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This Week In Garbageville

Trump is bombing in more ways than one

Here we are again, sifting through another week of the detritus of American politics, 2017.

“The Mother of All Bombs”

It’s still not clear what exactly happened to prompt the U.S. to drop our largest non-nuclear bomb on ISIS targets in Afghanistan. Perhaps it was simply Donald Trump following up on his campaign promise to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” Certainly that’s an easier one to tick off than, I don’t know, health care for “everyone” (so complicated!) or rethinking our relationship with China (also, it turns out, complicated! Or, “not what you’d think,” as Trump said).

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes, but ... the argument to pay attention is that this is Trump’s second major military action in a week, and he has yet to articulate a clear vision of what, exactly, he wants to accomplish with these bombings. The lack of clear objectives suggests a willingness to deploy bombs whenever the mood suits him. Of course you should pay attention to where we’re bombing people and be asking why.

BUT: There is a positive association between Trump using the military and favorable news coverage. Pundits love a good war, and political journalists are looking for almost any excuse to consider Trump a normal president. What’s more, a bombing completely hijacks the news cycle. Coverage of everything else we’re writing about this week got dropped as soon as things started exploding ... and these things are important, too.

Making Flippy Floppy

The president spent most of the week retracting the rhetoric that formed his campaign. Candidate Trump repeatedly said that NATO was outdated. President Trump said that NATO isn't obsolete. Candidate Trump accused Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen of manipulating the economy, giving it a boost by keeping interest rates lower than they should be. President Trump says he likes low interest rates and that he respects Yellen. Candidate Trump said that the federal Export-Import Bank was bad. President Trump thinks it's good, actually.

Trump's flip-flops go beyond rhetoric though. Candidate Trump repeatedly argued against expanded American military engagement in Syria, and repeatedly hammered Clinton for her position on Assad's murderous regime. President Trump, without congressional approval, launched missiles at Syrian airfields to punish them for using chemical weapons.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Politicians lie, break their promises, and change their positions. What makes Trump special is that he combines a lack of shame and absence of principles with an ignorant and impressionable mind. It's a new marvel each day. MTV News' Jane Coaston argues elsewhere that Trump isn't betraying Trumpism because there is no such thing as Trumpism. That the president can be described as a great, empty void seems like something worth paying attention to.

And yes, you should pay attention to war in Syria. The casual way in which President Trump ordered an act of war, and the eagerness with which the press cheered him on, should be chilling to you, no matter whether you think the United States should intervene militarily in Syria.

The Holocaust Definitely Happened, and It Was Actually Quite Bad

Speaking of flip-flops: White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in attempting to explain why Russia should abandon Assad, said that even Hitler hadn't used chemical weapons in World War II. When given an opportunity to clarify, Spicer said that Hitler hadn't used chemical weapons against “his own people” — i.e., by dropping them on towns — but had instead gathered people into “Holocaust centers” before gassing them. He later put out a statement in which he tried to clarify further that he only meant to make a distinction between using chemical weapons on “innocent people” in the battlefield and using them in concentration camps.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Spicer wasn't attempting to deny the Holocaust, nor deny that Hitler was bad. But what he was doing was creating a ranking in which Hitler was Assad's moral superior because he didn't use chemical weapons. Obviously, such a ranking is dubious and pointless. The primary upshot here is that Spicer is breathtakingly, stunningly terrible at his job.

Is Bannon Out?

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief adviser, seems to have fallen out of his boss's good graces. An internal power struggle between Bannon and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, seems to have resulted in Bannon losing influence inside the White House, and losing his reputation outside of it. Trump demoted him to the position of “a guy I like,” saying that he's always been his own strategist.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Eh.

Russian to Judgment; Ukrainian Be Kidding Me!

News broke this week about two Trump associates whose ties to former Soviet states rise above “kinda shady” all the way to “of interest to federal investigators.” First, it turns out that former Trump adviser Carter Page was the target of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant. That is, the FBI had enough reason to believe that Page was working with Russian officials that a judge OK'd keeping tabs on him. Page is refusing to say whether transcripts of the wiretapped conversations will reveal actual collusion, specifically around negotiating the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia. “Someone may have brought it up,” he says.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is also the subject of law enforcement interest, as he confirmed he’s been in contact with the Department of Justice over whether it’s appropriate for him to officially register himself as a foreign agent. The registration would apply retroactively to Manafort’s work on behalf of the Ukrainian government — work that concluded prior to the Trump campaign, he says.

Remember, Manafort left the Trump campaign in response to questions about that Ukrainian connection, and his Ukrainian clients’ connections to Russia. A handwritten ledger turned up in August that appeared to show cash payments to Manafort from a Russia-backed Ukrainian political party. At the time, Manafort denied the ledger’s authenticity. LOL no. It’s real, and financial records prove he received at least $1.2 million from the pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians. Manafort now says that since the payments weren’t in cash, his previous denial stands.

Also in Manafort news: On the very same day he left the campaign, he started the process to receive what was ultimately $12.7 million in loans from Trump-related and, um, Ukrainian-related entities.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

The Russia stuff around Trump is hard, right? On the one hand, there is undoubtedly more smoke than fire here; the world of finance is complex and it’s difficult to trace exactly how money might or might not influence people. What’s more, Carter Page seems to have been something of a bit player in the campaign, and appears to be a little dim (or, as one Russian operative described him, “an idiot”). On the other hand: Russia sure does come up a lot. Still, your time is probably better spent keeping an eye on the forms of Trump corruption and malfeasance that are perfectly obvious and actionable: The way he continues to use the presidency to enrich himself, his hard-on for taking health care away from poor people, and his conveniently shifting ideas about foreign policy.