Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Point: Government Force Is Not The Best Solution

HARBESON: The reasons behind this gift of a column

Several people asked me what I planned to write about this week since my column would be published on Christmas Eve. They wanted to know if I had a gift in mind for my readers in honor of the season.

This really irritated me. Until they pointed this out, it hadn’t really occurred to me that I might need to add more people to my Christmas list. I thought I was finished shopping.

I wasn’t sure what to do. Were people really expecting a gift? I mean, what would readers possibly want from me?

Maybe I could get away with a homemade gift. Let’s see, what would be really cheap and fit the relationship? I know, something made out of newspaper! Maybe I could fold some of those cool sailor hats I made as a kid. Or create something using paper mache.

Then I remembered I’m not crafty. That’s why I write a column.

So then I thought maybe I could just write a gushy, sentimental column. One of those columns chock full of sugary-sweet sappiness. A column dripping with syrupy emotion.

But that would cost a fortune because the sugar overload would certainly make me sick and we all know the cost of health care these days.

Finally I realized there are really only two possible gifts I could offer:

1. Continue sharing my opinions.

2. Stop writing the column.

Now, although I think some people’s idea of the best Christmas gift ever would be for me to do a No. 2 and simply shut up, I’m afraid I’m just not that generous. This left me with one choice — to keep sharing my opinions.

There are some good reasons as to why this is the best gift I have to offer. For one, I know you won’t shoot your eye out so I have no liability issues. There are a few others though.

I will do my best to analyze, question and investigate issues from my skeptical perspective of government as a solution. Until I see people moving away from using government force to solve problems, I’ll continue to look for local issues and actions to serve as real-life examples to help make my points.

I will refuse to accept any rationalizations and excuses for why we should let certain groups of people be held to different standards and be able to use force, especially when those rationalizations and excuses come from those inside the system that uses the force.

I will continue to respond to anyone who challenges me. Consider it your gift to me really because it helps me clarify my thinking even further. I want to hear your logical, reasoned arguments so I can test them against my theories, principles and values. It’s an excellent way to move forward in my personal lifelong learning process.

I hope one of the best reasons why this column is a good gift is my refusal to accept that what we have now is the best we can do. I will not and cannot pretend that government is good. When more people begin to understand this enough that we start to see real changes, I’ll have my perfect Christmas gift.

My Christmas wish and message is really very simple: When we have a problem to solve, I want our first thought to be clutching our neighbor’s hand, and not a government gun.

I hope you enjoy this gift all year long. I sincerely offer it with humility, joy and always a touch of humor. I hope you accept it, but either way I’m going to have fun writing.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wore a newspaper hat made from past Sunday’s edition and now has Lindon Dodd’s face (web readers, he's another columnist) tattooed on her forehead.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Seem To Have Hit A Nerve


My most recent column has really generated some interest. I find it fascinating because I really didn't say anything new or different, I just happened to give an example of government spending that a lot of people around here happen to like: Christmas Light Displays. You can go to the newspaper's site for the column itself to read some of the comments.

HARBESON: ’Tis the season of taking taxes ... and giving lights


Some people really get into Christmas decorating and end up with lights and displays covering nearly all of their property.

I’m way too lazy to put up much for Christmas, but I do appreciate a nice display when I happen to see one and I’m sure it’s fun for those who enjoy spending their time and money this way.

But when a government spends taxpayer money on such things, it raises lots of questions. For example, is it really necessary or even proper for the city of Charlestown to force taxpayers to fund a huge Christmas light display just because Mayor Bob Hall has a need to say his is bigger?

Now, Charlestown certainly isn’t the only government entity spending money on seasonal decorations, but they are actively seeking attention by claiming to be Southern Indiana’s largest.

The city administration’s actions have definitely put the spotlight on this type of government spending, so I guess Mayor Hall is getting his Christmas wish to be noticed.

When the mayor says, “Our desire is to be known as a Christmas town,” I wonder who he’s referring to when he says “our.” Does he mean himself and other government employees? If so, the next question is whether or not he should be making such decisions.

Or is he trying to make a claim that every single resident shares this desire?

This cannot be the case, because we know he didn’t ask each and every person in order to get unanimous consent that this is the city’s desire. I can guarantee you that residents have varying opinions.

Of course, the only reason it matters is because coerced funds were used to help pay for the display. No one knows how much, though, because Clerk-Treasurer Donna Coomer said they have to wait until the invoices come in, which won’t be until January.

But maybe this makes some sense for a city that wants to be known as a Christmas town. After all, lots of people go overboard buying things on credit and have to wait until they get their January bill to see what they spent, too.

Neither Coomer nor Mayor Hall wanted to give an estimate on the taxpayer cost, which is kind of funny since they seemed proud to know and share other estimated numbers relating to the display, such as the number of lights and how many people attended the initial lighting ceremony.

Mayor Hall defended spending taxpayer money when he said, “People pay for an image and advertising everywhere.”

I think he forgot that those people — unless he’s talking specifically about other governments — don’t forcibly take other people’s money to do so. They spend money they’ve earned from providing a product or service that customers voluntarily pay for.

This particular spending of government money is particularly troubling since the Christmas spirit is supposed to be all about the virtue of giving. What image is really on display when Charlestown’s officials think it’s perfectly fine to spend other people’s money that was taken by government force in order to put up decorations to celebrate Christmas?

Rarely has so much light glared so garishly on the truth.

The biggest disappointment in this situation has to be that in addition to the taxpayer funding, volunteers donated many hours of their time and local businesses also donated money, which means this decorating could have been accomplished totally through voluntary means.

What a wonderful message the people of this city could have sent if they had developed and created a totally voluntary display of lights and decorations. That would have really made Charlestown truly a Christmas city.

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson once auditioned for a living Christmas tree but was turned down because they said she was a dim bulb.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Recovering From Recovery.gov


COLUMN NOTES: In reality, I found a lot of information on this site. But it only brought up about 1000 more questions so I just decided to have a little fun with it. It did generate several comments on the newspaper's website though which you can read here.

HARBESON: The bumpy road to Recovery.gov

In my continuing effort to help my readers learn about government, I often get myself into really scary situations. Last week, when I read that entire government-issued press release and found myself deep within the bowels of the Indiana Code, was only the latest example of how far I’m willing to go.

Fortunately, after a nice long shower and a bit of debriefing with the son-in-law, I was able to come out of that experience feeling strong. As a matter of fact, I felt especially full of courage this week. Son-in-law apparently agrees, because he did confirm that I was full of it.

Anyway, I felt so good that I decided it was time to tackle the big one. Of course, I’m referring to Recovery.gov, the Web site that lists in detail everything you never wanted to know about the federal stimulus plan.

I was a bit leery about doing this though. I heard reports of people visiting the site who soon became so overloaded with detail that they just ran away screaming, never again to utter a single coherent word of complaint about the federal stimulus funds.

Yes, it is a scary Web site. The first thing I noticed upon entering was lots of numbers — ID numbers, award numbers, code numbers, order numbers and numbers referring to the other numbers.

Oh, and of course plenty of “dollars awarded” numbers. I suspect the dollars awarded are what scares most people away because hardly any of us learned to count that high in math class.

The site has so many numbers, there’s a special link called Clarification of Codes just to, well, clarify the codes. I bravely opened the huge “Clarification of Codes” page and it sent shivers up my spine.

I decided that maybe I really didn’t need to read up on the meaning of phrases like “IDV Procurement Instrument ID.” I hope you don’t think less of me.

I will say that there was one particularly pleasing part of this page which was the pronouncement of the phrase, “Principal Place of Performance.” But that’s only because I like alliteration.

I was about to just give up gathering anything useful for this column when I saw an interesting link at the top of the page. It was a link to the Google Translate page.

Yes! I knew Google could rescue me because Google always helps me out of sticky situations when I need information. So I clicked the link.

Once on the Google translator, though, I immediately became confused again. Oh sure, I had many languages I could click on for the “translate from” field, but all I could see were actual meaningful languages developed from humans throughout history. I looked down the list at least five times and could not find the selection I was looking for. “Government Gobbledygook” was simply not there.

I do not understand that at all. I mean, they had languages like Estonian and Swahili; Maltese and Persian. Oy vey, they even had Yiddish! I hate to kvetch but that really takes some chutzpah not to include Government Gobbledygook, doesn’t’ it?

Maybe the site was just broken that day.

I was ready to leave Recovery.gov, but I felt responsible for sharing something useful in this column, so I took one more look and saw a tab titled “Where is the Money Going.” Now, of course I didn’t fall for that one. I knew that if I clicked on that link, I’d get sent down a big black hole.

Listen, I’m willing to do a lot for you people, but I’m not going to go that far.

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is slowly recovering from her Recovery.gov research ordeal. She hopes to be back to her old self next week.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Analyzing Government-Issued Press Releases: Indiana Attorney General


HARBESON: Columnist goes FIsHing for an explanation

My son-in-law thinks I over-analyze everything and he’s probably right. I’m trying to stop but I just can’t seem to do it, especially when a government official issues a press release. I guess I always over-analyze these releases because they never make much sense to me.

The most recent press release I analyzed — or over-analyzed if you ask my son-in law — came from the office of Indiana’s Attorney General Greg Zoeller. The purpose of this press release was to challenge corporations to donate to an organization called Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, or FIsH.

I admit I’ve always been confused about the exact purpose and duties of this government job but I’m pretty sure the attorney general position wasn’t created to solicit donations for one specific charity over any other. However, just to make sure, I analyzed the Indiana Code but I found nothing referring to such activities.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Mr. Zoeller is so concerned about feeding the hungry, but I just don’t understand what it has to do with his government-funded job. I decided to analyze what he said in his press release in the hope that it might help clarify this for me.

The press release said that Attorney General Zoeller is “extremely proud” of the elected officials who voted to provide $300,000 for FIsH. He also specifically thanked State Rep. William Crawford, D-Indianapolis, chairman of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, and State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee for their “generosity and foresight.”

He’s extremely proud of their generosity? What generosity? All these men did was determine where a chunk of funds coerced from other people were going to end up. Generosity has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Then I read this, “In light of what’s already being provided by the public sector, I think it’s appropriate for us to ask the private sector to donate to FIsH and match that amount.”

What in the world is he talking about? He talks as if the money from the public sector had nothing to do with the private sector, but this money those politicians so “generously” appropriated is money they took from the private sector. No amount of over-analysis could ever twist any logic out of that statement.

Of course, these government officials are part of a system that took plenty of money not only from the private businesses but directly from the mouths of the hungry they claim they care so much about, so I guess it does make some sense to send a few crumbs back.

But wouldn’t it be better if they just got out of the way so private companies can actually hire these hungry people rather than instilling guilt that they aren’t doing enough already?

Another interesting comment from our esteemed attorney general acknowledges “that many companies are struggling to meet monthly expenses and make payroll, but I’m going to ask business people to dig a little deeper into their budgets — if they can — and donate to FIsH.”

My over-analytical self noticed that he didn’t mention the companies’ struggle to pay their taxes, money which apparently needs to be paid so that the attorney general can run around Indiana and talk about how private business needs to do more to help people.

If Greg Zoeller really wants to help the hungry as part of his government job, then I suggest he look into all those great government programs and services that were supposedly set up to take care of people in such situations. Analyze that, Mr. Attorney General, and you might actually accomplish something.


SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks her son-in-law might be over-analyzing her propensity to over-analyze, but needs to think more about it to be sure.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Elimination Challenge

COLUMN NOTES: For some background, the Greater Clark School Corporation in Clark County, Indiana, hired a new superintendent, Dr. Steve Daeschner, for an amount over what they budgeted for the position.

A local group, led by an ex-Jeffersonville Indiana mayor, Dale Orem, started a fund to collect donations to pay the excess amount. Orem and his crew set up a fund through the local Community Foundation, and now it has been ruled that donations made to that fund can remain private an anonymous, despite the fact that these funds go directly to paying the superintendent's salary.

The ClarkCountyChatter.com site did start a thread on this topic and if you want to see it, click here.


HARBESON: Columnist issues elimination challenge

Last May, in a column about Greater Clark County Schools’ hiring of Dr. Stephen Daeschner, I wondered who might actually donate to pay the portion of his salary in excess of the budgeted amount and whether we would eventually be told that the people donating need to be kept private.

It looks like I don’t have to wonder anymore. The people involved in raising the money seem to have successfully set up a fund in a way that will hide the identity of individual donors. Of course, this would make no difference if the people who donated stood up to be counted.

But they’re not exactly tripping over each other to do so.

I wonder why. It seems to me they would be out front and center loudly proclaiming, “Yes I support this man and you should too.”

But for some reason it’s all being done behind closed doors.

It’s fascinating, because many organizations accept donations for their causes, and I’ve noticed that these groups often proudly point to the individuals who make voluntary contributions.

They print up colorful, shiny programs and brochures which specifically list donors, sometimes even grouping them into categories of amounts given. They naturally want to publicly thank the donors, as well as show people that their neighbors think enough of their organization to contribute money.

Of course, these same organizations also respect those who would like to donate anonymously. The community at large seems to respect this privacy, because I’ve never heard of it ever being controversial.

I’ve also never heard of newspapers filing lawsuits to see who the anonymous donors may be to these organizations. So what’s the difference in this instance?

The difference is that these organizations are based on freedom of association, and government schools are not. The people who are donating to help pay Daeschner’s salary are supporting a person who is in charge of an institution whose very foundation is based upon compulsion and coercion.

So naturally, those who are forced to be involved want to know everything they can about the source of any money that flows into such an organization, especially when the money goes directly to the person who has the most power.

It’s similar to campaign contributions. Campaign donations are totally voluntary, too, but since the donations end up affecting how government force is used, some folks have worked hard to make campaign finance contributions more transparent.

It’s not difficult to understand why.

So if you want more transparency on who is paying Daeschner, there’s no need to be disheartened by recent events. There might be a way to get inside the box they’ve built around themselves by using a powerful problem-solving tool we should have all learned in school: The process of elimination.

All that needs to be done is to start an initiative to have everyone who is NOT donating to publicly stand up and be counted. As more and more people publicly out themselves as nondonors, the pool of possible donors will get smaller and smaller and it will become easier to figure out who donated money, even if they haven’t acknowledged it.

Where to compile this information? It would be very easy to set up a Web site for this, or maybe someone could just start a thread on ClarkCountyChatter.com, the site residents created to bring people together on issues of local interest.

No matter how it’s done, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility to end up with a very good idea of who is involved. And it could be more fun than discovering it was Col. Mustard who did it in the parlor using a candlestick.

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson finds the process of elimination very helpful after ingesting too many martinis with Professor Plum in the billiard room.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Letters

HARBESON: As always, columnist excited to hear from readers!!!

In my last letters column, “Want To Be Pen Pals?,” I mentioned one letter writer who was a bit enamored with the exclamation point. Evidently he’s not the only one, because I received several e-mails from others who feel the same.

Matt wrote this: “Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know I enjoy your column!!!!!!”

Then Mike wrote a nice note that ended with this: “I added my address just in case you want to send me a hand-written letter!!!!!!!!!”

I did send him a letter. Well, actually, it was a card. He e-mailed me back: “Debbie, I received the card the other day. Thanks, for thinking of me. I don’t get much regular mail, since they invented e-mail. I was going to send you a letter, but the only paper I could find here on the farm was the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

“I have to keep it for special purposes, and I was afraid I’d run short, since the spring catalog don’t come out ’til March. I read your column about selling booze on Sunday. I agree with you. We have far too many controls on every aspect of our lives, by the government, to feel we are a free country. If ol’ Tom Jefferson was here, He’d be Appalled!!!”

I’m not so sure he’s right about Jefferson. I don’t think he’d be appalled to learn how Mike uses the Sears catalog.

I actually did gain a pen pal. Susan and I have corresponded several times and I knew we had a lot in common. After all, she wrote that she believes in ideas like “… individual responsibility and voluntary action within a cooperative society rather than the involuntary coercion and tyranny we so often labor under today.”

I noticed someone wrote a letter to the editor in response to my column on Baron Hill’s YouTube misadventure. That reader was disappointed but I also received this response from Dave: “…You made a good comparison with ‘quality assurance purposes’. I never thought of it that way. I’ve seen the video. You could have made it worse for Baron Hill. His stinky attitude really showed out.”

I’ve scanned this comment from Kim: “… I am always anxious to see what you have to say — and I am never disappointed. You say what a lot of us think!! I have cut out your articles many times and scanned them in for friends to read …”

Reader Frank does a nice job of one-upping a comment I made about pigs flying: “Pigs won’t simply fly; pigs will win dogfights against F-16s before you get rationality from elected officials.”

Finally, you may remember that I offered to send a book to the lady who wrote me a nice snail mail letter. Judith took me up on the offer so I mailed it to her and after a couple of weeks, she returned it. I’m not sure how we were able to accomplish this without taxing others for library services but we managed.

Judith again included a letter, where, among other things, she had this to say: “…Wonder of wonders, I did agree with Dr. Ruwart’s ideas on the marijuana problem. I am more convinced than ever that I shall remain an independent.”

Thanks to all the letter-writers out there. If you wrote to me and didn’t get included here, please note it has nothing to do with the space limitations. It means your letter was lacking in one of two areas — you didn’t use nearly enough exclamation points, or you didn’t compliment me nearly enough.

So feel free to try again.

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wonders if ol’ Tom Jefferson would be appalled at how he was used to set up a joke for this column.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Education Is All About Control

HARBESON: Education needs a new way of thinking

I caused a near riot in an elementary school once. It happened in the late 1980s when I was a lunchtime/recess monitor. I wanted to give a present to the kids before winter break so I purchased a bunch of Hershey’s Kisses to hand out.

I decided to have some fun with this, so I hid the candy behind me, stood on a cafeteria chair, got the kids’ attention and said, “I think you guys are great so I want to give a kiss to each and every one of you.” Then I puckered up.

The boys responded just as I expected and started to boo. But then the trouble started as everyone started yelling — louder and louder. I grabbed the bag of goodies to show them I was only kidding, but by that time no one was listening and I think I even got pelted with a couple of tater tots. The kids were eventually corralled outside to work off their energy and I imagine the principal and teachers are probably still talking about it.

I tell this story because I think Indiana’s teachers and the state’s education schools might have a point being concerned about the proposals made by Indiana’s Superintendent Tony Bennett. The Department of Education is considering changing requirements for teachers, one of which is to require fewer “methods” or classroom management classes and more subject matter classes.

On the other hand, Bennett has a point when he says it should be easier for noneducation majors to teach in the schools. It never made sense to me that someone who has a passion for a subject and actually worked in a career where they used it has to jump through so many hoops in order to teach.

I can see how this is controversial. What it would say about our current teachers if people who don’t have a specific teaching degree but know the subject well do just fine, or even better, in the classroom than education majors? The possibility of this happening has to scare those invested in the current education system.

I question whether any of this really makes any difference though because as long as we continue to copy the Prussian school model, we aren’t really doing much for anyone interested in learning. It does work well to grind up and mold large groups of children and force them to fit into boxes that can easily be organized, controlled, and artificially measured though.

Teachers working in such systems do need “methods” courses. It takes some time to learn how to tell a lively group of kids they need to sit down, shut up and learn about stuff they probably aren’t the least bit interested in.

Controversies between teachers and administrators presuppose that it’s all about them but it’s not. It’s about the learner. But no one ever asks students what they think, which results in a system that too quickly subtracts out natural curiosity, innovative creativity and zest for learning. So whether or not Tony Bennett gets his way and changes the rules so teachers learn more content or whether pedagogy wins, the kids lose.

It’s really not hard to help someone learn if he or she is engaged and has a real, not artificially created, reason for gaining knowledge about a topic. We need to give kids more freedom in what and how they learn without all the control freaks getting in the way.

If we ever decide that it’s learning that matters and not simply controlling the masses and maintaining old institutional ways of thinking, many of our education problems will be much easier to solve.

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson really enjoys starting riots in elementary schools, particularly now that she’s developed gear that offers protection from wayward tater tots.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Proof You Won't Change The System By Getting Involved

COLUMN NOTES: I really became annoyed reading a column written by republican state representative Ed Clere. He wrote this column bragging about his success in bringing stimulus funds to our area while at the same time claiming he disagrees with it.

HARBESON: Let’s clear the rhetoric

Wow, it must really feel good to be federally stimulated. At least Indiana Rep. Ed Clere makes me think so. I’m sure he’s right because the deal he recently brokered as paid political middleman would certainly make some people feel good. I do have friends and family who will benefit from this forced transfer of funds from one group to another so it’s nice to know someone locally is being stimulated.

Good for Clere. He performed his job well. This is exactly what he’s supposed to do. By filling out the right papers, he’s made quite a few people very thankful and they’ll take care of him now. So the system lives. The system grows.

I also can’t blame Clere for writing a column promoting his successful stimulation of sewers. What I don’t get is why he felt the need to pile on so much additional doo-doo.

Most ridiculous was his comment about how important this is because it helps Georgetown residents afford their sewer bills. Well of course it’s hard to afford it; they have to pay for the stimulus projects his cohorts are also handing out around the country.

He also explains that he’s making sure this area gets back our “fair share.” But what does that mean? What evidence does he have to prove that this was our area’s “fair share?” Does the citizen living in Podunk, USA, who received nothing think this is true? “Fair share” is impossible to calculate, nor do we know what economic activities have been stifled due to the stimulus handouts.

Even worse, he says Floyd County taxpayers are off the hook. This is a perfect example of how politicians use the layers of government to their advantage. The Floyd county taxpayers are paying plenty for this because the tax bill was simply transferred to another government entity. One much harder to control by the way.

But by far, what bugged me most is when Clere congratulated himself while at the same time claiming to disagree with the federal government’s way of stimulating the economy. I simply do not get that. All of his energy was spent on continuing the system, in fact, legitimizing the system, and none on figuring out how to change it so why bother to even say that?

What are we to do with that information? Is it supposed to make everyone feel better about taking the money? Is it supposed to make the people who don’t get lower sewer bills feel better? Did he change anything that could improve our children’s future dealings with the federal government? Was it simply more pandering just in case someone criticizes how he spent the last six months of taxpayer time?

I understand if money’s been taken and we can do something to get some back, it’s certainly practical to do so. Yet there must be a feeling that something’s inherently wrong with the system or else Clere would not feel the need to share that he disagrees at the same time he’s proclaiming success.

What can those of us do who think the entire system needs to be changed? Obviously electing new people, even those who belong to parties that pretend they don’t want bigger government isn’t going to change anything. We clearly, or should I say Clerely, see how joining and working inside the system is not going to accomplish this task, so what now?

If we are to accept the idea that it’s only practical to try and get money back that’s been forcibly taken, then the root issue must be handing over the money in the first place, right? The money gives the system its power. Or to be more exact, the belief that it’s moral to take the money in the first place is what gives the system its power.

As I see it, the only way to get started down a new road is to do what we can to avoid handing over our money and/or get a conversation started on how we can morally justify the taking of money by force.

Once enough people think the system is morally reprehensible, they will act on that belief. They will refuse to hand over the money and neighbors will back each other up because it’s the right thing to do.

So how about you? Where do you stand on the basic morality of a group of people being able to take money by force when you as an individual cannot do the same? How many will it take to stand up with me and say we are morally opposed to this system of coercion before more people join in?

If this is the wrong way to go about change, then what other alternatives are there for those morally opposed to the existing system?

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson recently experienced an unusual shiver up her spine and wonders if it’s a result of local federal stimulation of the economy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to Run a Business Like a Government

HARBESON: How to run a business like a government

By DEBBIE HARBESON

Because of Clark County government’s money-management problems and the resulting new income tax, some citizens are grumbling that “government needs to learn to run like a business!”

I used to think that too, until I realized I had it completely backward. I want to use this revelation to help others, so with that in mind, here are some tips on “How to Run a Business like a Government” for anyone who wants to give it a shot

Tip One

When you choose your “services” to provide, don’t concern yourself with market demand. This is irrelevant because you are going to initiate force against people in order to fund your service. However, if you want to lessen the chance of skepticism, find one person who’s struggling with an issue and use this anecdote as evidence of a “crisis” which your service happens to “fix.”

Tip Two

Hire someone to hold your gun for you. Oh, come on, don’t look so surprised. Remember, this advice is geared to running your business like a government. See, what you are going to do is force people to pay for your service, but you want to have some semblance of illusion here that what you’re doing isn’t threatening violence to ensure compliance.

Therefore, I recommend hiring someone to stand behind you, holding the gun. For added effect, give him a spiffy uniform. Now all you need to do is talk about the wonderful service you provide.

Tip Three

Another important element for success is creating a board of elected officials who vote for your various price increase schemes. This will make your “customers” feel like they have a say in your pricing decisions. In addition, the elections will keep people so busy that they stop thinking about that gun you have in the background.

BONUS TIP: Make sure you find people who are good at wringing their hands and saying how sorry they are, but in order to keep providing the service, they simply have to increase the price.

Tip Four
You will run into people who don’t want to pay because they don’t need your service at all, or would prefer to use a competitor. Just smile and tell them they are free not to use the service, all they need to do is fund it.

BONUS TIP: It’s often very helpful to instill guilt by inserting abstract phrases like “social contract” and “common good.”

Tip Five

Besides the guy with the gun and the elected officials, you will of course want to hire other people to administer the service. (Unless you’re in Jeffersonville, in that case just hire Republican elected officials.)

Don’t worry about ability; you’re developing dependency not competency. These people do the work of silencing and ridiculing those who continue to question the efficiency, validity and moral legitimacy of your actions.

Warning: Don’t let this group get too big or you will ruin your business because no one will be creating wealth for you to take.

Tip Six

Keep information flowing on the importance of your service and how well it works.

Warning: Don’t fall into the trap of trying to determine whether your service really does work well. You can’t figure this out because this information only comes from using the voluntary market and again, this is about running your business like a government.

Looks like that’s all the room I have for now, but this should get you started just fine in operating your business without having to concern yourself with persuading people to voluntarily trade with you for something they consider to be valuable and worthy.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wondered why her new bra was bothering her when writing this column, until she realized she had it completely backward.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I Got Me A Car, It's As Big As A Whale


I don't think any column notes are really necessary for this one...

HARBESON: The drive to impede

Driver’s education was the only class I took in high school that I can remember being enthused about. Finally, the chance to take a class that had an immediate benefit.

The experience would have been even better if I could have studied the written portion on my own rather than sitting through another class.

Nowadays, I figured the age of computers meant that all Indiana students could freely choose an online option. But I was wrong.

Currently, only students in the Indianapolis area can take the classroom portion online and only through a single approved government source, the Central Indiana Education Services Center.

Other districts in the state and private driver’s education organizations would naturally like to offer online classes, too. But it’s not just a simple matter of them developing their classes and offering them to anyone who wants to take advantage of the opportunity.

No, that would make too much sense. And it also wouldn’t give the state legislature anything to do.

Therefore, we have another Indiana Legislative Interim Study Committee, this one on driver’s education, and one agenda item is whether or not to allow students to take the classroom portion online.

By the way, Indiana students don’t have to take these classes, but if they don’t, they have to wait longer to get their license, which is another example of government interference in your family decisions.

Some legislators do not appear to have a problem with an online option, but there are others who have “concerns.” One legislator in particular is worried about the possibility that someone else other than the student who signed up would do the work.

This is a ridiculous argument because new drivers have to take the written test at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Either the student needs the online class to learn what he or she needs to know to pass the written exam — which means the person has built-in motivation — or he or she can coast through the exam without needing the class anyway — which I suppose would also bother some people.

I suspect this legislator knew he was driving down a dead-end on the above issue, because he was ready with another one: He said that those who took the classes online would miss out on valuable classroom discussions. But online classes have proven to be a very effective alternative for students to learn at their own pace.

By now, you may be confused as to why this guy is looking so hard for reasons to restrict the freedom to provide online classes. Here’s a possible answer: He’s a driver’s education teacher in a government school system.

I watched part of a video (hey, online learning!) of one of these meetings and it was funny to see everyone seriously discussing whether or not to give teenagers the freedom to take the classroom portion online while the politicians were sitting there with their laptops in front of them.

It was also interesting given the recent developments of the computer laptop program in the Greater Clark School System. What’s the point of giving kids the opportunity to learn about computers if they are denied the chance to experience a real benefit of the technology?

I see no reason for these politicians to waste time discussing this issue. If companies want to provide the option and families want to purchase it, just get out of the way.

After all, when it gets down to it, actually getting out and driving a car is how students learn to drive. Not by being forced to sit in a classroom listening to a teacher drone on about it.

SIGLINE: Without the benefit of any classes, Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has proven to be an excellent back-seat driver. Just ask her husband.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nobody Listens To Me

COLUMN NOTES: This one is an update column on two items I previously wrote about.

I wrote about Jeffersonville's sex offender ordinance issue three other times over the last couple of years. You can read the other three columns to see how I followed the issue and why I titled this post as I did.

Click here for the first column I wrote when they first passed the ordinance.

Then when the Eric Dowdell situation continued, I wrote this column.

The city continued to fight this guy and back their ordinance which led to this next column.

And finally, I just couldn't help myself, but I had to write one more which is the update I included in this column posted today.

By the way, I don't know what it means but the Indiana Law Blog posted a link and said it was a "must-read column."



HARBESON: It’s update time on a couple of issues
By DEBBIE HARBESON
Local Columnist

Jeffersonville’s sex offender in parks ban

The Jeffersonville City Council still doesn’t get it. They still pretend that a law banning known sex offenders from parks will protect your kids.

They have obviously not taken my advice and educated themselves about this issue because they still won’t admit that the park is not where kids get in trouble with sex offenders.

They also won’t admit they were completely wrong in how they handled the Eric Dowdell case. Dowdell is the dad who tried his best to follow their new ordinance so he could get an exemption to go watch his son play baseball.

I bet you don’t even remember all the steps this case went through, which is usually what happens in these situations because people simply get fatigued and quit paying attention.

But I’m still watching, so let me refresh your memory. It started in Jeffersonville City Court, and then moved to Clark County Circuit Court to Clark County Superior Court to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The city tried to take it to the Indiana Supreme Court, but this court declined to hear it, so in the end, the city lost. Now Jeffersonville is spending more time and money to rewrite the ordinance.

I tried to convince them to just leave Dowdell alone, but I failed. Sorry. And if you review the above list, you’ll note that this battle involved more than just city court, so everyone reading this helped pay for this. Sorry again.

Is this what people mean when they tell me we need a monopolized government-funded court system? To pay for a city to use the court system rather than admit their mistakes is one of those essential services we’re supposed to be thankful for?

What I’d really like to know is, when a city council and its lawyers go overboard and create extra costs and waste time in the court system, why aren’t they held accountable somehow? Could it be that one of the reasons we see such blatant misuse of the system is precisely because there are no specific accountability measures on the government side?

I guess the best we can do is to protect our children from ever getting near these people so they can’t corrupt them with their misguided ideas of right and wrong.

Tourism bureau
I received a call this past week from a gentleman who has been involved in local politics for a long time. He wanted to tell me about his experiences with the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau on a project he was working on to persuade a group to host a convention in Southern Indiana.

His story was quite interesting. He explained that he didn’t think he received much help at all from the bureau for his project. Instead he attributed his success in attracting the group to town to the assistance and work that came from staff and owners of several local businesses.

He couldn’t praise these private businesses enough for their work in helping to get this particular project done. His conclusion in all of this was that Executive Director Jim Keith needs to go.

I wasn’t sure I understood him correctly. So in order to get clarity, I asked him this, “So what you’re saying is that local private business organizations worked along with you much more effectively and did a much better job in helping to accomplish the goal of persuading your group to come to Southern Indiana for their convention?”

He did not hesitate for a second before he said, “Oh absolutely.”

I know how I interpret this, how about you?

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson’s failure to persuade government officials to think before acting has convinced her to try something easier first, like getting pigs to fly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is Limited Government An Oxymoron

Wow, one of the best videos I've seen lately. They made such great points in such a short time.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stop Counting On Government

HARBESON: You should stop counting on government

A perplexing pattern popped out at me recently as I analyzed some recent news reports which really has me worried about the government’s ability to count.

As far as I can tell, officials ran out of fingers to count on long ago and have been hoping no one would notice. How bad is it? Let me count the ways.

Actually, I will only count a few ways because there are far too many, one could even say countless, examples to fit within my limited word count. Besides, if any government officials are reading this, I wouldn’t want to confuse them with too high a number. So I’m going to share three, one example from each layer of government: federal, state and local.

The first example concerns the recent news that Indiana is in trouble with the feds because the state has somehow grossly miscounted the number of billboards lining the highways. This is a problem because the federal government bureaucrats have the authority to withhold money based on a provision in the Highway Beautification Act.

For those who don’t know, the federal government uses this law to limit and control the number of billboards you are allowed to read while traveling on the government highways. See, a few decades ago, a president’s wife decided billboards were ugly and took away from the beauty of miles and miles of federally funded concrete and asphalt.

Now, state government has no real problem with this federal law because they get to help control something, which means they get to increase their funds by selling permits. Both layers of government do not care to eliminate billboards totally because having a government-approved number to count and track keeps a lot of people busy.

To better understand this logic, think of the Statler Brothers song “Counting Flowers on the Wall,” particularly the lyric, “So don’t tell me, I’ve nothing to do.”



Anyway, now the state is trying to correct their failure to maintain an accurate inventory of these billboards so they don’t lose any federal money. But guess what? Yep, they need money to correct this problem. Two million dollars has been suggested. What will they do with it? Train their workers to count. Insert another Statler brothers refrain here.

OK, let’s move down to a state level counting requirement. Did you know that for a long time Indiana’s government schools claimed that one-half is equal to one? In the past, when school was in session for a half-day, it was counted as a whole day.

But then, the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Bennett, decided they better use the same math most of us use in the real world so he changed the rule. I’m not sure it really makes much difference though. The number of days of compulsory attendance required tells us nothing about whether a child is actually learning anything, besides counting down the days to the end of the year.

Finally, thanks to local citizen and soon-to-be forced Jeffersonville resident Bruce Herdt, we have a local example. He discovered the possibility of a huge mistake in the count of homes involved in Jeffersonville’s annexation.

The mistake could number in the thousands, which I find amazing. After all, a house is a pretty hard object to miss when counting. Most preschoolers with just a few hours of Sesame Street under their elastic waist should be able to count something as big as houses without messing up too bad.

I don’t know, maybe someone can do something to help these people get better at performing such elementary tasks. But I’m not counting on it.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has at least two things in common with preschoolers — a love of counting and elastic waist pants.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tourism Bureau Trouble

Column Notes: This one generated some good reactions. Someone said I should run for office and another person said I should be county merchandising coordinator. :)

For context, here's a link to the tourism bureau's website so you can understand the references to the Sunny Side of Louisville. And here's a link to the story about Larry Wilder and his adventures with a trash can.


HARBESON: Follow the money trail to the Tourism Bureau

By DEBBIE HARBESON
Local Columnist

For many years now, the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau has worked to promote Southern Indiana as “The SunnySide of Louisville.” But last week, an ugly dark cloud settled over the organization’s board meeting.

The first indication of trouble was the influx of local politicians in attendance. Of course, whenever two or more politicians are gathered in the name of government, the sun usually makes a hasty retreat, but why were they there?

They don’t normally attend such meetings.

Apparently everyone was interested in the possible retirement of Executive Director Jim Keith. After a heated meeting full of confusion, Keith ended up with a contract for four more years. This upset the politicians who were under the impression that his retirement was imminent.

If I was a Jeffersonville politician, I’d want Mr. Keith to retire too. He certainly did not take advantage of the opportunity to promote local tourism when Larry Wilder made national news. Just think of the jobs it could have created, selling maps to the location and little souvenir trash cans.

Some board members were also upset because until now they felt this organization had managed to stay nonpolitical, but what they need to realize is that politics was inevitable.

After all, the board is a government organization and it only exists because an arbitrary law makes it so. The most logical reason that political maneuvering did not happen before now is because the funds under their control were not worth the trouble.

But since the area has grown, I’m sure the funds have increased significantly enough that they can smell opportunity. Just like tourists are attracted to fun, politicians are attracted to big piles of tax money. It’s just nature.

Another reason we haven’t heard much controversy is because the people who are forced to pay the taxes that fund government tourism bureaus mostly do not live in the area. So no one really hears their grumbling.

I wonder how this all started. Certainly more businesses than lodging benefit when tourists come into town. Plus there are many reasons why people stay overnight that have nothing to do with tourism, such as weddings or a car breakdown. Yet they still have to pay the tax to help promote the area’s tourism.

So here we have yet another example of government interference in something that could easily function without it.

Any businesses that benefit from tourists and overnight visitors could easily set up their own private organizations and work to promote the area in mutually beneficial ways.

There could be a variety of membership options and benefits offered and businesses would be free to join or not. Then they could price their products and services according to market value without having to also play tax collector for the government.

The freedom would benefit the general public too, and not just in regard to taxation. Business groups can have disagreements privately which means we wouldn’t have to endure battles full of the bullying and threats that occur when politicians want more control.

It’s just so strange that politicians are involved in this at all. They provide absolutely no valuable service to the visitors. They’re not the ones who change the sheets and clean the toilets, get up early to prepare breakfast or work late hours to be available for late check-in.

But I guess they don’t have time for such things when they are so busy trying to figure out how to take control of yet another government agency that might have a load of other people’s money they can spend.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the best way to promote tourism is to send all politicians to an area where the sun don’t shine.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Baron Hill, David Allen Coe and Richard Nixon

Column notes: I already posted a short blog item about this video where Baron Hill got caught in a "compromising position on youtube," but I decided to also write a column on the topic. I love it when I can make such interesting connections between seemingly unrelated people.

HARBESON: Perfect YouTube video stars Rep. Baron Hill

I love YouTube.com. On this Internet Web site, anyone can post videos, so I can find almost anything I want. Videos range from the amateurish to the professional, ridiculous to thoughtful, intelligent to downright stupid. I can find quality videos to learn something new or I can just watch some silly mindless entertainment.

For a while now, I’ve been on the lookout for the perfect YouTube video. If that extra verse in David Allen Coe’s famous song that includes mama, prison, getting drunk, trucks and trains could define the perfect country-western song, then there has to be something similar for YouTube videos.

I was confident one would show up eventually that would succinctly and effectively define the medium. Well, I finally found it and it stars our very own congressional representative, Baron Hill.

During one of his recent town hall meetings, a student asked Hill why she couldn’t record the event. Hill explained that he refuses to allow videotaping because of the chance that excerpts could be put up on YouTube in a compromising position.

Of course, it’s now on that Web site and I challenge anyone to find a more perfect YouTube video, at least in the political realm.

He knew it was going to be difficult to control his message and tried to do it on his own terms by attempting to ban average citizens from recording the event. He even digs a deeper hole in the video excerpt when he says that it was his town hall meeting and constituents aren’t going to tell him how to run his office.

So much for the humble public servant aspect of being a representative I guess. Rarely do we see so much truth packed into about 70 seconds.

It also proves that Baron Hill’s instincts were right. The poor guy tried his best to avoid town hall meetings this year because he knew it wouldn’t end up benefiting him. But constituents can be so darn annoying and demanding so he gambled that he’d be better off by scheduling a couple than not having any.

He learned the hard way, now that technology has given the average citizen way more power, that what happens in town hall meetings does not stay in town hall meetings. He probably would have been better off hiding out in Las Vegas for a couple of months.

I wonder if it would console him to realize he now has a lot in common with Richard Nixon, who also knew his share of woes as technology passed him by. First, it was the humiliation of comparisons over his appearance to Kennedy’s during the 1960 presidential debates. Then when he finally made it to the Oval Office, he thought recording technology would be his friend, but alas, Nixon could never erase all the mistakes he made.

I’m sure many of you have made a call recently and been informed it could be recorded “for quality assurance purposes.” This is a well known method of evaluating employee competency that does not disrupt the business interactions taking place.

So doesn’t it make perfect sense that a constituent who wants to evaluate his congressman might want to do the same thing and record interactions for quality assurance purposes?

You would think a politician like Hill, one who claims to serve his constituents, would be applauding innovations like YouTube. But what we see instead is that Hill automatically assumes that if someone simply attends a meeting and presses a record button, they’ll gather plenty of material to make him look bad. Of course, that’s the most interesting aspect of this entire situation.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is often in the mood for something mindless but sometimes has a hard time choosing between YouTube dancing babies and political speeches.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Drink Too Much Beer, Get Censored


Column Notes: I got censored this week! My original choice of referencing the idea of three-ways didn't quite meet the standards of the paper and so they asked me to rewrite it. Several people said they thought the changed version was better anyway, but I was really happy with the first one. I thought it was hilarious. You can read the edited paragraph at the end of this post.

HARBESON: Maintaining misguided laws not the answer for alcohol licenses

By DEBBIE HARBESON
Local Columnist

When I first heard Clarksville’s Redevelopment Director Rick Dickman say that most restaurants would love to have a three-way, I thought the Southern Indiana area might finally be getting a Cincinnati-style chili franchise. But then I realized it had to do with Indiana’s asinine alcohol laws.

Selling various one-way (beer only), two-way (beer and wine) and three-way (beer, wine and liquor) alcohol licenses is important to government officials in cities and towns like Clarksville because it affects their ability to collect tax revenue. (They prefer the euphemism, “economic development.”)

Restaurant liquor licensing is a big deal in Indiana, and the glass is foaming over with protectionism, special favors and the buying and selling of a government-created product that would not exist otherwise. Everyone, from servers and bartenders to the guy who sells those cute little colorful paper umbrellas, is affected.

Of course, it’s not just these licenses; our state government has its controlling hands wrapped firmly around every bottle, mug and martini sold in the state. The details could change slightly though, because this year a Legislative Study Committee was formed to study the state’s alcohol laws.

For those who don’t know what a study committee is, it’s when lawmakers divvy out issues and then have meetings so they look busy year-round. They sit and listen to lobbyists and citizens speak out for and against current law. They “listen to the people,” and get “a feel for what the public wants,” before they ignore everything and vote “according to their conscience” which means “in the manner that benefits them the most.”

I’m not sure why they chose alcohol laws this time around, but it could be because they heard the statistic being thrown around that the state may have lost up to $9 million in tax revenue by interfering with these transactions. That’s the sort of information that catches a legislator’s attention.

Probably because of the above statistic, the two main issues this Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages is concerned about are selling alcohol on Sunday and expanding the businesses that can sell cold beer.

Everyone who understands the basic idea of freedom doesn’t really need to study such ideas of course. If a business wants to sell cold beer or other alcohol on a Sunday to a consumer who wants to purchase it, then no one should use force to try and stop the transaction.

But governments have a way of making such things seem complicated. As a matter of fact, because of their previous interference, we have the odd situation where some small business owners, who should know better, are actually defending this lack of freedom.

These store owners are afraid they will go out of business if they have to open on Sunday and if competitors can also sell cold beer. In a way, I feel bad for them because they may not be in this predicament had the current laws not existed. But if what they say is true, then they are operating on a faulty business model, one based on government action and subject to political whim. That’s not a good idea.

Besides, there are liquor stores which have a much better business plan. They’ve built themselves up as a specialty store, one that gives exemplary service, stocks unusual items and caters to the consumer who wants more than what one area curmudgeon describes as “corporate swill.”

So even though I have sympathy for those businesses, they are still being propped up artificially through government force. Maintaining misguided laws that restrict freedom is not the answer.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson could never sit through a Study Committee meeting. Well, maybe if she had a drink with a colorful paper umbrella.

Here's my original lead. Keep in mind I live right across the river from Louisville, KY, so U of L is big 'round these here parts:

When I first heard Clarksville’s Redevelopment Director Rick Dickman say that most restaurants would love to have a three-way, I though it had something to do with the publicity that comes from having people like Rick Pitino, um, hanging around. But then I realized it had to do with Indiana’s asinine alcohol laws.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Unschooling Is Educational Anarchy

A recent video interview posted at Motorhome Diaries shows Tim and Sheri Quinn talking about how the unschooling philosophy is working for their family.

I was glad to see this interview because I want more families to learn about unschooling and the benefits that come from raising your kids in an atmosphere of educational freedom.

One of the main reasons I decided to homeschool was because I saw how school was steadily sucking away my kids' natural curiosity and desire to learn. Before school age, we just had so much fun living and learning naturally and with loads of freedom and I saw no reason why that could not continue.

However, at first I did try to set up basic educational structure and rules because I wasn't quite sure TOTAL freedom would work. I mean, sure I wanted my kids out from under the ideas about learning and education that are inherent in institutional and government schools, but come on, total freedom is going too far.

So, at first I was an educational minarchist.

I believed in educational freedom and realized we really had the chance to live it by homeschooling, but I still felt like we probably needed some basic structure or it wasn't going to work.

Therefore, I drafted an educational constitution for our family.

But it didn't take long before I started seeing how my constitution was just a totally ineffective piece of paper and really didn't help us at all. As a matter of fact, I quickly saw that it was interfering with my original goal of educational freedom.

So I dumped it and we all became educational anarchists.

It was scary at first, but then I realized I wasn't starting anything new; I was simply going back to the educational anarchy our life had been before school came into our lives.

I think the reason I lost sight of how well educational anarchy works is because I was taught that when children reach a certain age, they need some sort of structured learning which is highly controlled by others or they won't learn.

But it's not true. All we really need to do is simply get out of their way.

So now I'm on a mission to start the first part of the revolution and help as many families as I can become educational anarchists.

Because freedom rocks.

One of my personal efforts to help spread the idea of educational freedom is offering a free online humor book about our family's early experiences with homeschooling/unschooling. I hope, in it's own fun way, that it helps explain how freedom works.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

How Would You Fill In The Blank?

Column notes: I had a lot of fun writing this one and even more fun reading the responses that came in. This one helped me see that at least some people are starting to 'get it.' Here's one response I received:

This County needs more like you who will stand up for what is honest!!!!!!!

Oh, and you'll understand the exclamation points after you read the column.


HARBESON: Want to be pen pals?

Warning to readers of this column: if you decide to write to me, I will write back. No matter what you say, or how you say it. I just think it’s the right thing to do and as long as I have the time to respond individually, I will. Besides, I can’t stop telling people what I think.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because of a recent experience I had with a fellow who e-mailed me after reading my column titled “There’s A More Logical Solution for Parrish Than Jail,” which discussed restitution as an option.

I knew this guy was pretty upset with me because he used several exclamation points. But then I made it worse because I wrote back. I know this because he used even more exclamation points when he replied again.

I can’t help it, I like to see if I can have a conversation with those who disagree. I wanted to learn more about his point of view and I questioned him on a part of his message that I did not understand.

I have to give him credit though. He was kind enough not to call me any really nasty names. Oh, he had a few minor ones but as he really got going, he just wrote this, “I also know that you are a ................... you can fill in the proper word!” I thought it was pretty nice of him to let me fill in the blank myself, don’t you?

Finally, after one more try, (silly I know) he demanded that I not e-mail him again. I’ll let you fill in your own blank as to how I handled that.

I realize some people just want to let off steam and it’s easy to fly off a quick e-mail. But I’m still going to respond because more often than not I end up enjoying a respectful exchange of thoughts and ideas. And I always learn something.

Let’s contrast this experience with another letter I received. This one was very unusual because it was a ‘real’ letter, delivered through the postal service. It might be the first one I’ve ever received this way.

In addition, this letter was hand-written. In cursive. I was quite impressed that someone would take the time to actually get paper, pen and handwrite a letter in response to my column. I was so surprised that I just stared at it for a day or so.

This writer responded to “Columnist Wants to Live Free,” and offered me two pages of reasons why I can’t. To her credit, she did not try to convince me that I was free; in fact, she admitted that we both were not. She simply politely and calmly laid out her reasoning. She didn’t even have to use a single exclamation point!

So as always, I wrote back. I’ll confess here that I’m now a bit ashamed because I did not respond in kind. I cheated and typed it. But I did fold the paper, lick an envelope and walk all the way out to the mailbox. I also had to walk back to the mailbox because I forgot to put up the flag the first time. So I think that makes us even.

I offered to mail her a book she might enjoy reading called “Healing Our World in an Age of Aggression.” I told her it would challenge her beliefs about the usefulness of government programs, particularly for the less fortunate.

I don’t know if she’ll respond, but I certainly can’t imagine she’ll get upset and tell me to stop writing to her. We’ll see.

SIGLINE:
Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson welcomes your responses at Debbie (at) debbieharbeson (dot) com! She promises she’ll write back!! If you don’t believe her then ………., you can fill in the proper word!!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Forced Annexation In Indiana Really Stinks

HARBESON: Forced annexation really stinks

Last week’s mention of Sellersburg’s attempt to annex Covered Bridge subdivision reminded me that every time I hear about Clark County forced annexations, I always end up in the sewers.

I really wanted to learn what’s going on here, so I dove deep into the stench to try and wrap my hands around something solid.

From what I understand, the usual way to protest a forced annexation is for homeowners to file a petition for remonstrance. However, this method is not available to Covered Bridge residents, because they signed away that right when they purchased their homes.

Signing away remonstrance rights is something we’ve seen happen repeatedly in Clark County over the past few years. Apparently, it’s become standard for developers and local governments to make these deals as a condition of providing sewer service to the area.

Obviously at some point, a government official thought, “Hey, once we get people to purchase our sewer service, we have the chance to put them totally under our local control. All we have to do is insert a line in this document that says they have no right to remonstrate future annexation.

“Then we can make them purchase all of our services and also take more of their money and spend it on other stuff we think is cool!”

Many homeowners have no idea they signed away these rights until a city or town comes in and demands control over their property. I know that’s no excuse — buyer beware and all — but it seems to me that we really have a problem of informed consent here.

Surely it’s not done this way to purposely deceive prospective buyers who think they will only be under county government. Right?

Whether or not that’s the case, we need to inform everyone looking for a home, especially in a newer subdivision, to ask pointed questions.

Find out exactly what local government entities have control over the property. If you are told the property is under county government jurisdiction only, check all of your paperwork carefully. Look for fine print about signing away your right to remonstrate a future annexation by a money-grubbing government entity.

I hope those of you in the real estate business will help and start informing your customers properly about these agreements.

Forcing people to annex and become part of a town just because they bought one product or service doesn’t make sense. That’s like purchasing wood flooring from Home Depot and then being told you now have to purchase furniture, artwork and a new swing set from them too. It doesn’t matter if you can get the furniture cheaper elsewhere, or if you don’t want a swing set.

In addition, you’d also have to give Home Depot money to buy other stuff they think is cool, like, say, an indoor sports complex, or maybe even a canal through their parking lot.

This created a strange situation for Covered Bridge because, in an odd turn of events, the residents’ only choice to avoid adding Sellersburg’s layer of government is to create their own layer and incorporate as a town themselves. It’s hard to say at this point whether they will really be better off or not, assuming they get it done, but I guess they would have more control.

Covered Bridge residents really only wanted the freedom to purchase one product from Sellersburg: sewer service. But instead of thanking them for being a customer, like a private company would do, Sellersburg is using government force to take as much control over the homeowner’s property as they possibly can ... which really stinks.

SIGLINE: Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson loves to get her hands on something solid because then she has something to throw when she gets irritated.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Baron Hill Talks To The Serfs

Wow, Baron Hill sounds like a dictator rather than a representative in this little excerpt from a recent town hall meeting.



I don't know why I'm surprised to see this though. After all, I've really seen Hill in action and described the experience in a recent column posted below written prior to Hill scheduling any town hall meetings.

I really, really wish we had videotaped that visit to our booth that I describe below. Maybe he wouldn't even be around to dictate how others should live their lives.

HARBESON: A shout-out to Baron Hill

By now, many of you have probably heard about the town hall meetings being held by members of Congress during this summer recess. Apparently, lots of angry constituents are turning out and some of the meetings have been quite rowdy.

This is nothing new, of course. Angry people show up at political meetings on a regular basis.

What is new is the feeling that this time the amount of people who are frustrated is large enough that their shouts of disagreement appear to be effectively shutting down any opportunity for discussing the health care issue. Now the Democrats are even calling their actions “un-American.”

That’s creating a very uncomfortable situation for those who have yet to hold their traditional town hall meetings, including our local Rep. Baron Hill.

Katie Moreau, Hill’s press secretary, told me it looks like the congressman will not have a traditional town hall meeting because it’s been proven not to work all over the country.

I can’t say I blame Hill. He already knows what he needs to know without enduring an “un-American” town hall meeting. And really this might be best for everyone because he might just end up shouting himself. I know because I’ve seen him do it.

It was almost eight years ago exactly, back when I was helping to start a third party in Clark County. As one of our first public activities, we hosted an information booth at The Steamboat Days Festival in Jeffersonville. We enjoyed pleasant conversations and debates with the people who walked up to our booth throughout the day.

Then I noticed a guy in the crowd wearing a tie. His shirt sleeves were rolled up and he was shaking hands with everyone. Even without seeing any babies, I knew he was a politician and I was right. It was Congressman Hill. When he saw our booth, he immediately marched up with a wide smile on his face.

He said, “Well, if it isn’t the Libertarians! It’s great to see more political action going on down here.” Then he proceeded to vigorously shake our hands and said he was “out getting a feel for the mood of the country.” (This was shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.) One of our volunteers shared his mood about our government’s foreign policy.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the two of them at first because I really only go to festivals for the food and was busy eating something bad for me. At some point though, when Hill realized the volunteer didn’t agree with his method of dealing with the issue, Hill wondered aloud what our volunteer had been smoking.

But that insult wasn’t enough. Hill ended by shouting that he “didn’t come down here to argue, he came down here to get the mood of the nation,” and stormed off.

Apparently he only wanted good moods. I didn’t know how to describe it at the time, but now thanks to Pelosi, I know I should call his action “un-American.”

I tell this story to point out that Congressman Hill understands how easy it is to respond by shouting when you get frustrated. So Congressman Hill, if you do end up not having your traditional town hall meetings, you’d better do something so people who are upset about your approval of more government control of health care feel like they are being heard.

If you don’t, you’re going to have to deal with a large group of people who are in a really, really bad mood. And you won’t be able to just shout at them and storm off in your own righteous anger this time around.

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Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson admits that politicians often make her want to kick up her heels and shout.

Barney Fife Was A Genius

COLUMN NOTES: Forced annexation is becoming a big topic in Southern Indiana. The Oak Park area mentioned in this column was part of a bigger annexation effort by the city of Jeffersonville. The other areas involved were newer subdivisions and in those areas the developers made a deal with the city for sewer hookups that ended up with the homeowners signing away any right to remonstrate a future annexation. Oak Park had no such agreement and tried to remonstrate. Unfortunately a deadline was missed. Sort of. The attorney evidently filed an amendment on time, but didn't turn in the actual signatures until a day or so later. Now Oak Park is suing the attorney for this error.

HARBESON: Nip it ... Nip it, good!

I’m convinced that Deputy Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith show was a genius. OK, he wasn’t very good with his gun, gosh darn it, but he sure gave good advice for people worried about government intrusion. He stated it very clearly in his uniquely shrill voice, “You’ve got to nip it, nip it in the bud!”

Residents of Clark County’s rural New Washington area took this advice to heart recently after they discovered that representatives of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns met with a few people in the community to discuss incorporation.

The group that talked with the government representatives had met a time or two before, for the purpose of discussing improvements to the community. I’m unclear on what that means, but if they just wanted to pick up litter or collect some donations to plant a tree, I know I wouldn’t object.

Apparently the rest of the community felt the same way — until they heard about the meeting with the association. That raised red flags and concerned residents quickly spread the word about the next meeting so everyone could share their disinterest in incorporating. I think attendance was nearly equal to the population of Mayberry.

The people in charge of these meetings were annoyed at the reaction and said they just met with the association for informational purposes only; there were no plans to incorporate the area.

If that’s the case, I hope they don’t have any hard feelings for the folks who showed up. The concerned residents were absolutely right in being cautious and making sure they nipped this in the bud. We’ve seen way too many examples already in this county of governments coming in and exerting force and control over people and their property without their consent.

For example, we have the shameful forced annexation of the Oak Park area by Jeffersonville. Unfortunately Oak Park couldn’t nip it, so a lot of people spent time and money in an effort to remain free from another layer of government. The city of Jeffersonville never respected the people’s desires and after lots of maneuvering, Oak Park lost on a deadline technicality ruling.

The deadline issue is interesting because we’ve seen missed deadlines ignored, at least when it benefits and maintains the current government system. We need look no further than the recent Clark County Circuit Court election ballot fiasco for evidence.

In this case, also because of deadline technicalities, both major parties were battling over the legitimacy of their respective candidates. The deadlines were forgiven in favor of the supposedly bigger picture of not letting technical issues get in the way of “fairness and choice for citizens.”

Isn’t it strange that the same respectful thought process was not done for Oak Park’s forced annexation remonstrance? Why was no consideration given to “fairness and choice for citizens” when the people clearly wanted to determine for themselves whether they wanted to live in Jeffersonville? We all need to think about that.

Another recent example is the town of Sellersburg’s attempt to forcibly annex the Covered Bridge subdivision. Once again, no one asked to be annexed, it was the city, hungry for more money that started the process. The first step for the town, the required mailing to affected residents wasn’t even done properly. Shazam! That really instills confidence in their ability, doesn’t it?

People might laugh at Barney’s antics, but by golly, he’s right on this one. Go ahead New Washington, remain vigilant and watchful, particularly over any meetings or plans made when government representatives come to town and “Nip it, nip it in the bud!”

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Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson once shared Aunt Bea’s famous tonic with Floyd, Barney and Goober. When asked what happened next, she just says “nip it!”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Scary Speeches?

I'm finding the reaction to Obama's upcoming speech to kids stuck in government schools interesting. Some parents are upset because of some sort of political implications and propaganda-spreading.

You know, like he might actually say government is good or something.

But if these parents are so concerned about government schools passing on the idea that government control over one's life is a good thing, then why are their kids in government schools?

Maybe this will be a good impetus for some to see what they can do to get their kids out of there.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Columnist Wants To Live Free

Column Notes: This is a column I wrote after the visit from Motorhome Diaries. I received a nice comment on the paper's website from someone who said it sounds like we agree on a lot of things. I don't know if he lives in this area but I sure hope so.


Boy did I have a strange week. It all started when I read about a rally in Jeffersonville for people who actually want more government control over everyone’s lives.

I read quotes from Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan, who naturally took the opportunity to speak in front of this group. He told them “Government helps create jobs.” I thought maybe I should direct the mayor to publications that could help him learn more about basic economics, but then I realized he’d never get it. After all, from his perspective he’s exactly right: government does help create jobs — for him.

He also offered the audience this profound quote, “Government does a lot of things and they do a lot of things well.” Wow. I don’t know about you but I’m kind of looking for more specific, detailed information to explain a given position.

The week got slightly better when I heard a bus was coming to town with people who didn’t agree with the mayor and his little audience of big-government believers. I say slightly because it appears this group still believes that it’s possible to use government to reform something government helped mess up in the first place.

I almost went downtown to visit anyway, because I figured I could throw myself under the bus to relieve the frustration, but before hump day was over, something wonderful happened. The Motorhome Diaries RV came rolling into my Southern Indiana driveway.

Here’s a bit of information about this project from their Web site — www.motorhomediaries.com:

“The Motorhome Diaries is the story of two friends who took to the road in April 2009 to search for freedom in America. Along the way Jason and Pete meet individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints at college campuses, homes, businesses and organizations that are united by one thing: increasing individual freedom and responsibility and decreasing the scope of government.

“Their story takes place in a 30-foot used motorhome, affectionately dubbed MARV. Driving from the urban jungles to picturesque small towns and everywhere in-between, they connect with those who reject government violence in favor of a voluntary society. Through the stories of the individuals they interview they explore the historic shift in power from individuals to the government and the growing movement of those who are fighting back to reclaim their liberties.

“They consider their project to be a near-real time documentary since they will post quickly edited videos online so their trip can be viewed on MotorhomeDiaries.com. There, you can read their frequently posted blog and tweets. Videos, photos and media will be posted rapid fire.”

I knew immediately that I had to meet these guys, so when I found out their bright yellow RV was heading this way, I invited them to stop by my home for a visit and to take a break.

At the time of their visit, another traveler named Adam was with them and I really enjoyed meeting all three young men. I learned a lot from our discussions that night and the next morning. I shared some of my experiences with them and was fascinated at the stories they’ve collected the past several months.

So, my week ended with me thinking that I had two choices. One is to continue to let long-time politicians tell me how I need people like them to take care of me and run my life. And the other is to join up with these guys and all the others out there “who advocate a voluntary society-one where government violence is replaced by freedom and peace.” I know which one I choose. How about you?

SIGLINE: Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is considering a new career as political speechwriter because she can write a lot of things well about lots of different things.

Posts and Columns

I've always wanted to build something useful and since I don't know much about architecture design, carpentry, and such, I guess I'm going to try to construct my masterpiece on the web.

Therefore, one of the goals I have for this blog is to post my columns that are published weekly in The Jeffersonville Evening News.

I would like for others to see how I try to write about local issues and events from my understanding of voluntaryism. Hopefully it will start discussions and help us all learn how best to communicate the ideas of freedom to others who just don't hear this perspective very often.

So, please join in and comment whenever you have something to say, even if it's criticism. I've been writing the column for a while so don't worry, I can take it.

But be warned, I have been known to bite back. :)

Also, whenever local background and context are needed, I'll try to provide that up front, but if you are puzzled about something I reference, please let me know and I'll provide the background.

Let's get started shall we?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Journey to Voluntaryism

When Jason, Pete and Adam from Motorhome Diaries were at my home last week, they somehow managed to get me in front of a video camera. That's a pretty difficult thing to do because I generally avoid that.

Like I avoid politicians.

If I have to speak in front of crowds, my mouth dries out completely. It happened to me during the few times I was in front of crowds when running an educational campaign for state senate years ago.

Trust me, spit is really important. Without spit, it's really hard to talk because your tongue gets stuck on the roof of your mouth. It's much worse than getting it stuck on a cold outdoor pole, you know, like poor Ralphie's friend in A Christmas Story. Plus, he had it better than me because I had no firemen come to my rescue.

But anyway, after what I'm sure was hours and hours of editing, they managed to salvage enough to create a video that doesn't seem half bad if I do say so myself. You were spared the part where I had to stick my head under the kitchen faucet so I could release my tongue off the roof of my mouth.

So, here's my story and I'm, ummm, sticking to it...

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Blame The Motorhome Diaries Guys

I've been thinking of starting this blog for a couple of months now and the tipping point finally came after a visit to my suburban voluntaryist home from Jason, Pete and Adam of Motorhome Diaries.

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and it was quite refreshing, well after they all showered anyway, to finally meet a few people who just may be more radical than me.

I will talk more about their visit later, but I just wanted to make sure you know who to blame when you inevitably start wishing I'd just shut up and go far, far away. Deep into the depths of my little suburban abode.

Girls Just Wanna Get Things Done

Since life just keeps getting busier and busier for me, I decided the best thing to do was to start another blog.

Hey, don't look at me like that. Haven't you heard what 'they' say? 'They' say if you want something done you should ask a busy person. Therefore, since I have so much I want to get done I decided I'll fill up my time with other less important activities so my priorities finally get magically completed.

I'm not sure how that's going to work though. We'll have to wait and see. Which will be hard because I have no patience. (I just checked my to-do list and notice none of those priorities were accomplished while I've been working on setting up my new blog. I wonder if I'm doing something wrong.)

Another important decision I made today has to do with my blog host. Through observation, it seems to me that a lot of people are now using wordpress for their blogs, so of course I decided to stay with blogger. I don't know, I just feel comfortable with blogger, and right now at least, I don't want anything getting in my way of getting things done.

Hey wait a minute, maybe I should have done a wordpress blog because then I would have been even busier which means I would get even more things done.

Darn.