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This Week In Garbageville

What to read about when waiting to meet with the ambassador to Russia

News about Attorney General Jeff Sessions's contacts with Russia's ambassador to the United States has overturned what had, briefly, been a triumph of optics surrounding Trump's address to the joint session of Congress. This is good news! No one, probably not even Trump, understands the extent or impact of his and his campaign's ties to Russia. There should be investigations! But while the Russia scandal remains amorphous, recent days have brought into focus a more pressing and tangible issue: the Trump budget. This week, the administration started to unveil a boldly fantastical series of proposals that both Democrats and Republicans have derided. The numbers that have been released so far simply don't add up. Trump wants to spend a lot more than he wants to save, and is counting on a booming economy to somehow make up the difference.

Because the full budget hasn't been released yet (it's due in May), it’s tempting to gloss over these stories and maybe even hope that the final document won’t be that crazy. But when looked at as a statement of Trump's priorities as much as his specific policy goals, it's far from comforting. Here are the changes Trump telegraphed between the budget lines.

Cutting Down Diplomacy to D If He Could

Of all the eye-popping figures in Trump's eye-popping budget, his proposal to cut the State Department budget by 37 percent has prompted the most alarm. Even Mitch McConnell has deemed it a nonstarter, pointing out, quite reasonably, that the cost of flying a few ambassadors around is a lot cheaper than, you know, tanks and guns and planes and stuff. Also, more than 100 retired 3- and 4-star generals and admirals have written to the president asking him to reconsider. It turns out that those most familiar with the horrors of war are also the most eager to encourage avoiding it through diplomatic means. But that strong opposition doesn’t mean the department is safe, or that Trump, on some level, won't get his way.

First of all, this potential deep cut stands in stark contrast to Trump's proposal to increase military spending by 10 percent. This sends a message to both our allies and enemies — as well as to any Americans who deal with foreign policy — that military might means more to us than statecraft. Second, the proposed budget cut simply reflects the process of de-prioritizing diplomacy that is already underway in the Trump administration. Trump's secretary of state, a man completely new to government service to begin with, has been a ghostly presence in the first month; he's given one press conference and done a handful of public appearances. His choice for a deputy, Elliott Abrams, was overruled by the White House because of past statements — such as a column entitled "When You Can't Stand Your Candidate" — deemed critical of Trump. The president has slow-walked filling in the department's mid-level appointees because, as he told Fox News, he believes many of those jobs are "unnecessary to have." Trump ran on a promise to make "deals" with foreign countries, which he apparently plans to do almost completely on his own — maybe with some soldiers standing behind him.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Damn straight you should. According to one haunting report, career (that is, nonpolitical) State employees currently feel anxiously aimless; they have nothing to do and very little guidance. At the moment, all this means for them is existential despair and joyless long lunches — a flat-footed position at a time when diplomacy depends on agility and responsiveness. “The world has been pretty quiet," as one staffer put it, "but it won’t stay that way.”

Getting Pretty Hot in Here

Trump once famously asserted that global warming is a "Chinese hoax," which, if true, would be good news, as well as an impressive feat of technology and logistics. Imagine the kind of coordination it would take to get hundreds of workers up to the Arctic Circle with hair dryers so as to fool scientists with all that melting ice and whatnot! Trump himself doesn't seem very curious about what is actually happening to cause the clear, documented signs of global climate change, and his budget aims to make sure no one else gets to the bottom of it, either: The proposal circulating now cuts the Environmental Protection Agency budget by almost a quarter, and takes a 42 percent cut specifically from the agency's Office of Research and Development. Further, the plan is to fully zero-out (yes, completely eliminate) many climate change–related programs.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yesyesyes. The good news is that even some Republicans have raised doubts about the starkness and the sloppiness of the cuts. Programs such as Energy Star, which coordinates and rewards businesses for creating energy-efficient products, are popular across party lines. The idea of cutting money to clean up environmental-waste sites will likely also bring out NIMBY-ism in the very best way. These areas of agreement won't be enough to save climate-change funding, but perhaps — if voters let their voices be heard — they can help jump-start the same kind of constituent pushback that's slowed the GOP's roll on the repeal of Obamacare.

Building a (Very Tiny) Wall

So we know what Trump wants to cut (a lot!). But what will Trump spend money on? A southern-border wall, of course. Except, what if he doesn't have the money — or anything close to it?

The wall is estimated to cost at least $10 billion and as much as $23 billion (and no, Mexico is not going to pay for it). But so far, the Department of Homeland Security has only scrounged up about $20 million for construction.

For reference, here are a few things that cost $20 million (or more):

1. The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

2. This apartment.

3. Matt Lauer.

The border wall is estimated to cost about $3.9 million per mile. So right now, Donald Trump could pay for a mighty border wall that's ... 5.1 miles long. Great.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Nah. Pay more attention to the people being deported across the southern border than a wall that probably won't get built along it.

Deficit Comedy Jam

Remember when Republicans cared about the federal deficit (it's big!)? It was a huge deal! A lot of people yelled at President Obama about it! The GOP shut down the federal government over it in 2013! There's a deficit clock and everything!

But that was then, and this is now. Our Republican president wants to increase spending so much that even Laura Ingraham, who loves Trump perhaps more than most people love any living entity, has started asking questions. The truth is that Trump, for once, might be in a bit of a tough spot.

During his address to Congress, the president promised a more than 10 percent increase in military spending and a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Problem is, Trump believes all of that can happen without cuts to the programs his base loves — namely, Medicare and Social Security — and has waffled on exactly how he would go about replacing the Affordable Care Act (the plan for which is currently living in a ... basement?). Trump did call himself the "king of debt," after all. So, apparently, spending money we don't have is ... good now?

The GOP has long believed that it alone stands for fiscal responsibility. But maybe there should be a special caveat: "fiscal responsibility under a Democratic president."

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes, because if you can explain how the federal government can pay for a massive infrastructure project and an increase in defense spending that by itself would represent 80 percent of Russia's entire military budget without cutting anything Trump's supporters like (or, you know, need), maybe you should be running the GOP.

CORRECTION (3/3/17, 12:52 p.m. ET): In his speech to Congress, President Trump called for a roughly 10 percent increase in military spending. An earlier version of this item misstated the proposed increase.