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A breezy summer day

One of my most enduring happy memories is actually not just one distinct moment, it is the aggregated beautiful summer days of my central Pennsylvania farm country youth.

As far as I can recall, Happy Valley did not get much sunshine throughout the year. Our glum, overcast days stretched from Fall through Spring. Instead, we saved up every drop of sun for June, July and August. These summers were sunny, usually gently breezy days, with mostly blue skies and flitting clouds, occasional sun showers, temperatures in the 70s and maybe 80s.

A trip to Whipple Dam State Park or a local swimming hole would cure the worst of the heat.

Perhaps youthful memories are clouded by adult cynicism, or more likely, by adult rose-tinted glasses. We prefer in our old age to recall only the good times and bury the rest. That is possible here when it comes to recalling the perfect summer weather of my youth.

However, it is also a scientific fact that Planet Earth is getting really close to having its polarities flip. Very close. As those polarities get close to switching (magnetically speaking, the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa), Planet Earth’s magnetic shield gets weak. So weak that a lot of ultraviolet rays get through to the surface, and our skin, thereby heating things up.

It is one of the reasons for sun burns worse than usual and for really hot, windy weather over the past twenty-five years. It is a fact that some plant and animal species have been moving northward, too, as northern climes warm up, even ever so slightly.

Earth’s magnetic field acts as a filter for harmful UV and other cosmic rays. Our magnetic field is one of the reasons Planet Earth has life on it. When it gets weak, our own experience outside changes.

After a very wet and rainy Spring, we are now experiencing some easy-sleeping cool evenings, and breezy, gently sunny days. The kind we have not seen in decades.

What a wonderful feeling.

If I go in the back yard and work in the garden, and close my eyes, I am transported back to the wondrous summer days of my childhood. They were colored by the ultra-green environment that surrounded me, too, I admit that.

It is doubtful these perfect days in the 70s, with a refreshingly gentle breeze, will last much longer. After all, the poles have not yet fully flipped and returned Earth to where its magnetic shield was much earlier in my life. But I am reminded of how it used to be, and how pleasant it was.

Aaaahhh…summer time, central PA style.

America’s Frontier Identity Cuts Both Ways

America is a frontier nation.

It was carved out of the North American continent, geographically speaking, and conquered and purchased from its first inhabitants, the American Indians, sociologically speaking.

This was a frontier within a frontier within a frontier. Walls upon walls of high mountain ranges, surrounded by a vast ocean. As the Europeans steadily pushed inland, they found one Garden of Eden after another after another. This experience forged an identity not seen since the Hebrews left Egypt and trekked through the desert to the Promised Land.

One of America’s great beauties is its identity, the frontier identity, resulting from and coming out of our founding times. This is an idea in most people’s heads that the nation is huge, nearly limitless, nearly boundless. This is an inspiring conception, and it has been bolstered by 250 years of unfettered individual success.

Over the years industrialists, and to an increasing extent Republicans, were accused of having a false sense of natural resource limits. The natural resource exploitation of the 1800s and 1900s gave birth to unimagined material wealth, and also incredible land, water, and soil pollution. Some observers have more or less said this inexact misuse of valuable resources was due to the frontier mentality our early industrialists inherited.

Today, it can easily and more exactingly be said that the Left is living in a fantasy haze of unsustainable frontier mentality. The bizarre notion that tens of millions of illegal border crossers can simply enter any nation, here we are talking about America, and impose enormous costs on the inhabitants without fueling an explosive conflict is one of the standbys for liberals and Democrats today.

That Los Angeles and every other Western city is out of land, air and water (their huge impacts on schools, roads, hospitals, police and sewage infrastructure are barely guessed at) and yet must steadily absorb an increasing number of illegal economic migrants is a testament to the failed frontier mentality of the white liberals promoting this assault on their fellow American citizens. Some say liberals will burn down their house to keep control of it, and I might agree with that, if I thought it were going to be burned down. Instead, I am more likely to believe that we are headed toward some sort of genocide where my house will remain intact, but I and my family will be officially evaporated. To make room for someone “more deserving.”

Only in huge nations like America, and Russia, and China can these fantasies play out. The mental frontier is so vast, so unattainable, that pretty much anything can go, and everything will be alright. Stalin and Mao toyed with it, and used it. Today the American Democrats are following in that path, albeit slower, right now.

I myself am drawn to the frontier mentality that values wilderness, clean streams, large unbroken blocks of forest, farmland, and wildlife habitat. To me, that is the best expression of America’s frontier legacy, and boy do I like to roam in the big woods. A lot of the animals there seem more interesting than a lot of people I encounter.

Tomorrow we all vote, a referendum on this frontier mentality. My own conception has never been very popular with either of the political parties. Instead, we will see one side vying for the ability of a person to make his or her own way on merit alone, and the other side trying to flood the streets with new voters who can artificially breathe life into an unsustainable frontier mentality and create an America sure to fall apart.

And thus, the frontier mentality cuts both ways, for good and for bad, for health and for ruin, for fairness and injustice. Will our old frontier mentality ride in to save the day?

Property Taxes: Vote them OUT

A version of this opinion-editorial was submitted to the Patriot News editorial editor, John Micek. He usually prints my opinion pieces, but it also takes a lot of hemming and hawing. UPDATE: The Patriot News did run this op-ed on 11/2/16. Thank you, John Micek.

Property Taxes Must End

In graduate school, our economics professors gave us hypothetical tax and income scenarios to solve. Our homework was to critique various tax and revenue structures, and find the optimum public fund distributions, based on subjective values. These learning exercises were designed to give us the ability to present decision makers with a range of policy options best suited to a particular culture or economic perspective. A lot of my peers there were international students headed home to basically run their countries.

My take on property tax is that it spreads the burden around to those least likely to directly benefit from it, those least likely to see an indirect benefit from it, and those least likely to afford it. It penalizes working people the most. Politically it is treated like an off-the-books cash cow, pushing an increasingly unmanageable burden on our most vulnerable citizens. School property taxes are the worst and most unfair form of tax possible. A thousand years ago in Europe they were considered fair, because the taxing authorities no longer had to search and pillage individual farms while looking for “extra” grain and meat hidden among the farmer’s possessions. Land taxes were then tied to the particular land’s productive capabilities. Thin soils on rocky terrain in cold climates with short growing seasons were “penny lands,” because they annually produced only pennies worth of food and fiber beyond basic subsistence levels. “Ouncelands” farms on rich soils in warmer climates produced enough “extra” food to be annually valued in ounces of silver. And so on.

Today even this basic leveling philosophy is long gone from our property tax arrangements, as is the agricultural world that started property taxes altogether. Now it’s a free for all, with school property taxes disconnected from serving students, and directed to gold plating the various administrative and pension arrangements concocted by politically powerful unions, or building unneeded, expensive monuments to the failed educational profession in the form of elementary and high school “campuses” on productive farmland. Thus, the poorest cities with the lowest real estate values have the highest school taxes. This is bad policy, bad government, bad taxation, and it must end. We citizens deserve much better from our government.

Here in Pennsylvania’s 15th senate district, one candidate (the incumbent) has voted several times against repealing, changing, eliminating, or even reforming school property taxes. Then again, he has received tens of thousands of dollars from government school unions.

The other candidate has pledged to support Act 76, the property tax elimination bill that would keep Grandma from getting ejected from her home of fifty years because she can’t pay $23.76 in back taxes to a school district that only knows how to spend, spend, spend, and to which she has not sent a kid since 1963.

If you live here in the 15th senate district, next week you should vote for the candidate who says he supports Act 76. That person is John DiSanto.

Josh First is a businessman living in Harrisburg City.

On Being a Dinosaur

I am a dinosaur.

In so many ways, my beliefs, ideals, values, education, outlook, hobbies, lifestyle, and behavior seem as outdated and as uncommon as the dinosaurs that died out long ago.

Put another way, I am one of the Last of the Mohicans, certainly not THE last, but one of a dwindling group that sees the world differently than the corrosive pop culture fed daily to Americans by Hollywood.

And I am proud to be this way, to be a patriot, to exalt individual citizen rights and liberties above government intervention, to take risks and make sacrifices in a free market capitalist society that rewards hard work and penalizes laziness.  American Sniper, Act of Valor, and Lone Survivor are the only movies that moved me in many years because I believe in military heroes, although the Lord of the Rings productions are highly entertaining.

Meanwhile, pop culture would have every American equally unhappy, equally deprived of their rights and liberties, equally planted on a couch eating junk food and watching mindless TV shows that are at war with the underpinnings of Western Civilization.

(A short, hard-hitting article about Hollywood’s destructiveness by one of its most famous writers is here.)

And I am also an old-fashioned “Hook-and-Bullet” conservationist, a hunter, life-long gun owner and fisherman, an NRA member and even more so, a FOAC member who means it when I say “You can have my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.”

But did I mention that conservation is a huge part of my identity? You know, farmland preservation, wildlife habitat protection, forest land acquisition for public ownership, and wilderness areas where I can hunt, fish, camp, and hike without seeing or hearing another human being for as long as I am out there.

And why is it so hard for so many traditionalists to see that traditional American values are directly tied to, and derive from, rural landscapes? And that our remaining rural landscapes are precious fragments of the great American frontier, on which our national identity and Constitution were forged?

So why wouldn’t a conservative want to conserve those rural landscapes that gave birth to his identity and values, that enshrine Constitutional rights and self-reliance?

For some strange reason, an increasing number of gun owners are not hunters, and do not really show that they care about wildlife populations or wildlife habitat, or about land and water conservation.  When I attend meetings at different sportsmen’s clubs, like Duncannon Sportsmen, and I hear the Conservationist’s Pledge, my heart wells up and I nearly get as teary-eyed as when I hear the national anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance.  It doesn’t help that most of us in the room are sporting lots of white in our beards and on our heads.  The next generation seems to have taken a lot for granted, because all of the battles we fought decades ago bore such abundant fruit.

All this makes me a dinosaur, and although I recognize it, I am not happy about it.  I feel like I am watching the greatest nation on Planet Earth disintegrate under my feet, and it scares me, makes me sad, and makes me want to do what I can to try to prevent it from happening.

I do not want traditional American values to go extinct, like the dinosaurs, because although those values may not be in vogue right now, America was founded on them and the nation cannot successfully continue on without them.

Good news for American farmers, food consumers

America’s farmland is not only the cultural heartland, it is the bread basket of our nation.

You know the old saw: No farms, no beer. No farms, no food. No farms, no watersheds, and on and on…

So let’s ask: When our flat farmland is built on, will America import tainted, contaminated food from China? Will America become food-dependent, too, on top of importing most of our transportation fuel? What kinds of vulnerabilities come with being so dependent on others, especially on nations and people who do not share our values or ways?

So it brings me great satisfaction to see Andrew McElwaine become the new president of American Farmland Trust (http://www.farmland.org/news/pressreleases/2013/AFT-New-President-Andrew-McElwaine.asp).

AFT is America’s premier farmland preservation advocacy group. I knew Ralph Grassi, AFT’s founder, from way back in my Washington, DC days. Ralph was able to narrate his own family’s farmland preservation efforts and reasons, and he had charisma, too, so when AFT testified before Congress, or held a farmland preservation event, elected officials from both parties listened, and acted, and the public dug deep into their wallets.

Since Ralph left AFT and returned to his family ranch in Marin County, California, AFT has been on a slow, quiet identity quest that culminated with financial challenges that could be ignored no longer.

Enter Andrew McElwaine, probably America’s best non-profit turnaround guru with a conservation streak a mile wide. Andrew’s bio is easily available online, so I won’t expound upon it here, but what should be noted is that he has turned around or dramatically grown both the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Heading to Washington, DC, brings him back into the conservation policy world he knows and loves so well, and gives him an opportunity to work his financial magic once again.

American farmland needs an advocate. Andrew McElwaine is the man for the job. At a time of tight finances and faltering, struggling non-profit conservation groups, Andrew’s arrival at AFT is an unusual breath of welcome and needed good news. Now saddle up, pardner, ’cause the ride ahead is gonna be long and hard…