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This Week In Garbageville

What to worry about as we all head to the sunken place

Every day we learn more about how Donald Trump approaches the presidency — so far, not very seriously. We're also learning how he and his administration react under pressure.

About 50 days into the Trump administration, the scandals and bad press haven't slowed down. This week began with the president making a wild accusation against Barack Obama, and ended with the GOP in confusion over an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill that virtually no one but Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan seems to like. And then we had a note of hope from Chance the Rapper, who is doing more for Chicago schools than anyone in government right now. Here are some of the week's biggest stories — and whether you need to pay them any mind.

Trying something new, Trump attacks Obama

When it comes to creating problems, Trump is Mozart. Claiming that former president Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of his Trump Tower campaign headquarters, as he did last Saturday in a flurry of rage-tweets, is actually a pretty mild example. The allegation was unsubstantiated, and it seems to have backfired quickly.

Obama officials denied the wiretap, and FBI director James Comey argued that Trump's charge is "false and must be corrected." Comey also asked the Department of Justice to say as much. Most Republicans refused the chance to defend the president. Even Trump communications aide Sarah Huckabee Sanders looked flummoxed on ABC's This Week as she tried to muster an explanation. After suddenly downgrading his clear accusation to mere speculation, she told anchor Martha Raddatz, "I will let the president speak for himself" — to which Raddatz replied, "You're his spokesperson." Trump is 70 years old and a native English speaker, yet his own staff cannot reliably decipher the meaning of his outbursts.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Not really. While it's true that the sitting president accused his predecessor of a felony and implied that the U.S. intelligence community helped him do it, we've seen the birther-in-chief tell grandiose lies about Obama before. But the best evidence that Trump is making this up isn't that he's getting this bizarre theory from crackpot conservative radio host Mark Levin and a follow-up in Breitbart. It's that if there actually had been such a wiretap, Trump has the power to declassify that audio. Let's say, for the hell of it, he's telling the truth. What is he hiding?

Health (doesn’t) care

One has to enjoy the small victories in the tragedy of the Trump Era. This week, those seeking the cold comforts of schadenfreude need look no further than the rollout of the Republican plan to “replace” the Affordable Care Act, a shitshow of silly stunts and political miscalculations that’s resulted in intra-party squabbling that's almost as sure to kill the new bill's chances as the interest-group coordination already forming against it. Yes, the bill itself is an affront to liberal — maybe even civilized — ideals: It promises huge tax benefits for the rich, screws the poor, and would wind up covering just a fraction more of the population than simple ACA repeal. It puts Medicaid — the hugely popular program for low-income Americans — into an irretrievable spiral. It ends funding to Planned Parenthood and community health centers. That cruelty is nothing to find pleasure in. But Sean Spicer trying to say with a straight face that the mere height of the printed-out legislation is a testament to its superiority? Forgive us if we smirk a little.

There’s more subtle amusement to be found in the scrambling among many conservative Republicans to distance themselves from what is the first major piece of legislative action ordered by the Trump White House. Liberals hate the bill for obvious reasons; conservatives hate it because it’s not cruel enough! It still gives (skimpy) tax credits to those who can’t afford insurance. They'd like to get rid of Medicaid and Medicare more quickly. It maintains the same basic structure of the ACA. How unpopular is so-called Trumpcare? The secretary of Health and Human Services, who helped shape the bill, objected to associating it with Trump: “I prefer to call it ‘patient care.’” This bill is literally the only thing in the world that Trump is reluctant to slap his name on. Meanwhile, a Republican operative suggested that the problem was the word "care": “Pretty much anything with the pejorative suffix on it — ‘care’ — is going to be viewed unfavorably by conservatives.”

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Side-eye it. And, of course, let your representatives know if you don't want them to repeal the ACA at all. Still, between the disunion on the right and a pileup of special interests opposing the bill from both patient and business perspectives (the AARP hates it, and so do the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association), it seems more likely to get the death-panel treatment than to actually pass. But that could just mean that the administration and congressional Republicans give up on even pretending to satisfy Trump’s outlandish, Panglossian promises (“everyone will be covered!”; “better and cheaper” than Obamacare!) and just drill down on the cruelty. It would not be the first time. Then again, Trump has reportedly said that his backup plan is to just not pass any new legislation and simply "allow Obamacare to fail" — which shows Trump's reliance on "fake news," because the ACA shows no signs of actually failing.

"Security" at the price of security

President Trump's budget has a lot of horrible stuff in it. Increasing the world's largest defense outlay by $54 billion — and cutting domestic programs to pay for it — would be one thing. But that isn't the only bad trade-off. Politico reported this week that to pay for Trump's immigration crackdown, two federal agencies and one branch of the military will be severely weakened.

The TSA, which is charged with protecting against, say, the next 9/11? Eleven percent budget cut. Same for FEMA, which handles the national response to natural disasters. The Coast Guard, which handles all the maritime threats that increase when your president starts talking about a border wall, would take a 14 percent hit. One can debate how effective all those agencies are, but it is utterly reckless to weaken them so Trump can build that wall and hire more border agents and immigration officers. This is how he wants to pay for his "deportation force," a mob of law enforcement designed to intimidate, detain, and deport unauthorized immigrants — the vast majority of whom haven't committed a crime.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Of course, especially if you live in one of the states where hurricanes or tornadoes tend to show up. Trump is a public servant now, and yet he governs as if he only serves a small slice of the country, that conservative id that cares only about his promise to deport 11 million immigrants living here illegally. They're being apprehended with abandon by ICE agents who hunger to "do their jobs" at the expense of a humane approach to immigration. But paying for it by shortchanging civil servants who actually are supposed to keep us safe? Incomprehensible. Whether this budget would survive a vote in Congress is up for debate. But that this White House would even consider this tells you how few fucks they give about actual governance.

Low tide for beachhead teams

“Beachhead teams” are the squads of partisan workers each new administration gets to install at various federal departments as part of what should be an ongoing process of finding and appointing the best candidates to serve in government. They are not publicly vetted and do not need to be approved by the Senate. According to a new ProPublica report, the Trump administration has abused the “beachhead team” process in order to ensconce a rogue’s gallery of questionably qualified campaign hangers-on and other toadies — including 36 lobbyists, the self-same creatures Trump said he would have “no problem” banning from the administration as part of his crusade to “drain the swamp.” Other swamp-dwellers warming seats include eight folks from a single right-wing think tank and several former George W. Bush officials.

Some of the hires are merely bizarre: a “self-described guerrilla warfare expert” and amateur inventor (that’s the same person), and a class of 2015 high school graduate whose experience in government is limited to working on the Trump campaign in New Hampshire.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

It will be hard to keep track of this level of administrative detail, so don’t strain yourself. This is important insofar as it highlights how the Trump team prioritizes cronyism over competence. (We have lots of evidence for this!) But consider supporting ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative-news outlet that is doing the hard work of paying attention for you.

Chance the governor?

Here's a bit of news that isn't purely about Trump, but still kind of is. Fresh off three Grammy wins, including for Best New Artist and Best Rap Album, Chicago's own Chance the Rapper dove directly into his hometown's politics recently when he met with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican who vetoed a state aid measure that left Chicago Public Schools with a $215 million budget gap. The deficit is so large that the school year may end early for 400,000 students.

After being disappointed that Rauner gave him "a lot of vague answers," Chance left the meeting "a little bit flustered." He talked directly to media afterward, imploring them to "give a comprehensive history on how we ended up here."

But Chance seems to always find a way to put an optimistic spin on things, tweeting, "Monday morning I'll have a plan" after the meeting.

He wasn't bluffing. That Monday, Chance donated $1 million to CPS. The money will be shared between 10 elementary and high schools, and is earmarked for arts and after-school programs. It may seem like a drop in a vast ocean of debt, but Chance's message was clear. "Governor Rauner still won't commit to give Chicago's kids a chance without caveats or ultimatums," Chance said at the local elementary school where he made his announcement. "Governor Rauner, do your job."

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes, even if you're not in the Windy City. If you're a Chance fan, you should know that you may have had a hand in this. "I'm excited to share that this donation was made possible by my fans," he said, indicating that a portion of the $1 million came from sales from his upcoming tour. He also said that "this isn't about politics," but Chance's donation should pressure elected officials and corporations to do more to support public schools. This comes as this kind of crisis threatens to go national; with charter-school champion Betsy DeVos confirmed as Trump's secretary of education and dozens of statehouses controlled by Republicans, public educators across the country may soon face similar budget shortfalls. Meanwhile, a rapper just did more than both the governor and the city's Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to help. Of the meaningless, manhood-measuring barbs Rauner and Emanuel are exchanging, Chance tweeted this:

Perhaps Chance should run to replace one of these guys. Check out his organization, SocialWorks, for more.