Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin Claims Vice President "In Charge Of The U.S. Senate"

Yesterday, Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) sat for an interview with KUSA, an NBC affiliate in Colorado. In response to a question sent to the network by a third grader at a local elementary school about what the Vice President does, Palin erroneously argued that the Vice President is "in charge of the United States Senate":

Q: Brandon Garcia wants to know, "What does the Vice President do?"

PALIN: That's something that Piper would ask me! ... [T]hey're in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom.

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McCain Accidentally Agrees: Western Pennsylvania Is Racist

Sen. John McCain offered, on Tuesday, what may go down as one of the more awkward moments of this campaign cycle, in which -- speaking in Western Pennsylvania -- he declared he 'couldn't agree more' with the sentiment that some of the people from that region were openly racist.

"You know, I think you may have noticed that Senator Obama's supporters have been saying some pretty nasty things about Western Pennsylvania lately," McCain told the audience in the town of Moon Township. "And you know, I couldn't agree with them more."

Oops. It was, in many ways, a reflection of how tired these candidates have become as this nearly two-year-long campaign hits its final strides. And, to be fair, the crowd eventually got the point; booing at the reference to John Murtha, who said last week that some of his Western Pennsylvania constituents were racist. But there was a stunned silence after the gaffe.

For political humorists it is gold, made even more potent by McCain's botched attempt at a recovery. "I couldn't disagree with you," he declared (referencing what, no one knows). "I couldn't agree with you more than the fact that Western Pennsylvania is the most patriotic, most god-loving, most, most patriotic part of America, and this is a great part of the country."

The line was reminiscent of Sarah Palin touting the pro-America parts of the country. And actually could be just as politically dicey than the inadvertent labeling of Western Pennsylvanians as racists.

Either way, the video is worth a watch... or three.

ABC News catches McCain flubbing another attack line, this time on Joe Biden:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., this week has been flubbing not just parts of his speeches, but the pivotal attack lines his campaign prepares reporters to film and record.

n Belton, Missouri, Monday, McCain was supposed to say, "Just last night, Senator Biden guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, we will have an international crisis to test America's new President. We don't want a President who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars."

What he actually said, per ABC News' Bret Hovell: "Just last night, Senator Obama (sic) guaranteed that if Senator Obama is elected, Senator Biden said, we will have an international crisis to test America's new President," etc. etc.

He flubbed it again in the extended version of the attack.

"What's more troubling is that Senator Obama (sic) told their campaign donors that when that crisis hits, they would have to stand with them because it wouldn't be apparent Senator Obama would have the right response."

And this is from a Teleprompter!

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Socialists: Obama no socialist

These are hard times to be a socialist in America. And not just because there's a bourgeois-bloated Starbucks on every other corner, thumbing its capitalist nose at the proletariat.

No, it's tough these days because you've got politicians on the right, the same guys who just helped nationalize the banking system, derisively and inaccurately calling the presidential candidate on the left a socialist. That's enough to make Karl Marx harumph in his grave.

Local communists, rarely tapped as campaign pundits, say Sen. Barack Obama and his policies stand far afield from any form of socialism they know.

John Bachtell, the Illinois organizer for Communist Party USA, sees attempts by Sen. John McCain's campaign to label Obama a socialist as both offensive to socialists and a desperate ploy to tap into fears of voters who haven't forgotten their Cold War rhetoric.

"Red baiting is really the last refuge of scoundrels," Bachtell said. "It has nothing to do with the issues that are confronting the American people right now. It's just a big diversion."

Of course that's just one man's opinion. (And everyone knows you can't trust a communist.)

The "s-word" bubbled up from the McCain campaign after Obama said, in his chat with Joe the Plumber, that he thinks "when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

Well, that certainly sounds like the words of a Red Menace. But is it socialist?

There are about as many definitions for socialism as comedian Jeff Foxworthy has for the term "redneck."

So, how do you know if you're a socailist?

Generally, it involves espousing government control over a country's basic industries, like transportation, communication and energy, while also allowing some government regulation of private industries.

"Obama is about as far from being a socialist as Joe The Plumber is from being a rocket scientist," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. "I think it's hard for McCain to call Obama a socialist when George Bush is nationalizing banks."

And this from Bruce Carruthers, a sociology professor at Northwestern University: "Obama is like a center-liberal Democrat, and he is certainly not looking to overthrow capitalism. My goodness, he wouldn't have the support of someone like The Wizard of Omaha, Warren Buffet, if he truly was going to overthrow capitalism."

Bottom line: pure capitalism and socialism can be a difficult mix.

Which hits at the heart of the problem. Right now, with the economy in the tank, the idea of a little wealth sharing doesn't sound so bad to people whose 401k plans are worth less than the contents of their coin jars.

"The idea of closing that wealth gap, I think, is a concern for many, many Americans," said Teresa Albano, editor of the Chicago-based People's Weekly World, a communist newspaper. "I don't think people are going to respond negatively to the idea of spreading around the wealth."

Which is not to say that, by electing Obama, the country will gamely head down the path of socialism.

"The whole point of his policies don't really represent the political economy of the working class," said Robert Roman, who edits the newsletter of the roughly 250-member Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. "Obama's going to be a person who represents all of us, he's going to be representing the interest of the capitalists as well as the working people. He's not really talking about transforming society beyond capitalism."

But don't worry, Sen. Obama. You're still likely to win the vote of avowed socialists.

"Having Obama as president would be greatly superior, from our point of view, than having McCain as president," Roman said.

And you can expect to see that quote in a McCain ad in 5, 4, 3, 2....

Original here

How the U.S.A. elects its President

Every four years, the world looks with bafflement at the United States as the country goes through its curious process of electing its President. Truth be told, the system is far from obvious, and remains misunderstood and controversial even within the U.S.A. A brief primer on how it all works.

Americans go voting
Foto: AFP

With early voting opening in some states such as Florida, 'voting season' has begun. Officially, Election Day is mandated by the Constitution for the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Though few probably know it, Americans do not vote directly for their President. Instead, he is elected by the Electors of each state, who pledge to vote for the candidate chosen by the majority in that state.

The most common false assumption about the President of the United States is that he is directly elected through a popular vote of the people. It’s easy to fall into this trap, given the appealing simplicity of such a democratic method.

In reality, the President is elected through a one-of-a-kind, indirect process, which places the emphasis on the individual state elections. The electoral system written in the Constitution of the United States was designed to preserve the autonomy and political power of the states, and this federal character of the country is preserved in the Electoral College system.

How does the Electoral College function?

American voters do not cast their ballot for President at the federal level. Rather, the votes are counted at the local level and then submitted to the electoral commissions of the states. Each state has a certain number of electors, equal to the number of U.S. representatives from that state, plus the two senators. The District of Columbia also has a number of electors equal to that of the smallest state, currently three, thanks to the Twenty-third Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1961 (before that, residents of the District could not vote for President). The state with the largest number of electors is California, which has 55. In total, there are currently 538 electors. A candidate needs to win 270 electoral votes to become President.

Depending on which candidate receives a majority of the popular vote in a given state, the electors of that state will all cast their votes for that candidate, a winner-takes-all system. This is the case in 48 states and the District of Columbia; in two states, Maine and Nebraska, a different system is used in which it is possible for electoral votes to be split between the candidates.

n Maine, for example, two of its four electoral votes are determined by the statewide, popular vote, but the other two votes are determined by the outcome of the election in the two Congressional districts. It is possible, then, for Maine and Nebraska to cast their electoral votes for both candidates.

A three-step process

Election Day, written in the U.S. Constitution, is the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. On this day, Americans who are not voting by absentee ballot go to the polls to cast their ballot. Technically, the American voter is not electing the President, though the Presidential candidates’ names appear on the ballot. Rather, the voter is electing the members of the Electoral College, who will later elect the President.

After the outcome of the election is known at the state level, the secretaries of the respective states prepare ‘Certificates of Ascertainment’ naming the electors chosen, and send one original and two copies to the Archivist of the United States.


On December 15, the electors of each state meet to select the President and Vice President of the United States. They record their vote on six ‘Certificates of Vote’, which are sent, along with the ‘Certificates of Ascertainment’, to the President of the Senate, Archivist of the United States, and other federal bodies. These offices must have received the documents by December 24.

The final step in electing the U.S. President will take place on January 6, 2009. On this day, Congress will meet in a joint-session (both houses) to count the electoral votes. With the official numbers certified by the Congress, the path is cleared for Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, when the new President takes his Oath of Office.

Challenges to the system

Critics of the Electoral College system have existed since it was codified in the Constitution. In fact, the question of how to select the executive of the United States has been an ongoing debate for the past 230 years, give or take. According to the National Archives and Records Administration, more than 700 proposals for reforming or abolishing the Electoral College have been introduced in Congress in that time.

In 1987, the American Bar Association reported that 69 percent of lawyers wanted to do away with the system. Popular support for this ‘archaic’ system has not fared better: between 58 and 81 percent of Americans were against the Electoral College system between 1967 and 1981.

Still, the system endures because, first of all, it would be difficult to change it, and second, because it is difficult to establish consensus around an alternative method. Changing the Electoral College system would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, as well as support from three-fourths of the states. This is not easy to achieve.

But the Electoral College system also persists because despite its shortcomings, there are several reasons to recommend it. Supporters of the system point out that the framers of the Constitution considered several other possibilities, but settled on this one for its advantages: It helps ensure political stability by making it difficult for third party candidates to become president; it gives rural areas and small states more power, better distributing political clout across the country; and it encourages a federal system of representation.

Of course, the critics will surely continue to work on alternative systems to challenge the status quo. As long as outcomes like the contested 2000 election, in which Al Gore won the popular vote of the United States as a whole by a hair over George W. Bush, but lost the election when the Supreme Court awarded Florida’s Electoral College votes to Bush, continue, there will surely be other systems proposed.

But for the 2008 election at least, McCain and Obama will win or lose the election based on the outcome of the Electoral College system.

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