I have no idea what this is about, but....

A few days ago I mentioned that there were a few people who had attacked Trump and avoided return fire: Michelle Obama, Mark Cuban, and Warren Buffett. I guess now we're down to just the last two.

Sam Wang's meta-margin hasn't changed much in the past week. He now has Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 4.4 percentage points:

Wang's current prediction is that Clinton has a 99 percent chance of winning and will rack up 339 electoral votes. He still has the Senate tied, 50-50, but the Democratic meta-margin is up to 1.7 percent and the probability of Democratic control is 79 percent. On the House side, he has Democrats up by about 5 percent, which is not enough for them to win back control. Here's Pollster:

Clinton has dropped a point and is now 7.3 percentage points ahead of Trump. For what it's worth, if you look only at high-quality live phone polls, they have Clinton up by a whopping 9.5 percentage points. In the generic House polling, Pollster has Democrats ahead by 5.2 points, down a bit from last week.

If you add to all this the fact that Clinton almost certainly has a far superior GOTV operation compared to Trump, she could win the election by anywhere from 6 to 10 points depending on what happens over the next couple of weeks. Republicans appear to have resigned themselves to this, and are now putting all their energy into downballot races. This means the Senate is likely to be very close, and the House will probably stay in Republican hands—though only by a dozen seats or so.

With 18 days left in the 2016 campaign, what does Politico have to say about the state of the race? Let's take a look. First, they tell us that Donald Trump is doomed:

In June, POLITICO identified 11 key battleground states — totaling 146 electoral votes — that would effectively decide the presidential election in November. A new examination of polling data and strategic campaign ad buys indicates that six of those 11 are now comfortably in Hillary Clinton’s column....Even if Trump ran the table in the remaining battleground states — Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio — he would fall short of the White House if he cannot flip another state where Clinton currently leads in the polls.

But the WikiLeaks release of John Podesta's emails is causing Hillary Clinton a few problems of her own:

Some of the left’s most influential voices and groups are taking offense at the way they and their causes were discussed behind their backs by Clinton and some of her closest advisers in the emails, which swipe liberal heroes and causes as “puritanical,” “pompous”, “naive”, “radical” and “dumb,” calling some “freaks,” who need to “get a life.”

....Liberal groups and activists are assembling opposition research-style dossiers of the most dismissive comments in the WikiLeaks emails about icons of their movement like Clinton’s Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders, and their stances on trade, Wall Street reform, energy and climate change. And some liberal activists are vowing to use the email fodder to oppose Clinton policy proposals or appointments deemed insufficiently progressive.

The left has felt this way about Clinton since the start, so I'm not sure the email leaks really make a lot of difference. In any case, I assume they were always planning to fight for progressive appointments and causes, right? And now they're still planning to do that.

Finally, in other campaign news, you may have heard that the "jokes" at last night's Al Smith dinner were a wee bit rough. But Cardinal Timothy Dolan says it was all smiles in private:

Dolan said the three of them prayed together. “And after the little prayer, Mr. Trump turned to Secretary Clinton and said, ‘You know, you are one tough and talented woman,’” he recalled. “And he said, ‘This has been a good experience in this whole campaign, as tough as it’s been,’ and she said to him, ‘And Donald, whatever happens, we need to work together afterwards.’ Now I thought: This is the evening at its best.”

Well, he's a man of God, so I suppose he can't be lying about this. Maybe Clinton will appoint Trump Secretary of Homeland Security after it's all over.

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 538.com. 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.