy exchange with host Chuck Todd, Fiorina repeatedly insisted that the practice she described "is happening."
Except, it's not. She's still lying.
Look, I don't want to belabor the point. Fiorina made a very specific claim in the most recent GOP debate and that claim wasn't true. Since then, she and her aides have repeated the lie, over and over again, pretending fiction is fact. ABC offered Fiorina a chance to clarify, but she refused, sticking to the falsehood. Then Fox News pressed the Republican to acknowledge reality, and Fiorina refused again.
Yesterday, NBC's Chuck Todd broached the subject, and once again, Fiorina couldn't -- or wouldn't -- concede the truth.
Republican presidential hopefuls Ben Carson and Donald Trump participate in the Republican Presidential Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Sept. 16, 2015. (Photo by Frederic J. BrownAFP/Getty)

Trump, Carson neck and neck as summer turns to fall

09/28/15 08:00AM

Donald Trump's dominant position in the race for the Republican presidential nomination isn't quite as imposing as it was a few weeks ago. The New York developer is still leading the GOP pack, but a FiveThirtyEight analysis last week noted the degree to which Trump's support has slipped.
There's a difference, though, between slipping and losing. Consider the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
1. Donald Trump: 21% (up two points from July)
2. Ben Carson: 20% (up 10 points)
3. Carly Fiorina: 11% (up 11 points)
3. Marco Rubio: 11% (up six points)
5. Jeb Bush: 7% (down seven points)
6. John Kasich: 6% (up three points)
7. Ted Cruz: 5% (down four points)
8. Rand Paul: 3% (down three points)
8. Chris Christie: 3% (unchanged)
10. Mike Huckabee: 2% (down four points)
The remaining candidates were at 1% or below.
For all the chatter about Trump's weakened position, note Trump's backing actually went up, not down. A Fox News poll showed the same thing last week -- Carson narrowing the gap, but Trump's overall support inching higher.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the results, aside from Rand Paul's steady collapse, is Jeb Bush's backing being cut in half since July, and dropping from 22% to 7% from June to last week. It's hardly a surprise that the former governor's network of supporters are getting, let's say, antsy.

Shell abandons Arctic well and other headlines

09/28/15 07:42AM

Shell abandons disappointing offshore Alaskan well. (New York Times)

Obama, Putin to confront tensions on Syria, Ukraine. (AP)

Trump says hedge-fund managers may not like the tax plan he's introducing today. (Bloomberg Politics) 

He talked about it last night on '60 Minutes'. (CBS News)

It's make-or-break time for Jeb Bush. (Washington Post)

House plans special committee to probe Planned Parenthood. (Politico)

NASA to reveal major Mars finding, prompting water speculation. (The Guardian)

India launches its first space telescope. (Time)

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 Veil Nebula Supernova Remnant

Week in Geek: Lifting the veil edition

09/27/15 05:39PM

The Hubble Space Telescope is at it again. On Thursday NASA released an updated image of the Veil Nebula, a cloud of gas and dust in the constellation Cygnus left over from a star that exploded almost 8,000 years ago.

This image is in "false color" to highlight the different elements it's composed of - in this image, hydrogen is in red, sulfur is green, and oxygen is blue. False color images are extremely useful to astronomers because the gas composition of a nebula or galaxy can tell us a lot about how that object evolved and the processes going on in its immediate environment. The smooth, bright blue lines outlining the structure mark the current front of the shock wave created by the original supernova. The more diffuse red and green structures in the interior of the nebula are cooling and fading after the shock passed through them long ago. A more detailed discussion of this image can be found in this ESA article.

To get a full sense of the 3D structure of the nebula, check out this fly-through created by the amazing visualization team at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The Veil Nebula is actually just a tiny, tiny part of a much larger structure known as the Cygnus Loop. If you could see the entire loop with your own eyes in the night sky, one side to the other would stretch over an area the size of six full moons.

You can download your very own version of these images to capture your imagination at will from here.

And now for some more geek from the week:

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voters Summit at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington D.C., Sept. 25, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

This Week in God, 9.26.15

09/26/15 08:44AM

First up from the God Machine this week a look at the religious right movement's largest annual event, which kicked off yesterday in Washington, D.C. In fact, the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year -- which will reportedly be the largest summit to date.
So, what'd we learn from the right-wing gathering? For one thing, most of the Republicans running for president see the social conservative attendees as their natural base.
There is a lot of conservative star power shining out of the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington on Friday morning. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sarah Palin are just a few of the Republican Party’s luminaries headlining the Values Voter Summit, which is running through the weekend.
Mr. Cruz rallied the Republican base by reminding them of the anniversary of his filibuster, which he said “elevated the debate about Obamacare.” He also invoked former President Ronald Reagan, suggesting that a new wave of conservatism was nearing. "Morning is coming," Cruz said. "Morning is coming.”
In all, eight White House hopefuls -- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham -- will make their pitch to the far-right crowd. They'll be joined by five House Republicans, another Senate Republican, another Republican governor, and a former Republican presidential candidate (Rick Perry).
It's almost enough to give someone the impression that the lines between the GOP and the religious right movement have blurred to the point of non-existence.
Jeb Bush was invited, and was briefly listed as a featured guest, but he ultimately declined to attend.
As for yesterday's opening day, we also learned that attendees don't think highly of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); the crowd didn't appreciate Trump referring to Rubio as a "clown"; Ted Cruz, who sees President Obama as "a communist," stands ready to assassinate the Iranian Ayatollah; and Mike Huckabee believes the United States may cease to exist if gay Americans continue to have equal marriage rights.
Day Two gets underway this morning. I'll report back on Monday on the results of the Values Voter Summit presidential straw poll.


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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.



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