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.

Dakota Access Pipeline Victory May Only Be Temporary

Dakota Access Pipeline
Oil Pipeline Construction (Wikipedia)

Protestors trying to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota were victorious on December 4, 2016, when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers refused to permit the pipeline to carry dirty Canadian tar sands oil beneath Lake Oahe.  The U.S. State Department had previously approved the pipeline with a controversial determination that it wouldn’t substantially increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The protests against the DAPL began in April when members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe established the Sacred Stone Camp to accommodate pipeline protestors near the mouth of the Cannonball River, where it empties into the lake. The primary objective of the protestors was to protect the lake from oil spills because it’s the source of the tribe’s water supply.

They used the slogan, “Water is Life.” But their protest soon grew into much more, and became a worldwide focal point for indigenous rights and climate change activists. Thousands of people joined the camp, including representatives from hundreds of tribes, making it the largest gathering of Native Americans in more than a century. About 2,000 veterans of the U.S. military also traveled to the camp intent on forming a human shield to protect the protestors from police attacks.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The Corp of Engineers explained they were denying a pipeline easement beneath the lake so they could conduct a full-blown environmental impact statement (EIS) in which alternative routes would be explored. An EIS is the most rigorous type of environmental study mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. NEPA requires federal agencies to complete environmental studies of all their projects, using a public participation process that analyzes the environmental effects of various alternatives.

The Corp of Engineers has a say in whether a pipeline can be permitted beneath Lake Oahe because it has jurisdiction over public waterways and the lake is a reservoir on the Missouri River. The Corp had already completed an environmental assessment (EA) for the DAPL, a less rigorous type of NEPA study that’s typically used for projects with fewer significant issues. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation considered an EA to be inadequate for this project, and asked the Corp to complete an EIS.

The incoming Trump administration, however, will probably try to make the Corp reverse their decision to conduct an EIS, or even worse, work with the Republican-controlled Congress to revoke or eviscerate NEPA. This would have serious consequences on U.S. public lands administered under the multiple use doctrine by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages the nation’s 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands – comprising about 193 million acres. The BLM, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages about 30 million acres, including 221 wilderness areas and 23 national monuments. NEPA is the primary mechanism by which Americans participate in the management of these lands because it requires federal land management agencies to conduct publicly reviewed environmental studies for their plans and projects. Without NEPA, the public would have little or no effective input on proposed mining operations, drilling operations, timber cuts, recreational activities, or livestock grazing schemes.

The scope of the potential danger is best illustrated by taking a closer look at the situation in regards to livestock grazing on public lands. The BLM administers more than 21,000 public lands grazing allotments, while the Forest Service has almost 6,000 grazing permittees. Public lands grazing is, by far, the most ubiquitous use of U.S. public lands, occurring on more than 200 million acres, mostly in the West. Subsequently, it’s also the commercial activity that inflicts the most widespread ecological damage on public lands. Even with NEPA, the public typically gets to review and comment on a grazing operation just once every 10 years – the term of a federal grazing permit. Without NEPA, even that modest opportunity would be gone.

But death of NEPA as we know it would do more than threaten the ecological health of hundreds of millions of acres of public lands. As mentioned above, a NEPA study must also be conducted when a proposed project might adversely affect a public waterway, even when the project is located on private land.

These are just some of the examples of the importance of the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s often been referred to as the environmental Magna Carta because its stated purpose is to “encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation.” If the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are allowed to neutralize NEPA, the U.S. will have crossed over an ideological threshold to a dark domain where the only thing that really matters is money.

Update

In January of 2017 newly elected President Donald Trump issued an executive order to make the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers reverse their decision under the Obama administration to complete a full-blown environmental impact statement (EIS) of alternative routes for the DAPL, and then had them issue a permit to allow the pipeline to be drilled beneath Lake Oahe.

On June 14, 2017, federal judge James Boasberg ruled that the Corp of Engineers was, indeed, required to complete an EIS for the DAPL on the Standing Rock reservation. The pipeline, however, had already been built and the judge didn’t order it to be shut down while the EIS is completed.

On November 8, 2018, a federal judge in Montana halted construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline after finding that the EIS the Trump administration completed for the project completed was inadequate.

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.

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