Senate Gives “Audit the Fed” a Unanimous Victory

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Nichols

“The Fed can no longer operate in virtual secrecy,” declared Vermont independent Bernie Sanders Tuesday after the Senate voted 96-0 to add his “Audit the Fed” amendment to the financial regulatory reform bill.

The Senate amendment is not as muscular as the bipartisan legislation backed by the House, which was sponsored by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, an aggressive progressive, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, an equally aggressive conservative with libertarian leanings. The Grayson-Paul bill authorizes audits by the Government Accountability Office of every item on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet, including all credit facilities and all securities purchase programs; there would be exemption only for unreleased transcripts, minutes of closed-door meetings and the most recent decisions of the central bank. The Senate measure is narrower in its focus, but it would require the GAO to scrutinize some several trillion dollars in emergency lending that the Fed provided to big banks after the September 2008 economic meltdown.

The actual amount of public money that has been set aside for private banks is not known. That’s one reason why this audit is so important. But there can be no doubt that the figure is astronomical. The Center for Media and Democracy’s Wall Street Bailout Tally shows that since 2008, the U.S. government has flooded Wall Street banks and financial institutions with $4.7 trillion dollars in taxpayer money, mostly in the form of loans from the Fed reserve. The Fed has never told us which firms got these loans and what type of collateral American taxpayers got in return. This will now be revealed. We will also get an accounting of the Fed’s “stealth” bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Sanders tried to pass a broader amendment, but when he faced roadblocks — and the prospect that audit language might be excluded entirely from the final bill — he agreed to propose an amendment outlining the one-time audit of post-meltdown Fed activity.  That did not sit well with all senators. Even as Republicans such as New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg tried to prevent any demand for transparency, Louisiana Republican David Vitter proposed tougher language along the lines what Grayson and Paul pushed through the House. While most Democrats and a number of Republicans opposed the tougher language, Sanders joined the most serious reformers in the Democratic caucus — Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Washington’s Maria Cantwell, North Dakota’s Byron Dorgan, Arkansas’s Blanche Lincoln, Virginia’s Jim Webb and Oregon’s Ron Wyden — in voting “yes.”

The Vitter amendment failed on a 62-37 vote and Feingold was especially disappointed.  “Unfortunately,” the Wisconsin progressive declared, “the defeat of the Vitter amendment means American taxpayers will still not have a complete picture of how one of the most powerful government agencies makes policy and spends their tax dollars.”

Still, Feingold acknowledged that, “Senator Sanders’ amendment will mean more transparency for the Federal Reserve, so the public will have a better idea of how it is spending taxpayer dollars.”

That transparency is consequential, noted Sanders. “Let’s be clear,” he explained, “when trillions of dollars of taxpayer money are being lent out to the largest financial institutions in this country, the American people have a right to know who received that money and what they did with it.  We also need to know what possible conflicts of interest exist involving the heads of large financial institutions who sat in the room helping to make those decisions.”

The “Audit the Fed” language that is included in the final legislation remains to be seen, as the differences between the House and Senate proposals will have to be reconciled by a conference committee. That will provide an opening for Grayson, Paul, Sanders and their allies to push for the broadest possible transparency. But, make no mistake, there will be pushback.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly refused to respond to demands from Sanders and others for information about the banks that have been bailed out by the taxpayers — and that continue to pad their accounts with public dollars. President Obama, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and their aides are critics of the “Audit the Fed” push, as well.

So why, with so much official opposition, did the “Audit the Fed” movement win a 96-0 vote in the Senate? Campaigners on the left and right made the issue a high priority. A good deal of credit must go to Sanders and Paul — long-time critics of the Fed who opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts and then steered anger at those bailouts toward the “Audit the Fed” movement — which was boosted on the left by websites such as Jane Hamsher’s Firedoglake and on the right by the Paul-linked Campaign for Liberty, as well as by outspoken economists such a Dean Baker and watchdog operations such as CMD’s BanksterUSA project.

Ultimately, however, much of the credit must go to Grayson, who embraced Paul’s proposal — which had languished in the House — and led the campaign to get Democrats to sign on to the bill. As Hamsher says, “Tremendous credit goes to Alan Grayson. It was Grayson who decided to take up Ron Paul’s bill and bring Democratic support for it.

Sanders, who took some hits for compromising, also deserves credit at this point for making sure, even when he was forced to trim back on his amendment, that critical elements of the initial proposal by Paul — especially the defined role for the GAO — were retained. That will make it harder for the Obama White House and their allies in the congressional leadership to gut the audit language in the conference committee.

There will, as well, be additional fights:

“While passage of Senator Sanders’ amendment will provide some long overdue accountability and transparency for the Federal Reserve, the overall bill still needs a lot of work,” said Feingold. In particular, Feingold and other real reformers have focused on the need for the bill to restore the firewall between Main Street banks and Wall Street securities firms and insurance companies, which contributed to financial institutions growing “too big to fail.”

While the bipartisan support for auditing the Fed represents a step in the right direction, Feingold is right when he says it is only one step on a long road toward addressing the way in which bad decisions by Congress “led to deregulation and the increased concentration of economic power and economic decision-making.”

John Nichols is Washington DC correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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Community News (V12-I15)

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Old mosque to site once again hear the azan

TOLEDO,OH–A historic building in Toledo which once served as the first mosque in the city and the ninth in the United States will once again hear the call of azan. The former Toledo Islamic Building was first dedicated as a mosque in 1954 but was shut down after the congregation moved to to Perrysburg Township in 1983, reports the Toledo Blade.

The building was vacant for many years and had earlier been used as a youth treatment center and a government office.

The local Muslim community hadn’t forgotten the importance of the building and the Toledo Masjid al-Islam recently bought it for $60,000. The 3800 square foot facility is now being renovated.

End of Oregon’s Ban on Hijab Welcomed

PORTLAND,OR–The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has praised the signing into law of legislation that will end Oregon’s ban on teachers wearing Islamic head scarves or the religious attire of other faiths.

The lifting of the 87-year-long ban will go into effect after the 2010-11 school year and follows a February vote of 51-8 in the Oregon House of Representatives. To become law, the bill had to be signed by Governor Ted Kulongoski.

“This change in the law protects the rights of educators of all faiths,” said CAIR national communications director Ibrahim Hooper.

He added that his organization has consistently defended the right of Americans of all faiths to wear religious attire in the workplace, in schools, in courtrooms and as customers in public venues such as banks.

Currently only Nebraska and Pennsylvania prohibit their teachers from wearing religious clothing at work, and CAIR has called on their legislators to “follow Oregon’s example of respect for religious freedom and diversity.”

In addition to the Muslim organization, a number of interfaith groups, civil rights groups and bar association organizations, including The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, have joined in the appeal.

Usury Free Conference Held in Toronto

TORONTO,CANADA-A two day conference on exploring usury free financial products was held in Toronto last week. Organized by the Usury Free Association of North America it attracted a large number of scholars from across North America and abroad.

Canada’s first Shariah-compliant credit card, the iFreedom Plus MasterCard, was also launched at the conference.

A recent report for Canada’s national housing agency said Islamic mortgages and other Shariah-compliant financial products would pose no problems with civil law.
Representatives from mainstream banks, politicians, and government officials also attended the conference to learn about Islamic finance.

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Mass Killers and Media

November 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-chief

Who is in right mind will commit an act attributed to Major Nidal Malik Hasan? Why did he commit such an act when the alleged shooter had sought discharge from the army? Who in his right mind will condone such a criminal act? Regardless of what the motives were, the insane killing of soldiers at Fort Hood is rightly condemned by all Muslim organizations unanimously. Not every act of violence committed by KKK is condemned by people of white skin. Not every act of killing by blacks is condemned by organizations such as NAACP. Not every murder committed in a free society like us is condemned by organizations promoting democracy and freedom. If we as a country with billions of dollars resources spent on law enforcement agencies have failed to prevent groups such as KKK or gun violence or mass murderers, why does any body except 1.6 billion Muslims to be responsible of the behavior of their insane, and crazy people.

But somehow the impression that is being created by the media and propagated by the right wing Christian extremists is that 1.6 billion Muslims are responsible for what was done by Nidal Malik Hasan, as their holy book is the main reason for his behavoior. Well, why donot they also attribute to Islam and the Quran the act of kindness, mercy and forgiveness offered by Muslims to the people regardless of their ethnic or religious background? Look at how Islam and Muslims were demonized by the media.

* Suspected mass murderer Nidal Malik Hasan: Identified as a Muslim American of Jordanian or Palestinian Descend, a sympathizer of suicide bombing, a convert to Islam, a Jihadist, a true believer in the Quran, a practicing Muslim, a promoter of Al-Qaida ideology, a member of a terrorist sleeper cell and so on so forth.

Look at the pattern of news reporting about mass killers in our national and local media listed below and then tell me who is distorting facts? Tell me who is misleading the public? Tell me who is sowing the seeds of hatred. Some of them will say, Aslam Abdullah, because he is a Muslim American, a Middle Eastern by ethnicity and a covert terrorist. Can any sensible American accept their claim? Yes, only those who see Muslims and Islam as their new enemy. These are people who are trapped in the history of the past and refuse to look at Islam and Muslims from an objective, balanced and fair perspective.

Let’s start with another shooting incident that follows on the heels of the Fort Hood incident:

* November 06, 2009, Florida police have arrested a suspect believed to have opened fire Friday in the offices of an engineering firm where he was let go more than two years ago. Authorities have identified the alleged gunman as Jason Rodriguez, 40, a former employee at the office building. Did any news media identify him as an American of Hispanic decent?

* On March 10, 2009, Michael McLendon set fire to the rural south Alabama home he shared with his mother with her body inside. He then set off on a 24-mile shooting spree during which he fired more than 200 rounds and killed 10 more people, including himself. Was he ever described by the media or officials as an American Protestant?

* On April 3, 2009, a Vietnam immigrant killed 13 people and then himself in a shooting spree at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York. Did anyone call him a Vietcong terrorist?

* In the year of 1989, in two separate incidents, Westley Allen Dodd sexually assaulted and killed three boys ages 11, 10 and four. His methods were so heinous, forensic psychologists dubbed him one of the most evil killers in history. Did anyone call him Christian killer?

* Jeffrey Dahmer was responsible for a series of gruesome murders of seventeen young men in Ohio and Milwaukee. Who called him a Christian murderer? No one!

* Why Ray and Faye Copeland, both in their 70s, went from being loving grandparents to serial killers who used the clothing of their victims to make a warm winter quilt to snuggle under is a story both morbid and perplexing. Did anyone describe them American terrorists?

* Dean Corll was a 33-year-old electrician living in Houston, Texas, who, with two teen accomplices, was responsible for kidnapping, torturing, raping and murdering at least 27 young boys in Houston in the early 1970s. – No one called him an evangelical terrorist?

* Accompanied by his girlfriend Debra Brown, Alton Coleman went on a six-state raping and killing spree in 1984. – He was not described as a Christian rapist?

* Angelo Buono, Jr. was, along with his cousin Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers who went on a two month rape, torture and murder spree in 1977, in California. – Was he identified with his religion and ethnicity?

* Jerry Brudos was a shoe fetishist, serial killer, rapist, torturer and necrophiliac who stalked women around Portland, Oregon in 1968 and 1969. – Should we blame the people of Oregon and call him an Oregonian rapist?

* In 1984, at age 21, Debra Brown became involved in a master/slave relationship with habitual killer and rapist Alton Coleman and the two went on a massive killing, raping and torture spree across the Midwest. – No one ever mentioned his race or religion.

* William Bonin was a habitual sex offender turned serial killer, suspected of sexually assaulting, torturing and killing at least 21 boys and young men in California. He was convicted and executed for 14 of the 21 murders. – No one talked about his affiliation to his local Church.

* Herbert Richard “Herb” Baumeister (April 7, 1947 – July 3, 1996) was the founder of the thrift store chain Sav-a-Lot and an alleged serial killer from suburban Westfield, Indiana. – His conservative background never came into discussion.

* Ronald Dominique of Houma, Louisiana confessed to murdering 23 men over the past nine years and dumping their bodies in sugarcane fields, ditches and small bayous in six southeast Louisiana parishes. – Yet, his Christian religious identity never came into discussion.

* Kristen Gilbert was a bright, attractive, well-trained nurse who, in 2001 was found guilty of killing her patients at a Veterans Administration medical center. – Did the media release footage of his visit to his place of worship? No

* Eagle Scout turned serial killer, Richard Angelo, killed patients in order to make himself out to be a hero.- Did anyone raise doubts about Scouting? No one!

* Helmuth Schmidt killed innocent women he lured through personal ads. – Did anyone blame the media for being an accomplice of the crime.

* The Lewington brothers were one of Ohio’s most deadly brutal serial killers of all time. – Did anyone bring about their Church affiliation? No one!

* Albert Fish is known for being one of the most vile pedophiles and killers of all time. After his capture he admitted to molesting over 400 children and tortured and killed several others. – Did the media talk about his religious pastor discussing his personal life?

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* Tedd Bundy was attractive, smart, and had a future in politics. He was also one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history. Bundy screamed his innocence until his death in the electric chair was imminent. Then he told just enough to show the true evil inside him.- Yet no one in the media talked about his race or religion.

* Richard Ramirez, was named The Night Stalker, after terrorizing Los Angeles during a year long killing and rape spree that resulted in his conviction of 43 counts, including 13 murders and other charges including burglary, sodomy, and rape. – Yet no one talked about Satanism he was preaching and practicing.

* John Wayne Gacy was convicted of the torture, rape and murder of 33 men between 1972 until his arrest in 1978. He was dubbed the “Killer Clown” because he entertained kids at parties as “Pogo The Clown.” – Did anyone blame all the clowns for his behavior.

* Gaskins confessed to several murders during the last days of his life. How much truth was in his confessions was never confirmed. Many believed he did not want to be known in history as a tiny man, but rather as a prolific killer. – He was a devout Christian but we never heard of his religious convictions.

* David Berkowitz, better known as Son of Sam, is an infamous 1970s New York City serial killer who killed six people and wounded several others because a demon dog told him to do it. – Should we assume from his last name that he was of Jewish origin?

* The Plainfield, Wisconsin police department had no idea of the grotesque world they were about to enter when they went to Ed Gein’s farm home to investigate the disappearance of a local woman. Gein’s crimes went down in history as some of the most disgusting ever uncovered that encompassed murder, grave robbing and cannibalism. – Yet, no one ever mentioned that he was a Church goer.

* Juan Corona was a labor contractor who hired migrant workers for produce fields in California. In a murder spree lasting six weeks, he raped and murdered 25 men and buried their machete-hacked bodies in the orchards owned by local farmers. – No one blamed hedonism or homosexuality for his crimes.

* In late October 1979, California authorities were busy hunting down and capturing The Hillside Strangler, Angelo Buono. In the meantime, two more equally barbaric killers had teamed up to fulfill a prison time fantasy – to kidnap, rape, torture and kill a girl for each teenage year. – Yet, we did not hear of their worshipping habits.

* On October 26, 2005, Jeremy Bryan Jones was convicted of the rape, burglary, sexual abuse, kidnapping and capital murder of Lisa Nichols. He now faces prosecution for the murder of Katherine Collins of Georgia and Amanda Greenwell of Douglas County, Ga. Police suspect Jones is a serial killer who may be linked to at least 10 other murders across the country. – No one discussed his faith and ethnicity.

* For month authorities from Utah, Washington, and Colorado worked together to find the serial killer named “Ted” who was brutally killing women everywhere he went, using their kindness to lead them into his trap. – Yet no one blamed Christianity for impacting the mind of the killer.

* Donald “Pee Wee” Gaskins was the most prolific serial killer in South Carolina history. Once his brutality was unleashed, he knew no boundaries, torturing, killing, cannibalizing victims, both male and female. – No one talked about those verses in the Old Testament that degrades women, even though several versions of the Bible were found in his custody.

* Pedro Alonzo Lopez, known as the ‘The Monster of the Andes,’ was one of history’s most horrific serial killers. He responsible for the brutal murders of over 350 children. He bragged of his crimes and promised to do it again if ever released from prison. – Yet in the middle of the night he was taken from prison to a van then driven to the Columbia border and set free. We never heard of his Catholic affiliation.

* Turner is the most prolific serial killer in the history of Los Angeles but was finally identified through DNA technology. – But no one identified his religion.

* No one could believe that the child-like face of John Eric Armstrong, nicknamed ‘Opie’ by his navy friends, was really the face of a cold and calculating serial killer. – But no one talked about his religious practices.

* Jack the Ripper, a serial killer murdered and mutilated at least five prostitutes in the East End of London in 1888 and because no one was ever, arrested or tried for the murders, crime buffs are still fascinated with the case more than 115 years later. – His religious background is unknown.

* It is estimated Shipman was responsible for 236 murders over 24 years, finally ending in 1998.- Yet, we never heard of his affiliation to Judaism or any other faith.

“Most of the time I killed them the first time I met them, and I do not have a good memory of their faces.” This is just one of many cold statements made by Gary Ridgway, when he pled guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the Green River killing cases. – Yet little is known about his faith and Church.

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ACLU Condemns Charity Closings

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Duke Helfand

The federal government’s crackdown on suspected terrorism financing since the 9/11 attacks has violated the rights of US Muslim charities and deterred Muslims from charitable giving, the ACLU said last Tuesday.

An expansion of laws and policies since 2001 has given the US Treasury in particular virtually unchecked authority to designate charities as terrorist organizations and freeze assets without adequate safeguards to protect against mistakes or abuse, the study concluded.

It said that such sweeping powers, combined with the FBI interviewing Muslim donors and putting mosques under surveillance, has created a climate of fear among Muslims. Donors have been reluctant to fulfill their religious obligation to give zakat, or charity, one of the “five pillars” of Islam, for fear of being arrested, deported, denied citizenship or prosecuted retroactively for donations made in good faith.

“Giving charity is a central part of being Muslim, so it weighs heavily on them that they cannot practice a key tenet of their faith,” said ACLU researcher Jennifer Turner, who based her findings on interviews with 120 Muslim community leaders, donors and former government officials.

In a statement, the Treasury Department, which is responsible for oversight of charitable activity, said it attempts to help the charitable community protect against terrorist abuses.

“We’re hopeful this ongoing communication will ensure all charitable groups, regardless of religious affiliation, have the ability to provide assistance where it’s needed most, without empowering terrorist organizations,” the agency said.

In his speech in Cairo this month, President Obama addressed the oversight of Muslim charities, saying the “rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.”

Civil libertarians and Muslim advocates say the new administration has yet to actually address the problems. The ACLU said federal policies have led to closures of nine Muslim charities in Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon and other states.

The leaders of one former charity, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, were convicted in November of funneling more than $12 million to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The US designated Hamas a terrorist organization, making contributions to it illegal. Two founding members of Holy Land, once the nation’s largest Muslim charity, were each sentenced last month to 65 years in prison.

Still, Muslim advocates and the ACLU said the government has seized the assets of other charities without charging them with a crime, driving charitable giving underground and undermined diplomatic efforts in Muslim countries, they said.

“This is an issue that not only goes to religious giving, but we see this as critical to our continued integration and participation in American public life,” said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, a legal advocacy and education organization based in San Francisco.

“To be engaged in public life, we need to feel comfortable supporting our community institutions,” she said.

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The Dubious ‘Popular Vote’

May 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Larry J Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, takes a close look at Hillary Clinton’s arguments that she deserves the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Courtesy Prof. Larry Sabato, UVA

Give Hillary Clinton credit. She has shown toughness, stamina, and persistence in one of the longest presidential campaigns in American history.

If super-delegates back Hillary Clinton, will they alienate loyal black voters?

She has fought hard and come back time and again in the 2008 primary season, defying the pundits who insisted on writing her political obituary prematurely. She has held the charismatic phenomenon named Barack Obama almost to a draw in the fight for votes and delegates in the Democratic party’s nominating battle.

As some of Obama’s weaknesses become more apparent, her arguments are drawing new attention, and at least a few Democratic leaders are considering them.

No-one is likely to agree on exactly what the popular vote is, or how it should be counted – the notion ought to be shelved

All that being true, it’s still very unlikely she will overcome Obama’s lead. With just seven states (plus Puerto Rico and Guam) remaining on the primary schedule, Obama is ahead by close to 160 elected (or pledged) delegates and, overall, by about 130 delegates, once the super-delegates are included.

This may not sound like many in a convention that will host more than 4,000 delegates, but party rules make it difficult to gain a sizeable number of delegates quickly. (Incredibly, you can win a big state and net a mere handful of delegates. The Democrats have developed a system so fair it is unfair.)

Changing the math

Here’s the basic dilemma for Hillary Clinton: How can she convince senior Democrats to turn their backs on the most loyal party constituency, African-Americans, who regularly give 90% of their votes to party candidates?

For the first time, one of their own has a real chance to become the presidential nominee and the occupant of the White House. The anger in the black community would be palpable and long-lasting if Obama is sent packing.

Democratic women appear unlikely to respond in the same fashion if the first serious woman candidate is turned aside.

Worry among super-delegates about Obama’s viability in the fall is not enough. The only conceivable scenarios that might change the present nominating math are:

a.. a campaign-ending scandal or gaffe by Obama
b.. a highly improbable series of victories by Hillary Clinton in primaries she is expected to lose (such as North Carolina and Oregon)
c.. a raft of polls showing Clinton defeating McCain handily while Obama is losing to McCain decisively (most current polls show relatively little difference in the Obama-McCain and Clinton-McCain national match-ups, though the prospective contests in individual states vary considerably)

How can it be that Clinton is so unlikely to prevail, especially close on the heels of her solid, impressive 9.2% victory in Pennsylvania on 22 April?

Why wouldn’t that victory generate significant momentum for Clinton, just at the moment when the remaining super-delegates prepare to make their decisive choice? Didn’t her 214,000-vote plurality in the Keystone State vault her into the popular-vote lead nationally, as she claimed?

The size and breadth of Clinton’s triumph in Pennsylvania certainly demonstrated the emerging limitations of Obama’s appeal, not least the disaffection of many whites, blue-collar workers, and low-income Democrats.

But it almost certainly will be Obama, not Clinton, who is on the November ballot under the Democratic label.

Michigan and Florida

Take Clinton’s claim about the popular vote. On the morning after Pennsylvania, she insisted that she had taken a narrow popular-vote lead, about 15.12 million to nearly 15 million for Obama. But this is classic “new math”, where the numerical answer obtained is often less important than the agile mental gymnastics used to get there.

Clinton’s total relies on two very dubious assumptions. First, one must incorporate the primary results from Florida and Michigan, two January contests excluded by the Democratic National Committee for violating the scheduling rules set by the party. This is no minor sum of votes – 2,344,318, to be exact.

Barack Obama has regularly done better than Hillary Clinton in caucuses

But no even-handed person would contend that Michigan, whose primary occurred on 15 January, should be part of the equation. Barack Obama’s name was not even on the ballot.

The vote total cited by Clinton conveniently excludes three caucus states won by Obama, in Iowa, Maine, and Washington. (Nevada, won by Clinton, is also left out of the tally.) No-one knows the exact number of votes cast for each candidate in these four states since the state parties, by tradition, refuse to release the data.

Eliminating Michigan, the Obama-Clinton match-up shows an Obama edge of a couple hundred thousand votes. Striking Florida brings it to about a half-million-vote Obama plurality. And the unknown caucus results would add at least 100,000 to his lead.

Comparing like with unlike

This discussion of caucus states raises another interesting subject. How can one compare primary and caucus states at all? By their very nature, primaries attract a large electorate in most states. A caucus is a very different political animal, requiring hours of commitment from each participating individual.

The concept of the national popular vote is borrowed from the general election, when it makes more sense

The caucus also is inflexible, beginning at a set, mandatory time. There are no absentee ballots and no excuses for troops abroad, medical personnel who must attend to the sick, or elderly individuals who cannot brave a lengthy, stressful outing. Caucus participation is usually just a fraction of the turnout that would have occurred had the state held a primary.

Therefore, the national vote total is heavily skewed to the states holding primaries, and this total mixes primary apples and caucus oranges in an unenlightening way.

The concept of the national popular vote is borrowed from the general election, when it makes more sense. However, in the nominating season the idea is dubious, and it is not a particularly useful measure for the undecided super-delegates. Nevertheless, it has been bandied about so much by the campaigns and news media that it has now become an inescapable yardstick of electoral validity for Clinton and Obama.

Key states

Other questions about the vote mathematics are also compelling. Should the voting results in November’s likely competitive states-the ones we often call purple – a mixture of Republican red and Democratic blue – be given special weight in the popular-vote formula? After all, the purpose of the nominating contest is to pick a candidate who can win the general election.

Both Clinton and Obama have won states critically important to a Democratic majority in November

Hillary Clinton has pushed this interpretation, but only up to a point. She wants her wins in competitive, significant states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania to be determinants for the super-delegates, yet she ignores Barack Obama’s victories in medium-sized toss-up states such as Colorado and Virginia.

With apologies to George Orwell, all states are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Overall, though, this game is pointless since both Clinton and Obama have won states critically important to a Democratic electoral college majority in November.

Different voters

The flaw in the state-based argument is also fundamental. Party primary electorates do not resemble the November electorates in the vast majority of states, so primary results tell us surprisingly little in most states about how a party presidential nominee will fare in the general election.
Think of it this way – perhaps 35 million Americans will have voted in all the Democratic primaries and caucuses by June, but the November voter turnout could reach 135 million people-and those extra 100 million voters are different, both in ideological and partisan terms, than the 35 million early-birds.

US territories

An ancillary issue is whether the U.S. territories, none of which has electoral college votes in November, should even be included in the party nominating system.

In an extremely close race, their delegates could decide the outcome of a presidential nomination, and potentially the Presidency itself. Should Puerto Rico, voting on 1 June, have more delegates than half the American states, as the Democrats have assigned?

Neither Clinton nor Obama will raise this concern, of course, but unbiased observers ought to do so. In most conventions, the territorial votes are a harmless matter, but every now and then, the unintended consequences of their inclusion could become enormous.

The long and short of the debate over the popular vote is this – no-one is likely to agree on exactly what it is, or how it should be counted.

There are considerable flaws inherent in the concept. The popular-vote notion ought to be shelved – but naturally, in this endlessly contentious campaign season, it will not be.

Professor Larry J. Sabato is director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and author of A More Perfect Constitution.

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