Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trump v. Clinton

It's pointless, I think, to pretend like there are still races going on for the Republican and Democratic nominations for President. There's still a fair amount of "it's not over yet!" talk out there, but it's rooted in fantasy at this point.

Trump is going to win the nomination outright; there will be no second, third, or fourth ballot at the Republican National Convention. Neither Paul Ryan nor anyone else will swoop in at the last moment and save the Repubs from Trump. And the powers that be in the RNC are fully aware of this now. They're already starting to justify shifting their support to the man they claimed would doom the Republican Party. It's something they have to do, after all. There's more than just the Presidency at stake, come November. Supporting Trump is an absolute necessity in order to maximize support for the rest of the Republican ticket in each and every State.

On the other side, the surety of Hillary Clinton's nomination is finally an actual surety, after a mere nine years (because in 2007, Clinton was regarded as an absolute lock for the 2008 nomination). Sanders pushes on, but not so much to win as to continue to have a voice, to keep his message front and center, and perhaps to influence the platform of the national party. But Clinton will be the nominee. And in this regard, her supporters feel certain she will then be the next President of the United States. Their surety here is akin to their surety of her winning the nomination: it's founded on the assumption that Hillary Clinton is awesome and unmatched, with regard to her knowledge, her experience, and her political acumen.

To be sure, Clinton's knowledge withe regard to policy and foreign affairs dwarfs Trump's. Ditto for experience: she's been a First Lady, a U.S. Senator, and a Secretary of State. Trump's been a reality TV star and a WWE sideshow. But what about that political acumen? Trump dispatched his Republican rivals largely by being himself. That is to say by acting like an obnoxious, overbearing bore, insulting everyone without a second thought, and treating the truth like it was a foreign land. Ask a Clintonite how such a strategy will go over in a race against Clinton and they'll probably laugh it off.

They'll say Clinton is too smart to get caught up in the kind of back and forth insult-fest that has characterized much of the Republican race. They'll say Clinton is too experienced to get knocked off message by such nonsense. They'll say Clinton's team is too professional to allow a descent into the gutter.

Ten will get you twenty, supporters of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz were singing this same song not all that long ago. And we know how they all held up to the non-stop attacks from The Donald. Don't we?

Speaking of Jeb Bush, here's an interesting thing that many people perhaps overlooked when he announced his candidacy: the man had never really won a tightly contested political contest. He was governor of Florida, true, but he ran against, well, weenie opponents in both 1998 and 2002 (no offense to Mackay and McBride). Don't get me wrong, Bush ran good campaigns, mostly because he had a lot of money and because he had access to his father's political machine, but he wasn't facing stiff competition. Especially since that competition was dumb enough to alienate minority voters in 1998. And the 2002 race was something of a walkover, given 9-11 and who was in the White House. It's also worth mentioning that in 1998, Bush basically ran unopposed for the nomination, as well. In 2002, he was the incumbent, so the nomination race was practically non-existent.

Source: The Independent
Of course...Bush lost his first run at the governorship in 1994, even though that was the year of the Republican Wave. Why did he lose? Well his opponent then was Lawton Chiles, who is to pushovers what Gary Busey is to sanity. The contest eventually turned nasty and Chiles eked out a win. As far as tight, difficult contests go, that was it for Jeb Bush: one tough race, one defeat.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in Chappaqua? Well, consider this: Clinton has been in exactly three political contests prior to this current one. She ran for Senator in New York in 2000 and defeated Rick Lazio fairly easily. But she did so primarily because of her name, her husband's political machine, and the fact that Rudy Giuliani had to withdraw from the race, due to health reasons and personal problems. Lazio stepped in late in the game and got creamed. And she basically was handed the nomination. Her reelection campaign in 2006 was a snooze-fest. The Republicans ran John Spencer, an almost unknown quantity outside of Yonkers, and he was crushed by the Clinton machine (in much the same way as McBride was crushed in Florida in 2002 by the Bush machine). In both races, Clinton out-fundraised and outspent her opponents with ease (again, not unlike Jeb Bush).

Then came the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination. We all know what happened there. Clinton had her name, she had the Clinton machine, she had experience, and she had the cash (she outspent Obama by over $20 million). The Clintonites assumed she would win with ease. And of course she lost. Let's be clear here: she lost big. The race was the costliest primary in U.S. history, and this is because Clinton went balls to the wall with her spending in an effort to fend off a challenger who was, quite simply and quite apparently, a better candidate: better at campaigning, better at connecting with people, better at giving speeches, better at debating, just better.

And I think on balance, all of this begs a question: just how good is Hillary Clinton, really? She failed her only real test (just like Jeb Bush). Now, we're supposed to believe that her skill set is just so damn impressive, no one can go toe to toe with her, especially not a loud-mouthed horse's ass like Donald Trump? Pardon me for doubting the narrative.

Hey, I don't want Trump to be President. I don't want Clinton, either. But I can't shake this feeling that Clinton's weaknesses are going to be exposed and exploited by Trump, that his constant needling and jabbing is going to get under Hillary Clinton's skin, and is going to make her come across as even less likable (let's be honest, no one really wants to sit down and have a beer with Hillary Clinton). She might even end up in the gutter with Trump, at which point the race will be over and our next President will be a reality TV star with a bad hairpiece.

God, that's a depressing thought. But only slightly less depressing is the thought that our salvation is in the hands of Hillary Clinton. Because I don't think she has the game that most are assuming that she has. She never did.

We will see.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Trump supporters, it's time for a humanity check

The other day, current chief of the CIA Richard Brennan told NBC News that he will not authorize the use of waterboarding (or other "harsh" interrogation techniques) by the CIA as long as he is in charge:
"I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I've heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure," Brennan said... 
"Absolutely, I would not agree to having any CIA officer carrying out waterboarding again," he said.
In response to Brennan's comments, Donald Trump—on Fox and Friends—said this (per Politico):
“Well I think his comments are ridiculous," Trump said in a telephone interview Monday with "Fox & Friends." "I mean, they chop off heads and they drown people in cages with 50 in cage in big steel, heavy cages, drop ‘em right into the water, drown people and we can’t waterboard and we can’t do anything..."
"We’re playing on different fields, and we have a huge problem with ISIS, which we can’t beat. And the reason we can’t beat them is because we can’t use strong tactics, whether it’s this or other thing," he continued. "So I think his comments are ridiculous. Can you imagine these ISIS people sitting around, eating and talking about this country won’t allow waterboarding and they just chopped off 50 heads?”
Currently, waterboarding by any agency in the United States is prohibited by Executive Order 13491 (issued by President Obama on January 22, 2009). The United States Army banned waterboarding in 2006, along with a host of other "enhanced interrogation" techniques. So Brennan's statement is hardly inconsistent with current laws and rules. Obviously, however, Brennan is also saying he wouldn't authorize waterboarding even if he was told to do so by the President. Which of course makes the issue a drop dead one for Brennan: he'll quit or get fired before he'll do it, that's the implication.

Now, I'm not interested in rehashing the entire debate over "enhanced interrogation." Suffice it to say that I think the term is complete and utter bullshit; it was designed to avoid calling some things torture that absolutely are torture. I'd have a lot more respect for the people defending the use of these techniques if they just said they thought torture was sometimes justifiable (and to be fair, there are some who are willing to say that). Hanging one's hat on semantics, on legal technicalities indicates—to me—an underlining realization of one's lack of intellectual honesty.

That said, I'm equally dismissive of the people who insist "torture doesn't work" is an absolute, that it's pure truth. It's not. Torture can work; it depends on specifics, on the goal of the torture, on the parties involved, on the information being sought.

But all that aside, I think torture is just flat-out wrong. It's something that only little people, silly people would seek to legalize, people who are greedy, barbarous and cruel. And of course it's at odds with the Constitution. Those who would condone it really need to take a hard look at themselves, their world-view, and their personal ideology.

I know Trump's rhetoric, his willingness to say some things in very plain English that others dance around and avoid, appeals to many, many people. But let's take a closer look at what he's saying here. Again, Brennan's position is a firm line-in-the-sand one: he won't authorize water-boarding or other harsh techniques, period. And again, such techniques are currently prohibited, both by executive order and by US Army regulations. And Trump calls this "ridiculous." What's ridiculous? That Brennan has a firm position, with regard to the use of torture by agents of the US Government? Trump can disagree of course, but there's nothing ridiculous about Brennan's position.

Worse still, Trump offers up a completely irrelevant comparison as justification for his claim: he notes that (paraphrased) "ISIS is chopping off heads and we can't even waterboard people!" I seriously urge any Trump supporters reading this to think long and hard on what he is saying. Essentially, he's complaining that ISIS is somehow getting a free pass to commit horrible atrocities and that somehow allowing torture would even up the playing field to some degree. Trump's comments beg the question: should we also get to cut off some heads, as well? Just for fun?

ISIS isn't cutting off heads to get information; these acts are not a part of their interrogation techniques. ISIS is cutting off heads to instill terror throughout regions they control or are trying to control. They're cutting off heads for the purposes of—in their minds—fortifying that control, in much the same way that the Romans used to decimate conquered peoples ("decimate" means to destroy one tenth of a group; the Romans would put one tenth of a local population to the sword as a means of establishing their authority).

Setting aside the usefulness of such an approach, it points to the profound lack of humanity exhibited by ISIS. It makes ISIS and its supporters the scum of the Earth, in my opinion.

Yet, Trump is latching on to this lack of humanity as a basis for what should or shouldn't be allowed in the United States. And he's doing it ass-backwards: rather than pointing to the transgressions of ISIS and saying "see how horrible they are, we would never do that," he's saying "see how horrible they are, we should get to be a little bit horrible, too."

It's a revolting argument, in my opinion. It demonstrates quite clearly that Trump is neither a moral nor humane person, that others are mere objects to him, there to be used in whatever way he sees fit. And people are actually supporting this clod, actually want him to be President?

Time to look into the mirror, Trump supporters. Is what you're seeing really what you want to see? I hope not.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Psychopathology in the age of social media

A friend on Facebook recently posted the following joke image:

Now, the point of this joke is that people go googling whenever they or someone they know is sick; they check the symptoms against internet medical sources and then pronounce a diagnoses, based purely on their googling (or "binging") ability, their "google-fu," as it were. This tendency is even addressed on an episode of the television show The Big Bang Theory, when Sheldon determines he has some obscure disease, based on an internet check of his symptoms (the specific episode escapes me at the moment).

All humor aside, there is a serious element at play here: most people are not medical doctors and an internet search is not a sufficient replacement for an actual educated medical opinion when it comes to one's health. What to do when one is nauseous? Sure. How to treat a cold or basic flu-like symptoms? No problem. But any sort of persistent problems, serious pain, or strange symptoms? Get thee to a doctor or a hospital.

But internet doctorates aren't limited to the field of medicine. Many people have internet doctorates of history, of political science, of economics, etc. In fact I have all three, as frequent readers of my blog no doubt already realize. But one internet doctorate I do not possess is that of medicine. Because giving advice to someone about their health is a very different thing then telling them who they should or shouldn't vote for, isn't it?

Still, many people on social media are not deterred in the least in this regard. They'll offer all sorts of diagnoses, treatments, and even remedies, for everything from a splinter to cancer. And similarly, there are a lot of internet psychologists and psychiatrists out there, as well (remember, psychiatrists can write prescriptions because they have medical training that psychologists do not have). They'll offer all sorts of pronouncements about people, including celebrities, politicians, people and the news, and yes, even fictional characters (the above-mentioned Sheldon Cooper, for instance, has been roundly diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome), insist that this person or that person should be on medication, be it Ritalin or what have you.

In this regard, people love to proclaim that so-and-so is a sociopath or a psychopath, has borderline personality disorder, or suffers from some other mental disorder (the study of mental disorders is known as psychopathology, by the way). This is particularly true with regard to politicians (and for many people, Hollywood). If one listens to social media, Congress is quite literally full of sociopaths or psychopaths.

For purposes of this discussion, it is useful to understand the generally accepted differences between "sociopath" and "psychopath." From Psychology Today (and yes, I realize I'm guilty of googling symptoms here):
Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include: 
  • A disregard for laws and social mores 
  • A disregard for the rights of others 
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt 
  • A tendency to display violent behavior
Got that? Now, what separates the two:
Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed...

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature...
The article goes into some more depth with regard to criminal behavior, but that's really not what concerns me here. Note the key differences: education level, the ability to hold a job, the ability to "fit in" with society. It's the psychopath who tends to be better educated, who can keep a job, and who can fit in. Thus, it's the psychopath who is harder to spot, to identify, as a matter of course.

People like to toss around sociopath, I think, because it sounds better somehow than psychopath, perhaps because it is (or maybe was) a less-used term. Calling someone a sociopath is bad, but somehow people think maybe it's not quite as bad as a psychopath? Now that might actually be true. Psychopaths could very well be more dangerous on average than sociopaths (I can't really say). But in general, the public figures being diagnosed as sociopaths, the ones in Congress or Wall Street or elsewhere, they don't fit very well under the sociopath umbrella. They're not living on the fringes of society, they are well educated, and they appear to able to generally get along in everyday society, internet diagnosis or not.

For instance, there's this recent turkey who has been in the news of late, a rather young Edward Lewis type (Richard Gere's character in Pretty Woman) who gobbled up a pharmaceutical company, then jacked up the price on a very specific drug in the hopes of scoring a quick billion. You know who I'm talking about now, don't you? Since that all thankfully turned to shit for this turkey, he's been whoring around social media, engaging in small-minded braggadocio and other generally narcissistic behavior. He's what I would usually call an ass clown (shout out to Chris Jericho).  But look around the internet. There are many articles, blog posts, and discussions labeling him a sociopath.

Yet he doesn't really fit the definition, does he? He's educated, very smart, makes money, and is no where close to living on the fringes. And there are plenty of people more than happy to pal around with him, work with him or for him. So maybe he's a psychopath (to be fair, many articles and posts have noted this distinction and labelled him a psychopath all along)?

I don't know. I do know that I think he's an ass clown. And I do know the people willing to cozy up to him (because he has money) know exactly how he is but simply don't care. Using him is more important to them. Which of course is fine with him, because he is doing exactly the same thing.

Still, the question is: is it valid to label someone like this a psychopath at all? Or a sociopath? Do armchair psychiatrists on the internet have enough information in this regard? And following that, is such pseudo-diagnosing helpful in some way?

Last question first: no, I don't think it is helpful. In fact, I think this diagnosing is itself symptomatic of an internet-based nastiness that is slowly working it's way into real life exchanges. This goes beyond insults and name-calling. I'm talking about a worldview, wherein people pass judgment on others first and foremost to stroke their own egos. In my opinion, people heavily (and I do mean heavily) involved in social media have one of two purposes/goals: 1) trolling or 2) ego-stroking. Really, trolling can be seen as a form of ego-stroking, so we might even say there is just one purpose/goal. Regardless, the great majority of the dogpilers out there, the people who jump on others, claim to be "social justice warriors, " what have you, there disingenuous, in my opinion. They care far less about the cause they are championing than they do about getting recognition for their actions or for simply being seen as a part of something bigger than themselves, for simply belonging.

And look at that, in just one paragraph I've slipped into my own game of diagnosing the behavior of others, of putting on my analyst hat and passing judgement on people I don't know, will never know! Ahh, the internet...

Of course, I'm not dealing with a specific person and I'm not defining people with specific clinical labels. So to the second question: the short answer is no, people do not have enough information to label someone a sociopath or a psychopath. The longer answer involves understanding that despite the apparent vastness of information available on the internet, we can't really know people we don't actually know. And understanding that everyone has an agenda and that therefore things cannot always be taken at face value.

Thus, the answer to the first question seems apparent: it's not valid to label people psychopaths or sociopaths on the internet as a matter of course. The people doing the labeling lack the necessary first-hand knowledge and—usually—the intellectual background (sometimes actual psychiatrists and psychologists do this, label people on the internet, and they're wrong, too) to do what they are doing.

Still, I have hunch that this kind of labeling is only going to increase, not only because it's fun and easy (for those desperate for an ego-stroke), but also because the explosion of information about people on the internet is only going to provide more targets. And in turn, this is only going to breed more nastiness on the internet that will slowly filter back into real life.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Breaking news: CNN proposes to Donald Trump!

Source: NewsBusters
For three days now I haven't seen anything being discussed on CNN but Donald Trump. I know the news network must have covered some other things, but every time I've flipped over to the channel, the topic has always been Trump. Always. Morning, noon, night, one round table after another of the well-heeled intelligentsia has been discussing the impact of Trump's refusal to participate in the latest GOP debate.

And CNN spent most of yesterday pimping Trump's counter-event, both on the air and on it's website. From what I understand, CNN also carried much of the event live (I didn't watch; you couldn't have paid me to). Today has been no different so far, with all of CNN's morning-after-the-debate coverage seemingly focused on whether or not Trump magically "won" the debate by having his own event. Which, on its face, is quite ridiculous, given that FoxNews routinely massacres CNN in the ratings. With a GOP debate, the numbers are going to be even worse than usual, I'll wager.

Of course, this is the real gambit for CNN: a roll of the dice with the non-stop Trumping, a hope that somehow this will translate into big ratings for the network. That's all there really is here. CNN has basically dropped the idea of being a news network completely, in favor of being what amounts to 24-hour reality show starring Donald Trump and a cast of hundreds of pseudo-intellectuals.

If FoxNews is a faux news organization that serves as a mouthpiece for the Far Right (it actually is not), then CNN is little more than an empty vessel seeking nothing but ratings (it actually is).

To be clear here, though, I don't fault Trump in this particular instance at all. He's out there, doing his shtick. No one has to pay attention to him, no network is required to provide him with nonstop coverage. The decision to do so was wholly that of CNN's management, I am sure.

Full disclosure: CNN has always been my news network of choice, not because I like the talking heads there (I don't), but because the crawl is well done and breaking news is generally well-handled. But I can't stomach non-stop self-promotion, which is exactly what was going on here. CNN was pimping Trump in order to be cast as the go-to source for Trump news. It's shit TV, shit journalism, shit reporting. So I won't be watching anymore, at least until CNN cleans up its act or Trump implodes into a fog of dandruff and snark.

For point of comparison, I've had to adjust my radio listening habits for similar reasons now and again. I used to listen to the Glenn Beck Show (because I found it entertaining) many years ago. Then, the show became a non-stop infomercial for some stupid sweater book Beck had written. I turned it off and have never looked back. More recently, I had to stop listening to the Rush Limbaugh Show (again, I listen because it's entertaining). Why? Just like Beck, Rush started pimping his books non-stop. In this case, the books were Rush's children's series: Rush Revere and the somethings or others. Not entertaining. In both cases, it was shit radio. So I stopped listening.

As bad as the above two were, though, CNN is worse because Beck and Rush never claimed to be news sources. Both recognized that they were entertainers (Beck eventually went off the deep end). CNN actually still claims to be a news org. But it's not. Not as long as it persists in this extended romance with Donald Trump.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kid gloves, bees, and fleas

There is an expression that I'd wager most people have heard or even used themselves: to handle (or treat) something with kid gloves. The sense of this expression is that of a gentle or delicate approach: whatever is being handled is being handled carefully. For instance, a tense diplomatic situation might require "kid gloves." Or someone tasked with laying off employees might be told by management to "handle it with kid gloves."

Source: Harvard Business School
But what does the phrase actually mean? Some might assume that the "kid" in the phrase "kid gloves" is some sort of age-based reference, that the idea is to be as gentle as one would be with a child. And while such an understanding works, for all intents and purposes, it is not correct in the least. Kid gloves are in fact a specific type of gloves that became popular among the upper class of 18th century England (and other parts of Europe). They are gloves made from the skin of a kid, a young goat. As such, they are delicate, soft, and very light-colored (almost white, in fact). Think of the gloves butlers are usually depicted as wearing in period pieces and you'll have the right idea. Or of a wealthy woman sitting in a salon sipping tea and wearing white gloves.

Thus, the sense of the expression—to handle something carefully—is a product of the nature of the gloves. Kid gloves are not work gloves, they are not appropriate for farming, for loading cargo, for working in a factory, etc. They are too easily dirtied and damaged, so one must be careful when wearing them.

Now, kid gloves—made from kid leather—were not cheap in the eighteenth and nineteenth century world. And since they were not useful in the ways that other leather gloves were, they were very much luxury items (thus making them even more expensive, since the people buying them tended to be wealthy). And in the past—like in the current world—there always existed "knock off" kinds of goods, especially with regards to fashion. Kid gloves were, as I said, made from the skin of young goats. But glovers (people who made gloves) often used lambskin instead, as it was more plentiful and cheaper than goatskin. As long as such knock-offs had the right color and seemed soft enough, few buyers could tell the difference. And really, what difference did it really make? One was as good as the other, right?

Sure. Tell that to someone with a knock-off Rolex or Chanel bag today who thought they were buying the real thing. We're talking major status symbol here. A well-to-do women in eighteenth century England would be mortified to discover her gloves were not real kid leather, especially if this was pointed out by a contemporary. So, getting lambskin gloves when one paid for kid gloves was a real thing, on par with getting an 8-karat gold ring today when one paid for a 24-karat gold ring. Rip-off! Outrageous!

As evidence of this, consider the following passage from Bernard Mandeville's 1705 poem, The Grumbling Hive (which I've previously provided in full):
One, that had got a Princely Store,
By cheating Master, King, and Poor,
Dared cry aloud; The Land must sink
For all its Fraud; And whom d'ye think
The Sermonizing Rascal chid?
A Glover that sold Lamb for Kid.
The poem itself is often wrongly (though understandably) referred to as The Fable of the Bees. In reality, the latter is the name of the book Mandeville wrote about the ideas in the poem, principally that of how private vices resulted in public goods, essentially an argument for spontaneous order in the market place, for a laissez-faire approach to the economy.

The poem is the story of a hive of bees who succeeded in creating a powerful and wealthy hive, as compared to others, because of the industry created by vices like vanity, pride, and greed. Ultimately, the hive collapses because many bees complain about theses vices and the corruption and fraud they cause to the point that their god strips them of all their vices. This destroys most of the industries in the hive, production and trade all but cease, and the hive becomes weaker and weaker and smaller and smaller.

The verse quoted above references the beginning of the end, as it were, as people who have gotten rich from the system begin to complain loudly about how unfair the system is. In this particular case, we have a bee who is a supremely wealthy—he has a "princely store"—by virtue of his own gaming of the system—"cheating Master, King and Poor" (which we might easily rephrase as his financiers, the state, and the poor)—loudly complaining (whining) about how he has been cheated. By who? By a glover who sold him kid gloves that were actually lambskin. And that one affront, that is enough to cause his massive overreaction, nevermind how he's been doing far worse to so many others. The fact that he was cheated/mistreated means the whole system is corrupt and needs to be changed.

Sound familiar? Am I too clever by half (another interesting turn of phrase that could use some backstory, though not right now)? Of late, we've had a series of billionaires mouthing off about corruption and the like, about how the government needs to clamp down on this vice or that vice (Bloomberg), about how there needs to be more taxes on the wealthy (Buffett, Soros, and previous versions of Trump), about corruption in general (pretty much all of them), about the media playing favorites (again, pretty much all of them), and so on and so on.

Think about this. These turkeys used the system, manipulated it for their own benefit across decades. Now they're screaming foul? After they've made their billions? Since Trump is currently in the national spotlight, lets focus on him. His bankruptcies are common knowledge. He'd have us believe that's a positive, that this history demonstrates his business acumen. It probably does. It shows he knows how to game the system. Because each time he declared bankruptcy, someone else had to eat the debt he accrued and couldn't pay back. Okay, sometimes these somebodies were banks and the like (who still didn't deserve to get used), but other times they were individuals and small businesses (especially in construction). Trump's bankruptcies ruined many of them. Ruined.

Then there's the current hoopla between Trump and FoxNews (Megyn Kelly). Trump is whining up a storm because he imagines he's being treated unfairly, so much so that he's refusing to participate in a debate with Kelly as a moderator. Awww, the poor wittle billionaire! Kelly was mean to him and he thinks its unfair! Never mind his unceasing misogynistic comments, his constant name-calling, and the fact that he is getting non-stop media attention, regardless. This is wrong! It's not right! The mythical establishment controls FoxNews and it's out to get him!

Uh-huh.

Yet amazingly, Trump's supporters are still there, still continue to back him, accept his mealy-mouthed justification for his actions and buy into his over-arching point of view: that the system as is completely corrupt and it needs and outsider in the person of Trump to fix it (and to be fair, Hillary Clinton is steadily walking this same road, carrying the same sort of baggage as Trump).

In my view, Trump's supporters are in for a rude awakening, should Trump win the nomination and somehow the Presidency. He's not equipped to fix anything. He is personally far too invested in the system and its inherent corruption to manage any sort of real change, apart from blowing the whole thing up, not unlike our erstwhile cheating bee. Because Trump—like that bee—imagines that he can  somehow emerge untouched from such a purge, despite the reality of his own background. And those flocking to his side? Well, we all know what happens when you lie down with dogs...
Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Palin and Trump in Iowa: is the (Tea) Party over?

It had a pretty good run, didn't it? The oft-cited, usually maligned, rarely understood (in Medialand) Tea Party changed the political landscape of the United States. It delivered Senate and House seats to the Republican Party; it served up a complete flipping of power in State legislatures across the country, where Republicans managed to achieve control even in some supposedly hard-core blue States. It provided a national platform for some politicians, doomed some others (despite their supposed conservative bona fides), and—let's be honest—fattened the wallets of far too many people who tried to assume ownership of the movement or otherwise used it for their own agendas.

I've discussed the actual background of the Tea Party before, the background that most in the media rarely seem to understand. Short and sweet, the movement began during the Bush Administration, circa 2008, then hit its stride under the Obama Administration during the 2010 midterms. It was a response to the bailouts under Bush, the Stimulus under Obama, and the general lack of fiscal responsibility exhibited by leaders in every level of government. As early as 2011, people in the media began to predict its demise, but it continued, propelling more new faces in both 2012 and 2014, though it also led to some notable failures, not the least of which was the reelection of Obama in 2012.

Throughout this period, from late 2008 until now, the Tea Party movement (because that's what it really is: a movement, not a political party) has had to deal with two primary problems: first, the willful ignorance displayed by people in the mainstream media with regard to the movement, and second, the attempt by social conservatives and other agenda-driven groups to co-opt the movement for their own purposes.

With regard to the first, the ignorance of the media by and large is easy to understand: the people really participating in the movement didn't fit the media's preconceived notions with regard to the Far Right (which the media mistakenly assumed to be the primary impetus of the movement). The core Tea Partiers came from all walks of life, men and women were equally represented, and most were political novices, not hardened partisan activists. This was something most in the media simply could not comprehend (even those who tended to lean Right).

The consequence? The media—spurred on by a fearful Democratic Party (whose leadership could see the consequences in the rise of an unchecked grass roots movement that opposed Big Government)—tended to focus on outliers in the movement, the small numbers who showed up to events with dim-witted signs (often racist) about Obama, thinking the movement was fundamentally an "anti-Obama" one. Thus, we were treated to years of articles and debates over the racist elements in the Tea Party, as opposed to rational analysis of just what was going on in the movement, what it was really about, and why it was having so much success in political races, despite being populated by political novices.

This has always been something of an albatross for the Tea Party movement, this lack of thoughtful analysis and understanding in the media and elsewhere. It became something that had to be countered, but by people who lacked the access and experience to offer an effective retort.

And really, this is what made the Tea Party movement a ripe target for being co-opted by other groups, the second major issue with which it's membership has had to contend. Because it was on the outside of the political structure, had no actual leadership, and no requirements for membership (all one had to do was say they were a member), there was nothing to prevent someone from using the movement as a platform for some other issue. Thus, we saw many social conservatives flock to the Tea Party banner, along with some nastier sorts of people like racists, homophobes, and xenophobes.

From this co-opting, a number of organizations sprung up who attempted to claim some level of leadership for the movement as whole, like FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity, and Tea Party Patriots. Tellingly, a number of the the earliest leaders of the movement (who never actually claimed leadership) never tried to set up such organizations and are rarely heard from these days. Regardless, these orgs successfully used the Tea Party movement to grow themselves and impact politics, sometimes for causes consistent with the movement, and sometimes for ones unrelated to the same. But either way, these orgs where and are more about sustaining themselves then about sustaining the movement as a whole. They seek funding and in that respect are in competition with each other for the same dollars. That's not a grass roots movement. It can't be.

Still, as I noted, the Tea Party movement kept going well into 2014, despite all of this co-opting by other orgs and groups and despite the high level of ignorance in the media, proper.

But now it's 2016. Is there still a Tea Party to speak of? My twitter feed says yes there is. Sort of. It's not what it once was. Many highly active Tea Party supporters have gone quiet in the last several years. But others push on, undeterred by the seemingly decreasing footprint of the Tea Party on social media.

In the media proper, the Tea Party is still used—sometimes as nothing more than a simple pejorative—though usually in reference to a particular politician, rather than in reference to the actual movement. And really, that's understandable. There aren't any true grass roots Tea Party events taking place these days. People who claimed membership in the movement have chosen up sides, whether a side is one of the above-mentioned orgs or the supporters of a politician or national figure.

When the Trump campaign began to get serious traction last year, many assumed the Tea Party was lining up behind the brash-talking king of self-promotion. There was plenty of pushback in that regard, as this piece from Reason notes. Little that Trump was saying was actually consistent with the Tea Party's original ideology. Still, the maverick nature of the Trump campaign and the way the candidate and his supporters were (and are) treated by the media, this was all very familiar. So unsurprisingly, the assumption of a strong Tea Party element supporting Trump is standard fare, despite the protestations.

Source: Eater.com
And as far as the media is concerned, the deal was sealed a few days ago when the supposed Queen of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, took the stage at a Trump event in Iowa and endorsed the real estate tycoon for President.

Still. There is nothing about Trump's platform that meshes with the original ideology of the Tea Party movement. Well, maybe that's not entirely accurate. The problem is, Trump doesn't really have a platform, just some slogans, a self-righteous nationalism, and a liberal dose of bigotry. As such, his Tea Party appeal is securely rooted in the worst elements of the movement, the late-comers who misread it from the beginning and the agenda-driven crowd who sought to co-opt the movement for their own purposes.

So why is Palin endorsing Trump now? Short answer: she's abandoned the Tea Party movement. And she craves the spotlight, above all else. Which is, in my view, kind of a shame. Back in 2008/2009, Palin was a breathe of fresh air on the political scene, despite her many shortcomings. And true enough, she was saying the right things—from the movement's perspective—even when those things had a negative impact on the McCain campaign.

Now? She's talking gibberish. And there's a good reason for such gibberish: she's no intellectual giant and she can't effectively manufacture a link from what she used to say and stand for to what Trump is saying now. So she babbles incoherently in an attempt to justify her endorsement of Trump as being an endorsement by the Tea Party movement as awhole. It's not going to fly. Or at least it shouldn't. And yet...who is there to contradict her, really? Who is there to tell Trump that the Tea Party is not in his corner?

Well, there is Ted Cruz. And Rand Paul. And Marco Rubio.

But despite the past support these three enjoyed from the Tea Party movement, none can claim a mandate from it now. Hell, Paul can't even claim 3% of the overall vote. Cruz and Rubio are at war, with both fixated on the establishment/non-establishment issue (very possibly the dumbest political issue in decades).

And this speaks to something about the Tea Party movement that most have forgotten: it's both localized and nebulous. Its effectiveness in political campaigns was always limited to smaller races because of this reality: a national movement, true, but never a national, unified party. The attempt to create the latter—by individual politicians and by national orgs—has failed. It was always going to fail. All that's left now is the terminology, the name, and the sense of history behind it. But the movement itself is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Over. Kaput.

It's been a slow death, to be sure. And as I noted, previous claims of this nature were proved wrong. But this time it's different. The fact of the matter is that the money involved here, the donations exhorted from people in the movement to fund FreedomWorks et al, was always poison to the Tea Party movement. Death was inevitable from that moment on. But the final nails in the coffin were driven home by Palin and other pseudo-members by raising the banner in support of Donald Trump. Because the Tea Party movement was, if anything, always anti-authoritarian. In contrast, Trump is very much an authoritarian. In fact, he may be an actual fascist, the first one to ever have a legitimate shot at the Presidency in the United States since...well, since FDR, but maybe that's a discussion for a different day.

Rest in peace, Tea Party. It's been a helluva ride.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Gatekeepers and social media content

This morning, a friend on Facebook shared an interesting piece from Shurat HaDin, a Tel Aviv-based NPO that focuses on terror victims and Jewish/Israeli issues. Here is Shurat HaDin's Facebook page. Here is the YouTube link to the piece in question, "The Big Facebook Experiment."

Source: Shurat HaDin
In a nutshell, this is what happened with "the experiment": people at Shurat HaDin set up two Facebook pages (Communities). One was called "Stop Palestinians," the other was called "Stop Israelis." They then added some updates to each that basically called for violence against both groups (ending with "Death to Palestine" and "Death to Israel," respectively). After this, they simultaneously reported both pages to Facebook for violating community standards. The pages were set up on December 28, 2015 and they were reported to Facebook on December 29, 2015. The "Stop Palestinians" page was suspended by Facebook on the same day it was reported. The "Stop Israelis" page? It remained activity (garnering some 972 "likes") until today, January 5, 2016. Here's a cached copy of it which shows this.

Now, Shurat HaDin only revealed the experiment today on Facebook. It was soon being shared by thousands of people and was picked up by Israeli media, as well. So, it's not much of a stretch to suggest that this was the reason behind Facebook's decision to finally suspend the "Stop Israelis" page. Shurat HaDin's overriding point/argument is that there is bias at work here, bias against Jews in general and Israel in particular, on the part of Facebook. It's a pretty easy argument to make, given how the "Stop Palestinians" page was shut down almost immediately, while the "Stop Israelis" page was allowed to remain activity until it became a PR problem.

That said, it occurs to me that the exact nature of the "who" making these decisions is important. Facebook is a big company and given the number of active users, pages, and updates, there's simply no way that the same person or persons reviews every reported incident. Different people are making decisions on different incidents. Granted, there are guidelines in this regard. But there's a lot of wiggle room in there. It seems to me that both pages were obviously calling for violence or trying to justify violence as a means to an end, however my point of view is not that of a hardcore activist/sympathizer for either "side." There is a political angle available here where one might argue that the calls of violence were only with respect to defense against persecution and violence already being committed by the other "side."  

It's a narrow road, no doubt, one that I think is in fact too narrow with respect to the community standards Facebook claims it is enforcing, but I can still see it.

Which again returns us to the identity of the actual decision makers at Facebook, the gatekeepers if you will. They are individuals, and as such they don't necessarily see things the same way as someone else. Indeed, they don't all see things the same way withing their own limited group, either. So one person charged with reviewing reported pages at Facebook may agree that a particular page is a problem while another person at Facebook may not. It seems to me that there is some measure of uncertainty here. Of course, that uncertainty is somewhat mitigated over time, as a particular page may be reported again and again and again, until it is seen by a gatekeeper who agrees that it is a problem and suspends it.

Maybe that's what actually happened here. Maybe the "Stop Palestinians" page, when it was initially reported, was seen by the "right" person. Maybe if it had been seen by a different person at Facebook, it wouldn't have been suspended so soon. And the reverse for the "Stop Israelis" page: maybe the "right" person would have suspended it immediately.

Who can say?

But the larger issue remains, with regard to gatekeepers on social media, on Facebook and Twitter, on comment threads for news stories, and on messageboards: someone is deciding what is acceptable and not acceptable on all of these things (apart from the rare completely unmoderated website). True enough, most all of these vehicles have posted standards for comment and participation, but it is still a matter of human choice when it comes to deciding what comment/post/update/page crosses a line.

As a regular participant on one particular messageboard, I say that's okay, as far as it goes. The messageboard is a limited community, not a news site nor a social media platform like Facebook. If people don't like decisions made by moderators, they're free to go elsewhere on the internet to express their opinions.

Yet, the large social media platforms have become an ingrained part of life for much of the population. And supposedly, they represent the "free and open exchange of ideas" that make the internet such a great thing. Ditto for comment trails on news stories. Barring direct threats made against specific individuals and other comments which would be overtly criminal, should there be any purging going on here? I find myself leaning strongly towards saying "no," to allowing that these platforms are too significant now to allow the limiting of any sort of speech, unless that speech is clearly breaking laws. Because these platforms, despite being privately owned, are public communities. Any discussion I can legally have in Starbucks, on a college campus, or at a town hall-style meeting should be a discussion I can have on Facebook, on Twitter, on a CNN comment thread. Anything I can say in the first group, I should be able to say in the second group.

I think we, as a society, have to be very wary of anyone limiting information that we depend on or opinions that we may want to hear, regardless of the offered justification. If social media is going to continue to be a dominant force in our lives, we can't allow what we can see on these platforms to be spoon fed to us via subjective standards enforced by people who may or may not have their own agendas. It's yet another dangerous road we face going forward.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

We're getting played constantly...

...and we need to put our collective foot down.

Check out this ruling from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). An audit conducted by a GAO General Counsel indicated that the EPA had been misusing social media platforms as a means of ginning up support for its Clean Water Rule (which is a huge overreach of government authority, but that is neither here nor there). From the conclusion of the ruling:
The use of appropriated funds associated with implementing EPA’s Thunderclap campaign and establishing hyperlinks to the NRDC and to the Surfrider Foundation webpages violated prohibitions against publicity or propaganda and grassroots lobbying contained in appropriations acts for FYs 2014 and 2015. Because EPA obligated and expended appropriated funds in violation of specific prohibitions, we also conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a)(1)(A), as the agency’s appropriations were not available for these prohibited purposes.
The issue is that the EPA and its agents tried to "increase awareness" of the issues involved in the Clean Water Act via social media with posting that disguised their source (i.e. the EPA) in order to give the appearance that the postings were coming from "regular people" and/or from private advocacy orgs. And as the New York Times details, this is not the first time government agencies have crossed this line:
The G.A.O. concluded similarly that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid violated the anti-propaganda act in 2004 when it covertly paid for news videos distributed to television stations without disclosing that it had funded the work. The Department of Education, in 2005, was also found to have violated the same law when it hired a public relations firm to covertly promote the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
But you know, it seems to me that there shouldn't be a line here to begin with. Why, exactly, is the government engaging in marketing and advertising for this type of stuff at all?

The government is supposed to be in charge of the overall system. It is tasked—at national, state, and local levels—with specific functions and duties, like maintaining the court system, providing security through police and armed forces, keeping infrastructure in good repair, and so on. I understand the need of elected politicians to brag about what they are doing, to notify the public of things like improvements and success stories, but this can be accomplished through press conferences, interviews with the media and in some cases simple signage. Also, notifying people about deadlines and the like (taxes, healthcare, etc.) is completely understandable.

But all of the above stuff is fundamentally informative. It's not about trying to sway public opinion on specific issues (maybe on specific politicians), make money, or increase the authority/reach of a given government agency. In contrast, the EPA's campaigns are most assuredly of these latter sorts, as are the above transgressions of other agencies.

Of course, one might just write these off as aberrations, I guess, especially since the GAO has successfully pointed them out. Yet, I think that the issue goes much deeper. Much of the stuff that is acceptable by GAO standards shouldn't be acceptable, at all. For instance, there is the United Stated Postal Service. The Constitution tasked the feds with establishing postal routes, but that's about it. Why is the USPS advertising services? Why is it marketing itself via its support of things like bicycling teams? Why is it trying to compete with private entities like UPS and FedEx? The USPS has a simple job to do and it should just do it.

At the State level, there are the millions upon millions of dollars spent on marketing and advertising for lotteries. Talk about something way over the line. Think about it. Regardless of whether or not one sees these lotteries as a good idea (I don't think they are), promoting them means targeting an audience. And who is being targeted? As a matter of course, people who need money, right? People who are not wealthy, many of whom are in fact poor, and retired people living on fixed incomes, this is the target audience.

So States are purposefully trying to wrest dollars from their own citizens for a game of chance where almost all participants are going to lose money. And a good chunk of these citizens lack the disposable income to spend on such things. It's actually pretty outrageous: the States are using marketing and advertising to make citizens worse off. It's exactly the opposite of "promoting the general welfare," isn't it?

Beyond all of this, there are the agencies like the EPA and the Department of Education—and plenty more at state and local levels—trying to force their own agendas, to justify their own leaderships' vision, on the public at large. All told, what we have are countless billions of dollars being spent by people in the government on stuff that the government isn't actually supposed to be doing, isn't actually tasked with doing.

Limited government. It's actually a thing. Look it up.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Banana republics are better than franchised cities

Chuck Strouse, writing in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times yesterday, takes note of a country commisioners' vote in Broward that would have the county "give" the Florida Panthers some $86 million across the next six years. I say "give" because the money would actually come from tourism taxes, always an easy thing for county commissioners to fuck with because who really cares, right? The Panthers lose money every year as a matter of course these days. Their average attendance is among the worst in the league, and they are—along with the county—still paying off the BB&T Center. If the team were to fold, the county would be on the hook for this bill, alone. Thus, commissioners opted to subsidize the team some more (it's already received over $340 million from Broward County coffers).

Anyway, Strouse suggests that ultimately this unfortunate (ridiculous) situation should be laid at the feet of H. Wayne Huizenga, the man who bought the Dolphins in 1993, then immediately brought professional baseball and hockey to South Florida in the form of the Florida Marlins and Panthers. I'm not exactly clear on Strouse's reasoning here, but it seems to be that Huizenga started this mess and therefore should probably own it.

I guess that's fair, in a big picture sort of way. But it seems to me there is a larger cadre of villains in this story, indeed in a much larger story that encompasses all of the major sports in South Florida. Who are these villains? Why, they're the people of Broward County, of course.

Check this: the Miami Dolphins were a perennial winning team in the NFL when they played at the Orange Bowl. From 1970 (when they entered the NFL) until 1996 (the last year at the Orange Bowl), they suffered exactly two losing seasons, in 1976 and 1988. Since the move north to whatever-the-hell-the stadium-is-called-now? Seven losing seasons (soon to be eight) in nine fewer years. The Florida Panthers? They moved north to the BB&T center in 1998. Since then, they've made the playoffs just twice (and this is hockey, where everyone makes the playoffs). In their five seasons at the Miami Arena? Two trips there as well, including their run to the Stanley Cup finals. That's two in five compared to two in eighteen. Hmm...

Okay true, the Marlins made hay playing at the Dolphins' stadium. Well, they did until the Lorias came to town. Then it all went quickly to shit (after a World Series win set up prior to the Loria acquisition). They've now been playing at Marlins Park in Miami (where the Orange Bowl once stood) for only four years. The jury is still out there, I'll grant.

Then there is the Miami Heat.

Enough said.

The evidence here suggests what I and other Miamians have known all along: Broward County sucks the life out of everything it touches, especially sports teams. Not convinced? Well here's one more: the University of Miami Hurricanes. At the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes amassed five national championships and nine conference championships. Since they moved north to the Dolphins' stadium in 2007? Goose eggs. Goose. Eggs.

Now, someone might point out that Sun Life Stadium (the current name of the Dolphins' stadium; I still call it Joe Robbie) is technically in Miami-Dade County. And this is true. But it's right on the border and is far more accessible to people from Broward than it is to people from Miami-Dade. Indeed, this is exactly why the location was chosen, as a means to supposedly tap into the supposedly huge base of supposedly huge sports fans in Broward (and in Palm Beach County). Back in the day, this point of view was all the rage. It's what led to the Panthers being exiled to Sunrise, the idea that all the real hockey fans lived up there. Miami, according to this line of thinking, was populated wholly by Cubans, African-Americans, and Rednecks, none of whom cared a whit about hockey or even football really, at least not in comparison to the people in Broward County. Yeah, right.

Hurricane Andrew played a small role here, it should be noted, as in its aftermath there was a bit of an exodus from South Dade to, mostly, West Broward (Mirimar, Sunrise, Weston, etc.). My take on that? Good riddance. Traffic was and still is bad enough down here.

Of course, it's even worse in Broward. And at least in Miami-Dade, people are actually going somewhere, to real destinations in a real city. Where are they going in Broward? To one of forty-seven Olive Gardens?

And that's the thing: Miami and Miami-Dade County have character, have culture. Sure, we're more corrupt down here than any place in North America (and most of the rest of the Americas), but we look good, we have fun. Those cardboard cut-outs up north? Come on. Every neighborhood looks the same, every house, too. And they're all bordered by identical strip-malls that feature the same shops and restaurants, over and over again.

And those cut-outs, they are the ones who really deserve the blame for the failure of the Panthers. Huizenga's problem was that he believed in them, believed in Broward County. Big mistake. Huge mistake. Look, I know there are plenty of good people in Broward, plenty of real sports fans, but the fact of the matter is that Miami is where the action is in South Florida. Always has been, always will be. It's where business gets done and where people are willing to go. The biggest mistake the Panthers, Dolphins, and Hurricanes ever made was moving north. Broward County is on the hook now for millions and millions of dollars, but that's Broward County's fault (via its commissioners, and therefore its voting public) for believing its own hype.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Republican Nomination, Trump, and the Laws of Thermodynamics

James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal took a hard look yesterday at Trump's "modest proposal," the response to it, and what this all means for the Republican contest. With regard to the proposal itself—barring any and all Muslims from entering the country—Taranto allows that it would have costs in the realm of international relations, that it's possibly unworkable, and that it's morally questionable (to say the least).

But what he doesn't do is condemn it out of hand, unlike pretty much every other commentator, journalist, and Presidential hopeful (Ted Cruz basically punted when given the opportunity to slam the proposal). Some might say Taranto is making a misstep here, that there's no reason to not condemn it out of hand, because it's just so wrong, so offensive, etc. I think, however, that Taranto is correct, that the proper way to approach the issue is to treat Trump's proposal with reasoned analysis and discussion.

And in this regard, Taranto looks at some of the proclamations about the proposal from various pundits and constitutional scholars, who seem to think the proposal would be deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Their arguments in this regard are, as Taranto notes, basically empty. So are the ones offered elsewhere by other constitutional scholars like Lawrence Tribe, who oddly cites Article VI on the matter (the "no religious test clause," which has zero bearing on immigration policy). Indeed, the plenary power the Court has granted Congress when it comes to immigration is sufficient to allow a policy such as Trump's. Of course, this would still take an act of Congress; the President could not mandate such a policy. And that is really the end of it. Congress isn't going to pass a "no Muslims allowed" bill. It just isn't.

So why all the blather here? At the end of the day, Trump is just shooting off his mouth again, right?

The problem of course is that this tactic has been paying dividends for Trump; he's still the front runner and has, until yesterday, seen his numbers continue to increase. Yesterday, following the release of the USA Today poll, something interesting happened. Take a look at the RCP polling averages. Trump is still in the lead, but he saw a bit of a drop (as did Carson, who's basically falling off of a cliff, poll-wise). And both Rubio and Cruz ticked upwards, leading to the following event, for the first time in this contest:
R + C > T
"R" refers to Rubio's support, "C" refers to Cruz's, and "T" refers to Trump's. And according to the latest averages, adding the numbers for Rubio and Cruz yields 30.3%, while Trump's number stands at 29.3%.

Why is this significant? Well, let's consider it through the prism of the Laws of Thermodynamics. The First Law states that Energy cannot be created or destroyed. So too for polling numbers: when someone loses, someone else wins (and this includes candidate "undecided"). Yeah okay, I know that's trite, but it's still worth remembering. Because Carson is going down and he's not coming back, in my opinion. Ditto for Jeb Bush. And really, everyone else, aside from Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. This is really a three horse race now, barring some major gaffe by Cruz or Rubio. And as these other candidates fade and drop out, their support has to go somewhere else. I'd argue that it's going to be dispersed mostly between Rubio and Cruz, and I'll tell you why.

Donald Trump's candidacy has been, up until this point, what amounts to an isolated system in the race. He hasn't really been running against the other candidates (apart from Carson to some extent). You can see this in the polling data. The numbers for Trump don't follow the fluctuations of the others very well at all. In contrast, there's an obvious pattern to the rise of Cruz and Rubio: as they have gone up, everyone else (apart from Trump) has gone down.

Here's the thing about isolated systems: according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, entropy in them tends to increase. That is, they eventually slow down and fall apart, unless additional energy is supplied from outside the system. Trump maintains only by keeping people wound up. And I think he has more or less reached his maximum level of support, so all he can do is maintain. So he has to keep being extreme, he has no choice. The problem of course is that there's a limit to this as well. And we're seeing it being reached with his latest proposal.

Trump's numbers may largely hold up, well into the immediate future. But again, they are numbers that exist outside the rest of the system. Trump can't garner more support because he has nowhere to get it. In contrast, Rubio and Cruz are in a system filled with potential additional support. When they add energy to this system, they can still achieve a net benefit, rather than just maintaining their positions. It's a world of difference as compared to Trump. As we move into 2016, this is going to become apparent, in my opinion.

True enough, Trump is a master manipulator of the media (which, to be fair, is more than happy to be manipulated, if that translates into better ratings and more clicks) but lacking a pool of potential support, all he can do is keep his name in the news to placate his current supporters, nothing more. And eventually, those supporters are going to tire of hearing the same ol', same ol'. That, or Trump will cross line after line and drive them away, a little at a time.

There's a good term for this phenomenon, too: heat death.