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This Week In Garbageville

The trash is getting smelly

Beep, beep! The Trump truck is coming through, which means it’s time to dig through another week's worth of garbage and salvage what's worth recycling.

(Don't worry, we're throwing most of it out.)

Health care

As we write this column, Paul Ryan and his Merry Band of Mischief Makers are scrambling to make last-minute changes to the American Health Care Act, the health care bill that they have had nearly eight years to think about. A vote could happen on Friday, regardless of how many conservative and moderate Republicans are determined to vote against it. Donald Trump wants a vote come hell or high water (partially because he wants to build his enemies list), and as his ghostwriter once noted in The Art of the Deal, "you can't con people ... if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on." Hmm, wait, that doesn't actually explain why he would want Congress to rush to vote on a bill that will likely fail. How about this one: "There are two things I've found I'm very good at: overcoming obstacles and motivating good people to do their best work."

Or maybe when Trump was mentioning artful deals, he was thinking about this:

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes. The health care bill is a consequential and far-reaching piece of legislation. The key change that House Republicans seem to be haggling over to placate the right-wing of the party is regulations that require insurance plans to cover minimum services like maternity care. (A lot of Republican politicians have many opinions about not having to pay for maternity care).

The problem for the Republicans is that moderate House GOP members think that the existing version of the AHCA has a flavor profile too similar to Obamacare's. The AHCA is also broadly and deeply unpopular among Americans; a recent poll showed just 17 percent approve of it, and 43 percent strongly disapprove of it. And this is how they feel before the bill has even been finalized and its ultimate consequences made clear — like millions of people losing their health care and premiums going up.

And regardless of what happens with this single bill, the fight over Obamacare isn't going away — and neither is Trump's recent crash course in the three branches of government and limits of presidential power.

This is your regularly scheduled Russia update

Breaking: People who know Trump also know people in Russia, and we will keep learning new revelations about these relationships every day for the next few years.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Might as well just keep adding these incidents to the file as long as the myriad Russia investigations continue. There's still no concrete proof of illegal or treasonous behavior yet, but there's also no sign that this trickle of vague details will stop soon. There's also no doubt that Russia interfered in our electoral process, and FBI director James Comey is willing to fact-check Trump's tweets to get this information out.

Justice is a blind date

What is the meaning of the universe? One horse-size duck or 100 duck-size horses? Why don't you ever pee? There was a Supreme Court justice confirmation hearing this week, which is always big news for aficionados of questions that burn time while revealing absolutely nothing about a person's character or political beliefs. Confirming a nominee in these partisan-happy times makes it necessary to treat your employee of choice like a one-dimensional stock character.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

You might as well learn everything you can about Neil Gorsuch, because he's very likely to become our next Supreme Court justice (sorry, Merrick Garland). We basically know everything you need to know already: He's a Republican pick, which according to modern history means that he's going to vote the party line on nearly every single contentious issue.

The most useful thing you can do is look at this list of potential cases in which Gorsuch’s presence on the bench could lead to a significant change in policy.

The lyin', the rich, and the Trump probe

Let's check in with the precocious Trump children, who are continuing their adventures in the White House, despite the fact that their political escapades have been framed as complete fiction by the family. Of course the people running the Trump Organization have nothing to do with their father, the president; how quaint that you would think otherwise!

Yes, Ivanka has been regularly attending meetings with world leaders … but didn't you hear she doesn't have an official White House role? She's just auditing the presidency! Eric Trump is positive that he will never talk to his dad about business, except to update him on financials every quarter. Don Jr. is his own type of Trump; didn't you see he wears plaid?

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Sigh. The problem with most of the ethical questions that stick to the Trump presidency like burrs in velcro is that they’re all Chekhov's guns. The fact that they’re mostly just contributing to a larger atmosphere of foreboding right now doesn’t mean they won’t go off at some point. Yes, you should care that the Trumps think of standard ethical guidelines as mere suggestions instead of rules, and that their business dealings seem subject to the same nonexistent vetting as most of Donald Trump's staffing decisions. Whether this steady drip of revelations, like all the other streams of scandal, will lead to anything that causes Trump to change behavior remains to be seen. But conflicts of interest are bad!

Trump would like to remind you that he won the election and has a more impressive job than you

The president spoke with Time magazine, mostly because he likes that people get paid to listen to him talk about how he predicted Brexit and once read a National Enquirer story associating Ted Cruz's dad with JFK's murderer.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

There's no need, because Trump will keep saying the exact same things over and over again, because he knows it is a magic spell that will make his face appear on TV. If the Trump presidency were a TV show, it would feature the same plot twist every single week, but people would keep watching it because they've unwittingly become addicted. Just go watch a bear cam instead; it's far more fulfilling and potentially more surprising. You already know Trump will be back next week to brag about his electoral college votes again; you can probably skip an episode without falling behind.

Nunes

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, has revealed that some communications by the Trump transition team were intercepted while intelligence agencies were surveilling foreign agents.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Well, not to the part Trump and his Trumpists want you to pay attention to. They would like you to believe that this revelation vindicates Trump's claim that President Obama ordered phones at Trump Tower to be wiretapped. It does not. As Nunes said himself, there is still no evidence that intelligence agencies intended to surveil Donald Trump, nor that the president ordered any such surveillance. As for the narrower claim — that intelligence agencies intercepted Trump team communications while surveilling foreign actors — Nunes has not shown the evidence to anyone, including the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff. It is very odd that Nunes would come forward with evidence that other committee members haven't seen. And as Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic points out, he has made odd and inconsistent comments about the investigation, which makes it difficult to determine whether we can trust him to conduct it in an unbiased and truly independent way.

What you should care about is the fact that while the NSA is prohibited from spying on Americans without obtaining a warrant, they routinely circumvent that rule. Since you don’t need a warrant to surveil foreigners, they select foreign people who are likely to talk to their actual American target, and wiretap that person's calls instead.

Internet regs

In a straight party-line vote, the House repealed Obama-era regulations that required internet service providers to ask permission before selling consumers’ information — like location and browser history — to advertisers.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes. Republicans argued that since websites don't need to ask permission before gathering and selling information, it wasn't fair for ISPs to have this requirement. But while it's reasonable that consumers avoid certain websites, consumers who don't want to have their private data shared generally can't switch ISPs. The truth is that there's virtually no competition among ISPs in most cities. Because it takes so much infrastructure to start an ISP, most cities usually only have one or two options. So now your late-night incognito-window searches are corporate property, and there's not much you can do about it.

Remember the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Donald Trump has approved a permit for the endlessly controversial project.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Republicans have been waiting for this day for years. The new Senate majority vowed to make it happen in 2014, and after Trump won the presidency, it became inevitable. Although the pipeline battles have taken on an immense symbolic role in the environmental movement, it's important to remember that Keystone XL is one of many fronts in this administration’s larger war on the fight against climate change. Oil was free to flow through the Dakota Access Pipeline starting this week. Trump's budget proposal would disembowel the Environmental Protection Agency, reducing funding by 31 percent and basically eliminating all climate programs. The Clean Power Plan regulations may soon disappear. It's not clear what will happen to the U.S.'s involvement in the Paris climate agreement. And since most Americans seem to think that climate change wouldn't affect them, it’s hard to imagine legislators coming to the conclusion that their priorities are incorrect.

The Keystone XL isn't a done deal yet. The company building it is still waiting on a few approvals, and advocates are still fighting. The bigger, long-term question seems to be convincing the public that this is an issue worth caring about — because these pipeline protests clearly didn't do the job.