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This Week In Garbageville

Taxes are missing, and so is an aircraft carrier

Donald Trump called aspiring Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on essentially ending democracy there — and that was just Monday! Follow us down into the abyss, dear friends. Watch your heads.

Encyclopedia Brown and the Missing Aircraft Carrier

“We’re sending an armada,” the president told Fox News a week ago. There is video of the interview, of course, so you can hear him enunciate the word “armada” in a slightly slower cadence. He clearly intended the word to sound bold and brash, but his comical accent just makes it sound laughable. That’s one of Trump’s main problems: He has the acts-of-cruelty thing down, but he isn’t good at talking trash.

The “armada” in question was supposed to be heading for the Sea of Japan to send a signal of American might to North Korea. Problem is, a photo of the USS Carl Vinson — the aircraft carrier that was supposed to be making Kim Jong-un shake in his boots — surfaced on Monday. It revealed that the carrier was actually going through the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, in the exact opposite direction from North Korea and more than 3,500 miles away from where both the White House and the Pentagon said it was going.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Good god, yes. It should continue to send chills down anyone’s spine that this man and this administration have power to wage war. We still don’t know whether Trump and/or the military were trying to bluff, or whether they actually didn’t know where the aircraft carrier was. Either way, Trump took a not-terribly effective strategy used by President Obama and made it worse. “The era of strategic patience” with North Korea, as Vice President Pence called it during his Asia visit this week, may be over — but what is replacing it? The aircraft-carrier shell game was a sign that they have no real plan to address the mounting tension around a budding nuclear state, and that they apparently don’t understand or care about the severe consequences of their actions. North Korea responded with a propaganda video showing a simulated nuclear attack on a U.S. city and threatening a “super-mighty pre-emptive strike” on American soil. How’s that for trash talk?

Show Us Your Wealth Certificate

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people participated in marches and rallies to remind the world that Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns. The White House’s response was a reminder that Trump DGAF: Press secretary Sean Spicer repeated the unverifiable claim that Trump's pre-2016 taxes are under audit, and the untrue assertion that being under audit means he can’t release his taxes.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Keep it on your radar. This weekend saw the largest set of #resistance gatherings since the Women’s March in January, a testament to Trump critics’ renewable outrage resources. What’s more, the demands that voters have been making at town halls over the past few months — that Congress exert some of its constitutionally mandated oversight over the executive branch and require the release of those returns — seem to be sinking in. On Tuesday, Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican, added his name to the growing, bipartisan list of lawmakers who think the president should follow through on his (repeated) promise to give up the goods and reveal his returns.

And — it feels like we shouldn’t have to say this, but we will! — however tired you are of the issue, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns still matters, for all the same reasons that were relevant before he was elected: We deserve to know the extent of his financial entanglements, how successful his businesses really are, and how much of his fair share in taxes he actually pays. And, you know, if the audit reveals irregularities, that would be good to know, too! Trump’s election adds another reason they’re important: His post-2016 returns will show definitively whether he’s profited from being president, which would be a violation of the Emoluments Clause and grounds for impeachment.

H-1B, or Not to Be?

Trump signed an order relating to H-1B visas at a photo op in Wisconsin, framing the move as an assault on companies that use H-1B visas (intended for “skilled” foreign workers) to avoid employing qualified Americans who might demand a higher salary. He also got House Speaker Paul Ryan’s name wrong, calling him "Ron." At least he wasn't mixing up which country we bombed?

As with every other issue Trump has dealt with as president, a 10-minute conversation with actual experts on the topic might reveal to him that the issue is more complicated than he initially thought. There is bipartisan agreement that some companies abuse the H-1B visa program, using it to outsource skilled but monotonous labor such as call-center operations. There is also agreement that the current lottery method of allotting the 65,000 annual visas is cumbersome and easily rigged.

But most advocates of reforming the program don’t want to simply end it or cap it. They want to structure the allocation of visas so that they go to companies that, say, help visa-holders become citizens at permanent jobs rather than simply cycle through them.

We don’t know if that’s the kind of reform Trump is aiming for. We do know that many of his advisers — including Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon — would like to end the program entirely, in the name of economic nationalism. Bannon has implied that American “civic society” is threatened “when two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia.”

Should I be paying attention to this?

The good news is that, as with most of Trump’s executive orders, this is more sound and fury than actual policy. The order doesn’t do anything to existing regulations, it just orders the relevant agencies (the departments of Labor, Justice, and Homeland Security) to review existing laws and then recommend changes. The order asks specifically for recommendations to make sure visas aren’t being used for relatively low-skilled or entry-level jobs.

The bad news is, in the context of our larger national conversation about immigration, sound and fury matter. No matter what policy changes wind up being enacted, Trump’s rendition of “American jobs for American workers” is a dog whistle for white supremacy. He’s reinforcing the idea that immigrants are a malicious contaminant in an otherwise exemplary culture, and that they are not welcome here.

(Side note: The haziness of Trump’s position on the issue may have to do with his own debt to the H-1B program, without which he might not have met Melania Knauss, who was in the country on just such a visa.)

Jon Ossoff’s Very Special Election

He almost did it. On Tuesday, the 30-year-old Democrat — who attracted significant party and celebrity support in his first run at political office — finished with a little more than 48 percent of the vote in a special election just north of Atlanta to fill the House seat in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, vacated by new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. It was a very good showing for the former Capitol Hill staffer, especially in a heavily Republican area that sent disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to Congress for 20 years straight. Ossoff, however, didn’t surpass the 50 percent threshold needed to win the seat outright. He now faces a June runoff with the top Republican vote-getter, Karen Handel. “Top Republican vote-getter” is a relative term, though; Ossoff, who runs a company that makes political documentaries, beat Handel by more than 30 points.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Without a doubt, and not just if you happen to live in the area. Ossoff’s candidacy was seen as a referendum on Trump — a perception cemented by the president himself with a series of tweets about Ossoff (some of which were untrue, imagine that) that revealed more about his own insecurity than the candidate's actual record.

The real significance of Ossoff’s run, however, may not be what it says about the Republican Party, but about his own. The Democrats desperately need a good, young quarterback right now, and Ossoff appears to be a top prospect. The problem is, despite refusing to declare that he is a Democrat at all, Bernie Sanders remains the top draw in the party. And he doesn’t seem too eager to embrace Ossoff. During his barnstorming tour with DNC chairman Tom Perez this week, Sanders told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t know much about the Georgia upstart and that he didn’t know whether Ossoff was a progressive, despite his being endorsed by Congressman John Lewis and promoting policy positions that check off just about every liberal priority. Whether Sanders simply hadn’t read up on him or plans on putting him through some sort of political purity test remains to be seen. Sanders, going forward, may insist upon being a kingmaker in a party that he doesn’t claim. Or perhaps, in the name of furthering that party’s goals, he'll encourage Ossoff and help him win in June. We'll see.