Weekend Reads

For the profit and pleasure of subscribers, here's a few longer reads on economic, political issues for the weekend.

US President Elect Donald Trump has already started doing things (promising to cancel the TPP on his first day) and not doing things (saying he won't prosecute Hillary Clinton and that he may not pull America out of the Paris climate change agreement). This full transcript of his interview this week with reporters, editors and opinion columnists from The New York Times is an eye-opening long read. It is sobering, alarming and nonsensical in equal measure.

Amazingly, the exchange on climate change was the first time Trump has spoken in depth about it. It was never raised in the three debates and he doesn't do press conferences.

"You know the hottest day ever was in 1890-something, 98. You know, you can make lots of cases for different views. I have a totally open mind," Trump said, and it rambles on from there.

One thing to watch in Trump's views and and actions on climate change is the potential for countries to impose carbon tariffs on US imports, which they would be entitled to do under WTO rules. Trade wars could easily start through the lens of the debate over climate change, rather than anything else.

Here's a New York Times piece from before the interview on those risks of carbon tariff trade wars: “The Paris Agreement is meant to get everyone on board in one structure where you can address climate change together,” said Dirk Forrister, the president and chief executive of the International Emissions Trading Organization, a nonprofit organization that consults with governments and companies. “But if one big country backs out it could trigger a whole wave of trade responses.” He added: “There is no need to start a trade war over climate change. But it might happen.”

Elsewhere on this issue, The Guardian reports that Trump's team are planning to strip NASA of its climate research division.

This insight on the interview from Greg Sargent is interesting:

"All that said, Friedman makes a good point when he argues that the interview shows that Trump “clearly learns by talking to people, not reading,” and that “the struggle for Donald Trump’s soul has just begun.” Elsewhere in the Times interview, Trump gushed about his recent private meeting with President Obama, and seemed to signal that he genuinely learned new and enlightening things about the complexities and challenges he’s about to face. I suspect that in private conversations, Trump is susceptible to persuasion by those who really appear to know what they’re talking about, since his own convictions don’t appear to be all that deeply rooted."

The other alarming part of the exchange was over conflicts of interest, given Trump has been already reported to have used his discussions with leaders in Argentina and India to promote the interests of his business partners, particularly around the building of Trump Towers and golf courses.

Here's a big chunk of Trump's answer about the conflict of interest issue. I'm quoting it in full because it says a lot about how he thinks:

"As far as the, you know, potential conflict of interests, though, I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway. And the laws, the president can’t. And I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world. People are starting to see, when they look at all these different jobs, like in India and other things, number one, a job like that builds great relationships with the people of India, so it’s all good. But I have to say, the partners come in, they’re very, very successful people. They come in, they’d say, they said, ‘Would it be possible to have a picture?’ Actually, my children are working on that job. So I can say to them, Arthur, ‘I don’t want to have a picture,’ or, I can take a picture. I mean, I think it’s wonderful to take a picture. I’m fine with a picture. But if it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again. That would be like you never seeing your son again. That wouldn’t be good. That wouldn’t be good. But I’d never, ever see my daughter Ivanka."

The New Yorker's John Cassidy writes about the conflict of interest issue. Many have called for Trump to divest his interests into a blind trust, as John Key did. Trump is refusing and instead says his children will manage the assets while he is President. The presence of his daughter and son-in-law at some of the initial meetings with world leaders is worrying many.

This New York Times Op Ed by Charles Blow on Trump's meeting with the New York Times' reporters, editors and columnists is refreshingly blunt in saying "the slime factor was overwhelming."

"You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory," Blow wrote.

How long before America's white working class realises Trump was just scamming them? That's the question the Washington Post's Paul Waldman is already asking now that Trump has said he won't jail Hillary Clinton, may not pull out of the Paris climate change agreement and has started appointed lobbyists to key positions.

The discussion over the role of fake news and Trump's use of Facebook to help win the election has also escalated over the last week.

One name that keeps cropping up is the Cambridge Analytica, a data mining company that helped the Trump campaign and is owned by one of his key funders. The detail in this Guardian piece is useful.

"The London-based company claims it has key marketing and psychological data on some 230 million Americans, information that might help increase the size and value of a real estate empire, or build backing for Trump’s policy agenda," the Guardian's Peter Stone writes from Washington.

This McKenzie Funk piece in the New York Times talks about how Cambridge Analytica uses free personality quizzes on Facebook to build those psychological profiles, and how that data is used to shape political messages.

"In the age of Facebook, it has become far easier for campaigners or marketers to combine our online personas with our offline selves, a process that was once controversial but is now so commonplace that there’s a term for it, “onboarding.” Cambridge Analytica says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it voting histories or full-spectrum demographics — age, income, debt, hobbies, criminal histories, purchase histories, religious leanings, health concerns, gun ownership, car ownership, homeownership — from consumer-data giants," Funk writes.

"No data point is very informative on its own, but profiling voters, says Cambridge Analytica, is like baking a cake. “It’s the sum of the ingredients,” its chief executive officer, Alexander Nix, told NBC News. Because the United States lacks European-style restrictions on second- or thirdhand use of our data, and because our freedom-of-information laws give data brokers broad access to the intimate records kept by local and state governments, our lives are open books even without social media or personality quizzes."

Funk also writes about 'dark posts', which are Facebook newsfeed messages only seen by those targeted. "Facebook is the microtargeter’s ultimate weapon." This is my must-read piece of the week.

If there was a second choice for must-read of the week it would be this Washington Post piece from Terrence McCoy on two fake news writers operating from Long Beach in California.

"At a time of continuing discussion over the role that hyperpartisan websites, fake news and social media play in the divided America of 2016, LibertyWritersNews illustrates how websites can use Facebook to tap into a surging ideology, quickly go from nothing to influencing millions of people and make big profits in the process. Six months ago, Wade and his business partner, Ben Goldman, were unemployed restaurant workers. Now they’re at the helm of a website that gained 300,000 Facebook followers in October alone and say they are making so much money that they feel uncomfortable talking about it because they don’t want people to start asking for loans," McCoy writes.

Have a great weekend.