News show “Democracy Now!” does exactly what it says on the tin for US VP debate

On Tuesday evening the Vice Presidential candidates in the US election, Senator Tim Kaine (D) and Governor Mike Pence (R) squared off in a debate at Longwood University in Virginia, which is curiously Kaine’s home state.

There are two other candidates running for President who are on the ballot in enough states to have a “realistic” chance of winning the election outright – Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertaians, but their VP choices were excluded from the debate.

For three election cycles up until 1984, the series of debates was organised by the totally non-partisan League of Women Voters but when they started to insist on “third-party candidates” being included in the process, the duopoly of Republicans and Democrats came together and forced them out, setting up instead their own organisation called the Commission for Presidential Debates that has rules which virtually guarantee just the two participants in each debate.

One of our top sources for “non-mainstream” media coverage of US affairs is Democracy Now!, hosted by Amy Goodman which has been running for around 20 years.  As the two VP candidates slugged it out during the debate, Goodman had Green Party VP nominee Ajamu Baraka in studio to offer real time responses to the questions as though he were in fact part of the debate.  Libertarian nominee William Weld was also invited but apparently they offered no response.

The show recently did something similar for the first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton, with the Green Party’s Jill Stein giving her responses, also in “real time” as the feed from the main debate was paused.

What Baraka proceeds to do is highlight the similarities between the two on-stage combatants, like on the subject of war where both Republicans and Democrats come from a position of war as an inevitable option  – he presents the Greens as the party of peace.  Whether or not you agree with this stance, true believers in democracy have to appreciate the opportunity to know the option is there on their ballot paper.

Here at FPP we would love to see this method employed during the course of an Irish election campaign given our ever-expanding selection of parties and platforms.  We too have a duopoly that very much needs breaking…only in our case they are pretty much indistinguishable from each other in terms of political outlook.

 

Advertisements

The First Presidential Debate – what the candidates weren’t asked #IssuesNotEgos

So we’ve finally seen the two candidates on the same stage at the same time – how did they get on?

It’s quite simple…Trump got in some shots and had his opponent under pressure in the early stages but Hillary came storming back, easily got under his skin and forced him into some ramblings which I doubt even he could translate into understandable English now.

But amid all the rhetoric and back-and-forth on tax returns, emails, calling women Miss Piggy and bringing up Bill’s affairs by saying you won’t bring them up, was there much actual talk about, oh I don’t know, what they’d do as President?

Sure, there was a bit about jobs, a bit about trade and a bit about secret plans to beat ISIS, but even then it was more about how bad the opponent was rather than what each candidate would do themselves.

Yet the American mainstream media lapped up the verbal mud wrestling and proceeded to make the focus of the post-game all about “who won”.

Thankfully we have the good folks at FAIR.org to give an alternative take in their piece “Lester Holt Asks Zero Questions About Poverty, Abortion, Climate Change” by Adam Johnson.

A week before the debate,Comcast-owned NBC announced the topics, and one could already tell we weren’t going to be in for a substantive evening: “Achieving prosperity,” “America’s direction” and “securing America.” This generic approach lead to a generic debate that focused mostly on horserace disputes and vague, open-ended questions about taxes and jobs.

What I find amusing is how Americans can be so bent out of shape about their media making it all about personalities when they have over 300 millions people, just two main parties (well actually there’s four but they keep the Greens and Libertarians away from these debates), and election campaigns that last well over a year.

Here in Ireland, with a humble 5 million people, we have an ever-growing amount of political parties and campaigns squeezed into just under a month, so while the “Yanks” have plenty of time to talk about issues and seem to choose not to, here our media has so little time all they get to focus on is what would the inevitable coalition look like after the unnecessarily over-complicated voting process is done.

Democratically held elections for government should be about issues not egos, but as a general public we seem content to have them portrayed like “reality” TV shows.

 

Trump’s Tirade of Two-faced Tactics

They say in sporting circles that attack is the best form of defence.  In politics, more often than not from the “right”, they tend to take it one step further…not only should you defend yourself by going on the attack, you should also do so by accusing your opponent of doing exactly what it is that you are known to do.  Donald Trump has been a master of this in his presidential campaign.

He attacks Hillary on her health…not only in recent days when she actually had some issues in that area, but also well before she was confirmed as the Democratic nominee, giving out about her arriving late on stage when debating Bernie Sanders.  Since then there have been a string of ridiculous conspiracy theories from the extreme right suggesting everything from using body doubles to actually having mental problems.

And all of this when Trump himself has only produced a medical report from a quack who offered this ridiculous claim:

If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency

Next up we have his childish name-calling…a supposedly serious candidate for President resorting to calling his opponent “Crooked Hillary” or “Hillary Rotten Clinton” in numerous speeches.

Well if she’s crooked, Donald, why don’t you show us your tax returns so we can be sure that you aren’t?

My personal favourite has been his attacks on the Clinton Foundation.   It ties in to the the “crooked” theme I know, but the persistent questions raised by Trump and his campaign which centred on the charitable organisation so much that you could only assume that the entity known as The Trump Foundation HAD to be beyond reproach.  Not the case at all.  In fact, if anything, the allegations on his side of the fence are far worse.

And they keep on coming.  The Clinton Foundation was accused of accepting charitable donations in return for access to Hillary as Secretary of State.  In Trump’s case, at first he was apparently using funds to help Republican politicians’ campaign in order to keep them sweet.

Now, Washington DC political blog the Hill suggests he was also using the charity money AGAINST people

While New York’s attorney general was investigating Trump University in 2014, Donald Trump’s foundation donated $100,000 to a conservative group that sued that same attorney general, according to a Yahoo News report Friday.
It all seems to lead to a simple Rule of Trump – if he accuses you of something, be sure and investigate him for that very same thing…you are bound to strike gold.

Looks like both US Presidential campaigns could be built on “shaky Foundations”

Here at FPP, as things stand right now, our plan is not only to vote for Hillary Clinton but also to keep the pressure on her to come good on hers and the DNC’s pledge to adopt at least some policies from the Progressive platform during her administration.

Or to put it another way, we fully acknowledge that whatever we may say against her opponent, she herself is by no means perfect and her biggest pressure points in this campaign have been the seemingly never-ending amount of State Department emails and the suspicions surrounding The Clinton Foundation.

Naturally Donald Trump has been at pains to attack these pressure points, though rarely by being too specific…either he resorts to name-calling like “Crooked Hillary” or “Hillary Rotten Clinton” or he makes vague references to her alleged “terrible crimes”.

Well on the subject of dodgy dealings by a foundation bearing a candidate’s name, it would appear that he has his own questions to answer, as Rachel Maddow reports in this video from her show, and also in this follow-up blog where Steve Benen notes that the matter has caught the attention of NYT, WaPo and HuffPo.

Trump has been quite candid in his explanations for why he made so many political contributions to so many candidates and office-holders. “I’ve given to everybody,” he boasted earlier this year. “When I want something I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass. “It’s true. They kiss my ass.”…
…So the question in the Bondi controversy is obvious: was his $25,000 contribution an investment to an official he “needed something from”?

What particularly catches our attention is the contribution in the video from the WaPo’s David Fahrenthold who says that Trump stopped giving his own money to charities, even his own, back in 2008, ironically when Barack Obama was elected.  Maybe he was too busy paying people to look into the President’s birth certificate?  And maybe it helps explain why he won’t show us his tax returns?

If ever a story invited the saying “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”…

Exploring the true meaning behind USA’s “Labor Day”

You can always count on the good folks at Fair.org and their podcast Counterspin to give you the real story hiding behind the corporate media hype.

In her post ‘Invisibilizing the Workers Who Actually Do the Work’, Janine Jackson offers some history on the closest thing the US has to when we know as a “Bank Holiday”, namely today.

It’s presented by corporate media as, most importantly, a long weekend with a parade—or, more seriously, as a holiday fought for by US trade unions to honor American workers. But the day has more complex origins. A national holiday had been a goal of US labor—several states already celebrated—but Grover Cleveland declared Labor Day in the midst of an attack by federal troops on striking Pullman railway workers, leading many to see it as an attempt to appease workers more than honor them.

Some fascinating stuff there.  The post is an edited transcript of the podcast which is well worth a listen.

Oh and another thing…the US Presidential race is meant to crank up another gear after Labor Day – just sayin’

Unbelievably, something about these Paul LePage stories stinks more than his racism

We have our “tin foil hats” on here at FPP big time.

Paul LePage is the governor of Maine, the state at the northeastern tip of the USA.  He is a Republican with a big capital R.  And he is also a racist with an even bigger capital R.  These things have been well known on a national level for a while.

But what has us scratching our heads is the fact that he seems to have “upped his game” in recent times, as the NY Times reports

Paul R. LePage, the Republican governor of Maine, faced a torrent of outrage and political pressure on Monday even from some members of his own party, after 48 hours last week in which he threatened a Democratic lawmaker in a profane voice mail message, made sweeping statements about race and ended the week by doubling down and seeming to endorse racial profiling to address the state’s drug crisis.

We won’t beat around the bush…we believe that this has something to do with the recent revamp by Donald Trump of his top advisers.

If there is one thing that Trump has done consistently, then it’s alienating immigrants and African Americans.  Now that the polls have the gap between himself and Hillary widening by the day, while he’ll hardly pick up too many votes on the “left” he surely now has to be mindful of those on the right who won’t be too keen on his reputation as a racist.

So what better way to deflect the attention of the media than to have a known bigoted politician like LePage ramp up the racist rhetoric?  Make sure he achieves  coast-to-coast recognition so that Trump looks moderate by comparison?

Why else would so many examples of his tirades come out over such a short period of time?

It’s not as though LePage had a hope in hell of being re-elected anyway.  So maybe the Trump campaign went to him and said “If you help us with this, we’ll look after you when you move out of the governor’s mansion”.  Perhaps create a new “Secretary of White Supremacy” post in the Trump administration?

Of course this is all pure speculation.  But while we’re not fans of any kind of racism, we could see a smattering of intelligence behind this plan if indeed it is the case.  Perhaps we’ll never know.

 

The actual US Presidential Election method explained, plus the National Popular Vote movement

It never ceases to amaze me how the process of electing the political leader of a “super-power” nation of over 300 million people is so much simpler than that of the Republic of Ireland with its mere 5 million.

You try to tell American voters about surpluses, quotas, transfers and first preferences and they’re likely to head for the hills.  In fact, I’m pretty sure a lot of Irish ones head for the hills as it is.  No matter what defence you make for the PR-STV method we use here, it can’t involve one which claims it’s in any way “straightforward”.

But anyway…this post is meant to focus on the US.  I often get asked how it works, which reminds me how much of a nerd I am on things like that when my initial reaction (in my head) is “Doesn’t EVERYONE know this?”  Why should Irish people have a working knowledge of how things work in other countries?

The first phrase you need to know is “Electoral College”, because you’ll hear it a lot in official explanations.  This doesn’t mean a place you go to learn out about elections.  It simply refers to the body of people who actually choose the President.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that the President and Vice President of the United States are to be chosen every four years by a small group of people who are individually referred to as “presidential electors.” The electors are collectively referred to as the “Electoral College.”

The Constitution specifies that each state is entitled to one member of the Electoral College for each of its U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators. Today, there are a total of 538 electoral votes in the Electoral College. This total corresponds to the 435 U.S. Representatives from the 50 states plus the 100 U.S. Senators from the 50 states plus the three members of the Electoral College to which the District of Columbia became entitled under the 23rd Amendment…

The 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have been allocated their own number of members (or “votes”) of this Electoral College based on population.  For example, a big state like California has 54 while a small one like Vermont has just 3.

On the first Tuesday in November an election will be held in each jurisdiction and whomever tops the poll receives ALL the electoral votes going.  So even if a candidate wins California by just ONE vote, they still get ALL FIFTY-FOUR members of the Electoral College to vote in their favour. (Note there are a couple of exceptions like Maine but this is the case in the vast majority of the states)

For the purpose of the 2016 Election, the “magic number” is 270…in fact it has been for many years now.  Once a candidate reaches that total, no matter what combinations of states brought it about, then that’s it.  They get to live in the White House for four years.

Before I go on I should clarify one thing…technically (not to mention unbelievably) speaking, the Electoral College members do NOT have to actually vote for the candidate their state chose.  I could write volumes on this, but I won’t because in practice it never comes to that eventuality.

Now to examine how this method relates to the actual campaigns, and here is where we have problems.

With the size of the US as it is, travelling isn’t easy.  This means that candiates have to be selective when deciding where they go.  And while you’ll hear a lot in the press about about national polls, in reality what matters are the indivual polls within states.  This, in turn, gives the candidates a road map of where they need to be shaking hands and kissing babies.

All of the above makes perfect sense, when to take into account the electoral system.  Why should Hillary Clinton, for example, spend a lot of time and money showing her face in California when she pretty much knows she can put its 54 EC votes in the bank?

This virtual “guaranteed” nature of some places’ vote creates what are known as “red states” (Republican) and “blue states” (Democrat).  Basically there is no earthly reason for either candiadte to go there.  Which leaves the real battleground in what are known as the “swing” states.

Ohio and Pennsylvania are two of the best known swing states, which is precisely why the two major parties held their conventions in Cleveland and Philadephia respectively.  Another well known one is Florida, where Al Gore arguably had the election “stolen” from him by George W Bush in 2000.

There is a movement in America which wants to change the process of electing the President to one which will ensure the candidates will have to listen to the whole country throughout the campaign.

National Popular Vote” is exactly wht it says on the tin…a campaign to have the President be the one for whom the most citizens voted, period.

And it’s not just a bunch of “crackpots” protesting outside Congress with a placard reading “Down with this sort of thing” either…they are actually getting elected bodies from jurisdictions around the country to sign up to the concept.

The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions possessing 165 electoral votes—61% of the 270 electoral votes necessary to activate it, including four small jurisdictions (RI, VT, HI, DC), three medium- size states (MD, MA, WA), and four big states (NJ, IL, NY, CA)

So to put it simply,  once the bill has been enacted by enough states to bring the total electoral votes to 270, they win!

Only 105 to go.  We wish them well.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind some electoral reform here in Ireland.  Maybe not exactly the same as across the pond, but definitely something other than the mathematical maelstrom that is PR-STV.