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Voter Access, Public Funding of Private Elections…

I so totally agree with the gist of this opinion piece by our local newspaper of record, the Patriot News:

By Matt Zencey, May 15, 2014

Tuesday is Primary Election Day, and every year when it rolls around, I’m reminded of this unpleasant fact: Tax-paying Pennsylvanians who don’t belong to a political party are forced to help pay for an election in which they are not allowed vote.

You can’t vote for candidates Tuesday unless you are a registered member of a political party that has candidates on the ballot.

I wrote a column last year complaining about this injustice that is inflicted on politically independent Pennsylvanians. It’s a system that isn’t going to change anytime soon, because the power-brokers who make the rules are the same people who benefit from taxpayer subsidies of their party’s candidate selection process.

In last year’s column, I wondered whether this arrangement violates Pennsylvania constitution’s requirement of “free and equal” elections. What’s “equal” about an election, funded by tax dollars, where a duly registered voter has no say in which candidate wins?

Now it’s true, as I wrote back then, that the U.S. Supreme Court clearly says political parties have a First Amendment right to determine who may vote in “their” political primaries.

The question is whether political parties [THAT ARE PRIVATE ENTITIES] have a First Amendment right to force you [THE PUBLIC] to pay for their candidate selection process.

I don’t think so.

If you are going to participate in a primary election that you help pay for, you are forced to affiliate with a political party. That violates your First Amendment rights.

Pennsylvania’s closed primary election delivers a tax-subsidized government benefit to two preferred political organizations – the Democratic and Republican parties.

All of us are paying so they can pick their candidate who will enjoy a huge government privilege – one of two guaranteed spots on the general election ballot. (Pennsylvania law also makes it extraordinarily difficult for a third-party to get its candidates on the ballot.)

It doesn’t have to be this way.

California recently adopted a much fairer primary election system by voter initiative.

All candidates of all parties appear on a ballot available to all registered voters within the relevant district. The top two vote getters move on to the general election in the fall. The winners could be two Republicans, or two Democrats, one of each party. A so-called minor party candidate might even win a spot on the fall ballot.

This way, taxpayers are not forced to subsidize a process that’s stacked in favor of two political parties. And it’s clearly constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly saidthat a non-partisan primary that is open to all voters and allocates spots on the general election ballot falls squarely within the First Amendment.

But good luck getting such a system here in Pennsylvania. Unlike in California, the poo-bahs who hold political power in Pennsylvania have denied voters the power to pass their own laws by statewide initiative.

On this one, we have to try to persuade legislators and the governor to do the right thing and reform a system that has put them in power and keeps them there.

I’m not holding my breath.

Matt Zencey is Deputy Opinion Editor of Pennlive and The Patriot-News. Email mzencey@pennlive.com and on Twitter @MattZencey.


For You, Land Dedication this Sunday

This Sunday at 1:00, in Clark’s Valley, Dauphin County, a wonderful ceremony will be held to dedicate a mile-long stretch of Clark’s Creek to the public.  Sold by Flemish Down LLC at a bargain sale price to the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, the pretty property was then flipped to the PA Fish & Boat Commission so that the public can fish and hunt on it until the next glacier comes through.

I had a hand in it.

I remain confused by fellow Americans who see land conservation as some sort of sinister plot, a “land grab,” and other negative epithets.  These same people have no problem with open land being converted to concrete, a permanent alteration of an otherwise functioning system that spews clean air and water without anyone lifting a finger.  If converting to concrete is good, and maintaining as a functional system supporting human life is bad, then I have to say that logic and reason are not behind the opposition.  These are mutually exclusive perspectives.

Put another way, if open land is bad, and developed land is good, from where do we get our food, water, and air?  Is land really only good and valuable if it has been developed?  Can humans replicate the free air- and water-producing services of open land?  No?

Other benefits of this land protection include stable stream banks, wildlife habitat, scenic beauty, public recreation, and so on.  Thanks to the generous Blum + Cameron family, the public now has a quiet place to picnic, fish, hike, and look at.  Last year we documented dozens of native wildflowers there, and to me, they alone are reason enough to keep this property open; I have yet to meet a human (common, easy to find) who looks or smells as good as a pink lady slipper, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, or bluett (all uncommon, hard to find).

BLM giving open land a black eye

The Bureau of Land Management was established as a temporary holding entity, dealing more with water management than common natural resources and the plants and animals living on the land under its care.

Now, BLM has become the poster child of Big Government Gone Wild, using armed force and the threat of lethal force, let alone more prosaic forms of terrifying government coercion, to achieve dubious policy goals.  Many of these policy goals grate on the public, who perceive them as being at best ancillary to BLM’s mission, if not at odds with the multiple-use land management models the agency is supposed to implement.

Citizens, who own their American government, chafe at official signs that say “No Trespassing – BLM Property,” as though the very taxpayers underwriting BLM are alien invaders upon that government-managed ground.

Job #1 would be to actually communicate with the citizenry about the agency’s policy goals, the underpinnings and purpose of its policies, the reasons for protecting some landscapes from vehicles.  Certainly, BLM can achieve better ways to manage environmentally sensitive land, and perhaps asking the citizenry for ideas would take the agency into new, good places.  Many users of federally-managed lands are actually savvy about Leave No Trace, and most others at least care, even if they do not yet know how to minimally impact an area.

BLM’s heavy hand in the supposed name of environmental quality is giving all open land a black eye.  As a result of BLM’s foolish behavior, all kinds of questions are being asked about public land, not just about how it is managed, but why it even exists.  Perhaps it is a good discussion to have, and I certainly stand on the side of having those public spaces, but so far the BLM is just pouring gasoline on the fire, which threatens to overtake all public lands.

Part of any discussion should include What Next about BLM.  The agency has clearly outlived its established purpose.  My instinctive thinking is to divide up its lands among the agencies best suited to manage each piece – National Park Service for this heavily used area, National Forest for this timbered area, and so on.  And no, conveying some of these lands to states is not a bad thing, so long as the deeds carry perpetual stipulations that the lands cannot be sold to private owners or converted to some other use.  Mining, timbering, preservation of historic artifacts, water management, passive and active recreation, scenic beauty, ecological purposes…states can do many of these as well as a federal agency, and all without having snipers in fatigues pointing guns at citizens.

If nothing else, getting rid of BLM to get rid of its ridiculous snipers and armed thug culture is a worthy step.  Not only is that insane behavior unworthy of a representative government, it is unrelated to the purpose of protecting open land in the first place.

Endless natural resources? Don’t blame us

For decades, the left has done a better job at advocating for natural resource protection. They often go overboard, demanding practices that are unsustainable for a growing nation. But it’s true the the right has been at best tone deaf on environmental protection. How odd, then, that the left now demands the immediate addition of ten million new citizens to public rolls, public schools, welfare rolls, public water sources, public parks and other public lands, etc. Is this environmentally sustainable?

Hell no, it’s not.

But the lust for power and control and dominance has never stopped the left from violating its own avowed principles. Those ten million new voters are the key to electoral dominance, which trumps all else.

As Stalin taught them, the ends justify the means.

As an American, I reject everything Stalin. If you live here in America, you should reject it, too.

Who is a “sportsman”?

Sportsmen were the nation’s first conservationists, advocating in the 1890s for sustainable harvests of previously unregulated birds, fish and animals like deer and bear. Acting against their own individual self-interests, they banded together to place limits on wildlife and habitat so that future generations would have opportunities to fish, hunt, camp, skinny dip, sight-see, wildlife watch, and help wildlife recover from 300 years of unregulated market hunting and industrial exploitation.

By the 1920s, a culture of stewardship and natural resource conservation was cemented into the sporting ranks by leaders like Gifford Pinchot, Teddy Roosevelt, and Aldo Leopold. Hunting clubs across rural America incorporated stocking programs, tree planting, and facilitating public land purchases to improve and increase wildlife habitat.

Fast forward to today, where wildlife populations are largely stable, wildlife habitat is not in crisis mode, and hunters and anglers are experiencing the best opportunities to harvest trophy fish and game in many decades. We are living in a golden age of the outdoor lifestyle.

Riding on the successes of past generations, today there are some grumbling guys with guns, crabbing that they don’t have anything to hunt. The real shameful behavior is the recent abandonment by some of these men of the sportsman’s stewardship ethic and the conservation pledge that made the hunting community highly respected among the larger society. A group of disaffected users, takers, and malcontents calling themselves “sportsmen” recently endorsed HB 1576, a proposed Pennsylvania bill which would gut the very state agencies charged with protecting Pennsylvania’s natural resources, and remove from state protection those plants and animals necessary for healthy hunting habitat.

The question on the table is, Are these men sportsmen? Are they sportsmen like Aldo Leopold was a sportsman?

While I wait to hear back from others, my answer is No, these men are not sportsmen. They are simply men with guns, freeloaders, spoiled children living off the hard work of both past and present generations, while complaining it isn’t enough and they want more, now, dammit. Their behavior is short-sighted and embarrassing, nothing like the visionary selfless sacrifice of their forebears. They should be publicly shamed and drummed out of the ranks of sportsmen.

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
― Aldo Leopold

Josh appearing on WITF tonight

Josh will be appearing as a guest on tonight’s live WITF Smart Talk TV program hosted by Nan McCormick Abom. On Channel 33-5 in the Harrisburg, the show runs from 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm and will take calls.

Freedom! Braveheart Arrives in Pennsylvania

What joy to buy beer at Giant. What freedom!
Why shouldn’t a free people be able to buy beer easily, especially for a celebration like SuperBowl Sunday?

Historically, beer and spirits were widely available in early America. Ben Franklin quipped that beer was proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. How could a nation conceived in liberty become so shackled?

Last week Pennsylvania took a step toward more freedom, when governor Tom Corbett proposed to liberate alcohol from the clutches of government stores. America is based on competition and free enterprise, and government has no business doing business, so it’s a good thing to see this issue finally floated in a meaningful and substantive way.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states nationwide to be in the alcohol business. Obviously there’s no strength in those numbers.

Some political observers say this is about a public employee union. Say what? Who with a straight face can argue that the citizens are best served under this current state of state control? All other issues fade away, vanish, under real considerations.

Good luck, Guv.

We who join Ben Franklin in his observation that a beer or tip o’ the cup are part of being human tip our cup to you, Governor.

Watching BBC, PBS Anti-Republican Theme

Sitting here watching WITF, the local public TV station with my wife, as BBC reports all about Obama, failing to mention Romney at all. Obama evidently visited New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but Romney never did.
Fact is, Obama changed his schedule last second to catch up to Romney there.
Then we move on to the Tavis Smiley Show, where musician Ry Cooder debuts his “Mutt Romney Song.”
His song is all about how Mitt Romney had a dog on his car roof in a dog cage.
Ry Cooder didn’t write a song about how Barack Hussein Obama actually ate a dog.
Tavis laughs. Calls Ry’s music “inspiring,” and asks for Ry to explain his political views.
Then we listen to Ry Cooder insult Republicans and conservatives, joking about his songs that make fun of the people he disagrees with.
Apparently, Republicans are a threat to his free speech rights. Never mind that he is on publicly-funded television taking a harshly partisan attack to his opponents, he still feels threatened.
Well, ol’ Ry ol’ buddy, I feel threatened by the mis-use of my public funds for one-sided political messages being spread by NPR, BBC, and PBS. If these outlets were balancing their reports with equal demonization of Democrats and Liberals, then it’d be fair and balanced, so to say. But it’s not. This is unfair, un-American.
And then Ry and Tavis begin complaining to one each other about how unfair it is that they get held to and accountable for their statements by people on the Internet, and how unfair it is that they have to defend themselves against critics who find their messages on the ‘Net. All while these two guys are on publicly funded television, enjoying their own monopoly on spreading a political message.
Ry is supportive of the Occupy Wall Street, radical unions, Marxist activists, and others, he’s against gun ownership, self defense, and whites, and he just can’t understand why others disagree with him. He’s truly surprised that so many people don’t share his foolish, juvenile views.

Love Sick, or Sick Love?

Love sick, or sick love?
© Josh First
July 21, 2010

Love is powerful, beautiful, a token of the highest commitment. And it can be dangerous when it makes us act dangerously or like we oughtta be committed to a looney bin. Love can be a powerful drug, is the 1970s aphorism, and as many of us learned in the 1970s, drugs are bad, because while they may feel euphoric for an hour, they also cause a loss of self control and resulting damage that lasts for years. Among kids, the casualties of lovesickness are typically minor, while lovesick adults can inflict real damage.

When I was a high school teen, I fell madly in love with a girl named Mardy. Love sick, I followed her around like a puppy, gave her some silver jewelry despite not getting back the same intense vibe, and forgave her every indiscretion, including when she broke up with me. Heartbroken but sick with love, I cluelessly figured she’d come around and we’d be blissfully married forever (thirty years later we now share photos of our families and joke about our own teenagers). I was blinded by love, and that blindness caused me to act against my own interests.

Love that so badly warps your judgment that your native, most elementary powers of reason and empathy become suspended is not beautiful. It unnecessarily puts you and others around you in harm’s way. For the seemingly insignificant trade-off of a few drops of happy-rainbows-sunshine-smiley faces dopamine in our brain, the love sick adults among us enter into or create situations that can or will result in our bodies pumping massive amounts of adrenaline as fear and anger course our veins. That’s not love sick, but a twisted, sick love. And mental sickness is to be avoided.

What I’m really talking about here are a lot of adult owners of large dogs.

What’s up with those folks with large dogs off their leash, roaming free, or walking or running up to people and barking, growling, gingerly sniffing us as if to bite, etc.?

Do the owners of these dogs really not realize that their sick love for their pet causes them to suspend their good judgment, unnecessarily put people at risk, and treat people in ways they themselves don’t like being treated? Following are two personal examples of how the sick love of pets has caused hard feelings, hard words, and close calls with enormous, potentially life-altering consequences. If these aren’t sufficient, there are plenty of press reports from around Harrisburg and the nation demonstrating this bad trend.

Last week, I walked to pick up my son from summer day camp. His drop-off\pick-up location is a couple of blocks from my home, and unless rain is pouring or time is short, walking there is a pleasant afternoon jaunt, usually with my wife. Next to the drop-off\pick-up location are some homes with a long metal fence running between them, along their common boundaries. As we were leaving with our sweaty, red-faced boy, with other little camper kids milling about all around us, a big German shepherd dog in an adjacent yard came roaring up to the fence, barking ferociously, hackles flaring, white spit flying, fangs bared. Three little boys on our side weren’t scared, but rather intrigued, and two of them went to put their hands through the fence to touch the dog. Ahhh, innocence in the face of danger. Leaping back towards the kids, I shooed them away while their counselor came and corralled them to another area.

When those little hands approached the big-enough holes in the chain link, the German shepherd turned its head and put its muzzle right up to the fence, still barking convulsively, ready to bite whatever came through. It was a moment that could have turned out badly. Can’t we just imagine the severe life-long damage to those inquisitive little hands from the impressively toothsome bite of an animal tough enough to serve as a four-legged cop?

No sooner had I shooed away the kids, than the dog’s owner appeared in the place of the dog, a woman in shorts and an orangy tank top, mid-fifties, arms crossed, staring, and old enough to know better to not do what came next.

“You talking about my dog?,” she asked. “Don’t you talk about my dog,” she demanded, before I could respond.

To which I responded, “You mean your big, ferocious dog that scared us?”

To which she responded, “There’s no way he’s going to climb that tall fence and bite you…and you have a problem…and you don’t talk about my dog that way…and I never…and…and…and… etc.” On and on she went, firing up her sense of indignation. She had a lot to say. She said a lot in volume, in an angry tone.

She was upset that we were frightened by her vicious dog, and she had launched into her own ironic harangue, a form of loud, aggressive human barking, yelling not-nice words, trying to engage me or any other adult nearby in a shouting match. Meanwhile, I was 100 feet away already. The lady had lost, suspended, or traded away her common sense. Her sick love for a dangerous, unpredictable animal had made her behave in a sick way, and place other people, little tiny kids, at risk.

Another related story from recent times, reported in the Patriot News, described a dad walking with his two small kids in their Uptown Harrisburg neighborhood on a Saturday morning when they were suddenly attacked by two unleashed, unprovoked pitbulls owned by an adult. In seconds the dogs were on the kids, and the dad tried to knock them back with his hands and feet. With his four-year-old son’s neck the repeated target of the larger dog’s gaping maw, and a second or two to stop the attack or watch his boy die, the dad pulled a gun and fired on instinct (he had a concealed carry permit). Several rapid shots later, fired within a foot of the struggling boy, the wounded dog limped off and its frightened companion joined it in retreat. Without the gun, the kids would have been dead or disfigured. Few enough legal, normal, people carry guns, and under typical conditions this story would usually have ended much differently, with great sorrow and loss. Thank God I was carrying my pistol that morning.

How did this attack happen? It happened because another man’s twisted idea of “love” for his dogs precluded him from “unfairly shackling” them with leashes and limiting their movements. Gosh, he just loves his dogs and wants them to run freely, go free happy dog; wheee. His reasoning must have been that he likes to move freely, and that, therefore, his dogs must, too, and it’s unfair to have them feel unhappy if he doesn’t like to be unhappy. Act on impulse, folks, do what you want, it’s the new American way. Even if other people are put at great risk. The dogs’ owner cared more for his dogs than he did for innocent humans; he cared less about the basic safety needs of humans than he cared about his dogs’ sense of mobility. His judgment had become warped by his shallow, sickly sweet, sappy feelings for his dogs.

And let’s not pretend that shallow sentimentalism is uncommon. Thanks to Liberalism, shallow sentimentalism appears to be a huge force in America, as well as the driving cause behind animal welfare activism and many regular dog owners’ defense of their animals’ indefensible behavior. Their anthropomorphism is the dominant feature of owning a potentially dangerous, animated, unpredictable animal, but hey, they enjoy spoiling Fido. Sure, pets in general and dogs in particular serve positive roles, etc. I know it well, because I grew up with large utilitarian dogs, as my parents sought for many years to protect a rare strain of Alaskan Malamute, and all our neighboring farms employed dogs as sentinels, too. I like dogs. But the benefits of pets and dogs are not the issue at hand, and the fact that many dog owners will still try to defend their own pet from these concerns is sure proof of just how sick this sick pet love has become. The dog owners don’t listen, they ignore leash laws and signs, they pretend that every person walking on the same sidewalk won’t mind being sniffed, licked, or touched by their mutt.

Every beach, park, or forest trail I walk on, I am almost guaranteed an encounter with a large, free-ranging dog or two, running out just ahead of their owners. “Awwww, my liddle sweet poochy poo would neeeever hurt anyone,” goes the typical canned line from these sickly sweet sentimentalists as their dogs bark at you, nose around your crotch, or cautiously sniff your leg during your otherwise serene walk. Sappy sentimentalism is not prevalent in these encounters, but rather, it is overpoweringly common among owners of large dogs. Nevertheless, dog bites in public venues remain common.

What psychologists would say, or do say about this childish escapism masquerading as love among otherwise functioning adults, normal people don’t know and they don’t care. Despite plenty of reported dog attacks in the press, and plenty of laws on the books to prevent dog attacks, lots of owners of large dogs continue to ignore or flout them and place everyone else around them at risk. It’s as selfish a behavior as can be found, and it has become a hallmark of modern America. Folks, you are not a dog, and your dog is not a person. Please help make the public venue safer by leashing, controlling, and muzzling your large dog.

Because begging and cajoling dog owners to be responsible citizens hasn’t worked (and we haven’t even raised the issue of many owners failing to clean up dog poop), here’s a list of recommended improvements to established laws that will shape the kind of public environment we deserve:

1) Criminalize any and all unsolicited touching of a human by a dog in public. No, dude, you would not want me to walk up and sniff, lick, or touch your wife while she’s walking down the sidewalk, and surprise, guess what, my wife is really unhappy that your dog did that to her. No harm, you say? Well, actually, your subjective opinion aside, it’s battery and emotional distress, and you would react differently if it were my pet tarantula that I decided to let walk on your neck just ‘cause I wanted to. It’s simple: Dogs and their owners have no right to intrude into people’s lives in public. Humans have the right-of-way.

2) Increase the size and legibility of dog licenses so they can be easily identified.

3) Increase fines for unlicensed dogs sufficient to make it impossible for dog owners to ignore licenses.

4) Zero tolerance for violent dogs. Any dog that, unprovoked, attacks a human in the public venue, and possibly in private, shall be immediately seized and euthanized, with the public bill paid by the dog’s owner.

There’s lots of other ways to get a better handle on this problem, but I’m an advocate for limited, common-sense laws. Let’s get these suggestions implemented first, and hopefully they’ll be so effective that the news will change from dog bites man to man bites dog, a rare and newsworthy occurrence, indeed.

Originally published by and licensed to www.rockthecapital.com, Copyright Josh First.