Donald Trump has chosen Ben Carson as his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Why? He's not remotely qualified for the position and he's publicly (!) stated that he doesn't have the experience to lead a government agency. Still, Carson is black and the U in HUD stands for Urban, and that's probably enough for Trump.

Does this sound unbearably smug and elitist? Sure, I'll cop to that. But as near as I can tell, Trump has already picked a Defense Secretary solely on the strength of the fact that his nickname is "Mad Dog," and a UN ambassador because she looks kind of foreign. So it fits.

By the way, you'll notice that in my table below I've finally decided to label Mnuchin and Ross as part of the swamp. My original hesitation was because they weren't part of DC politics. Does Wall Street count as part of the swamp? Upon reflection, of course it does. Hell, Mnuchin even comes from Goldman Sachs. If that's not part of the swamp, what is?

After hinting around for weeks, president-elect Donald Trump finally released a detailed, 7-part (!) tweetstorm about his plans to reform America's mercantile policy:

The U.S. is going to substantialy reduce taxes and regulations on businesses, but any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequence, is WRONG! There will be a tax on our soon to be strong border of 35% for these companies wanting to sell their product, cars, A.C. units etc., back across the border. This tax will make leaving financially difficult, but these companies are able to move between all 50 states, with no tax or tariff being charged. Please be forewarned prior to making a very expensive mistake! THE UNITED STATES IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the U.S. doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so!

At the risk of taking Trump literally, rather than seriously, I wonder if he actually thinks he can do this? It's not as if the president is allowed to unilaterally slap a 35 percent tariff on Carrier air conditioners or Ford Fiestas, after all. If Trump invokes the appropriate "national emergency" authority, he could impose a tariff on all air conditioners or all cars. Or he could impose a tariff on all goods from Mexico or all goods from China. But I think that's as far as his authority goes. He can't simply decide to punish one particular company.1

In the case of Mexico, of course, he can't do even this much unless he persuades Congress to exit NAFTA—and that has a snowball's chance of happening. He could, in theory, impose a 35 percent tariff on, say, telecom equipment made in China, but that would send up howls of protest from American businesses and almost certain retribution from China.

So...what's the plan here? The American business community, which would go ballistic over something like this, has been pretty quiet, which suggests they think it's just blather. That's my guess too. But I guess you never know. We overeducated elites like to say that stuff like this is just affinity politics—aka red meat for the rubes—but perhaps eventually we'll learn that we should have taken Trump literally after all.

1As far as I know, anyway. But I would certainly appreciate a detailed explainer on this from someone who's truly an expert.

So—about that call between Donald Trump and the president of Taiwan. First we have this:

A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan's leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday...."Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait," Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. "Both are in line with Taiwan's national interest."

And this:

The call was planned in advance with knowledge of Trump’s transition team and was the right thing to do, said Stephen Yates, a former U.S. national security official who served under President George W. Bush. Yates denied multiple media reports that he arranged the call, while adding that it doesn’t make sense for the U.S. to be “stuck” in a pattern of acquiescing to China over Taiwan.

Apparently several sources say that Yates was indeed the guy who helped arrange the call, but Yates denies it. You can decide for yourself who to believe. In any case, both sides claim it was done intentionally.

Was it a good idea? In Trump's defense, if you're going to do something like this, the only time to do it is right away. That's especially true if you want to use it as leverage. Who knows? Maybe Trump's team is planning to quietly pass along word that Trump is willing to maintain our status quo policy toward Taiwan (i.e., not formally recognizing the Taiwanese government), but only if China commits to doing something serious about North Korea.

Or maybe Trump has no bargain in mind at all, and just wants to change US policy toward China. It would be typically Trump to start out with a slap in the face so they know he means business, and then go from there.

Is this wise? I sort of doubt it, but I'm hardly an old China hand. And I have to admit that China hasn't gone ballistic, as many people predicted. Their response so far has been distinctly low-key:

China’s first official reaction, from Foreign Minister Wang Yi, was fairly benign — though it was firm in reiterating the One China policy, under which the United States formally recognized Beijing as China’s sole government....A follow-up statement from the Foreign Ministry on Saturday, noting that the ministry had filed a formal complaint with the United States government, was similar in tone. It urged “relevant parties in the U.S.” to “deal with the Taiwan issue in a prudent, proper manner.”

Whatever you think of all this, I'm pretty sure it was no accident. Whether it's meant just to shake up China; to act as leverage for a future bargain; or as a precursor to a policy change—well, that's hard to say. But there was something behind it. Stay tuned.

Steven Pearlstein suggests that Donald Trump's deal with Carrier is part of a larger strategy aimed at changing norms of behavior:

There was a time in America when there was an unwritten pact in the business world — workers were loyal to their companies and successful companies returned that loyalty....Then came the 1980s, and all that began to change as American industry began to falter because of foreign competition....So the social norm changed....Although the public never much liked the idea of closing plants and shipping jobs overseas, it no longer was socially unacceptable.

Now comes Donald Trump — in the public mind, a successful businessman — who as the new president, suddenly declares that the new norm is not longer acceptable, and he intends to do whatever he can to shame and punish companies that abandon their workers....He knows that he and his new commerce secretary will have to engage in a few more bouts of well-publicized arm twisting before the message finally sinks in in the C-Suite. He may even have to make an example of a runaway company by sending in the tax auditors or the OSHA inspectors or cancelling a big government contract. It won’t matter that, two years later, these highly publicized retaliations are thrown out by a federal judge somewhere. Most companies won’t want to risk such threats to their “brands.” They will find a way to conform to the new norm, somewhat comforted by the fact that their American competitors have been forced to do the same.

I mostly disagree with this. I think the "norm" Pearlstein is talking about here is actually just ordinary economic reality. During the postwar economic boom, American companies didn't need to offshore jobs, so they didn't. Nor did they need to lay off workers or downsize their companies frequently. America was the most efficient manufacturer around, and there was plenty of money sloshing around for everybody. So why invite trouble?

When the postwar boom came to an end, businesses changed. We learned that what we thought had been a permanent new norm, was no such thing. It was just a temporary, three-decade blip. Starting in the 80s, as economic growth leveled off, the business community returned to operating the same way businesses had operated ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

I suspect Pearlstein is right about what Trump is trying to do. He'll engage in some naming and shaming, and on a few occasions he'll try to set an example by going after companies in semi-legal or outright illegal ways. It might even work a little bit, and it will almost certainly work in a PR sense. But more generally, Trump can't keep the tide from coming in any more than any other president. It's not as if the offshoring phenomenon is peculiar to America, after all.

The good news, such as it is, revolves around automation. Within a decade or so, most manufacturing work will be so highly automated that it won't matter much where it's made. We're already starting to see signs of this. That will put an end to large-scale offshoring, but unfortunately, it will be even worse for blue-collar workers. We're on the cusp of an era when tens of millions of workers will be put out of jobs by automation, and we'd better figure out what we're going to do about that. But one thing is certain: whatever the answer is, it's not naming and shaming.

Over at National Review, David French writes:

For a ‘Peaceful’ Group, Black Lives Matter Sure Does Love Cop Killers and Murderous Dictators

I don’t know how I missed it, but this sickening essay from Black Lives Matter has to be read to believed. Entitled “Lessons from Fidel: Black Lives Matter and the Transition of El Comandante,” it begins....

I'm not especially trying to pick on French here, but this gives me an excuse to gripe about something that I see too often these days.

Let's stipulate that the essay in question is horrible. I don't care one way or the other. What I do care about is that French attributes it to "Black Lives Matter." But that's not the case. It was written by a specific person, not by BLM as some kind of official position statement. It represents them no more than I represent Mother Jones.

Still, at least MoJo employs me and has some responsibility for what I write. You can't even say that much about the author of the Castro piece. To the extent that there's an "official" BLM organization, it's here. This is the organization founded by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza. But pretty much anyone can set up shop under the BLM name, and the essay French links to comes from a Medium site called @BlackLivesMatterNetwork. It has posted a grand total of three pieces in the last two months. I have no idea who wrote them or who the site is associated with.

Condemn the piece all you want. But it's not fair to use it to tar "Black Lives Matter." They aren't responsible for everything that's tossed onto the web under the BLM banner.

UPDATE: It turns out that the official BLM site shared the Castro essay on its Facebook page. So it's fair to call them out for promoting it.

My general complaint stands, however. If I write something, it means "Kevin Drum says," not "Mother Jones says." If David French writes something, it means "David French says," not "National Review says." Needless to say, this rule is for personal opinion/analysis pieces. News organizations are corporately responsible for editorial opinions and straight news.

The Financial Times reports that Donald Trump spoke on the phone today with Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan. This is a very big deal:

The telephone call, confirmed by three people, is believed to be the first between a US president or president-elect and a leader of Taiwan since diplomatic relations between the two were cut in 1979.

Although it is not clear if the Trump transition team intended the conversation to signal a broader change in US policy towards Taiwan, the call is likely to infuriate Beijing which regards the island as a renegade province. “The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” said Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council.

Of course, maybe Trump was just calling to ask for a business favor:

The mayor of Taoyuan confirmed rumors on Wednesday that US president-elect Donald Trump was considering constructing a series of luxury hotels and resorts in the northwest Taiwanese city. A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September....Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect's second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

Who knows? But foreign policy wonks are blowing a gasket over this, and the question of the hour is: Did Trump set off this diplomatic shitstorm accidentally or deliberately? I have to believe it was deliberate. Even Trump's team isn't so pig-ignorant that they're unaware of our policy toward China and Taiwan.

But if that's the case, it means that Trump is dead set on pursuing a hostile policy against China from the get-go. Perhaps, thanks to his decades of steely negotiating victories, he believes the Chinese will eventually back down once they realize they can't mess with him. Perhaps. Welcome to Trumpland.

UPDATE: It's worth noting that Trump has an odd kind of advantage here. For a little while longer, anyway, he can do this kind of stuff just to see what happens—and then, if it blows up, he can pretend he wasn't up to speed what with all the staffing work etc. etc. Then he calls someone in China and declares that everything is fine, China is a fantastic place, he has nothing but the highest respect for them, blah blah blah.

Will this work? I suppose it might. But not for much longer.

I got lucky this week and managed to snap this gorgeous portrait of Hopper. Today, however, everyone is inside. The wind is blowing pretty hard, and it took the cats less than a minute to decide that the backyard was much too scary for them. Leaves blowing! Branches thwacking on the patio cover! Loud whooshing sounds! Much better to snooze inside next to a window, where cruel nature can be seen but not heard.

This should surprise no one:

For the first time, Donald Trump has said he supports finishing construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline....The company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, had donated $100,000 to a Trump Victory Fund before the election in the hopes that he’d greenlight it.

....There’s also a seedy financial twist here: Last week, disclosure forms suggested that Trump himself had as much as $300,000 personally invested in the project. That explains why his transition team had to clarify that Trump’s support "has nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans."

This is a win-win-win-win for Trump:

  • It's a project that provides a bunch of blue-collar jobs.
  • He gets to come out against a Native American tribe and its whining about "sacred lands," something that his base of real Americans will surely appreciate.1
  • A big donor gets what it wants.
  • And Donald gets a little cut of the action for himself.

What's not to like? The only surprising thing is that it took Trump this long. I wonder why it didn't become a staple of his campaign speech months ago?

MoJo has had lots of coverage of this, so I haven't spent too much time on it. But there is one thing I'm curious about. There's already a gas pipeline called the Northern Border Pipeline that crosses the Missouri River at the site of the DAPL project. That's one of the reasons the DAPL folks want to build there, and I assume it also figures into the Army Corps of Engineers' thinking. If they approved the gas pipeline decades ago, what justification do they have for not approving a second pipeline in the same place? I only bring this up because I almost never see it mentioned in coverage of the DAPL protests. But surely this has some impact on what the Corps can do legally?

1Please note sarcastic tone here.

Yesterday I teased you about a "secret weapon" that can save Obamacare. Here it is:

  • Pre-existing conditions

Obamacare requires insurance companies to insure anyone who wants coverage, no matter what kind of pre-existing conditions they have. It also requires them to sell this coverage at the same price they sell to everyone else. Unless Republicans go nuclear—by eliminating the filibuster or threatening to fire the Senate parliamentarian—they can't repeal this without a bunch of Democratic votes. And as long as the pre-existing conditions ban is in place, repealing Obamacare, with or without a replacement, will wreck the individual insurance market.

I mean this literally: Most likely, every insurance company in America would simply exit the market. Something like 7 percent of Americans would flatly have no source of insurance. This is political suicide, and Republicans know it. Hopefully, Democrats know it too.

My full story about this is here. I recommend that everyone read it. If Democrats want to save health care reform, this is the hammer that will allow them to do it.

Just thought I'd mention it. As of today, she leads Donald Trump in the popular vote by 2.56 million votes, a margin of 1.89 percent. In the three key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that gave him his victory, Trump's combined lead is less than 80,000 votes. By any measure you can think of, Trump has the narrowest victory of any president in the last century; the smallest mandate; and is by far the least liked.