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.

There Are No Rational Libertarians

Gary Johnson and William Weld - 2016 Libertarian party candidates
Gary Johnson and William Weld – 2016 Libertarian candidates for president and vice-president (Wikipedia)

Many American voters are dissatisfied with the 2016 presidential candidates of the two major parties – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Some of these disaffected voters are saying they will refuse to vote for either one. But others are saying they might vote for a third party candidate.

The third and fourth largest political parties in the U.S., respectively, are the the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. The 2016 Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate Gary Johnson is gaining support from some unhappy Republicans because he formerly served as a Republican Governor of New Mexico.

Furthermore, many of the Libertarian Party’s policies are similar to Republican policies. The Libertarian Party platform, for example, opposes gun control, proposes phasing out Social Security, and demands an end to federal deficit spending. But it also supports LGBT rights, the decriminalization of marijuana, and a women’s right to choose an abortion.

The party’s focus on expanding personal liberty has created an odd array of political positions. But the biggest problem with Libertarian Party policies is their belief that free, unregulated markets are a panacea. Their economic liberty platform states, “A free and competitive market allocates resources in the most efficient manner.” Any question about what they mean by free markets is answered with a subsequent explanation that, “The only proper role of government in the economic realm is to protect property rights, adjudicate disputes, and provide a legal framework in which voluntary trade is protected.”

History has repeatedly shown that this isn’t true. A study of the Progressive Era, the Great Depression, and the recent Great Recession provides plenty of evidence that markets must be regulated for the common good. The elimination of government regulations, for instance, would make it easier for companies to use unfair practices to eliminate competitors, emit pollution, or exploit natural resources in ways that damage the environment – to name just a few of the bad things that could happen.

So what’s the real reason that Libertarians, and many right-wing Republicans, are promoting this false narrative about free markets? One clue is that David Koch was the Libertarian Party’s 1980 vice-presidential candidate. David, along with his brother Charles, are the billionaire brothers that have been bankrolling Libertarian and similar thinking Republican local and national political candidates across the U.S. Their corporation, Koch Industries, is involved in the fossil fuels industry and other enterprises that are affected by government environmental regulations.

The conservative think tanks financially supported by the Kochs are also distributing talking points that go beyond complaints about regulations. Their imaginary utopia of a free market economy would also be free from government intervention in the form of planning. History has shown this is a ridiculous goal too. Programs initiated by the government have virtually eliminated several contagious diseases, smoking has been reduced, astronauts have gone to the moon and back, and the Internet has improved our lives. And, again, these are just to name a few.

“Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” – John B. Finch

The Libertarian condemnation of all government involvement in the economy becomes more irrational every day, as the U.S. population rose by 2.4 million during the last year and now exceeds 322 million. On top of that, the speed of technological innovation continues to increase. In other words, there are complicated new challenges constantly arising that cannot be solved with a laissez-faire market strategy.

Libertarians like to say they are against “big government.” They usually mean they don’t like taxes, but they also complain that government is inefficient. Big government, however, is a different thing than wasteful government, and a lot of government inefficiency these days is caused by the purposeful underfunding of government agencies by conservatives. It’s called “starving the beast” wherein they appropriate less money than an agency needs to properly function, and then point to the disfunction they created as justification for eliminating programs they don’t like. A good example of this the way Republicans have been starving public lands management agencies to try and justify the privatization of public lands.

Another contradiction in libertarian thinking is the assumption that a reduction in the size of the government will create more personal freedom. But neutering the government would mean that large corporations would, in effect, become our de facto rulers. Corporations aren’t democratic organizations, and are primarily concerned with generating profits – not promoting the common good.

The Libertarian Party’s myopic focus on personal liberty discounts the reality that people must work together in a civilized society and compromise in order to solve problems. Tackling the potentially catastrophic issue of manmade climate change, for example, cannot be accomplished by simply relying on the free market. The Libertarian Party will never be more than an obscure historical footnote unless they temper their ideological goals with some reality.

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