Happy birthday to me! I'm 58 today. I plan to celebrate by liveblogging tonight's debate, which begins at 9 pm Eastern. My prediction: Donald Trump will show up to the debate bald as an egg. Like Lex Luthor before him, he will then embark on a life of crime and revenge aimed at Hillary Clinton, who he blames for destroying his hair because she was jealous of his genius.

Well, why not? It makes as much sense as anything else he's done.

Yesterday, the "quid pro quo" that totally should have landed Hillary Clinton in a Supermax for life was all the rage in Trumpian circles. J'accuse! She had one of her minions try to pressure the FBI into declassifying an embarrassing email! Today, Matt Zapotosky interviews FBI official Brian McCauley to get his take on his conversation with State Department official Patrick Kennedy last year. It started when Kennedy called him:

“He said, ‘Brian. Pat Kennedy. I need a favor,’ ” McCauley recalled in an interview Tuesday. “I said, ‘Good, I need a favor. I need our people back in Baghdad.” Then Kennedy, a longtime State Department official, explained what he wanted in return: “There’s an email. I don’t believe it has to be classified.”

....In an hour-long interview with The Washington Post, his first public comments on the matter, McCauley acknowledged that he offered to do a favor in exchange for another favor, but before he had any inkling of what Kennedy wanted....McCauley [] said he asked Kennedy to send him the email in question and then inquired with another bureau official about it....McCauley said that when he learned the missive concerned the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, he told Kennedy he could not help him.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not, I can’t help you,’ and he took that, and it was fine,” said McCauley.

Is this really how things went down? There's no telling. Obviously McCauley has an incentive to make this conversation sound routine and harmless. That said, McCauley's account is the only one we have, and it sounds perfectly plausible. This is how people talk.

What's more, it also sounds as if the FBI took another look at the email, turned down Kennedy's request, and that was that. There was no pressure and no further calls about it. Nor is there any evidence that Hillary Clinton or any of her staffers had anything at all to do with this.

This is what passes for a scandal in Trumpland. It's also what passes for a scandal in Republicanland these days. Is it any wonder that the public never took seriously Solyndra or Fast & Furious or IRSgate or Benghazi or any of the other manufactured conservative outrages of the past eight years? You can't keep crying wolf forever. Eventually everyone but the true believers just tunes you out.

Donald Trump's response to the tsunami of women saying he groped or attacked them is to flatly call them liars. The problem with this strategy is that it motivates his victims to defend themselves, thus keeping the stories in the news even longer.

Take Natasha Stoynoff, the People writer who accused Trump of attacking her after a photo shoot at Mar-a-Lago in 2005. Trump's response? "She lies! Look at her, I don't think so." As a result, this week People is running a second story quoting six colleagues and friends who have corroborated Stoynoff's account. That's 3 million readers who will see this story again, plus another gazillion or so who will see it from the inevitable follow-up on every gossip show and website in the country. And this helps Trump how?

If you read to the very end, Stoynoff gets in the final dig:

Stoynoff admits there’s a chance Trump simply pushed her own incident from his mind. “It’s possible he just doesn’t remember it,” Stoynoff says. “It was over 10 years ago and I assume I am one of many, many women.

In other news 21 days before we go to the polls, President Obama took on Donald Trump over his repeated remarks about the election being rigged:

Obama accused Trump of “whining before the game is even over” and described Trump’s remarks as “unprecedented.”

“I have never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place,” Obama said....The president, clearly troubled by Trump’s claims of a fixed election, quickly decided not to hold back. He described Trump’s allegations as a threat to American democracy and to the “integrity and trust” of the country’s civic institutions.

And it's not just Obama. Even Republicans are getting spooked by Trump's talk:

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former Oklahoma secretary of state, said he is worried about the alarm bells that Trump is ringing. “I just don’t believe there is any risk of massive voter fraud in the elections,” Cole said. “...It does concern me, because you’ve got a national platform running for president, and you delegitimize the process by which presidents are chosen when you raise doubts.

GOP leaders, who are fighting to preserve a fragile Senate majority and hold their wider advantage in the House, worry that Trump’s attacks could cast doubt on wins by other Republicans. Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, a Republican, declined through a spokeswoman to be interviewed. In a statement, his office said, “Security during elections and encouraging 100% voter participation in Florida” are Detzner’s “top priorities.”

And of course, Mike Pence himself repudiated his own running mate, saying on Sunday, "We will absolutely accept the result of the election." I sure hope so. It would be quite a spectacle if the vice presidential candidate conceded on Election Night but the presidential candidate didn't.

A friend emails:

I'm curious. The term "dumpster fire" has been thrown around a lot throughout this campaign, particularly as an unflattering description of the Trump campaign. Before this year, I have never heard this phrase used about anything or anybody. Am I just getting old and un-cool? Has the term been out there for awhile and I just haven't noticed? Or, maybe it's just a regional thing and dumpster fires are just not as common in Deputy Dawg-land as they are in, say, New York City.

Please help me out here. Where did this term come from?

I have good news: my friend is undoubtedly getting old and uncool, but that's not why he's confused. It really is a fairly new term of derision. Claire Fallon wrote an immensely long investigation of this topic a few months ago at the Huffington Post. There are two takeaways:

First, the word dumpster was originally trademarked by its inventor, a guy named George Dempster. Who knew? But it's now a generic noun.

Second, aside from its use in local news reports to describe actual dumpsters actually catching fire—a surprisingly frequent occurrence—Fallon figures that its origins as a put-down come from the sports world:

Linguist Mark Liberman, who works at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in a recent blog post, “A few years ago, I noticed hosts and callers on sports talk radio using the phrase ‘dumpster fire’ as a metaphor for chaotically bad situations.”...Another source, Mike Wise’s colleague Liz Drabick, agrees. When I spoke to Drabick on the phone, she remembered, “It definitely became a sports talk radio catchall phrase, I want to say around 2010, 2011.”...“I’m almost loathe to admit this,” she said, “because it’s not the same personality that I enjoy now, but it was definitely the Herd. It was Colin Cowherd.”

....Some more clues point to Cowherd as the popularizer, if not the coiner: a 2008 blog post by Joel Anderson, now a Buzzfeed reporter, opined, “to borrow a phrase from Colin Cowherd, McCain is turning into a dumpster fire right before our eyes.” In September 2008, an SBNation Syracuse blog quoted him slamming the college town like so: “That place is a dumpster-fire. It should be noted, one of the least-attractive college campus in the country [sic].”

It turns out there are a few earlier uses of dumpster fire, but they're scattered and never had any influence. It was, apparently, Colin Cowherd, circa 2008-11, who turned it into a phrase du jour. Then, earlier this year, the now-iconic GIF of a dumpster fire became an internet meme, and that was that. It fit the Trump campaign so perfectly that it made the leap into the mainstream.

Today brings bad news, good news, and more good news. On the bad news front, it's the second anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. Boo! On the good news front, it's been two years and I'm still alive and kicking. On the more good news front, here are the three latest polls out today:

This post is dedicated to my sister, who calls every day wanting to know if Donald Trump is really going to lose. Oh yes indeed. He's really going to lose. I hope these poll results are enough to bring peace and serenity to Drum households everywhere.

By the way, I attribute Hillary Clinton's strong results to her consistent outreach to women and her newfound outreach to cats. Until recently, our cats didn't care. But now they do—the female of the species, anyway. Here is Hopper diligently keeping an eye out for ruffians who might be inclined to vandalize a, um, local resident's Hillary yard sign.

In Pennsylvania yesterday, campaigning for fellow Republican Pat Toomey, John McCain made a promise:

I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up, I promise you. This is where we need the majority, and Pat Toomey is probably as articulate and effective on the floor of the Senate as anyone I have encountered.

McCain later "clarified" that he didn't actually mean what he plainly said, and by the rules of American politics that means we are now supposed to pretend he never said it.

But he did say it. The question is whether he really meant it, or whether it was just campaign blather that went a little too far in the heat of the moment. This is especially salient since McCain was one of the original Gang of 14 who promised to forestall Republican threats to end judicial filibusters back in 2005. If even McCain is on board with endless blind filibusters, we're in trouble.

My personal guess is that this was, in fact, just campaign rhetoric. After all, at some point government has to work. The Supreme Court needs nine members. The federal government needs a budget. The country has to pay its debts. Even Republicans get that.

Then again, maybe they don't. It's a little hard to tell these days. It might be safer all around to simply make sure Democrats get a majority in the Senate and not take any chances.

Hey there, fellow Californians! Are you confused by the phone-book-sized "guide" we all got for the November election? I've got you covered. My guide to the 17 initiatives on the ballot this year weighs in at a svelte 1,600 words, which comes to a mere 100 words per initiative. I usually post this closer to Election Day, but with everyone doing the early voting thing these days, I figured I should put it up earlier. You can read it here.

I should note that I'm not generally a fan of initiatives, and I'm especially not a fan of a few specific things that are common to a lot of initiatives. I list these at the top of the guide, and I point them out whenever they're relevant. That way you can see what's motivating me, and can decide for yourself whether to take my quirks seriously. Happy voting!

Melania Trump

With only 22 days left in the campaign, Melania Trump did her best today to defend her husband, telling CNN that Donald's "grab 'em by the pussy" remark was actually all Billy Bush's fault:

Melania Trump says her husband was "egged on" in the 2005 tape in which he made lewd comments about his own sexually aggressive behavior toward women...."And as you can see from the tape, the cameras were not on — it was only a mic. And I wonder if they even knew that the mic was on," she said, referring to Trump and NBC's "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush.

She said they were engaged in "boy talk, and he was led on — like, egged on — from the host to say dirty and bad stuff."

The cameras weren't on! So there's no telling what was really happening on that bus. It's funny, isn't it? I always figured Donald for the strong kind of guy who couldn't be pushed around by a muffinhead like Billy Bush, but lately I've begun to wonder if we ever really knew Billy. The man apparently has Svengali-like powers that, um...what was I just saying? It seems to have escaped me.

Well, let's move on. Last year, it was conventional wisdom that even if Trump lost the election, his businesses would win big. But that's no longer so certain. Here's the New York Times:

An online travel company, Hipmunk, has found that bookings for Trump hotels on its site fell 58 percent during the first half of 2016, compared with the same period a year ago.

Here's New York magazine on Trump's new hotel in Washington DC:

Even with a prime location near the White House, swanky interiors, and aggressive promotion by the candidate himself, empty rooms have forced the hotel to reduce rates during a peak season....Last weekend bankers and dignitaries from around the world descended on Washington for the annual World Bank-IMF meetings. But just a few days before the conference, rooms were not only still available at Trump International, they were heavily discounted....All other five-star D.C. downtown hotels were sold out. By Wednesday, October 5, weekend stays in the deluxe rooms were marked down to $404 per night on Trump International’s own website. The more luxurious 500-square-foot executive rooms, with a city view and marble bath, were only $484. By comparison, at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, the only available rooms were $1,139 per night, according to Hotels.com.

And here's the Washington Post on data from FourSquare:

The app, which allows its users to “check in” at locations they visit, shows that foot traffic to Trump-branded casinos, hotels and golf courses continues to be lower than it was before his candidacy, especially in blue states.

Foursquare and its sister app, Swarm, have used their data on the foot traffic of more than 50 million users to investigate how businesses are performing in the past for retailers, hedge funds, real estate developers and others....Foursquare data shows that the visit share to Trump properties in September 2016 was down 19 percent compared with two years prior.

Perhaps there's some justice in the world, after all.

A guy in Santa Clarita called police Sunday morning after firing a warning shot in the air at a knife-wielding clown:

The clown fled the scene on foot, and the homeowner called 911, said Sgt. Cortland Myers of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s station. Deputies responded to the scene and could not find a knife-wielding clown, Myers said.

....Was there in fact a knife-wielding clown in the suburbs of Santa Clarita?...Deputies did discover a man with a clown mask hiding in some bushes a few blocks away from where the warning shots were fired — a sighting “unusual for that time of morning,” Myers said.

However, “the homeowner didn’t identify this clown as the correct clown,” Myers said. “His guy had a full clown costume and a mask, and the clown he saw was taller.”

So how did this story end, anyway? Well, the police didn't find a clown, but they did find that the caller was in possession of weapons and narcotics and arrested him. I guess the clowns won this round.

The Wall Street Journal takes a look today at the latest document dump from the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server. Unsurprisingly, the State Department disagreed with many of the classification decisions made by the FBI, and a senior State official, Patrick Kennedy, lobbied to have them changed. Then there's this:

When the FBI official refused to accede to the request, according to the summary, Mr. Kennedy went to a senior FBI official and offered what the official called a quid pro quo: “in exchange for marking the email unclassified, State would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more agents in countries where they are presently forbidden,’’ according to a summary of the FBI interview of the unidentified witness.

Alternatively, there's this:

A senior FBI official told investigators that Mr. Kennedy reached out to him seeking help on the email issue, saying he wanted a different classification that would “allow him to archive the document in the basement of the [State Department] never to be seen again.’’ In response, the FBI official said he would “look into the email matter if Kennedy would provide authority concerning the FBI’s request to increase its personnel in Iraq.’’ That arrangement was ultimately rejected by others at the FBI.

So either State offered a sleazy deal or else the FBI offered a sleazy deal. I guess we'll never know which.

But I have an entirely different question: Why is the FBI involved in classification decisions regarding State documents about foreign affairs? I've been a little fuzzy all along about where the classification decisions came from, and this is the first time that it's seemed absolutely clear. But why? I thought the CIA and other members of the intelligence community did this stuff.

Also, no one knows what the hell is classified and what isn't. It's a mess.