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This Week In Garbageville

Trump turns his reverse Midas touch to the environment, opioids, and taxes — plus fake Nunes!

Well, it couldn't get any worse than last week, right? Not for Trump, at least. The miserable death of the miserable American Health Care Act meant that the president began this week desperate for wins, and by now it's a truism that when Trump racks up a W, America takes an L. It's just a question of how much we lose. Let's see where he tried to score points this week.

Putting Coal Miners Where the Sun Don't Shine

In a campaign of breathtaking cynicism, Trump's promise to bring coal-mining jobs back to Appalachia might turn out to be the lie that truly leaves us without oxygen — for generations, no less. On Tuesday, Trump framed his decision to sign an executive order rolling back Obama's Clean Power Plan as a follow-through to that empty promise.

Here's the good news: The process of codifying environmental rules is intentionally cumbersome and time-consuming — indeed, the Obama regulations that Trump's executive order rolls back had not yet been fully implemented! And this order really just starts a process with the goal of ending the Clean Power Plan. As usual, the EO has a glaring lack of detail, and experts aren't sure how the president means to follow through. To implement the new order, Trump may have to endure the same tedious process of comment periods and hearings that the Obama administration used to pass the Clean Power Plan in the first place — giving climate activists several avenues for pushback.

The bad news, because of course there's bad news: In terms of specific, immediate policy, the executive order effectively neuters an Obama rule that requires companies to consider the "social cost of carbon," or the ways climate change can have an impact on communities (by causing severe weather, forcing people to flee their homes, etc.). And perhaps the "social cost of carbon" is a metaphor for all the other ways that the executive order is bad: Trump's order sends the message, especially to countries such as China, that climate change is no longer an American priority. This executive order says America will trade the future for the mere possibility of a handful of jobs.

That promise, by the way, is the blackhearted lie at the center of Trump's campaign shtick. Coal jobs are not coming back to Appalachia in any significant numbers, not even if America were to repeal every environmental regulation currently on the books. Coal mining doesn't take as many workers as it used to, for one thing. And its share of the energy market continues to decline as cheap natural gas dominates — which is also why this measure won't increase our "energy independence," either. Note that the solar energy industry employs twice as many people as all the fossil fuel industries combined.

Someday, these coal workers will realize Trump lied to them. It can't happen soon enough.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes. Keep an eye out for the places where public input can still influence what's happening — it's too early know exactly how this will unfold, but environmental reporting and activism hubs such as The Climate Desk would be a good place to keep tabs. Someday, maybe even the coal miners will thank you.

Tax Reform: It's Easier Than Health Care! (It's Not)

Let's say you're Donald Trump (sorry). What do you do when the health care plan you swore up and down would protect all Americans from "dying in the street" ... is a giant mess that everyone hates, including your own party, AND it fails spectacularly?

You move on to tax reform! Which has to be easier, right? Right?

Except your failure to "fix" health care means that government contributions to fund American health care (that, you know, keep people alive) will remain high, and any massive effort to cut taxes will increase the national debt, which the GOP was super worried about until, oh, January 20, 2017. And don't forget, you're currently going to Twitter war with the House Freedom Caucus (the most conservative wing of your party), whose votes you'd need to pass, well, anything. And of course there's the fact that America's tax code hasn't been successfully rewritten or altered significantly since 1986. Oh, and you keep talking about how you could still get a deal done on health care (but you can't, because you're blaming the House Freedom Caucus for the lack of a deal, and those are the same people you'd need for tax reform).

Apart from all of that, sure — tax reform will be super easy.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes, because Trump's efforts to pivot between giant tasks that he is woefully inept at performing while alienating any potential allies will provide ample entertainment as we prepare to shuffle off this mortal coil.

News from Nunes

Devin Nunes is the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The House Intelligence Committee is investigating Donald Trump (and his campaign’s) potential ties with the Russian government. Trump tweeted that Obama wiretapped his phones. That was not true. So it was odd when Devin Nunes first pushed back against Trump's tweets, and then held a press conference to say that yes, Trump actually was surveilled as part of routine surveillance on foreign operatives.

But then it got weirder!

First, it turned out that Nunes told the White House about this before telling his own committee (the one he's chairman of). And then news broke that the night before his weird "yes, Trump was surveilled, but it was fine" press conference, Nunes went to the White House to read secret documents given to him by an unknown source, then went on to tell the White House about those documents — the ones he'd gotten AT THE WHITE HOUSE. Even the conservative National Review thinks this is strange enough to require Nunes to step down as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

Yes, because it's never the crime, it's the cover-up. Especially when the cover-up seems to involve secret night meetings at the White House. With someone.

Addendum: The Trump-Russia links are driving everyone insane. Is there something there? Maybe! Is that reason enough to turn into insane conspiracy theorists? No, it is not. I have never had a meeting with a Russian government official, and most likely, you haven't either. But people do, and have, and not all of these meetings are leading to a trap version of The Manchurian Candidate. If there's something there, let's find it. But let's do other things at the same time, too.

Time for Some Drug-Trafficking Problems in Fort Lee?

The best thing that happened to Americans facing substance abuse issues in the past week was the failure of the AHCA, as it would have ripped apart the already fragile system in place to increase access to treatment in the U.S. But hey, Trump also held a photo op! In his typically gracious way, Trump used this week's opioid epidemic "listening session" to humiliate Chris Christie, the man he's tapped to head his new commission on the issue. Trump noted that Christie was "a very, very early endorser — in fact, an immediate endorser once he got out of the race. He liked himself more than he liked me ... Other than that, he’s been great. And he’s a very effective guy.”

Then the president turned to people in recovery to ask them about their stories, with equally characteristic sensitivity. As one woman spoke of her addiction leading to homelessness, Trump interrupted: "Because I’m looking at you, you’re like all-American — perfect. You’re a perfect person. And I'm saying it’s hard to believe that you’re living on the streets.”

Trump may be one of the last people left in America who really doesn't understand that addiction can strike anyone, even people who are "like all-American — perfect." Perhaps his new commission will fill him in!

The commission will report to Jared Kushner, who presumably will solve the opioid crisis right after he finishes up with peace in the Middle East and streamlining government (never mind that the task force seems destined to largely repeat the work of an Obama administration investigation into addiction treatment and prevention produced last year).

What's weird is that for all the concern-showing and commission-proposing Trump has done, his actual policy proposals and budget suggestions — even beyond the aborted AHCA — will systematically deplete the resources the government could put toward the crisis. The $500 million he's bragged about putting toward the problem was already part of 21st Century Cures Act passed by the Obama administration. His attorney general is an old-school drug warrior who seems to think that the answer to substance abuse issues is locking people up. It's almost as if Trump says one thing and does another! Weird!

The one tiny ray of hope here is Christie. Perhaps I should rephrase that: Trump's seriousness about the opioid issue is probably best gauged by how seriously you think he takes Christie. Christie is a genuine and passionate advocate for the cause of addiction treatment — his record on the issue in New Jersey is a rare bright spot in his tenure as governor. Let's hope Trump has respect for him as an adviser, even if he didn't respect him as a candidate.

Should I bother paying attention to this?

If you are one of the millions of Americans touched by the addiction epidemic, you probably don't have a choice. But you also don't need to just depend on Trump to help you or the people you love. If you or someone you know needs treatment, you can (still) call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 800-662-HELP for referral to treatment, support groups, or community services. You are not alone.