Monday, April 25, 2016

Getting Through

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.

-- Prince, "Let's Go Crazy" (1984)

No Sift next week. New articles will appear May 9.

This week's featured posts are "Beyond Bernie 2016" and "Why You Should Care About Felon Voting Rights".

This week everybody was talking about the New York primary

The odds of a Clinton/Trump contest in the fall jumped considerably Tuesday, after both had landslide wins in New York. I describe just how completely this slams the door on Bernie's chances (as well as the options on what to do next) in "Beyond Bernie 2016".

Trump's win was in some ways even more crushing, because Ted Cruz got no delegates at all from New York. Cruz is now in the same position as Kasich (or Paul Ryan, for that matter): His only path to the nomination involves stopping Trump from getting a first-ballot majority at the convention, then convincing other candidates' delegates to switch to him on subsequent ballots. The last time a major party had a convention with more than one ballot was in a different political era entirely, when Adlai Stevenson won the 1952 Democratic nomination on the third ballot.

and Prince

If you weren't music-conscious in the mid-80s, and haven't had a friend introduce you to Prince's music since, you're probably puzzled by the overwhelming public response to his death (at age 57, two years younger than I am). He's getting tributes not just from the music and pop-culture parts of the media, but from folks like Rachel Maddow and Josh Marshall.

Here's what I think was unique about Prince: Other musicians typically envy pop hit-makers for their success, but not for their musical skills. Prince was the exception. He could play almost any rock instrument at a high level -- check out the guitar solo that begins at the 3:30 mark here -- and he had mastered the entire process that starts with a thought in somebody's head and ends with music coming out of somebody else's headphones. He didn't just perform his songs, he wrote and arranged them, was his own studio band, and sometimes the mixer, engineer, and producer as well. He was famous for blatantly sexy songs, but he also could fit in with the Muppets.

And he was successful at all that. Wikipedia says: "At one point in 1984, Prince simultaneously had the No. 1 album, single, and film in the US; it was the first time a singer had achieved this feat."

Prince also kept his local identity, and created a music industry in Minneapolis rather than move to an existing music capital like LA. The performances in his movie Purple Rain were filmed at Minneapolis' First Avenue Club.

That's why it's so dismal to hear that he has died at a comparatively early age. But if the elevator tries to bring us down, at least we know what to do.

and you might also be interested in

There's still another week of Confederate Heritage Month to celebrate over at Orcinus.

Whether or not our war against ISIS succeeds is not entirely up to us. It also depends on Iraq maintaining a stable government, which might be a challenge.

In Alabama, separation of church and state means that your daycare center can go virtually unregulated, if you claim it has a religious purpose. The Center for Investigative Reporting has been doing a series called "The God Loophole" about the problems that leads to.

The tenured Wheaton College professor who got in trouble for saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God has reached an agreement to leave the school.

Now that Trump has opened the floodgates, we can expect to see Hispanic stereotypes in lower-office campaigns. Like this ad from a Kentucky Republican running for Congress.

You can tell you're getting old when more and more news stories make you say, "I thought he was dead." Well, it turns out Pat Boone is still alive, and calling for FCC regulations against blasphemy. What set him off was a Saturday Night Live skit, which is a fake movie trailer for a fake movie called God is a Boob Man, in which a Christian baker is pressured by the legal system to say that God is gay.

To appreciate it, you need to know what it's satirizing. In 2014, a film God's Not Dead was made for all those Christians who imagine that they're persecuted. In it, a university philosophy professor "demands his students sign a declaration that 'God is dead' to pass." One student resists, is vindicated, and the professor ultimately converts just before dying. Totally realistic, in other words.

That was successful enough that it's getting a sequel, God's Not Dead 2. (Who knows, maybe this is the beginning of a genre similar to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, but for Christians. I'm visualizing Shaft with a Bible.) Here is its trailer, which you need to understand is not an SNL parody, no matter how much it sounds like one.

Parodying such nonsense is the blasphemy that Boone thinks TV stations should lose their licenses for broadcasting.

and let's close with some reading suggestions

A few years ago, NPR polled its readers to find the 100 best fantasy and science fiction novels. But lists like that are a bit unwieldy: Where do you start? So the fanzine SF Signal created an interactive guide to help you figure out which one to read next. And that turned into this flow chart. Click to expand.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Rhyme of the Ancient Democrat

All is in flux, nothing is stationary. ... You could not step into the same river twice.

-- Heraclitus, 5th century B.C.

What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is no new thing under the sun. 

-- Ecclesiastes 1:9

History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.

-- attributed (probably falsely) to Mark Twain

This week's featured post, "Do We Still Have to Worry About the McGovern Problem?" considers what lessons (if any) the landslide losses of 1972, 1984, and 1988 have for the Bernie Sanders candidacy in 2016.

This week everybody was talking about taxes

Or at least worrying about them. Friday was the deadline for filing 2015's federal income tax forms. If you missed it, don't kick yourself, just get it done. You might have to pay a penalty, but you won't go to jail.

Every year, Tax Day sets everyone wondering if there isn't some better way to do this. It's not just the money that gets syphoned off into the tax-prep industry, it's all the time and stress that goes into the process. Sales tax just happens without you needing to fret about it. Property tax is a bill you pay -- costly, maybe, but pretty straightforward. Income tax is an ordeal.

For Republicans like Steve Forbes, the resentment Tax Day raises is a chance to push a flat tax, which would be a gold mine for very rich people like Steve Forbes, but wouldn't make taxes simpler for ordinary folks. (Flattening the tax just changes the numbers in the tax table. Every change that actually would simplify your taxes could be done without flattening the tax rates.)

But Elizabeth Warren has a plan that would make a real difference.

On Wednesday, she introduced a bill that would let people with simple taxes file for free without filling out a return — essentially, the IRS would do people’s taxes for them. Bernie Sanders is a co-sponsor; his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, said she supports the bill, too.

For a very large number of people, the 1040 just collects a lot of information the IRS already knows: It gets the same 1099 and W-2 reports that you do, and you told them last year how many dependents you have. It could run all that through its computers and send you a return. You could OK it and be done, or, if you wanted to take advantage of some deduction they don't know about, you could submit an amendment.

Why isn't this a no-brainer for Congress? Three reasons:

  • If you really want the pro-plutocracy flat tax, you want to hold genuine tax simplification hostage. Make people believe that a flat tax is the only answer to their pain.
  • The people who would benefit most from Warren's plan are ordinary Americans who have no lobbyists.
  • The tax-planning and accounting industries are solidly against this kind of reform, and they do have lobbyists.

Tax Day is also a good time to review how money flows through the federal government. One factor that significantly dumbs down political discourse in the United States is that so few people have a clear idea how the government raises money or what it spends money on. (It's amazing how many people think we could slash government spending by cutting foreign aid and defunding the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Here's where the money came from in FY 2015, which ended last October.

Individual income is the tax you're paying now. Payroll taxes are mainly Social Security and Medicare taxes.

And here's where it went:

The difference between the two -- around $450 billion, or 12% of total spending -- was the deficit. Healthcare, Social Security, Defense, and interest on the national debt are pretty obvious, and among them account for 71% of spending. Other Mandatory is stuff like Food Stamps and unemployment compensation.

Non-Defense Discretionary is everything people ordinarily think about when they talk about cutting government spending. It's only 16%, and includes everything from keeping the National Parks open to NASA to disaster relief.

but I was thinking about a bookstore in Asheville

An op-ed in Thursday's NYT reminded me what a blunt instrument a boycott is. The owner of Malaprop's Bookstore asked: "Why Should My Store Be Boycotted Over a Law That I Despise?" Malaprop's has had to cancel author events, and out-of-state customers have been avoiding Asheville while North Carolina's new anti-LGBT law HB 2 remains in effect.

This made me stop and think, because Asheville is a place I like to visit. I have a red coffee mug with the Malaprop's logo on one side and "Eat. Sleep. Read." on the other. Last December, a chunk of "Small-Government Freedom vs. Big-Government Rights" was written while sitting in Malaprop's cafe section, drinking a Fire Distinguisher (a chili, cayenne, and cinnamon mocha), and using their wifi. (Yeah, I was in the South when I wrote that.)

Asheville as a whole is an unfortunate target, since it's the cool, intellectual, artsy part of North Carolina. It's Thomas Wolfe's "Altamont", the home he couldn't go back to after writing Look Homeward, Angel. And Asheville isn't happy about the new law. The Asheville City Council has called for HB 2's repeal. A parody news story says "Entire Fucking City of Asheville Moving Out of North Carolina".

So yes, it's a shame Asheville is catching flak for the bigots' law. And yet ... that's kind of the point. Would the Asheville City Council have taken such a strong position on HB 2 without a boycott?

A law like HB 2 passes because a lot of the people who ought to know better believe that it isn't really their problem. The boycott is the rest of us saying, "No, it is your problem." I hope that all over the state, Carolinians who otherwise don't prioritize LGBT rights, and who shrug and say "What can you do?" whenever the Christian Taliban pushes something through their legislature, are now saying: "This is why we can't have nice things."

I'm sorry the boycott is hurting such a cute and pleasant independent bookstore, but HB 2 is hurting a lot of innocent people. And while North Carolina figures out how to fix this, I'll be looking forward to the next time I can sit in Malaprop's with a stack of new books on the table, drink some ridiculous coffee concoction, and write a blog post. But don't look for me there anytime soon.

The most amusing part of the boycott happened last Monday when the porn site xHamster announced it was blocking access to computers with North Carolina IP addresses. This could be more effective than you might think. Studies suggest that Bible Belt states consume more online porn than more liberal, less religious states. It's that whole repression/rebellion cycle.

and the intersection of religion, law, and absurdity

According to a federal judge, Pastafarianism, the worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

is not a 'religion' within the meaning of the relevant federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence. It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education.

I more or less agree in this particular case, in which a prisoner is asking the prison administration to make allowances for his Pastafarian practices. But if I were a judge, I wouldn't have much confidence that I could in general draw a line that neatly separated "real" religions from ridiculous systems that people are just having fun with. Imagine, say, a group teaching that people require an absurd deity to properly respond to the absurdity of the human condition. The practitioners themselves might not be able to draw a line between the serious and unserious parts of their faith.

Wednesday David Corn recalled the time in 2007 when Ted Cruz, then state solicitor general, defended a Texas law banning the sale of dildos and vibrators. His office submitted a brief to a federal court claiming that Texas had a legitimate interest in discouraging "autonomous sex" and denying any

substantive-due-process right to stimulate one's genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.

In response, Cruz' Princeton roommate Craig Mazen (who has dogged him before) tweeted:

Ted Cruz thinks people don't have a right to "stimulate their genitals." I was his college roommate. This would be a new belief of his.

To me, masturbation looks like an issue where Cruz -- who claims to be "a Christian first, American second" -- may not be taking the Bible literally enough. Particularly Ecclesiastes 9:10 which says:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.

And if your hand needs to amplify its might with battery-powered tools, that doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

John Kasich is supposed to be the nice, considerate Republican candidate. But in this video, shot in a Jewish bookstore, we see him "goysplaining" various pieces of the Old Testament to Talmud students, who politely refrain from telling him what a jerk he's being when he asks them if they know about Joseph and Joshua. I was reminded of the time Rand Paul thought he could teach Howard University students about black history.

Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed a bill to declare the Bible to be the official state book.

If we believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, then we shouldn't be recognizing it only as a book of historical and economic significance. If we are recognizing the Bible as a sacred text, then we are violating the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Tennessee by designating it as the official state book.

That seems simple enough, but supporters of the bill are going to try to override the veto. To me, the vetoed bill is an example of dominance politics, a phrase I picked up from Josh Marshall, who uses it a little differently. This bill isn't about solving any substantive problem of the citizens of Tennessee. It's about one group of citizens proving to the others that they are on top and can grind everybody else's noses in the dirt.

Mississippi now allows firearms in churches. Gov. Bryant signed the "Church Protection Act" Friday. Psalm 46 says, "God is our refuge and strength." But just in case that isn't enough, you might want to pack heat.

However, if you have a favorite gun, I'd recommend leave it at home, because the Psalm continues: "He breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire." I don't know what He would do to a Glock, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be pretty.

and you might also be interested in

All the recent polls that RCP keeps track of have Clinton and Trump up by double digits for tomorrow's New York primary. According to Nate Silver, Clinton continues to run ahead of her minimum winning pace, while Trump is running behind.

You would never know it from watching the news reports, but there's been a protest going on all week in front of the Capitol. About 900 Democracy Spring protesters have been arrested, including Lawrence Lessig.

I love this video criticizing Senate Republicans for refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court. “I only do my job when I feel like it. That’s why I stand with the Senate.”

Paul Ryan is having the same problems that undermined John Boehner's speakership, and with the same people, the so-called Freedom Caucus. Friday, the House missed its deadline for passing a FY 2017 budget. Because of the deal Boehner passed on his way out the door, this failure doesn't necessarily put us on track for an across-the-board government shutdown in October. But it bodes ill for the appropriations bills that the committees should start producing in May. If any of them don't pass by October, the corresponding segments of the government will shut down.

Digby has a fantasy: Sarah Palin on TV at the Republican Convention. Maybe she'll compare herself to Bill Nye again, or just go off on another incoherent ramble.

David Neiwert's Orcinus blog is marking Confederate Heritage Month by blowing away all the soft-focus Gone-With-the-Wind myths about the Confederacy. If Mississippi wants us to spend this month remembering the Confederacy, Neiwert wants to make sure we remember it as the horror it really was.

So far he has discussed such topics as lynchingslavery as the primary cause of the Civil Warjust how brutal Confederate slavery washow a slavery-defending war got sold to whites too poor to own slaves, the Andersonville POW campNathan Bedford Forrest's massacre of black soldiers trying to surrender, the KKK, and who the carpetbaggers really were.

Speaking of Forrest, who in addition to being a war criminal was also the first Grand Wizard of the KKK, the effort to remove his bust from the Tennessee State Capitol has turned into a general law defining a memorial-removal process, which looks like it could tie the whole thing up for a long time. Meanwhile, the bust remains on display.

and let's close with a pop culture mash-up

Whitney Avalon has a whole series of Princess Rap Battles on YouTube. My favorite so far: Malificent vs. Daenerys.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Justice Delayed

The delay of justice is great injustice.

-- John Musgrave (1646)

One of this week's featured posts is another installment in what I'm coming to think of as my countdown-to-Augustus series "The Broken Senate is Breaking the Courts". The other is my assessment of the Democrats' chances of taking control of the Senate (and how you can help) in "What Can You Do about the Senate?"

This week everybody was talking about bigotry

Mississippi became the latest state to decide that anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination needs and deserves the protection of state law. The Mississippi bill is HB1523, the "Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act", which is short enough to read in its entirety if you're interested. To me the striking part of the law is Section 2:

The sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

In other words, HB1523 gives people special rights if their opinion falls on one side of a controversial issue, but not the other. (And why aren't more people paying attention to (2b)? If you are a cohabitating heterosexual couple, somebody who sincerely believes you are "living in sin" can discriminate against you.) I can't imagine that this will pass constitutional muster. If the government can't legally penalize you for the content of your religious beliefs, then it can't reward you for them either.

That specificity is necessary, though, in order to avoid the other horn of the legalized-discrimination dilemma: A general law protecting people whose religious beliefs justify discrimination would also protect racists. Plenty of religions have at one time or another taught that God created the races and intended them to remain separate. (I researched this last year in "You Don't Have to Hate Anybody to Be a Bigot".) So if your religious beliefs entitle you to discriminate against gays, why not against blacks?

If you're confused by the law's name, "government discrimination" refers to government enforcing non-discrimination; it's a little Orwellian that way. In other words, if your religious beliefs make you want to refuse service to lesbians, and the government says you can't do that, then the government is discriminating against you.

You know the drill: War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Yada, yada, yada.

If you'd rather just make fun of Mississippi's effort to one-up North Carolina in the most-bigoted-state competition, Funny or Die has that covered.

and presidential politics

For the Democrats, same story as the last few weeks: Yes, Bernie is gaining ground on Hillary. No, he isn't gaining nearly fast enough to get nominated.

I'm resisting writing about the details of the various disputes between the campaigns, because I doubt I'm getting a balanced view of them. My FaceBook feed and email lists all lean to the left, so I'm exposed to a lot more Bernie stuff than Hillary stuff. These last few weeks the conversation in general has gotten increasingly partisan and irrational, with unfair and downright petty charges going both ways. But because of where I sit, I hear a lot more Bernie irrationality than Hillary irrationality. (I'd give examples, but that just starts me down the rabbit hole.) If I start trying to correct it all, this is going to start sounding like a Hillary blog, which is not my intention.

In general, I've been defending Hillary against what I see as basically Republican attacks, like my occasional comments on the email pseudo-scandal. So far, Republicans haven't been saying much about Bernie, so a comparable defense hasn't been necessary.

On the Republican side, things are really starting to get interesting, in the horror-movie sense of interesting.

For a long time, pundits had been speculating that Donald Trump's support had a ceiling, and that when the race came down to two or three candidates, he'd be in trouble. Well, that ceiling turned out to be considerably higher than most of us thought, but he finally seems to be bumping against it.

Nate Silver does what he does best: defines a stat that captures a vague notion we've all had. (This is where you see Nate's background as a baseball stats guy. Baseball is full of vague notions -- like clutch hitting, the value of a slick-fielding shortstop, or what it takes to get into the Hall of Fame -- that you can't talk about intelligently until you define some new stats.) The stat is Minimum Winning Vote Share: If all the other candidates got the exact number of votes they actually got, what percentage of the vote would your candidate have needed in order to win by one vote?

MWVS trends inexorably upward as the number of candidates shrinks. Trump's MWVS in New Hampshire was only 19.5%. (His actual vote share was 35.2%, so he crushed the opposition.) But in 4 of the last 5 contests his MWVS has been over 40%. Trump's 35.1% of the vote in Wisconsin is almost identical to his percentage in New Hampshire, but it earned him a decisive loss rather than a landslide win, because his MWVS had increased.

Nate then produces two charts: The increase in Trump's MWVS as the primaries go on, and the increase in his vote percentage. Both trend upward, but MWVS is increasing much faster and looks like it has finally caught up.

In addition to having a ceiling somewhere south of 50% of Republicans, Trump's nomination is also being called into doubt by how the inner workings of the Republican process are playing out. Getting from polls and primary votes to convention delegates turns out to be a much darker art than most of us realized, and Ted Cruz seems to be a lot better at it.

Trump has already started saying "The system is rigged." And his supporters already feel cheated by government, by immigrants, by big business, by liberals, and so on. If Trump's campaign ends up looking (to them) like a microcosm of the whole rigged country, the Republican Convention in Cleveland should be the most interesting convention since the Democrats were in Chicago in 1968. Again, that's in the horror-movie sense of interesting.

and you might also be interested in

We found out how Trump plans to make Mexico pay for his wall.

The Republican presidential candidate's campaign said in a memo that if elected in November, Trump would use a U.S. anti-terrorism law to cut off [remittances from immigrants] unless Mexico made a one-time payment of $5 billion to $10 billion for the wall.

The memo says the Mexican economy

receives approximately $24 billion a year in remittances from Mexican nationals working in the United States. The majority of that amount comes from illegal aliens.

Threatening to shut that off, Trump thinks, will bring Mexico to its knees. Vox takes a more nuanced look at the topic.

A few points: First, people should be very wary of the government finding creative uses for anti-terrorism powers. These laws were meant to keep international banks from laundering money for Al Qaeda. Using them to keep Jesus the Janitor from sending $20 a week to his grandma goes way beyond Congress' intent.

Second, it demonstrates a pattern of thought that I've pointed out before: when you imagine taking decisive action against somebody and then ignore whatever they might do in response. That thinking often leads to conflicts where your opponent's responses are actually much cheaper and simpler than yours, and so you will lose even if you are stronger and richer.

Trump's whole wall is that way. A 30-foot wall can be defeated by a 31-foot ladder and a rope. Making the wall a foot higher is very expensive. Making a longer ladder and rope, not so much.

Similarly, maybe you can prevent Jesus from making a wire transfer or using some other 21st-century process. But are you going to open every Mexico-bound letter to find all the cash or debit cards?  What about friendly American citizens who will carry unsuspicious quantities of cash across the border for Jesus?

That leads to the security downside of lumping Jesus' grandma in with Al Qaeda: Ordinary Americans might cooperate with a money-smuggling network if they thought they were benefitting Mexican grandmas. And once that network is up, maybe Al Qaeda will use it.

Ezra Klein's "Is the media biased against Bernie Sanders?" reflects a lot of my own views of political coverage (which I expressed in a 2011 article "Liberal Media, Conservative Manipulation", and which leans heavily on Jay Rosen's "Why the Internet Weakens the Authority of the Press"). Klein's answer to his own question is: It's not that simple.

I believe that mainstream media contains very little conscious propaganda. Reporters at CNN or the NYT aren't thinking "I want (or don't want) Bernie Sanders to win, so I'm going to say this." Instead, reporters (both individually and as a group) develop an unstated -- and to a certain extent even unconscious -- model of who these candidates are and what the larger narrative of the campaign is. That model influences which events get classified as news and how that news gets presented.

If you want to get technical, it's not about bias so much as prejudice. Reporters aren't pushing for or against a certain candidate, but they have made prior judgments that may cut either way, depending on the circumstances.

The judgment they've made about Sanders is that he's authentic, but he's a big-picture guy who doesn't sweat the details. Clinton they see as calculating and occasionally slippery. That level of generalization doesn't appear explicitly in news stories, but it influences coverage: If Hillary says something different from one day to the next, it gets covered as a tactical maneuver. If Bernie does the same thing, it's because he hasn't thought things through that well. Either candidate might regard that coverage as negative bias.

Rosen sees this as an inherent problem in the journalistic ideal of objectivity. By pretending to speak with an idealized objectivity that is more or less impossible for humans to achieve, subjective judgments are driven underground, where they arguably do more damage and are harder to correct. Klein puts it this way:

the model is, for the most part, hidden, and the accumulated inputs to the model are hard to explain or may not have been things an individual journalist was allowed to report on. The result is that coverage can feel confusing and biased, because the real rationale for the decisions being made about what to cover and how to cover it is obscured from the audience.

Klein's article is unusual because of how introspective he is about his prior judgments on the candidates. So it is less "objective" than most campaign coverage, but probably communicates more insight.

In a nerdy but interesting 538 article, Ben Casselman explains how quadratic voting might improve the five-choice (strongly approve to strongly disapprove) polling scale.

WonkBlog's Emily Badger points out how easy it is to come up with some "solution" for poor people's problems that covertly assumes they have the same resources the rest of us take for granted. The example is simple: reusable cloth diapers. Yes, they can be cheaper than disposables, if you have the upfront money to buy them and a washing machine.

and let's close with a gadget

It's like the kids who grew up watching Transformers are old enough now to design real things.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Paying Hell

Your vote is supposed to count. Break that understanding and there will be hell to pay.

-- Josh Marshall

This week's featured posts are "Crime and Punishment: Did Trump Spill the Beans on the Pro-Life Movement?" and "Where North Carolina's New Law is Going".

This week everybody was talking about the culture wars

The two featured posts cover the two main stories: whether banning abortion means punishing women who seek abortions, and North Carolina's bathroom-regulating HB2 law that simultaneously prevents any local government from protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination.

What I didn't mention in those posts was the economic backlash against North Carolina.

The transgender bathroom scare may not be as effective as some people believe.

and the presidential race

Tomorrow is the Wisconsin primary. Cruz is expected to win on the Republican side, and that injects more doubt into the race.

Josh Marshall makes an interesting point about the possibility that Trump may go to the convention with far more primary votes than anyone else, but not come out of it with the nomination.

Through 1968 -- in my living memory in other words -- nobody really expected their primary vote to decide the nominee of their party. Conventions had their smoke-filled rooms, where party bosses like Chicago's Mayor Daley anointed a winner. That's how it had always been done.

But since 1972 we've had a different system, where the people who vote in primaries think they're actually choosing the nominee.

what most people never really thought through was that the clinch before the convention model was always based on fundamental party unity. A candidate didn't win by winning. He or she won when they demonstrated that no other rival could win. After that, the money dried up for the also rans and they were ushered out of the race. This just wasn't obvious before because we'd never seen this system operate under these different conditions.

But right now the Republican Party is fundamentally divided, and so the arcane rules of delegate selection are really starting to matter. In many states, delegates "won" by Trump in the primary are being named by the party establishment. Many of them are obligated to vote for Trump on the first ballot, but aren't actual Trump supporters. If Trump can be stopped on the first ballot, his nomination prospects may be over. What happens then?

Over half a century, the national primary process has been enshrined as a national election process. It may be run by party rules and may have all sorts of obscure and nonsensical bylaws. But you vote in the same precinct station as you vote in real elections. For real people that means it's an election, period. You vote and your vote is supposed to count. Break that understanding and there will be hell to pay. Whatever rules you can cite simply are not going to matter that much.

On the Democratic side, polls make Sanders a slight favorite to win in Wisconsin. If he does, the question will be whether he won by enough, given how far behind he is in the national delegate totals. Nate Silver has made a projection of how many delegates Sanders needs from each remaining contest if he's going to win a majority of pledged delegates (leaving the superdelegates out of it). In that model, Sanders needs 50 of Wisconsin's 86 delegates, and would probably have to win the popular vote by 16 points to get them.

Why does this keep happening? The Washington Post took the bait from a Republican congressperson who claimed to know, and reported that 147 FBI agents were working on the Clinton email case. That number echoed all over the media, creating the impression that as Chris Cillizza put it, "this investigation was far more wide-ranging than I, at least, believed"

As usual, the report turned out to be bogus. The WaPo had to back off, saying that no more than 50 agents were involved. NBC later was able to lower that number to 12.

But for some reason this game never gets old: A Republican congressman (or someone on his staff) feeds the media some scandalous "fact" about Clinton, which then gets reported as if it had some news value. When the story turns out to be false, the liar's identity is protected.

This week the Sanders and Clinton campaigns threw charges and counter-charges about campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. MaddowBlog's Steve Benen and the WaPo's fact-checkers try to sort it all out.

and you might also be interested in

If black history gets its own month, why not Confederate history? In Mississippi, it does: April is Confederate Heritage Month.

On his Orcinus blog, Dave Neiwert has decided to take that seriously, using this month to make sure we don't forget noteworthy aspects of our Confederate heritage, like lynching. Or the fact that the Civil War wasn't about "states rights", as neo-Confederates claim. The Confederacy was created to defend slavery, pure and simple.

The Apple/FBI controversy ends with a whimper rather than a bang: Never mind, Apple, we can do it without you.

If you're wondering what people are thinking, when they support the Senate refusing to consider a Supreme Court nominee for the first time ever, it's something like this: Obama's nominee is going to do his bidding, with the result that "at least four million illegal immigrants would be rewarded with jobs, welfare, and other taxpayer-paid benefits".

In other words, they're looking at the Supreme Court not as a court of law, but as a super-Senate that votes for or against certain results.

A sign that we need a higher minimum wage, at the very least:

2014 was the first year that Pew studied in which median spending on [housing, food, and transportation] was higher than the median income for those in the lower third of income groups.

Increased housing costs were the immediate cause of the change.

Tough decision: Should I watch an Opening Day baseball game on TV this afternoon, or scrape the snow off my car?

and let's close with a math experiment you can do at home

There was a time this guy might have been hung as a witch. Watch the "miraculous" thing he can do with a metal plate, a violin bow, and a can of couscous.