Hi football. Welcome to the Dope. Where are you from?
As far as the Senate question–here is the short version:
The United States Congress is the body that sponsors and passes laws. It is divided into two houses–The Senate and the House of Representatives. A bill has to pass in both houses before it becomes a law.
The Representatives are apportioned according to population. So the number of Representatives in each state varies from 1 to 52. (Each state is guaranteed at least one Representative, regardless of population.) In contrast, each state has two Senators, regardless of population.
Therefore, there is a balance between each individual getting his or her fair representation in Congress, and each state getting its fair representation in congress.
A large population state like California with it’s 37 million people can’t overwhelm a small-population state like Wyoming with its half-million people, and vice versa. California may have 52 Representatives, but it only has 2 senators. Wyoming has the same 2 senators, but it only has one Representative.
So there’s a balance.
The Senate is the “upper” house, and the House of Representatives (or "House) is the “lower” house. It’s considered more prestigious to be a Senator than a Representative.
And here’s a piece of information which might be helpful to you as you’re trying to understand what’s going on in American news: As I said, both the Senate and the House of Representatives are part of Congress. And they are all referred to as members of Congress. But individually, in practice, members of the Senate are called Senators, and members of the House of Representatives are called “Congressmen” or “Congresswoman.” So if someone is called a Senator, then he or she is a member of Senate. If someone is called a “Congressman,” then he is a member of the House of Representatives. (I called congresspeople “Representatives” in the above explanation for clarity. It’s technically correct, but not used much in practice. I know it’s confusing. Sorry.)
I’m glad to ramble on about the historical reasons for why this system was put in place if you like. But one thing that’s worth noting–it system was designed over 220 years ago and we’re still using it. I think that’s pretty cool. There have been minor modifications due to steadily increasing population, but that’s about it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone express any major dissatisfaction with the system as a whole. The point is that it works for us.
BTW–here’s another possibly useful piece of information for the non-Americans who are paying attention to the upcoming presidential election: Barack Obama and his running mate Joe Biden are both Senators. John McCain is a Senator also. His running mate, Sarah Palin, is the governor of her state, Alaska. (The governor is the head-of-state for the state.) It’s very common for people with Senatorial or Gubernatorial experience to run for president.
p.s. Alaska has over 680,000 people, not 350,000. There are 3 other states with fewer people. And it’s by far the largest in terms of territory. (That’s no comment on Sarah Palin. Just offering some info.) Here’s a handy chart showing the populations of each state, their represenation in Congress, etc.