The latest from Team Trump:

President-elect Donald Trump plans to name Elaine Chao — a former Labor secretary married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — as his Transportation secretary, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield). Chao’s establishment ties conflict with Trump’s promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington and promote outsiders to lead his government. But Chao’s connections could be an asset in Trump's plan to promote a major infrastructure proposal that could face resistance from within his party.

Here's the weird thing: Chao is actually very qualified for this position. That's...a little unusual for Trump. So it's hard to make too big a fuss over the obvious cynicism of picking Mitch McConnell's wife to be the head cheerleader for his infrastructure plan.

Still, this is not exactly draining the swamp, is it? Chao is married to the Republican majority leader; has been a Washington fixture for more than two decades; and spent eight years in the Bush cabinet. She's also a woman and an immigrant, which will help Trump with his "white guy cabinet" problem.1 But that's OK. I can handle a bit of cynicism and a bit of political maneuvering. At least Chao is a normal, well-qualified, conservative, choice. If only we could say that about the rest of Trump's choices.

1As near as I can tell, Trump's approach to this problem is to appoint white guys to the important posts and then toss in a few women and minorities at the bottom of his cabinet. But maybe I'm wrong! We'll have to wait and see who he appoints to head up State, Defense, and Treasury.

Tom Price, R-Ga., left, is congratulated by Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The Washington Post tells us this morning that we have another new member of the incoming cabinet:

Trump picks fierce Obamacare critic as health and human services secretary

His name is Tom Price, a Republican member of Congress from Georgia, and the fact that he's a "fierce" critic of Obamacare doesn't really faze me. He's a Republican, after all. Anyone Trump picked would be a fierce critic of Obamacare.

However, there is something different about Price: he actually has a replacement plan. Not a white paper, but actual legislation. Sarah Kliff runs down Price's plan here, but I want to pull back from the details and focus on the bigger picture instead.

You've probably heard a million times that Obamacare relies on a three-legged stool. If you want universal coverage, you have to require insurers to cover everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions. That's guaranteed issue. But that will wreck the insurance pool: it will have too many sick people, who will rush to buy coverage, and not enough healthy people. So you also need to provide an incentive for healthy people to join your plan. In Obamacare, that's the tax penalty for going without insurance. Finally, once you've done that, you have to provide financial help for the poor, since they can't afford full-price coverage no matter how much incentive you give them. In Obamacare, that's the subsidies.

This is not just an Obamacare thing. It's true of all health insurance. Take the employer market that most of us are familiar with. Everyone who works for a company that offers health coverage gets it. That's guaranteed issue. It's pretty cheap and the price is deducted painlessly from your paycheck. That's an incentive for everyone to join. And the company provides the insurance either free or at a very discounted price. That's the equivalent of Obamacare's subsidies.

So how does Price's plan work? He mandates that insurance companies cover even those with pre-existing conditions. That's guaranteed issue. However, insurers are only required to take you on if you maintain continuous coverage. That's a huge incentive for healthy people to buy insurance, since if you skip it for a year you might not be able to get coverage if you get sick. Finally, Price offers tax credits based on age to everyone, and a high-risk pool for those who still can't afford insurance. That's very similar to Obamacare's subsidies.

So what's the problem? Why shouldn't Democrats ditch Obamacare and accept Price's substitute? Or to flip things around, why should Republicans bother with this? If they're just going to get a different version of Obamacare from Price, why not skip the whole thing?

Partly, the answer is in the details. There are lots of moving parts beyond the three-legged stool, and Price's plan has different details than Obamacare. But mainly, the answer is money. Obamacare works because it's reasonably well funded, to the tune of about a trillion dollars over ten years. Price's plan might very well work too if it were funded at the same level.

But it's not. The CBO has never scored Price's plan, but even a quick glance tells you that its funding level is a small fraction of Obamacare's. And as we all know, perhaps the biggest problem with Obamacare is that it's already underfunded. There are lots of people who struggle to afford insurance even with the subsidies, and plenty more who don't qualify for subsidies at all. And deductibles are often so high that they make the insurance close to worthless anyway.

Price's plan is far stingier. He offers tax credits based on age: about $100 per month for young adults, rising to $250 per month for older adults. Since insurance worth the name costs far more than that, it will be wildly unaffordable to anyone who's not middle class or better.

But it gets worse. Since Price offers credits based on age, it means that the well-off all get tax credits. Many of the poor, who can't afford insurance even with the tax credits, will go uninsured and therefore get nothing. In other words, his plan is basically a way of subsidizing the rich and screwing the poor. What's more, since it costs a lot less than Obamacare, it opens up budget room to enact Paul Ryan's big tax cuts for the rich.

This is unsurprising, of course. Tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor is what Republicans do.1 The main reason for repealing Obamacare is to reduce spending so that Republicans can cut taxes, which means that any plan that costs as much as Obamacare doesn't really do them any good. They have no choice but to accept the three-legged stool, but they can fund it so pitifully that it doesn't do anybody much good.

And that's the nut of the whole thing. Details aside,2 Price's plan is plausibly workable if it's funded properly. But Republicans will never agree to that. After all, it's the one thing they actually care about.

1Did I mention that Price's plan also eliminates Obama's Medicaid expansion for the very poorest? It does. But you probably guessed that already.

2I'm not trying to slight the details, by the way. A lot of them are really important. But funding is still the key issue.

The Wall Street Journal points out today that housing prices are now as high as they were at the peak of the bubble years:

But that's OK. It's been over a decade now and incomes have gone up enough to compensate. We can afford housing at 2006 prices, right? Um...

Well, incomes are a little higher, but not by a lot. On the bright side, at least we have an incoming president who—

Aw crap. We're so screwed.

UPDATE: As too many people have pointed out in comments and on Twitter, I messed this up, comparing the Case-Shiller index in nominal dollars to household income in real dollars. Sorry! It's fixed now. In nominal terms, household incomes have gone up about 17 percent since 2006, so houses are still more affordable than they were at the top of the bubble.

But not by a whole lot—and housing prices are continuing to rise. I'd still keep a close eye on this.

I still wake up each morning thinking it can't really be true that Donald Trump will be president of the United States in less than eight weeks. I mean, he's…he's—he's a willfully ignorant crackpot. He's a ridiculous game show host. He's a five-year-old in a 70-year-old body. He's addicted to gossip and TV. He's a trust fund kid who thinks he's a great businessman. He doesn't have the attention span to read an actual book. He loves conspiracy theories. And he's got an ego so fragile it ought to be packed in Styrofoam peanuts.

Today, CNN's Jeff Zeleny said he was looking for evidence that Trump's allegation of massive voter fraud was true. This instantly sent Trump into a furious tantrum, prompting one of his periodic retweet spasms. Let's take a look at who he chose to retweet. First up is @HighonHillcrest:

Who is @HighonHillcrest? Earlier today he tweeted that Mitt Romney is the "worst kind of traitor." A few days ago he wrote this: "When RACIST THUG @angela_rye screams, annoying voice gets higher." (Don Lemon and Van Jones are also racist thugs. Apparently all blacks on CNN are racist thugs.) And this: "FREEDOM OF RELIGION was meant to apply to religions which do NOT advocate killing non-converts." Next up is @JoeBowman12:

Who is @JoeBowman12? A few weeks ago he was promoting the conspiracy theory that Bill Clinton has a mixed-race son: "CNN Orders Censorship Blackout on Danney Williams story ( Bill Clinton's alleged son ) http://Infowars.com/show." And: "Bill Clinton 'Son' Tells Hillary: Step Aside http://www.infowars.com." And: "Bill Clinton's 'son' Danney Williams conducts his FIRST TV interview LIVE at http://Infowars.com/show - DON'T MISS IT!" Next up is @Filibuster:

Who is @Filibuster? He's a 16-year-old who lives in Beverly Hills. Next up is @sdcritic:

Who is @sdcritic? Earlier today, in response to the attack at Ohio State, he tweeted: "#IslamIsADeathCult #IslamIsTheProblem #BanMuslimsNotGuns #BanSharia #IslamIsCancer #Muslims did not come to America to be Americans! WAKEUP!" And: "#OhioState: You MUST understand #studentfeed that #Islamists are barbaric 3rd world monsters ruthless subhumans.America has brought this 2U!" Finally, Trump added a last word of his own:

What kind of person is so unhinged that even though he won a presidential election, he goes nuts when he's reminded that he lost the popular vote and (a) demands that all his minions start writing sycophantic tweets about his historic landslide victory, (b) continues stewing about it anyway and fabricates an allegation of massive voter fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party, (c) flips out at an anodyne segment from a CNN reporter about his lies, and (d) spends his evening hunched over his smartphone rounding up a motley crew of racists, nutbags, and teenagers to assure him that he's right?

What kind of person does this? And how easy is it to manipulate someone like this? We have a helluva scary four years ahead of us.

Prepare to be fascinated. Last week I noted that a Texas judge had blocked the Obama administration's new overtime rules. The basic issue here is simple: the law states that you're exempt from overtime rules if you're a "bona fide" executive, administrative, or professional (EAP) employee. But what does that mean? That's up to the Department of Labor, which has always had a two-part test. First, you have to have the actual duties of an EAP employee. Second, there's a salary floor: you have to make more than a certain amount. This is basically designed to keep employers from pretending that someone is an EAP even though they're paying them peanuts.

The previous floor, set in 2004, was $23,660, or about $29,000 in 2014 dollars. The new rule raised that to about $47,000. The judge ruled that was too high. At $23,660, it made sense that no one under that level could possibly be a bona fide EAP. But at $47,000? Maybe they could.

Was the judge right? Jared Bernstein, who's been deeply involved in this issue, writes today that he's not. The basic problem is that the judge accepted the Bush administration's number as gospel without considering the entire history of the salary floor. Adjusted for inflation, here's what it looks like since 1940:1

The new level of $47,000 looks perfectly reasonable in historical context. In fact, it's the 2004 number that looks way out of whack. But what if you use PCE instead of CPI as your inflation measure?

Now it's the $47,000 number that looks like an outlier. Maybe the judge was right?

I don't think so. As a matter of bloggy interest, we can certainly argue whether CPI or PCE (or some other measure) is "best" for measuring long-term inflation. However, they're both widely used and perfectly acceptable in a broad sense. If the Department of Labor uses CPI, that's a reasonable choice, which the court should give deference to under the Chevron rule. Beyond that, if DOL chooses to look at the historical record for the salary floor, rather than solely at the Bush administration's number, that's also reasonable and deserves deference.

Bottom line: the Labor Department set the salary floor in a reasonable way, backed by plenty of empirical evidence. (More empirical evidence than just the historical level of the salary test, I should add.) If anyone was out of line here, it was the Bush administration, not the Obama administration.

1The actual raw numbers are a little tricky to figure out. From 1950 through 1975, DOL used two different salary floors related to a "long test" and a "short test." (Don't ask.) As near as I can tell, the best fit to the previous floors is an average of the two, so that's what I used. Bernstein has more on this here.

I don't know why this popped into my head, but given the enormous growth of cloud computing I got curious about how big a share it is of all computing. Roughly speaking, it turns out that total spending in 2016 is:

So cloud computing currently accounts for about 2.5 percent of all IT hardware and software spending. I have no point to make about this.

1Hardware and software only, not including telecom spending. CompTIA estimates that non-telecom spending is about $2.24 trillion in 2016 and that hardware and software account for about two-thirds of that.

Will Donald Trump rescue the coal industry? Nah. Brad Plumer explains:

If you want to see a good example of why Trump will struggle to bring back coal, just look at Michigan.

Last weekend, the CEO of Michigan’s largest electric utility reiterated that his company is still planning to retire all eight of its remaining coal plants by 2030 — whether or not Trump tries to repeal President Obama’s climate policies. "All of those retirements are going to happen regardless of what Trump may or may not do with the Clean Power Plan," DTE Energy’s Gerry Anderson told MLive.com’s Emily Lawler.

....In Michigan, a new coal plant costs $133 per megawatt hour. A natural gas plant costs half that. Even wind contracts cost about $74.52 per megawatt hour. "I don't know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant," Anderson said.

If you want this in chart form—and who wouldn't?—here is US coal production in the 21st century:

And that's not the half of it. Coal production has dropped 31 percent from its peak, but coal employment has dropped 41 percent:

Coal executives don't want to employ more miners. They want to automate as much as possible to squeeze the last few profits out of a dying industry. This has nothing to do with Obama's Clean Power Plan, and there's nothing Donald Trump can do about it. Coal is a buggy whip in an automobile era.

Hillary Clinton warned the coal community about this, just like Walter Mondale warned everyone that Reagan would increase their taxes. They were both right, but no one wanted to hear it. They preferred grand promises from charlatans instead.

Is Donald Trump using his Twitter outbursts about the popular vote to distract us from this week's real news: the vast conflicts of interest between his business empire and his upcoming presidency? This question is getting a lot of attention today.

The answer is no. I mean yes. But no, not really. On the other hand, maybe a little bit yes. I'm sorry, what was the question again?

The real answer is the same as it was during the campaign: Trump is dedicated to creating constant uproars all the time. Is this because it's just who he is? Or is it part of an instinctive strategy to keep us from ever paying attention to anything for long, aside from the fact that Trump is in the limelight? I can't say for sure, but I'd put money on the latter.

My belief in this comes mainly from an observation about the campaign: Trump, it turns out, is fully able to focus on something for months at a time if he wants to. And the thing he focused on was "Crooked Hillary" and her emails. That was a constant theme of his campaign, which he hammered on  relentlessly for months. And the press assisted, covering every new email revelation—big or small, meaningful or trivial— in blazing headlines on the front page.

And it worked. Sure, he needed a lucky break at the end when James Comey released his letter, but he had set the stage to take advantage of it. This constant drumbeat on a single issue was spectacularly successful.

Trump engaged in a high-risk-high-reward strategy by creating a strong brand identity—for Hillary Clinton. And as any brand manager can tell you, this is crucial. The relentless focus on Hillary Clinton's email hurt her badly by confirming the sense that she was at least mildly corrupt. Trump's scandals were different. The press did cover them, but it was something new every week. This didn't confirm any particular view of Trump aside from his being a bit of a loose cannon. And within a week, each previous scandal was barely remembered. By November, the whole Access Hollywood thing—which was only four weeks old—might as well have been ancient history. It had been practically forgotten.

Donald Trump knows how to focus and he knows how to throw up lots of chaff to keep himself front and center. Does he mean this stuff to be a distraction? Beats me. I suspect it's all intuitive with him. The only good news is that he can wear out his welcome doing this. In his previous life, that wasn't a big problem because the press didn't want to cover him 24/7 anyway. Now they do. He is likely to find that after a few months of this, even his most fervent supporters are a little weary of it.

Today in "Headline Watch," I have generally good news. With the notable exception of the Wall Street Journal, most outlets said right in their headlines that Donald Trump's allegation of illegal voting this afternoon was false. That's pretty good.

Now, for my money, the proper style is something like "Trump Lies Yet Again, Claims Millions of Illegal Votes." The deck should be "This is Trump's 187th absurd lie of 2016." But, you know, baby steps. I understand that mainstream copy desks aren't quite ready to adopt my Updated Style Guide for the Trump Era. But they will be soon.

A few days ago I mentioned that the Trump campaign1 was pretty dedicated to sending Hillary Clinton's popular vote win down the memory hole. To accomplish this, they began a gaslighting offensive to persuade the nation that Donald Trump was one of the biggest winners ever in presidential history. Kellyanne Conway kicked things off by telling Fox News, "This election was not close. It was not a squeaker." Two days later, Trump himself defended his loss of the popular vote: "If the election were based on total popular vote I would have campaigned in N.Y. Florida and California and won even bigger and more easily."

Then Corey Lewandowski upped the ante, claiming that Trump "won the election campaign by the largest majority since Ronald Reagan in 1984." I guess this was a little too raw even for Trumpland, so Reince Priebus beavered away and finally found something to justify Lewandowski's toadying: "Donald J. Trump won over 2,600 counties nationwide, the most since President Reagan in 1984." But that still wasn't enough. The whole popular vote thing is apparently a serious burr in Trump's saddle, and he wasn't happy with all this shilly-shallying. So today he decided to go for broke and insist that he just won, period:

So there you have it. It's twisting Trump's guts that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for him. And this whole recount thing in Wisconsin seems to have driven him bananas. The result is a tweet alleging that the Clinton campaign orchestrated millions of illegal votes in 2016.2 This message went out to all 16 million of his followers, who will surely pass it along to another 16 million or so—and then the media will pass it along to yet millions more.

This is an obvious lie, and it will probably take a few hours for Trump's TV shills to figure out how to defend it. That's how it worked with the "thousands of Muslims celebrating on 9/11" thing. In that case, his spear carriers eventually dug up a few internet factoids that provided them with a way to claim that Trump was right, and away they went. I'm sure the same thing will happen this time. I can't wait to see how many will join in and exactly what dreck they'll dredge up to justify it.

Alternatively, they could just admit that the Republican president-elect is an epically insecure liar who will say anything when his fragile ego is bruised. That's not a very appealing alternative, is it?

1As near as I can tell, Trump is still running a campaign.

2Trump says he would have won if not for these votes, so they must have all been for Hillary. And if they were all for Hillary, then Democrats must have been the ones who did the vote rigging. Right?