Here's the depressingly familiar latest news on California's bullet train:

The California bullet train authority has told its design engineers that the future system would have shorter trains and smaller station platforms, reducing the capacity of individual trains by roughly 50% and potentially the capacity of the entire Los Angeles-to-San Francisco route.

....The switch to shorter trains was disclosed in a Sept. 7 memo that outlined reductions in the size of future passenger platforms, based on a decision that the high-speed rail system would operate trains of only 10 cars. The previous plan was to operate a “double” train set, which could have up to 20 cars.

I'm too lazy to look this up, but my recollection is that the original financial projections were based on trains running every 15 minutes at 90 percent capacity for 19 hours per day. This was always kind of laughable, but if they cut the size of the trains in half then there's really no controversy anymore. The financial projections have to be cut in half too. Or so you'd think. But the Rail Authority says there's no problem: from LA to San Jose, they'll just run trains every five minutes.

This is ridiculous. If they could really do this, they would have done it from the start since it's a lot cheaper than building gigantic train stations to handle trains 1,400 feet long. So either they're guilty of gross financial negligence in the original plan, or else they're blowing smoke now. Who knows? Maybe it's both.

One other note: I love how these massive changes in the plan get slipped into bland memos that the Rail Authority hopes no one will ever read. In this case, it took the LA Times six weeks to track down the decision, which was made on August 29. I wonder who tipped them off?

Over at Vox, Ezra Klein talks to Molly Ball about what's driving the weirdness of this election. Here's Ball:

You have a world that feels like it’s on fire with terrorism and conflict abroad. You still have a very high number of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track. And people are still really fearful. The level of fear in the electorate — fear of terrorism, fear of crime — is at a 15-year high. People have not been this afraid since just after 9/11. And it’s gone up 20 points in the last year and a half.

Here's a chart from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that backs this up:

On the other hand, if we go back to Vox, we also get this:

Fear of terrorism is a poor third to corrupt government, and can't even beat out fear of clowns. I cut off the chart at the top seven, but even if you look at the whole thing, crime doesn't make the list at all.

So...I'm not sure that fear really explains a lot about this election. There's always something out there that makes us afraid, and God knows, Donald Trump has done his best to gin up mountains of fear this year—why else would lots of people be afraid of corrupt government, economic collapse, and gun rights infringement? But is fear in general a lot higher than in previous elections? I'm doubtful. It's sort of like the "anger" we hear about so often, but which doesn't actually seem to be any different than previous election cycles.

Maybe some political science boffin can take a deep look at the evidence and let us know. Is fear really higher this year than in previous presidential elections?

Here are a couple of interesting data points from On the left, you can see where Hillary Clinton is picking up votes compared to Barack Obama in 2012. Not from blue states or swing states, which are polling about the same as they did in the last election, but in red states. She's picked up a whopping 8.4 points from folks in red states who would presumably vote Republican in normal times, but just can't stomach Donald Trump.

On the right, you can see the cumulative total winning margin in CNN's post-debate instant polls since 1992. Clinton posted the best record of any candidate ever. Alternatively, you could say that Donald Trump posted the worst record of any candidate ever. It's not clear which is the more appropriate description, but even if you think Trump's meltdowns were the decisive turning points, Clinton employed a brilliant strategy for baiting Trump into losing his shit in front of a hundred million viewers. Either way, Hillary Clinton is one of the greatest presidential debaters of recent history.

With 19 days until Hillary Clinton is elected president, we can now turn our attention to what happens afterward. In particular, what happens to Paul Ryan?

Right now, things look grim for the Speaker. In last week's YouGov poll, only 37 percent of Republicans thought he was a weak leader. Then he abandoned Donald Trump for good, and now 51 percent say he's a weak leader. And why do they think he's so feeble? Last week, 26 percent thought he wasn't conservative enough. This week it's 25 percent. This suggests that views about Ryan are almost entirely driven by his estrangement from Trump, not by any problem with his ideology.

Then there's a new Bloomberg poll suggesting that Ryan's leadership future looks bleak. Republicans say they prefer Mike Pence, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz over Ryan.

What's more, as Martin Longman points out, Ryan has never been supported by the tea party faction in the House, and only barely won election as Speaker in the first place. Next year, Republicans will probably have a smaller majority, which means that it will take only a dozen or so defectors to deny him reelection.

So: the future looks grim for Paul Ryan, no? I'm not so sure. For starters, the YouGov poll doesn't impress me. In the heat of the moment, Trump supporters are turning against Ryan for abandoning their hero. But Trump is going to lose big league, and when that happens a lot of the Trump frenzy will die off. I imagine that once the fog clears, Ryan's standing with Republicans will pretty much return to normal.

Second, the Bloomberg poll is based almost entirely on name recognition and, again, the heat of the moment. Mike Pence is not going to lead the Republican Party. Neither is Donald Trump. And Ted Cruz is still just as disliked as ever.

In any case, none of this has much to do with whether Ryan can win reelection as Speaker. For him to lose, he either has to drop out or else the tea party caucus has to decide to vote against him. Will that happen? It might. But even tea partiers know that if they block Ryan, they'll be stuck in the same mess they were in last year: who can they agree on to replace him? There are very few plausible candidates around, and there are certainly no plausible candidates who are more conservative than Ryan. So it's hardly a slam dunk that they're going to touch off yet another party crisis by blocking him.

My advice: Wait and see. Things are going to cool down after the election, and Ryan may come out looking better than people think. If that happens, Ryan then has to make a choice about how to govern. Will it just be the usual obstruction? Or will he team up with Republican moderates to take the party back from the hostage-happy tea partiers, and even team up with Democrats occasionally to pass a few important bills that might revive the party's fortunes?

I'm not sure. But I wouldn't count Ryan out just yet.

It's lottery time!

This month the State Department opened a five-week window for visa applications from citizens of countries that historically have had low rates of immigration to the United States. The annual Diversity Visa lottery selects 50,000 winners who, along with their spouses and children under 21, can obtain green cards and become permanent U.S. residents.

Last year 9.4 million people and 5 million family members from more than 200 countries sought visas under the program. Those numbers included nearly 500,000 Iranians and 432,000 spouses and children, among the most of any country, though a slight decrease from 2014. About 5,000 Iranians were selected for visas; only Cameroon and Liberia had more winners.

Please please please, no one tell Donald Trump about this.

Many of you didn't watch the debate, but you still want to get a taste of it. I understand, and I'm here to help. So here are the top 17 moments of Trump from Wednesday's show.

Note: There were several passages of Palinesque babble from Trump that were basically incomprehensible. Examples here and here. I'm not including those.


I don't think we should have justices appointed that decide what they want to hear.

WTF does this even mean? I think Trump was making a point about a strict interpretation of the Constitution, but it's not really clear.


If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

Um, no. That's not how it happens, and Hillary Clinton doesn't support it.


We have some bad hombres here, and we're going to get them out.

Bad hombres! I assume t-shirts will be available soon?


She shouldn't be allowed to run. It's crooked — she's — she's guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run.

She shouldn't be allowed to run? Poor Donald, getting beat by a girl.


We're bringing [economic growth] from 1 percent up to 4 percent. And I actually think we can go higher than 4 percent. I think you can go to 5 percent or 6 percent. And if we do, you don't have to bother asking your question, because we have a tremendous machine. We will have created a tremendous economic machine once again.

Well sure! Maybe 10 percent. Or 20 percent. Why the hell not?


[Obamacare] premiums are going up 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent. Next year they're going to go up over 100 percent. And I'm really glad that the premiums have started — at least the people see what's happening,

Trump stopped himself just barely before he said he was glad that premiums are rising. Apparently even he realized that it looked bad to be rooting for people's misfortunes.


TRUMP: Look, Putin...from everything I see, has no respect for this person.

CLINTON: Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear...

TRUMP: You're the puppet!

Trump is supposedly the master of insults, but he frequently resorts to this kind of lame, kindergarten stuff. Here's another one:


CLINTON: ... unfit, and he proves it every time he talks.

TRUMP: No, you are the one that's unfit.


WALLACE: Mr. Trump, even conservative economists who have looked at your plan say that the numbers don't add up, that your idea, and you've talked about 25 million jobs created, 4 percent...

TRUMP: Over a 10-year period.

I'm including this because it's a first from Trump: he interrupted not to insult anyone, but to add a technical correction that made his plan look a little less awesome. And it was even accurate!

Now let's move on to the lies.


CLINTON: I find it ironic that he's raising nuclear weapons. This is a person who has been very cavalier, even casual about the use of nuclear weapons. He's...

TRUMP: Wrong.

Yes, he's been pretty cavalier about nukes. In fact, he was cavalier about them with Chris Wallace, the moderator of the debate. "Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea," he said. "With nukes?" Wallace asked. "Including with nukes, yes, including with nukes," Trump said. Much more here.


TRUMP: Look, she's been proven to be a liar on so many different ways. This is just another lie.

CLINTON: Well, I'm just quoting you when you were asked...

TRUMP: There's no quote. You're not going to find a quote from me.

CLINTON: ... about a potential nuclear competition in Asia, you said, you know, go ahead, enjoy yourselves, folks.

Back in May, Trump told Wolf Blitzer that other countries should pay us more for our protection. Blitzer asked if that meant allowing Japan and South Korea to become nuclear powers. "I am prepared to....all I’m saying is this: they have to pay. And you know what? I’m prepared to walk....if they don’t respect us enough to take care of us properly, then you know what’s going to have to happen, Wolf? It’s very simple. They’re going to have to defend themselves." More here.


You ran the State Department, $6 billion was either stolen. They don't know. It's gone, $6 billion.

No. The State Department's auditor found that paperwork for $6 billion in contracts was either incomplete or missing. That's all.


CLINTON: He held a number of big rallies where he said that he could not possibly have done those things to those women because they were not attractive enough for them to be assaulted.

TRUMP: I did not say that. I did not say that.

Yes, he said that. Hillary Clinton pointed this out immediately: "He went on to say, 'Look at her. I don't think so.' About another woman, he said, 'That wouldn't be my first choice.' He attacked the woman reporter writing the story, called her 'disgusting,' as he has called a number of women during this campaign."


CLINTON: Well, you know, once again, Donald is implying that he didn't support the invasion of Iraq. I said it was a mistake. I've said that years ago. He has consistently denied what is...

TRUMP: Wrong.

CLINTON: ... a very clear fact that...

TRUMP: Wrong.

Clinton is right. You just have to Google it. Several months before the invasion, Howard Stern asked him if he supported the invasion of Iraq: "Yeah, I guess so; I wish the first time it was done correctly."


About three months ago, I started reading that they want to get the leaders and they're going to attack Mosul....And the only reason they did it is because she's running for the office of president and they want to look tough. They want to look good.

This didn't get a lot of attention last night, but Trump is saying here that Obama and the US Army are assisting in a major military engagement solely to make Hillary Clinton look good. At this point it's hardly surprising to hear Trump say something like this, but that's only because our collective bar for outrage has been lowered to gutter level by now. In normal times, this would have been a major bit of news and pundits everywhere would be gabbing about it.


TRUMP: She has no idea whether it's Russia, China, or anybody else.

CLINTON: I am not quoting myself.

TRUMP: She has no idea.

CLINTON: I am quoting 17...

TRUMP: Hillary, you have no idea.

CLINTON: ... 17 intelligence — do you doubt 17 military and civilian...

TRUMP: And our country has no idea.

CLINTON: ... agencies.

TRUMP (in a heavily sarcastic tone): Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it.

This is Trump rather astonishingly suggesting that our intelligence agencies have no idea who's behind the recent of hack of Democratic emails. He's been briefed on this, but he nonetheless refuses to acknowledge that Russia is most likely the culprit.


CLINTON: Well, Chris, I am on record as saying that we need to put more money into the Social Security Trust Fund. That's part of my commitment to raise taxes on the wealthy. My Social Security payroll contribution will go up, as will Donald's, assuming he can't figure out how to get out of it. But what we want to do is to replenish the Social Security Trust Fund...

TRUMP: Such a nasty woman.

This was obvious bait from Clinton, and Trump dived headfirst into the trap. It was an entirely gratuitous interruption, and it's resonated very, very badly. It has now been co-opted by women, and I'm sure you can already buy t-shirts with "Nasty Woman" logos on them.


WALLACE: Your running mate, Governor Pence, pledged on Sunday that he and you — his words — "will absolutely accept the result of this election."...Do you make the same commitment that you will absolutely — sir, that you will absolutely accept the result of this election?

TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.

....WALLACE: But, sir, there is a tradition in this country...that the loser concedes to the winner and that the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?

TRUMP: What I'm saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense. OK?

This was the single biggest takeaway from the debate, and it drove most of the headlines. And it was a total own goal. Trump could easily have waffled slightly and made the same point: "I'll accept the results unless there's serious evidence of vote fraud." Something like that would have been OK, but he declined to hedge even slightly.

Here is Donald Trump this morning:

Whoa! How did that happen? Allow unskewing nutball Bill Mitchell to explain:

Bill Mitchell is this year's breakout Twitter star, and I am reliably informed that he is a real person who holds the views he expresses in his hundreds of tweets per day, not a parody account. You can read a profile of him here. Truly we live in miraculous times.

I figured the polling on this debate would be closer than before, but still give Hillary Clinton the win. I was sort of right. It was closer than the other two, but she still won by 13 points.1 That's a fairly impressive blowout.

The CNN folks seemed to think that Trump's late-debate dig at Clinton—"Such a nasty woman"—was what ultimately sunk him. I dunno. Maybe. There were plenty of other things that sunk him too, though, and just generally most Americans don't want a president who's ignorant, mendacious, mean, misogynistic, and unable to control his temper. I think that explains most of it.

1As you may recall, she won the first debate by 35 points, 62-27, and the second debate by 23 points, 57-34.

By normal standards, Trump was once again frenzied and hostile tonight. However, by Trump standards, he was surprisingly subdued. He had his moments, but not nearly as many as usual, and for most of the debate he managed to keep a level tone. I was joking about the Valium below, but I dunno. Maybe he really did get himself tranked before the debate.

I'm going to guess that the instant polls will show this one close to a draw. Maybe Clinton will come out a bit ahead. Basically, they both repeated the same attacks as they did in the first two debates, and they've lost some of their zest at this point. At about the 20-minute mark, Clinton started trying to bait Trump into melting down, but he generally resisted the temptation. Every time he started to get a little animated, it was like something blinked in his brain and he dialed himself back. He would have been more dangerous if he could have (a) dialed himself back even more, and (b) done this from the start.

Trump claimed, once again, that all the groping accusations are "pure fiction." He never met any of those women. I guess that includes the People reporter, who he pretty clearly met many times. He also lied when he denied saying that he was OK with Japan having nuclear weapons. He lied again when he claimed, as usual, that he opposed the Iraq War.

In the news department, Trump was very clear that no, he would not necessarily accept the results of the election. "I will look at it at the time.," he said. There's just too much election fraud for him to commit to anything. This was by far the biggest actual news of the debate. On the other side of the aisle, Clinton said the Senate should confirm President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court. Has she said that before? Maybe so, but I don't recall it. In any case, it was a very specific endorsement of Merrick Garland. Does that mean she'd renominate him if she wins?

Bottom line: by 2016 standards, this debate was a bit of a bore. It will have no effect on the election at all. However, Trump basically threatened to do—what? Well, something, anyway, if the election doesn't go his way. This is not a normal threat for a presidential candidate to make, but luckily I doubt the election will be close enough for him to gin anything up. I also doubt that the Republican Party will back him up.

A complete transcript is here.

God in His infinite wisdom has declared that there should be ten commandments, nine forms of devotion, an eightfold path, seven deadly sins, six remembrances, five pillars of faith, four ages of man, and three presidential debates. Mere mortals can't hope to comprehend why He would do this to us. Unless He's a She and wants us all to get a good long look at Donald Trump and then get our act together. That's probably it.

On with the show.

10:36 - And that's a wrap. A real wrap.

10:35 - Clinton delivers standard rah rah. Trump draws picture of America falling into an abyss.

10:34 - Wallace: We all agreed not to have closing statements, but I'm going to ask you for one anyway.

10:33 - Clinton says she will raise Social Security taxes, but won't cut benefits. She wants to expand benefits.

10:31 - Trump: I'm going to grow the economy so much that we'll have no need for entitlement reform. Now he's off on a rant on Obamacare. Trump says he's glad that premiums are going up.

10:28 - Clinton: Donald criticized President Reagan in 1987!

10:27 - Let's talk about the national debt. Why are both candidates ignoring it? Trump: I'll get GDP growth up to 4%. Hell, maybe 5% or 6%. Why not? As soon as we get rid of the political hacks, anything is possible.

10:18 - Clinton: "You are unfit." Trump: "No, you're the one who's unfit." Ooh! What a sick burn. If you're a first-grader, that is.

10:16 - Clinton calls out Trump for lying about his support for Iraq war. Mentions Celebrity Apprentice again.

10:14 - Trump now pretending he knows something about Mosul. Claims that ISIS leaders have already left because we announced attack three months ago. The whole battle is a sham to make Obama and Clinton look tough. The big winner will be Iran.

10:09 - Clinton: "This is very disturbing." Whenever Trump loses something, he claims things have been rigged.

10:08 - Trump on Clinton: "She's guilty of a very, very serious crime....She should never have been allowed to run for the presidency."

10:06 - Will Trump accept the results of the election? Trump: "I will look at it at the time."

10:05 - Trump is back on his schtick about how Hillary should have passed laws to stop him from doing all the sleazy stuff he does.

9:59 - Clinton (paraphrased): Trump is a creep. Trump: It was Clinton's campaign that incited all the violence at his rallies.

9:57 - Trump on the groping accusations: "Those stories have been largely debunked." I'm pretty sure the number that have been debunked is zero.

9:55 - Clinton: "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger."

9:53 - Trump says he thinks the Clinton campaign got all those women to say he groped them. "It was all fiction."

9:51 - Clinton: On the day I was in the Situation Room watching the raid on Osama bin Laden, Trump was hosting an episode of Celebrity Apprentice.

9:42 - Trump looks smug and congratulates Chris Wallace whenever he asks Clinton a tough question.

9:39 - Trump: "We're going to do a lot of things about college tuition." Like what? No telling, but it'll be way better than Hillary's lame tuition plan.

9:36 - Ah, excellent. The real Donald is back. He just denied saying he wouldn't mind if Japan built its own nuclear weapons, even though he's on tape saying exactly that.

9:34 - Trump interjects his first "Wrong."

9:32 - Trump: No one knows where the WikiLeaks stuff came from. Clinton: Intelligence agencies say it was Russia. Trump, sarcastically: "Yeah yeah, I get it."

9:31 - Trump starting to get a little more red-faced now.

9:29 - Are you in favor of open borders? Clinton: I was only talking about energy. And that all came from WikiLeaks anyway. Trump should denounce Russian espionage.

9:26 - Now Clinton is attacking Trump, hoping to bait him into melting down. It's bound to work eventually, isn't it? Not yet, though. Maybe he took a Valium before coming onstage?

9:25 - Clinton: Trump met with president of Mexico and didn't bring up the wall "He choked and then got into a Twitter war."

9:23 - Trump is against abortion, Clinton is pro-choice. Trump wants a wall, Clinton opposes a deportation force and favors comprehensive immigration reform.

9:16 - My, what a civil discussion so far!

9:13 - Now it's all about protecting toddlers from guns. Clinton is considerably more moderate on gun control than she was during the primaries against Bernie Sanders.

9:10 - Trump: Court needs to uphold the 2nd Amendment. Oh, and all the other amendments too.

9:06 - Clinton: We need a court that respects women's rights, LGBT rights, and opposes Citizens United. Court needs to stand up to the powerful. Senate should confirm Merrick Garland.

9:00 - Chris Wallace: No hootin' and hollerin'!

8:55 - None of the presidential candidates sent me birthday greetings today, so I don't know who I'm going to vote for now. This is a real lost opportunity for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Jonathan Chait writes today:

Religious Right Now Judgment-Free, Thanks to Donald Trump

Yeah, yeah, I know. They support Trump even though he's obviously not religious. Been there, heard it before.

But wait! Chait points to a new PRRI survey that's genuinely intriguing. It turns out that over the past five years, pretty much all religious groups have steadily given up on the idea of holding politicians accountable for their personal morality. However, the biggest change by far has come from white evangelicals. In 2011, they were the least willing to accept personal lapses. Today, they're the most accepting.

Is this purely political? In 2011, after all, their touchstone was a liberal Democratic president. In 2016 their touchstone is a conservative Republican presidential candidate. Maybe their willingness to forgive moral lapses is purely transactional: they forgive conservatives but not liberals. There's considerable evidence to back this up if you look at congressional races.

Still, Catholics and mainline Protestants have also moved in the same direction. The religiously unaffiliated have stayed about where they were. Are Christians just steadily abandoning the whole idea that personal morality matters in public life?

Maybe, but I think there may be an alternative explanation. I suspect that a lot of respondents interpret "personal" to mean "sexual." If that's the case, this survey may show something much narrower: that even conservative Christians are loosening up on the sexual front. If "personal immorality" largely conjures images of divorce and premarital sex and gay marriage and so forth, then this survey result just means they don't care about that stuff so much anymore. Is it possible the culture wars have moved on?