Donald Trump tweeted this morning that it is "visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses." As a result "legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations."

Despite this, the New York Times says that "skeptics" aren't satisfied. There's a good reason for this. Two good reasons, actually. First, we live in a new era. As a matter of fact, not of cynicism or partisan griping, Trump tweets should be treated as lies until proven otherwise. That's just the way it is. Second, removing himself from business operations doesn't accomplish a thing. Trump still has massive conflicts of interest. The only way to resolve this is to sell the Trump Organization, which he will never do. In the meantime, every two-bit autocrat in the world knows that the quickest way to Trump's heart is to do something nice for Trump's business: approve his permits, hook up his kids with connected financiers, move government offices into his buildings, whatever. It's just a way of showing respect, you know?

I suppose there are worse things than having the United States run along the lines of a Mafia family. Nuclear war. An economic crash. Miami settling into the sea. Unfortunately, the odds are at least nontrivial that we're going to get all of those things too.

It's hard to believe there's any important non-Trump news out there, but the rest of the world keeps humming along without us:

OPEC representatives reached a deal to cut oil production after months of wrangling Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter, in an effort to lift sagging prices and reassert the cartel’s influence over a market increasingly dominated by the U.S., Russia and others. Delegates from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to cut production by 1.2 million barrels a day from the current 33.6 million barrels, the people said, representing about 1% of global production.

The details are a little unclear, and the Indonesian Oil Minister said "there were still issues to resolve that wouldn’t be easy." That may be why oil markets took the news more or less in stride. Prices were up a bit, but most traders are probably waiting to see if OPEC can actually make its new agreement stick.

Yascha Mounk and Roberto Stefan Foa recently completed a global survey that tried to measure the strength of liberal democracy. Mounk's conclusion: "The warning signs are flashing red." Exhibit A is this chart, adapted from the New York Times:

Only about 30 percent of American millennials think it's essential to live in a democracy? Holy crap. And there's also this:

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too....In a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

I guess it was nice while it lasted. I wonder who will take over the US after President-for-Life Donald Trump finally expires?

Back in February, United Technologies announced it would be moving a couple of Indianapolis factories to Mexico. One was a Carrier air-conditioning plant that employed 1,400 people, and the other was an electronic controls plant that employed 700.

Donald Trump went ballistic. "I will call the head of Carrier and I will say, 'I hope you enjoy your new building,'" Trump said. "'I hope you enjoy Mexico. Here's the story, folks: Every single air-conditioning unit that you build and send across our border—you're going to pay a 35 percent tax on that unit.'"

Then, a few days ago, the world was treated to this odd tweet:

What was that all about? Today we found out: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been negotiating with Carrier and has offered them a bunch of new incentives to stay where they are. On Thursday, he and Trump will appear triumphantly in Indianapolis to announce that Carrier has agreed to keep 1,000 jobs in the United States. The other 1,100 jobs, apparently, will still be lost to Mexico. There are several things to say about this:

  • From a PR perspective, this is genius. If you want to demonstrate you care about blue-collar workers, what better way than a big televised announcement surrounded by actual blue-collar workers who will be keeping their jobs?
     
  • We don't know yet what incentives Pence has promised, but it's worth noting that this is really nothing new. State and local governments offer financial inducements to keep companies from moving all the time. Trump is following a wheezy old playbook here, but even at that he can only do this because of the lucky coincidence that his vice president happens to still be governor of Indiana for a few weeks longer.
     
  • Compared to Carrier's 1,000 jobs, Obama's auto bailout saved something like 250,000 jobs at General Motors and Chrysler, and 1 million to 2 million total jobs throughout the entire automotive supply chain. Just sayin'.
     
  • Needless to say, showering incentives on manufacturing companies to stay in America is not a sustainable national manufacturing strategy. And anyway, aren't Republicans opposed to the government picking winners and losers?
     
  • Carrier is a big company, but it's owned by United Technologies, a gigantic defense contractor that does a lot of business with the federal government—soon to be headed by one Donald J. Trump. Would Trump stoop to sabotaging UT's government business if it didn't play ball on the Carrier plant? Maybe. Hell, even Bernie Sanders thinks Trump should promise that UT will never get another government contract if it moves any jobs to Mexico. This would be a massive abuse of power, of course, but who wants to take a chance that Trump cares? Probably not UT.
     
  • Just for the record, the biggest supplier of working-class and middle-class jobs in Indianapolis is not Carrier—or any other heavy manufacturing company. The top 10 are Eli Lilly, Indiana University, Purdue University, St. Vincent Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, CNA Financial Group, Methodist Hospital, the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital, Roche Diagnostics, and FedEx.
     
  • All that said, this is, once again, a genius PR move. Donald promised he'd keep those Carrier jobs in Indianapolis, and by God, he delivered.

What to pay attention to next: the exact terms of the deal that Carrier got. Just how big a bribe did Pence have to pay them to save those 1,000 jobs? After all, Trump was probably pretty eager to have this chance to show off, and he's got a long history of giving away the store when he really wants something.

Donald Trump promised to "drain the swamp" if he was elected. So how's he doing? I figured I could perform a public service by keeping track of his swamp-draining efforts as he appoints his new cabinet. Here's the scorecard as of today:

Will Donald Trump ever talk to the press again? It's been four months since his last press conference, and there's no sign that he plans to hold one anytime soon. During the campaign, he barely spoke to anyone aside from Sean Hannity. In the two weeks since he won the election, it's been even worse: Trump has been all but invisible aside from his periodic Twitter outbursts.

It's a good question how this is going to work out. Press conferences have become fairly rare events in the past few decades, and they're less useful than they used to be anyway. Presidents control them tightly and then filibuster every question as a way of cutting down the amount of interaction they're forced to have. Obama did this as much as any president in recent history.

Still, Trump probably can't get rid of press conferences completely. When the prime minister of Latveria comes to visit, you pretty much have to hold a joint press conference at some point. Beyond that, though, who knows? Maybe he'll decide to convert the briefing room back into an indoor swimming pool and tell the press to take a hike. Alternatively, he might build a brand new, gold-encrusted briefing room and decide to act as his own press secretary. With Trump, there's no telling.

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.