First there was Corey Lewandowski—but Donald Trump got tired of him. Then there was Paul Manafort—ditto. Now Trump is on Svengali 3.0.

So who is Steve Bannon, the latest guy Trump has chosen to spice up his flailing campaign? Well, he's the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the go-to destination for conservatives who consider Drudge and Fox News a little too restrained and statesmanlike. Still, a friend emails to say he is "wicked smart, not an erratic and self-destructive bomb thrower." Maybe! But I have to say that I hear this a lot about conservative bomb-throwers, and I'm a little jaded about their supposed brilliance. So let's allow Twitter to introduce Bannon to a waiting world.

First off, the definitive profile of Bannon comes from Josh Green. "He’s been a naval officer, investment banker, minor Hollywood player, and political impresario," he says. "Today, backed by mysterious investors and a stream of Seinfeld royalties, he sits at the nexus of what Hillary Clinton once dubbed 'the vast right-wing conspiracy,' where he and his network have done more than anyone else to complicate her presidential ambitions—and they plan to do more."

Ben Shapiro is a conservative darling who used to work for Breitbart News. He quit a couple of months ago, and writes today that Bannon "turned Breitbart into Trump Pravda for his own personal gain." He "openly embraced the white supremacist alt-right" and is a "vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies."

Bannon has never run a political campaign:

He's a big fan of Sarah Palin:

There you have it. Wicked smart or just plain nuts? Maybe both!

UPDATE: This post originally ended with a link to an article about Hillary Clinton using pillows, which I mistakenly credited to Breitbart News. It's actually at Heatstreet. Sorry about that. Time for another cup of coffee, I guess.

I've been bemused for a while by the support for Donald Trump among hard-core anti-immigrant pundits. Mainly this is because I wonder why they think he's serious about his wall. Pretty much everything he says and does is a con job of one kind or another, and there's no real reason to think he'd stick to his guns about the wall if he became president. Instead, since he doesn't actually care one way or the other about this, he'd probably cut a deal with Paul Ryan for some kind of comprehensive immigration reform—and it would have a far better chance of actually passing than it would if Hillary Clinton proposed it. For the anti-immigrant dead-enders, Trump is likely to be the worst possible choice.

More recently, though, I've also begun to think that Trump will be bad for the anti-immigrant crowd even if he loses. For starters, it's never good to have your signature policy associated with a loser. More to the point, though, we all know that public support for specific policies depends a lot on who they come from. When President Obama supports something, Republicans suddenly hate it. When Trump supports something, people who dislike Trump suddenly hate it. Since Trump is dropping in the polls like a rock, this suggests that support for getting tough on immigrants might be dropping too.

Michael Tesler reports that this is exactly what's happened:

A number of studies have found that Trump performed best in the primaries among the most anti-immigrant Republicans. But now, in the middle of the general election campaign, Trump is easily the most unpopular major party nominee in modern times. And his historic unpopularity may have also eroded support for the border wall.

The Pew Research Center gauged support for the border fence before and after June 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy. The percentage supporting the border fence was the exact same in 2007, 2011, and 2015: 46 percent. However, that dropped to 36 percent in March 2016.

In CBS/New York Times polls, public support for “building a wall along the US-Mexico border to try to stop illegal immigration” also dropped....The results from the RAND Corp’s Presidential Election Panel Survey (PEPS) are even more telling....The PEPS data reveal who was particularly likely to shift to opposing the border wall: people who did not like Trump in 2015.

....It appears, then, that Trump’s strong support for the border wall has made this policy considerably less popular with the American public.

Supporting Trump was always a high-risk strategy for supporters of a border wall. They put all their money on snake eyes, and it turns out the dice were not their friends.

Over at the Upshot, Margot Sanger-Katz shows us where terrorist attacks are a big problem:

Attacks on targets in the West are close to zero. So let's zoom in 100x or so:

Terrorist fatalities went up substantially in 2015, and probably in 2016 as well. But generally speaking, the trend has been downward over the past 40 years.

This will come as a surprise to some, but al-Qaeda and ISIS are not the first terrorist organizations in history. The 70s saw a huge outbreak of leftist terrorism in Europe, and the 80s suffered through an outbreak of terrorism from groups associated with Palestinians. It was bad enough that it became a minor staple in science fiction. I remember that future worlds in which terrorism was widespread became a common trope in the late 70s and early 80s. But terrorist attacks slowly faded away and continued to decline in the aughts with the obvious exception of 9/11.

So are we now entering a third wave of modern-era terrorism that claims a large number of victims in Europe and North America? Maybe. One or two years is not a trend, but they might be the beginning of one.

Donald Trump has decided that the big problem with his campaign is that it's just too damn stuffy:

Donald Trump, following weeks of gnawing agitation over his advisers’ attempts to temper his style, moved late Tuesday to overhaul his struggling campaign by rebuffing those efforts and elevating two longtime associates who have encouraged his combative populism.

Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the influential conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive....Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clear than ever, that the real-estate mogul intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side.

Apparently Trump has decided that if he's going to kick the bucket in November, he wants to do it with friends and family at his bedside when he breathes his last. Instead of losing by seven or eight points, he might lose by a dozen instead. But at least he'll put on a helluva show in the meantime.

Did Aetna pull back from the Obamacare market because they were losing money? Or was it payback for the Obama administration's refusal to approve their merger with Humana? Well, they were losing money. But in a letter to the Department of Justice last month, they made a pretty explicit threat: they would have "no choice" but to cut back their Obamacare participation if they were unable to take advantage of the "synergies" of the merger:

This comes from Jonathan Cohn, who obtained a copy of the letter. Full details here.

Real Americans Hate Obamacare

Paul Gordon is an Arizona doctor who decided to bicycle across America and chat with ordinary folks about Obamacare. It wasn't pretty:

The outpouring of resentment and apparent lack of empathy disturbed Gordon at first. “Not a lot of generosity of spirit,” he noted glumly over the phone early in his trip.

....In Pennsylvania, a restaurant owner complained about her rising insurance bills and told Gordon she was sick of her insurance payments covering other people’s medical care.

In a small cafe in western Minnesota, a 64-year-old woman accused the law of spawning widespread abuse. “Obamacare encourages people to take advantage of the system,” she told Gordon.

Outside a convenience store in eastern South Dakota, another woman said — somewhat ashamedly — that everyone in town thought Obamacare and Obama were terrible. “He just gives all the taxpayers’ money away to poor people,” she said.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, how did we get here?’” a dispirited Gordon told me as he struggled to decipher the anger.

I don't really have any comment to share about this. It's just kind of sad. Gordon, however, is a remarkable guy who can apparently see lemonade everywhere he looks:

“I actually feel inspired,” he said at one point....Physicians have been reluctant to talk to patients about the healthcare system....But, he reasoned, physicians could do far more to guide their patients through the system and explain how it works. Armed with better information, perhaps Americans would base their opinions about health policy on more than the kind of emotional responses he heard across the country.

“We, as doctors, need to help people understand,” he said.

Good luck to him. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that all this resentment and anger isn't based on ignorance of risk pools, medical cost ratios, and young invincibles. Better information isn't likely to make much of a dent in this.

I've never seen Morning Joe. It comes on at 3 am here on the West Coast, and that's a no-go time slot. This has probably warped my view of politics, since Washington DC really does seem to set its collective watch by what Joe and Mika say each morning. To me, though, they're just occasional ghosts that I see on YouTube clips.

Anyway, a friend writes to tell me that the topic of conversation today was the possibility of Donald Trump dropping out of the race before things get too humiliating for him. I've never really bought this, though I know plenty of people who think it's a live possibility. And if it's a topic on Morning Joe, I guess that mean it's entered the mainstream. Here is my friend's take:

One of the guests speculated that if the polling continued to be bad, Trump would likely try to find some way to get out that would allow him to claim some sort of victory. This makes sense because it's very typical of deal jockeys like Trump. They will always negotiate for the best deal they can get and claim victory with the whatever they end up with—and when an investment starts to go south, they will look for an out that gives them something for their pride even if they take a loss.

What they are not, however, are turnaround artists. Turnaround people are different types of investors that tend to get into the weeds with a company, build it up and then sell it for a profit. They cheerlead management, focus on boosting morale, improving PR, etc. These are often private equity/venture capital people.

Trump has never shown himself to be a turnaround guy. If the negative polling seems to stick over the next few weeks, it wouldn't surprise me if a creative reason for Trump to extricate himself surfaces. For example, I could see him decide to switch to a third party run on a write-in campaign (blaming the #NeverTrumpers, RNC dissenters, media, etc.). He won't win, but he could say he ran through the election but was ultimately betrayed by the Republican elites. Whoever ends up in the hot seat for the Republican nomination would then get the "historic loss" tag and Trump could say if the elites had stuck with him, he would have done better.

I dunno. No matter how Trump sells it, this kind of thing just seems too obvious. No one would buy it. At this point, the only way he could get out and retain even a shred of credibility would be to fake a heart attack. Remember, Donald: the symptoms should be on your left side. I know you're not into details like that, but don't blow it.

Here's How Driverless Cars Will Happen

Ford says it will have a fully driverless car by 2021:

Ford Motor Co. plans to release a fully driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals in the next five years, the latest salvo in a technological arms race engulfing the global auto industry. The Dearborn, Mich., auto maker on Tuesday said it would initially target ride-sharing fleets and package-delivery services with the unnamed model, underscoring the still-incremental approach many car companies are taking before offering vehicles to consumers that don’t require humans behind the wheel.

Ford expects the first of its driverless cars to be used by commercial-fleet operators looking to cut the costs of employing human drivers, company executives said. The vehicles largely will be confined to cities with pre-mapped zones designed for autonomous vehicles.

This is exactly how we should expect driverless cars to evolve. Here's how one eminent expert described it several years ago:

Take driverless cars. My newspaper is delivered every day by a human being. But because humans are fallible, sometimes I don't get a paper, or I get the wrong one. This would be a terrific task for a driverless car in its early stages of development. There are no passengers to worry about. The route is fixed. Delivery is mostly done in the early morning, when traffic is light. And the car's abundance of mapping and GPS data would ensure that it always knows which house is which.

The next step might be passenger vehicles on fixed routes, like airport shuttles. Then long-haul trucks. Then buses and taxis. There are 2.5 million workers who drive trucks, buses, and taxis for a living, and there's a good chance that, one by one, all of them will be displaced by driverless vehicles within the next decade or two.

Oh, shucks, that was me. And it was pretty obvious, so I hardly get any brownie points for it. Technology never goes from zero to finished in a single step.

By 2020 or so, we'll have fully autonomous cars but with limited capabilities. They'll do only specific things (delivering packages, delivering newspapers) or operate only in specific areas. Then the limits will be incrementally removed. Remove the area limitation but keep the fixed routes and you have long-haul trucking. Remove the fixed routes but keep the area limitation and you have taxis. Eventually you remove all the limitations, and you have driverless cars. That's probably around 2025 or so. Your glorious future awaits.

Bad News for Obamacare: Aetna Pulls Back

Here's some bad news for Obamacare:

Aetna is dropping Obamacare insurance in 69% of the counties and 11 of 15 states where it currently offers plans....The insurer blamed heavy losses for the move. In doing so, the company suggested that too many sick people are buying plans, not enough healthy people are paying premiums to make up for it and the government isn't making policy changes to fix it.

Unlike the earlier pullback by United Healthcare, which wasn't that big a deal, this is. Aetna did a lot of business on the Obamacare exchanges, and until recently claimed that it was a good investment. Now they've suddenly changed their mind. Why? No one can say for sure, but the skeptical among us suspect it's payback. The Obama administration blocked their proposed merger with Humana, so now they're going to exit Obamacare. Nyah nyah nyah.

Maybe. It's unlikely we'll ever find out. After all, Aetna has been losing a lot of money on the exchanges, so it could have been nothing more than a simple business decision. So what does it mean?

In the short term, it means more people will find themselves with only one choice for health coverage. In the longer term, it means that premiums are going to rise. Insurers massively underpriced their Obamacare coverage when the exchanges opened up in 2013, in an online version of the price wars we used to see between gas stations on opposite corners of the street. Eventually, as in any competitive market, this is unsustainable. Either prices go up, or inefficient producers drop out, or both. In this case, the answer is almost certainly both. Some insurers are dropping out, and Charles Gaba estimates that premiums are going to see a big upward bump next year, maybe in the range of 15-20 percent.

I've mentioned before that Obamacare premiums are still way under the original CBO estimates. The difference in 2016 was about $1,000. If I had to guess, I'd say insurers need to make up about half of that before the market stabilizes. An increase of 20-25 percent would just about do it, and I figure that's likely to take a couple of years. At that point we might see some insurers get back into the market.

This is messy, but it's the way markets work. A public option might have helped to smooth out this process—or it might have wiped out the private insurers completely. There's no way of knowing, since the devil is in the implementation details. In the meantime, we probably have a couple of years of health care rate hikes ahead of us. This won't affect low-income families too much, since subsidies will make up the difference, but it will definitely have an effect on middle-class families who have to pay market rates with little or no subsidy. Stay tuned.

Since we're speaking of sexist bullshit, here's some real sexist bullshit:

Roger Ailes, the former Fox News chairman ousted last month over charges of sexual harassment, is advising Donald J. Trump as he begins to prepare for the all-important presidential debates this fall.

Mr. Ailes is aiding Mr. Trump’s team as it turns its attention to the first debate with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, on Sept. 26 on Long Island, according to three people briefed on the move, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Two of them said that Mr. Ailes’s role could extend beyond the debates, which Mr. Trump’s advisers see as crucial to vaulting him back into strong contention for the presidency after a series of self-inflicted wounds that have eroded his standing in public opinion polls.

I know, I know, it's Donald Trump. His dedication to sleaze is off the charts. But seriously, Roger Ailes? After reading about the stuff he did at Fox News for 20 full years, he ought to be shunned from polite society for the rest of his miserable life. Instead, Trump is hiring him as his media coach. Jesus.