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.

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

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

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, 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, 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.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is slowly recovering from her 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.

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.