Uber decided to put a few of its self-driving cars on the road in San Francisco without bothering to tell anyone, so yesterday the California DMV revoked the registration of its cars. During the week they were tootling around the city, however, people reported that Uber's cars were running red lights and making right turns incorrectly. Atrios comments:

People always say "oh, well, if it works 98% of the time and then every now and then the cars needs the driver to step in then that's good enough." No, that isn't good enough. There isn't time for me to switch from taking a nap or texting my pals to taking over when a bike lane appears suddenly, unless I'm paying 100% attention. And no one is going to pay 100% attention in a "self-driving car" because what's the point.

Who says that? I've never heard anything remotely like this from anyone with more than a Twitter egg understanding of autonomous vehicles. The goal is, and always has been, a car that's 100 percent self-driving. Personally, I envision something the size of a tiny room with a couple of La-Z-Boy recliners suitable for reading, twittering, watching Buffy reruns, or taking a nap.

We're not there yet, of course, and no one claims otherwise. But the fact that we're not there yet doesn't mean we'll never get there. Griping about the fact that current iterations of autonomous vehicles aren't perfect doesn't seem very productive.

Personally, I'm hoping to live long enough to ride in a fully autonomous car and prove Atrios wrong. I think it's gonna be a close call.

From Phillip Blando, a spokesman for the Trump transition team, on news that Obamacare enrollments are running well ahead of last year:

The enrollment numbers announced today show just how important health care coverage is to millions of Americans. The Trump administration will work closely with Congress, governors, patients, doctors and other stakeholders to fix the Affordable Care Act’s well-documented flaws and provide consumers with stable and predictable health plan choices.

Um, what? Is Blando unschooled in how Republicans are supposed to talk about Obamacare? Is he just lying to us (always a possibility with a Trump spokesman)? Will this be followed by a hasty "clarification"? Or is Trump really thinking that maybe he wants to keep Obamacare as the base of a reformed Trumpcare?

Meh. I suppose it's just random words stuck together into a sentence-like structure. Trying to guess what it really means is probably about as fruitful as trying to decipher Soviet-era May Day photographs.

At the Washington Post today, Sari Horwitz has a long tick-tock about James Comey's conduct during the presidential election. Much of it is about the strained relationship between Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, but it starts out like this:

Twelve days before the presidential election, FBI Director James B. Comey dispatched a senior aide to deliver a startling message to the Justice Department. Comey wanted to send a letter to Congress alerting them that his agents had discovered more emails potentially relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

....Federal attorneys scrambled into offices on the fourth and fifth floors of Justice Department headquarters, where they huddled to figure out how to stop what they viewed as a ticking time bomb. “It was DEFCON 1,” said an official familiar with the deliberations. “We were in­cred­ibly concerned this could have an impact on the election.”

....Weeks before the letter, Comey had advised against the Obama administration public statement admonishing Russia for the Democratic Party hacks, arguing it would make the administration appear partisan too close to the election. But to him, the Clinton email investigation was different. Battered by Republican lawmakers during a hearing that summer, Comey feared he would come under further attack if word leaked about the Clinton case picking up again.

If Horwitz has the right read on this, Comey released his bombshell letter largely because Republicans had blistered him so viciously earlier in the year over his decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton. Comey "feared he would come under further attack" if anyone found out about the new email archive, and that was what made up his mind. Quite the profile in courage, no?

Also, he knew he had a rogue group in New York who were so rabidly anti-Clinton that they'd leak the news if he didn't. Rather than rein them in, as he should have, he caved in instead. Quite the management hero, no?

Horwitz also tells us that Comey was "surprised by the intensity of the reaction to his letter." Seriously? This is a guy who's been part of the criminal justice arm of the government for decades. He's a master at navigating the shoals of DC politics. What's more, everyone in the world was telling the FBI that releasing the letter would be astounding, unprecedented, and dangerous. It was "DEFCON 1." And Comey was surprised that a letter about Clinton's email twelve days before the election would cause a stir? This beggars the imagination, no?

In 2000 the Supreme Court appointed the president of the United States. In 2016 the Director of the FBI did it. At this point, I'd actually be happy to leave things up to the Electoral College. At least Democrats have a fighting chance there.

Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters/ZUMA

Donald Trump started out on Twitter in 2009 with 216 followers. When he announced he was running for president in June 2015, he had 2.94 million followers. Just before Election Day he had 12.8 million followers. Today he has 17.7 million followers:

Not bad. But that only puts him in 75th place. NASA has 20 million followers. CNN has 30 million followers. Britney Spears has 50 million followers. Barack Obama has 80 million followers. And Katy Perry tops the list with 95 million followers. Only 77 million more to go, Donald.

CNN reports that the business community is shocked at the idea that Donald Trump might impose import tariffs when he takes office:

Two sources who represent business interests in Washington tell CNN that the man in line to be White House chief of staff, Reince Preibus, has told key Washington players that one idea being debated internally is a 5% tariff on imports…Priebus, the sources said, was warned such a move could start trade wars, anger allies, and also hurt the new administration's effort to boost the rate of economic growth right out of the gate.

One of the sources said he viewed the idea as a trial balloon when first raised, and considered it dead on arrival given the strong reaction in the business community—and the known opposition to such protectionist ideas among the GOP congressional leadership. But this source voiced new alarm Tuesday after being told by allies within the Trump transition that defending new tariffs was part of the confirmation "murder board" practice of Wilbur Ross, the President-elect's choice for commerce secretary.

You know, I mostly feel kind of sorry for all the working-class folks who voted for Trump because they fell for his con. But you know who I don't feel sorry for? The business community, which largely supported Trump because they thought they were too smart to be conned. He won't really impose tariffs. He won't really take revenge on companies that move jobs overseas. He won't really crack down on all those illegal immigrants we give our dirtiest jobs to.

They just wanted their tax cuts and their pet regulatory changes. They didn't care about all that racist, nativist, protectionist blather. It was just for show, anyway, wasn't it? Ha ha ha. Right?

Well, Paul Ryan may save them in the end. We won't know for a while. But these are rich, educated folks. They knew who Trump was. They knew he was spectacularly unqualified. They knew he was thin-skinned. They knew he was unstable. They knew he was egotistical. They knew he was vengeful. They knew he was dangerous. But they supported him anyway because they wanted their tax cuts. If they eventually find themselves on the business end of Trumponomics, I'm just going to lie back and snicker at them.

The November edition of the panel survey done by the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics is out. Dan Hopkins tells us that it shows something interesting. A lot of people really did switch to Donald Trump at the last minute:

While no one moved from Trump to Clinton, 0.9 percent of our respondents moved from Clinton to Trump....Trump also outpaced Clinton among people who were previously undecided or third-party backers, with 3.1 percent of respondents moving from those categories to Trump while just 2.3 percent did the same for Clinton. Clinton also saw 3.1 percent of her October supporters defecting to third-party candidates or becoming undecided. Trump lost just 1.7 percent.

Let's add this up:

  • Trump gained 0.9 + 3.1 - 1.7 = +2.3 percent
  • Clinton gained -0.9 + 2.3 - 3.1 = -1.7 percent

The October poll ended on the 24th. FBI Director James Comey released his infamous letter on the 28th. The November poll then showed Hillary Clinton with a net loss of 4 percent compared to Trump. This compares to net movement of only a few tenths of a point in the final days of the 2012 election.

I wonder if there's any relationship there?

Tyler Cowen says that UCI professor Peter Navarro is "one of the most versatile and productive American economists of the last few decades." Matt Yglesias says Navarro is an idiot. Who's right?

I think there's a category error here. Back in September, Navarro co-authored a paper about Donald Trump's trade policy. Roughly speaking, Navarro relied on the following accounting identity:

GDP = Consumption + Investment + Government Spending + Trade Balance

So if our trade balance goes up from -$500 billion to $0, Navarro said, GDP will go up $500 billion and the government will collect a lot of extra taxes. Hooray! But as Yglesias points out, this is comic-book-level nonsense.1 Let me offer an analogy:

Corporate profits = Revenue + Investment Income - Labor Costs - Other Costs

So if I cut labor costs in half, corporate profits will go up. Right? I think you can see that this is unlikely. If you fired half your workers, you probably could no longer produce anything and your company would go bust. If you cut everyone's wages in half, you'd suffer a steady exodus of your best people and probably end up far less profitable. If you replaced half your workers with machines, profits might indeed go up, but not by the amount of payroll you save. You'd have to account for the capital cost of the machines—which would probably reduce investment income—and the cost of maintenance—which would increase other costs. Bottom line: depending on how you do this, lots of different things could happen.

In the case of GDP, it's true that everything in the formula has to add up, since this formula defines what GDP is. But if the trade balance goes up, there are several obvious possibilities. Consumption might go down. Investment might go down. Government spending might go down. In fact, once all the dust has settled, overall GDP might ultimately go down, stay the same, or go up. The real answer is that you'd need to model out an actual plan and figure out where it reaches equilibrium. Navarro knows this perfectly well.

So what is Navarro? Brilliant economist or idiot? Neither one. He's someone who used to be a versatile and productive economist and is now a China-obsessed fanatic2 willing to say anything for the chance of a job in the Trump administration. He hasn't lost 50 IQ points, he's merely become so fixated on the dangers of Chinese trade that he no longer cares about economics. He cares only about saying things that might build support for his preferred policies, regardless of whether they're true.

In other words, he's now just another dime-a-dozen political hack. Trump will keep him around as long as his PhD is useful and then toss him aside.

1No offense meant to comic books.

2Three of his five most recent books are: The Coming China Wars, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon, and Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World.

Bill O'Reilly is suddenly a big defender of the Electoral College:

Abolishing the Electoral College, that is the subject of tonight’s Talking Points Memo. After Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, the left in America is demanding that the Electoral College system put into place in 1787 be scrapped. But there’s a hidden reason for this.

....Talking Points believes this is all about race. The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized and what better way to do that than center the voting power in the cities....White men have largely abandoned the Democrats, and the left believes it’s because of racism that they want to punish minorities, keep them down. So that’s what’s really going on when you hear about the Electoral College and how unfair it allegedly is.

It's a funny thing. Conservatives tell us endlessly that the best way to build a colorblind society is to be colorblind. No more special favors, no more affirmative action, no more quotas. But whenever someone suggests a change that happens to disadvantage white people even slightly, suddenly they see color everywhere.

Of course, O'Reilly is right that race is relevant to the Electoral College. The American presidential voting system was designed by the framers both to give more influence to smaller states and to give more influence to states with lots of slaves. It was pretty explicitly racist. Defending it on the grounds of its benevolence toward the "white establishment" seems like it ought to be a bridge too far even for the likes of O'Reilly.

In any case, Democrats have now lost two presidential contests in the 21st century in which they won the popular vote. You really don't have to look much further to understand why liberals are a little gun-shy of the Electoral College these days.

Over at National Review, Tim Alberta ponders "Conservatism in the Era of Trump." It's not a pretty picture. There's no one more conservative than the House Freedom Caucus, but they've already started to cave in to Trumpism:

Consider Trump's stated intention to seek a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure package soon after taking office. At a conservative forum one week after the election, [Raul] Labrador told reporters that any such bill "has to be paid for" with spending cuts or revenues from elsewhere…But their thinking has shifted in the weeks since. According to several members, there has been informal talk of accepting a bill that's only 50 percent paid for, with the rest of the borrowing being offset down the road by "economic growth." It's an arrangement Republicans would never have endorsed under a President Hillary Clinton, and a slippery slope to go down with Trump.

This is in addition to the tax cuts for the rich, which won't be paid for at all. But why is the HFC already bending its adamantine principles against increasing the deficit? What are they afraid of? Rachael Bade tells us:

Since the election, numerous congressional Republicans have refused to publicly weigh in on any Trump proposal at odds with Republican orthodoxy, from his border wall to his massive infrastructure package. The most common reason, stated repeatedly but always privately: They're afraid of being attacked by Breitbart or other big-name Trump supporters.

"Nobody wants to go first," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who received nasty phone calls, letters and tweets after he penned an August op-ed in The New York Times, calling on Trump to release his tax returns. "People are naturally reticent to be the first out of the block for fear of Sean Hannity, for fear of Breitbart, for fear of local folks."

ZOMG! Phone calls, letters, and tweets, oh my! Who would have guessed that militant conservatives were so spineless? Here's some news: I don't get many phone calls, but I get lots of nasty emails and tweets too. So does everyone who comments on or practices politics. That's America these days.

People often comment about how easily groups like Nazis and fascists came to power. This is how. But hell, at least in Germany and Italy people were cowed by real threats of real violence. It's not especially heroic, but it's understandable. In America, we're heading down that path because people are afraid of unpleasant tweets.

Over at Vox, Sean Illing interviews Justin Gest, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Gest says that the white working class doesn't fit neatly into either party: Republicans don't like their protectionism and Democrats don't like their nativism. This feeds their sense of marginalization:

White working-class people were left, not necessarily dismissed, but they've received a lot of lip service from both political parties over the years who were never truly prepared to go all in on the things they most cared about. But perhaps even more importantly, neither party did much to symbolically represent white working-class people in terms of the candidates they selected and the language they used.

....Politics is all about perceptions, and perceptions are so much more important than reality in terms of predicting voting behavior....If we're trying to understand the political behavior of white working-class people, their sense of marginality and beleaguerment is real, and in their minds it's meaningful — and that's what matters in terms of our efforts to make sense of it.

In other words, you can tell them all day long that other people have it even worse, but that doesn't make things any better. In the entire history of the world, it's unlikely that this approach has ever made anyone feel any better.

But this raises a question that's poked at me for years. Let's just agree that the way we talk is important. Liberals certainly agree that it's important when it comes to marginalized groups like women, blacks, Muslims, and so forth. They want dignity and respect, and you can't use language that demeans them if you're trying to win their votes.

Fine. But at some point you also need some substance. Eric Holder fought back against the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats passed—and Obama signed—the Lilly Ledbetter Act. Hillary Clinton supported an increase in the number of Syrian refugees we accepted even though it was politically dangerous.

So if liberals want to appeal to the white working class, they need some substantive policies to go along with a change in attitude. But what would those be? This is where I keep coming up short.

  • Stop negotiating trade deals? OK, but we all know that this won't really accomplish much—and has plenty of downsides.
  • Bring back the manufacturing jobs? There's almost unanimous agreement that there's no way to do this.
  • Increase unemployment benefits and other forms of social welfare? That's not what they want. They want good jobs.
  • Childcare and maternity leave benefits? See above. Besides, Democrats already support this. Republicans are the roadblock.
  • Offer retraining and relocation benefits? I recommend you keep your distance when you suggest this. Most struggling working class folks (a) don't want this and (b) have heard it a million times and don't believe it.
  • Move lots of government agencies out of Washington DC and into the heartland? Maybe, but the overall impact would be small and would mostly provide middle-class service jobs anyway.
  • Bring unions back? That would be great, but Republicans will never let it happen.
  • Get tough on immigration? Rhetorically this worked pretty well for Trump, but the truth is that the white working class in the upper Midwest hasn't actually lost many jobs to Mexican immigrants—maybe none at all. In the end, I doubt that Trump will reduce illegal immigration much, and even if he does it won't have more than a minuscule impact on the white working class in Wisconsin.
  • Tax cuts? There aren't a lot of taxes to cut for families at working-class income levels. Besides, from a purely political standpoint, Democrats will never out-tax-cut Republicans.

Maybe there's some genuinely great idea that I haven't heard of. If so, I'm all ears. Beyond that, the only real possibilities seem to be some mix of moving rightward on social issues and paying less attention to the concerns of people of color. Those are nonstarters, I hope.

So what's the answer? These guys want us to bring back the 50s, and that's not possible. Are we supposed to adopt a campaign of pure gasbaggery, like Trump, with no actual substance to go along with it? Or are there truly some simple, concrete, and highly effective policies we could adopt to help out the white working class?