Red Squirrels Are Annoying And Mean

Trump the red squirrelRed squirrels can be annoying because they’re so noisy – chattering loudly at anything they don’t like from their perches in the trees. But they can also be greedy, mean and stupid.

I recently visited Michigan and stayed with a friend at his family’s cabin on a lake. At least once a day we enjoyed the beautiful scenery by sitting quietly in Adirondack chairs on the cabin’s lawn. The local chipmunks came up to us to beg for food the first time I sat in one of the chairs, and my friend explained that he often threw handfuls of sunflower seeds to them.

I told him I was a bit confused because there was a small live animal trap near the chairs, and I presumed he was using it to catch troublesome chipmunks. He told me the trap wasn’t for chipmunks, but for red squirrels. They caused a lot of trouble, he said, so he was trying to trap all the local ones. The spaces between the wires on the trap’s cage, he pointed out, were big enough for chipmunks to escape through them, but they were too small for red squirrels to fit through. He said he took the squirrels that he caught several miles away to release them, and they didn’t come back. He added that many of his neighbors on the lake were doing the same thing.

The next day I saw firsthand why he didn’t like the red squirrels. I was sitting in one of the chairs by myself and several chipmunks approached me from different directions. I yelled to my friend about what was happening. He came out from the cabin’s screened patio with a handful of sunflower seeds, threw them onto a nearby bare spot on the ground, and went back inside. The chipmunks immediately ran to the seeds and began stuffing them in their cheek pouches as fast as they could. There were a lot of arguments among the chipmunks about who got the seeds. They chased each other around a lot, while stopping just long enough to pick up another seed or two. One or two of them appeared to be dominant, but all them got at least one chance to grab some seeds.

Then a red squirrel showed up. First, he sat in the tree above the bare spot and yelled at the chipmunks. It was obvious that he was telling them that all of the seeds were his. They ignored him until he ran down the tree and began to chase them. But the way he chased them was different from the way the chipmunks chased each other. He didn’t want to just argue about who got the most seeds, he was trying to hurt the chipmunks. He would charge onto the bare spot and all of the chipmunks would scatter. He’d pick one out and chase it with his teeth bared for a relatively long distance before giving up and returning to the seeds. Then he’d discover the other chipmunks had been busy gathering more seeds while he’d been away, and he’d pick out another chipmunk and chase it while the other chipmunks immediately returned to the bare spot to get more seeds. It appeared that the chipmunks understood they could get more seeds if they took turns keeping the squirrel busy.

In the end, the red squirrel was so busy trying to bully the chipmunks that he got very few seeds.

Rigged Presidential Elections Threaten U.S. Democracy

donald trump
Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory deeply upset many Americans. The widespread dissatisfaction with his win was so strong that it caused millions of people to take to the streets for unprecedented post-election protests across the country.

Some of the protestors complained that the election was rigged because Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. But U.S. presidents have always been elected by the Electoral College, not by the national popular vote. That doesn’t mean, however, that the system isn’t rigged.

Two of the last three presidents were elected without winning the popular vote. (Both of them were Republicans.) That’s because under the current election system, it doesn’t matter if a presidential candidate wins a state by one vote or a million votes, the winner gets all of that state’s electoral votes. This disenfranchises all of the voters that voted for the opposing candidate.

The Electoral College Was Entangled With Slavery
“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.” – Mark Twain

The Electoral College has a long history of inequality because its intended purpose was to subvert the principle of one person, one vote. It was created during the Constitutional Convention of 1878 as part of the Three-Fifths Compromise, which declared that slaves should count as three-fifths of a person towards the population totals used to determine the number representatives each state would have in Congress. Southern states wanted this method to help prevent Northern states from outlawing slavery, and it ensured Southern influence over the federal government until the Civil War.

Since then, there have been some significant changes. The 14th Amendment  adopted in 1868, gave blacks full personhood in America. The 19th Amendment, adopted in 1920, gave women the right to vote. And the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 gave Native Americans U.S. citizenship.

Also, a couple of states have implemented a fairer system for allocating their electoral votes. In Nebraska and Maine, instead of the winner getting all of the state’s electoral votes, they are distributed based upon the popular vote winner in each congressional district, and then the winner of the statewide popular vote gets the state’s remaining two electoral votes. (The number of Electoral College electors for each state is equal to the number of U.S. representatives it has based upon its population, plus two more for its two U.S. senators.)

Congressional Districts Are Being Gerrymandered

But even if all of the states implement this more equitable system for allocating electoral votes, federal elections will still be rigged because the boundaries of many congressional districts are being gerrymandered. It’s primarily a product of a nationwide strategy by Republicans to control state legislatures and set the boundaries of local congressional districts to give Republican candidates unfair advantages. Their success is shown by the fact that in 2016 there were 41.3 million registered Democrats, and only 30.4 million registered Republicans, but the Republicans control both houses of Congress.

Arizona voters saw the danger of leaving congressional redistricting in the hands of party politicians when they passed Proposition 106 in 2000. It created the Arizona Redistricting Commission, a politically independent panel charged with creating congressional districts that are fair and competitive. The commission’s achievements can be seen in the fact that four of the state’s nine congressional representatives are Democrats, despite the fact that Arizona’s state government is controlled by Republicans. This ratio reflects the makeup of the state’s registered voters, which in 2016 were 35% Republican and 30% Democrat.

Tyranny Of the Minority

The defenders of the Electoral College like to point out that the Founding Fathers intended for the U.S. to be a republic, where the rights of the minority are protected, not a pure democracy, where the minority have no protections against the will of the majority. They say the Electoral College prevents the “tyranny of the majority.” But things have changed since the Constitution was adopted.  Today most Americans live in urban areas, where most of the nation’s wealth is generated. Cities are becoming more important than the states. But under the current Electoral College system rural Americans have disproportionate influence on presidential elections. It’s created a tyranny of the minority.

The protestors that marched in the streets against Donald Trump certainly had a right to complain, and a lot to complain about. In the long run, however, it will take substantive reforms in the ways Electoral College votes are allocated and congressional districts are drawn to make one person, one vote a reality for U.S. presidential elections.

Joe Arpaio’s Tent City Campaign Ad is More Hot Air

joe arpaio
Joe Arpaio (Wikipedia)

Arizona’s controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is running for reelection this fall while endorsing presidential candidate Donald Trump. The 84-year-old Republican sheriff was first elected in 1992 and is running for his seventh term in office. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) serves the Phoenix metro area and is the third largest in the U.S., employing over 3,400 people.

Arpaio has used his skill at self-promotion to become nationally famous. He’s proclaimed himself to be the “toughest sheriff in America” and during his first year in office he created the outdoor Tent City jail. He did it, ostensibly, to address jail overcrowding. But it was also to show that he was being tough on criminals. The inmates live outside in tents, even during the summer, when temperatures in the Sonoran Desert regularly exceed 110 °F during the daytime and stay above 90 °F all night. They are also forced to wear pink underwear and eat poor quality food, such as “green bologna.”

Arpaio’s numerous publicity stunts to portray himself as being tough on crime have earned him a lot of admirers across the country. They’ve helped him raise nearly $10 million for his 2016 reelection campaign. The sheriff’s campaign said said three-fourths of this money came from contributors outside of Arizona.

This enormous war chest is larger than those of most Congressional candidates, and it’s helped him fund some slick campaign ads on the local TV stations. One of them, of course, features his Tent City jail. In the ad Arpaio tells the county’s voters the outdoor facility is saving them money and he concludes by claiming to be “fiscally conservative.”

But Arpaio’s long reign as the county’s sheriff has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. There are have been multiple negligence and abuse of power legal settlements. And in 2013 U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow ruled that Arpaio’s illegal immigration enforcement campaign had violated the Constitution because his deputies had racially profiled Latinos by making traffic stops and detaining people based upon their race. Then in 2015 the judge initiated contempt proceedings against Arpaio for willingly ignoring his court order to make changes. In August of this year Judge Snow referred Arpaio for criminal prosecution after finding him in contempt of court. All of these things add up to the fact that Arpaio has cost the taxpayers about $142 million in legal fees, court awards, and settlements. And it’s not over yet, because last week the county board of supervisors had to approve another $4.5 million payment in legal fees related to the federal court case.

Furthermore, Arpaio recently had to make $8 million in cuts to his office’s budget to help pay for the extra training and supervisors ordered by Judge Snow. Instead of closing Tent City, however, Arpaio chose to eliminate pay raises for some of his jail detention staff, even though the outdoor jail’s current vacancy rate is about a 63%, and the county’s regular jails are operating with high vacancy rates too. On top of that, the job vacancy rate for detention positions at the MCSO is about 9% . His budget cuts also eliminated the MCSO’s special response team that handled the most dangerous inmates.

The enormous extracurricular expenses incurred by Arpaio have negatively impacted the county’s budget, causing other problems. According to the City of Phoenix, for example, the county has been forced to raise the rate it charges the city to house inmates by almost 30% in the last 5 years. There was also the 2016 presidential preference primary election fiasco, wherein some county voters were forced to wait in line for hours to cast their votes because Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell was trying to save $1 million by reducing the number of polling places. The county supervisors said it was because the legislature had cut state contributions for the funding of primary elections, but the cut would have been easier to absorb without Arpaio’s additional expenses.

Joe Arpaio is a lot things, but fiscally conservative isn’t one of them.

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