Sunday, December 26, 2010

We Need an Education Santa

HARBESON: A wish list for Education Santa

CLARK COUNTY — Don’t you just love the spirit behind the idea of Santa? Santa cares about kids and enjoys asking them questions. Santa is very curious about what a child is interested in.

I wish this spirit could spread to the schools because we desperately need an Education Santa, someone who cares enough to ask kids what they want.

People say our education system is for the children but it’s not. We don’t let students have much say at all in determining what they will learn and how they will go about learning it.

The folks in control don’t bother to ask children questions that could give them information to help teach students what they’d like to learn. Instead, students must sit quietly at their desks while the adults continually fight with each other over what education means and how to make it happen.

It doesn’t take long for most children to learn this vital lesson: individual interests don’t matter. They are quickly smashed down as the system molds kids to fit inside identical boxes, where very specific skills are crammed into a very tight schedule. Then when these students are finally set free and expected to figure out what they are interested in, most of them don’t have a clue.

It’s not that the schools don’t ask kids questions. Schools are hyper-focused on asking kids questions. It’s just that those questions have nothing to do with the individual child. The questions and answers are predesigned and predetermined by those who think a child’s interest is irrelevant.

Some teachers understand this very well and object to being held to standards that are based on how well they get students to succumb to this process. They understand that to excel as a teacher in the current system is to turn out a robotic product that is nearly devoid of any natural curiosity and desire to learn. And it only gets worse as the child moves along the conveyor belt.

A skilled teacher would welcome merit pay in a situation where the child and teacher collaborate together on a topic the student wants to learn. But this is not the purpose of an education system based on the nasty combination of compulsory attendance and funding. Our system is really only looking for teachers willing to train students in the two essential elements necessary to keep the system going: conformity and obedience to authority.

However, for those who really want to, it is possible to play Education Santa and ask the children what they want. I must warn you though, whether you’re a teacher or a parent, if you do decide to play this part, you’ll soon discover that respecting children enough to ask them questions and take their answers seriously will put you at direct odds with the goals of the compulsory system.

The people in charge will likely fight you in any attempts you make to give more respect to the kids. Remember, the system isn’t built on the freedom and flexibility needed to really help a child learn what he’s interested in learning. So if you dare to play Education Santa, you’re probably going to have to climb up the chimney and out of the coercive system.

Rest assured, though, that plenty of other Education Santas are already out there flying around and they would be glad to share the varied resources piled high in their sleds. They’re all happy to assist because they know that helping a child learn by following his interests at his own pace is the best educational gift anyone can give. And it’s just as much fun for the Santas too.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson slipped on some figgy pudding yesterday while chasing 10 lords a leaping at the company Christmas party.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Be True to Your School and Do Some Drugs!

HARBESON: Drug seizure funding is a drag

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I don’t know how you feel about illegal drug use, but if you are currently against it and you also care about funding government schools, you may want to reconsider your position.

Here’s why: Indiana’s laws are set up so that the government schools can benefit from illegal drug trade through asset forfeiture laws. Of course, it’s kind of a bureaucratic process so a couple steps need to happen before the schools get any money from your illegal transactions.

First of all, your dealer would have to be caught so the government can seize his assets. Yes, that would put a crimp in your future support, but only temporarily. After all, we know from decades of fighting the drug war that someone else will quickly fill the void.

So that part’s really no big deal.

The hard part is the second consideration, making sure government officials actually follow the laws they set up for themselves. In Indiana, the law says that when a county seizes assets from a crime — and everyone agrees that most of these crimes are drug related — they are supposed to deduct the costs of law enforcement and then send the rest to the Common School Fund.

Now, some of you might think it’s kind of creepy to fund schools this way but it makes sense once you understand the drug war. Drug transactions are only crimes because government says so.

There is no victim needing restitution, so asset seizure only benefits the government that made the transactions illegal in the first place. Since this makes the drug war look like an unending profit-making scheme for the government, they have to direct some of the money to areas few will criticize.

But creating a law that tells government officials where to direct funds doesn’t mean they will actually follow it. Recently, a private law firm figured out that most counties in Indiana have not been depositing any money from asset seizures into the Common School Fund. This firm believes these counties are not following the law properly, so they filed suit.

The county prosecutors were completely offended. They said they certainly are acting properly and reminded everyone that the law says they can deduct law enforcement costs first and well, they can’t help it if it just so happens that in all the cases, the enforcement costs exceeds the value of the seized assets.

Supposedly, the law firm that filed the suit thought Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller would investigate this possible abuse of the law on behalf of the citizens. But Zoeller said he was going to defend the prosecutors instead.

Zoeller said there is a state law that says if a prosecutor is sued in connection with his job, Zoeller has to defend him. I know that sounds strangely cozy but, hey, it’s state law.

But even so, Zoeller figured out this was a sticky situation, so of course he’s passing the buck. He said the courts are not the proper place to figure out this problem. He said the state law is unclear and the prosecutors need more direction in determining how much to deposit into the school fund.

So this issue is apparently moving to the wise, all-knowing legislature. You know, the entity who already wrote the previous law that has professional lawyers all across the state confused. The legislature thinks they can come up with a formula, through the political process that will settle this once and for all.

And that will be just great because then those who participate in the illegal drug trade will be able to figure out exactly how many joints it takes to put another brick in the wall.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson bets that many readers of this column are now wondering how much you contributed to the common school fund over the years.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who's in Charge of the Drainage?

HARBESON: A draining issue

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Clark County Surveyor Bob Isgrigg appears to have come out on top in two skirmishes with the Clark County Drainage Board.

Isgrigg contended that the Drainage Board spent funds improperly and a State Board of Accounts report backed up this claim. Isgrigg also won a lawsuit against the Drainage Board, accusing them of not following proper procedure when they bypassed the Surveyor to fix two drainage issues.

I’m on Isgrigg’s side as far as the SBOA report is concerned, particularly on the issue of government money being spent where private owners may have been responsible. According to current Drainage Board attorney Greg Fifer, when this issue came to a head, all parties agreed mistakes were made but by that time checks were deposited and the work was done so for various reasons it was declared moot.

(I’m starting to wonder if this is the preferred method of getting things done for our local governments. Just charge ahead, do what you want, ignore any laws or regulations and then when the work is done, shrug your shoulders.)

So, Isgrigg seems to be right on target in relation to the SBOA report. But when it comes to this lawsuit and any possible implications, I’m not so sure.

According to state law, the surveyor is the “technical authority” of all regulated drains in the county. However, for state law to be applicable, the county needs to have “regulated drains.” This is where the important controversy exists.

Does the county have “regulated drains” as defined by state law or not?

Isgrigg says yes. Judge Vicki Carmichael’s judgment, at least as it pertains to the two drains in the lawsuit, agrees. However, it’s the position of the drainage board and its lawyer Greg Fifer that the county does not have “regulated drains.”

Here’s my position: I have no idea. It’s complicated. All I know is that whether or not we have “regulated drains,” we certainly do have what I would call “regulated drainage” because developers are required to submit drainage plans and get approval before they can build in this county. So drainage in general is obviously regulated, but whether or not that has anything to do with “regulated drains” as defined by state law no one seems to know.

Maybe forcing the developers to pay fees and get drainage plan approval does transfer responsibility to the government. If so, that certainly doesn’t sound right. Surely we don’t want to have instances where the developers aren’t responsible for their actions. Yet this appears to be what Isgrigg is celebrating.

Isgrigg sounds giddy when he says homeowners can now sue the county for violating state law. He seems to want the county to be financially responsible for subdivision drainage problems. But why should government be responsible?

Isgrigg says the way the county has been operating meant homeowners needed to get help from developers. But that makes perfect sense. Developers perform the drainage work so naturally they are the responsible party.

If people are having trouble with developers on drainage issues, how does that make the government responsible? Doesn’t that just mean the homeowners need to pursue action against the developers? If class-action lawsuits are a good idea now, against the county, why weren’t class action lawsuits filed against developers?

Who does he think is going to pay if there are judgments against the county? Governments have no wealth; they can only take wealth from the private sector.

Will the taxes the developers paid in drainage approval fees be enough to pay for any drainage responsibility that Isgrigg thinks this lawsuit covers? If not, will only those who directly benefit be the ones to pay? Or will any action drag in others who had no part in any of this and receive no direct benefit? If so, then this is not a win.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is wondering how to handle her own current drainage issue: Should she just sniff or go get a tissue?
Photo courtesy wikimedia

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Homeschoolers Caught in the Crossfire

I made my first video on xtranormal.com. Wow it was really fun. I recommend that site for anyone who wants to have some fun writing scripts and making videos.

This video is in response to a controversy that is brewing in Indiana due to the increased concentration on dropout rates in government schools. Richmond Community Schools has been embroiled in controversy on this issue for some time now. You can read more about that here.

Here's the video I made in response to the controversy:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Citizen Intimidation in Charlestown Indiana?

HARBESON: This is water torture

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — If you are at all concerned about government intimidation of its own citizens, you’ll want to keep your eye on Charlestown city government.

Charlestown, by way of the Board of Public Works, recently threatened to sue Citizens for Better Government, a local organization that placed an advertisement in a local weekly paper, The Leader.

This ad listed several points about manganese in water systems. After a few minutes on Google, I found a lot of information about manganese and, like many things humans ingest these days, opinions differ on what is considered safe. Just the fact that the effects of manganese are still being studied is enough to merit this as a valid topic to bring to people.

But Charlestown government didn’t think so and they threatened to sue. How did this government arrive at that decision? What thought process did officials use to conclude that they should use taxpayer funds to threaten a group of citizens who decided to share information about an important issue?

According to Mayor Bob Hall and Board attorney Mike Gillenwater, they were concerned about water customers’ fears after seeing this ad. They were concerned people would panic when given information about manganese in the water supply.

I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen. Maybe they thought this ad would send Charlestown’s water customers out in the streets screaming, completely mortified by the sight of a glass of water. Or maybe they thought the movie “Psycho” was nothing compared to the fears people would have now when pulling the shower curtain.

We know they certainly didn’t consider that individuals might follow up on the details. We know they didn’t consider that customers might use the ad to learn more for themselves. We know they didn’t even consider that families in possession of those new government-school-issued laptops might actually use them for real research.

What does this say about Charlestown government’s opinion of the people they serve? How much confidence do they have in the residents’ ability to think for themselves if they assume citizens can be so easily led by one advertisement simply stating information about manganese in the water supply?

Don’t you wonder how they thought this through? Was this action based on the expert advice of attorney Mike Gillenwater? Or was he just following the orders of Hall and others on the Board of Public Works?

We do know that Hall thinks the group implied that Charlestown’s water was unsafe and they wanted to panic customers. And yet we don’t see the mayor upset about the advertisements out there for water filtration systems making implied health claims and listing manganese as a substance their filters can control. To be consistent and fair, shouldn’t he threaten to sue those businesses?

We also know that Gillenwater thinks the group ran the ad to embarrass the mayor before next year’s election. If the attorney advising the city on issues believes this, then how did that affect the discussions on this matter?

The government is reportedly dropping the legal action that initiated the threat of suit and what we’re hearing now is officials inviting these citizens to speak during government meetings.

Who knows what the individuals involved will do, but I know that I wouldn’t care to go to a government meeting and speak under the constraints and imposed rules of those in charge of running such meetings, the same people who were willing to sue.

I’d rather use any and all communication methods available to me in the private realm, and stay as far away as possible from government control, manipulation and most of all, intimidation.

But that’s just me.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson isn’t afraid of showers. However, she goes absolutely psycho if she sees herself in the mirror after stepping out of one.
Photo courtesy wikimedia

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Economic Development is the new Common Good

HARBESON: Bad can come from the common good

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Do you know what the Ohio River Bridges Project and Jeffersonville’s Vissing Park controversies have in common? They are helping citizens see, on the local level anyway, that common ownership through government force doesn’t always work out so well for the individual.

Common ownership by way of government is based on the idea of the common good, a term that could have merit in the voluntary realm but not when used to legitimize government action.

The phrase common good is not used nearly as much as it used to be by government proponents. They have discovered a better term to co-opt: economic development. This language change makes sense once you start noticing the cozy relationship between business and government that exists today.

While your Thanksgiving dinner is cooking, let’s chew on these two local examples and study the damage caused when a decent and morally neutral idea like economic development is taken over by those who think it’s proper to use government to get things done at the expense of individual rights.

The Ohio River Bridges project has been simmering for decades and the one item that has finally gotten many to lift up the pot lid is the idea of tolling all bridges to pay for it. Some are willing to accept this and others are not.

Why? Well, it’s all a matter of winners and losers.

However, this issue does not come down to the clich├ęd battles of rich vs. poor, or big business vs. independent small business. The tolling of all bridges puts the conflict into a slightly different grouping: those who could benefit from a huge long-term construction project vs. those who are more directly affected by the tolling itself.

Those who will directly benefit from the bridges project include the lower-paid laborer and administrative workers of any company, big or small, that has a part in the project. These people could be employed for a very long time if the entire project gets the go-ahead and tolls would be a minor issue next to the possibility of long term steady employment in jobs that are often susceptible to layoffs.

But others, like local retail businesses who want to draw Louisville customers, will no doubt be harmed by the same action. So will businesses that transport their product over the river. And of course all those who cross a bridge to get to work will lose if they have to pay tolls on existing bridges.

These conflicts and problems are a result of past actions built on the idea of common ownership and the common good. As a matter of fact, Spaghetti Junction mess itself is a testament to the ideas of the common good, government ownership and central planning.

Next, in Jeffersonville, we see that certain residents are angry because government officials decided to clear wooded park land to make way for ball fields. This is partly due to the planned removal of another park because of the canal project.

Of course, those who will use the ball fields like the idea but those who enjoyed the park in its more natural state do not. This is typical of problems that occur when parcels of land are supposedly held in common ownership for the common good because in the end only a select few actually make the decisions.

I’ve never heard of such conflicts and issues happening with the privately owned Perrin Park. As a matter of fact, all those who are concerned about the effects the bulldozing at Vissing Park had on bird habitat can thank the Perrin Family they didn’t just hand their land over to the government. Perhaps any birds needing new homes will find this wonderful private space and be protected from the invasive species known as overly controlling politicians.

I know this park problem has further solidified a desire for a change in mayors for some residents, so I want to issue a warning for the next election. Mike Moore is on record as saying one of the things he’d like to do in the future is to create a park for the newly annexed area. This would of course mean putting yet more land under Jeffersonville government control.

Just something to think about as you talk with this mayoral candidate about his plans.

It’s time to start thinking about what government is doing in the name of economic development and to understand that individual cases of direct harm have little weight. In the name of economic development, officials will add new taxes on existing roads. In the name of economic development, officials will grab the nearest bulldozer and start knocking stuff down. In the name of economic development, government will harm some businesses that owners spent a lifetime growing. In the name of economic development, government officials are even willing to kick people out of their homes.

The next time you listen to anyone who has an idea that requires the use of government force, pay attention to what they say when defending their plan against those who object. Do they talk about the common good and/or use the term economic development?

If so, then they’ve just told you all you need to know about their respect for the individual. Maybe this knowledge will make a difference and maybe it won’t, but at least you’ll understand the truth. And that’s a start.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is working on a spray that will halt the growth of the harmful invasive species known as overly controlling politicians.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let's Free Airline Security from TSA Control

COLUMN NOTES: There are several comments at the newspaper's link below where this was originally published if you want to go read those. I really like one person's comments about air travel options. Also, I'm always trying to really find the root causes of issues and this column at antiwar.com really seemed to hammer home how we are playing a part in creating this whole mess.

HARBESON: Put up a fight for flight

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I remember the first time I had to remove my shoes to get through airport security. While putting them back on, someone joked that eventually we’ll be taking off all our clothes to get through security.

I laughed. But I’m not laughing now.

If you haven’t heard already, body scanner machines, which use X-ray technology to see through your clothes, are rapidly being installed in airports around the country. (Louisville does not have scanners. Yet.)

The body scanners are the latest move in the Transportation Security Administration’s reactionary efforts to provide airline safety. Previous actions like the shoe removal and three-ounce liquid limits were met with some initial protest and derision, but in the end were grudgingly accepted.

However, these new scanners are causing a much greater negative response from varied groups. There are many concerns about these body scanners, from radiation exposure, to privacy and even effectiveness. Yet stimulus funds are pouring into the purchase of these machines sold by companies well-connected to lobbyist groups and government officials.

Currently, passengers can opt out of these “naked” body scanners and several groups are using this opt-out process to organize an educational event. “National Opt Out Day” will be Wednesday. (To learn more about this outreach, go to wewontfly.com.)

Other groups say only a full boycott will do because opting out has its own problems. If you opt out of the scanners, you will be subject to an “enhanced pat down” by TSA personnel. If you’re wondering what “enhanced pat down” means, let’s just say that a rubber-gloved TSA agent will grope the areas your momma always told you never to let a stranger touch.

Worst of all, none of this will really make you safe. The inside of the body remains unseen and you can easily guess what the next step will be for the determined terrorist.

So the question then becomes, what are you willing to subject yourself to next? Will you obediently drink the radioactive Kool-Aid if the government tells you it’s the only way you can be safe?

We already know some people will submit to further intrusions on their body. These people say their safety is worth any preventive measure. And they should be free to submit if they want. But this freedom isn’t extended to everyone which is why we have a problem.

Everyone weighs potential dangers and risks differently. There’s a wide range of what people are willing to accept or not accept as they evaluate the statistical probabilities of certain actions.

But individuals are not allowed to weigh risks and benefits of security measures when it comes to flying. The government has taken complete control. Everyone has to submit to their determination, no matter how misguided, political, ineffective and equally dangerous it might be.

Do we really need and benefit from a government monopoly on airline safety? Why not let airline businesses decide what they want to do for security and then let individual customers decide who to patronize?

No one can predict what creative ideas could come from such freedom and competition. The options could be exactly the same as they are now. But it’s more likely that airline security would be very different as airlines cater to a wide variety of customers and take actions to prove they are indeed safe.

I also can’t help but wonder if the result of such competition would mean that that the airline flights I chose would be full of people who understand they must ultimately be ready to take charge of their own safety. I hope so because those are the types of people I’d want around in the unlikely event a terrorist did make it on my plane.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson does not want to opt out of flying because she still hasn’t made it into the Mile High Club.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Efficiency, Professionalism and Cooperation of Local Governments


HARBESON: Don’t pool your resources

SELLERSBURG — I can’t say much about the rest of my body, but after diving into the details of the Charlestown pool controversy, my head sure is swimming.

In case you’ve been busy with other recreational activities not run by government, let me catch you up on the basics.

Greater Clark County Schools needed land to expand Charlestown High School. The city government swimming pool happened to be on land the school corporation wanted. So, these two government entities supposedly entered into an agreement for a land swap and the new government school was built.

This is an example of the efficiency, professionalism and cooperation of local governments, right? Wrong.

No written and signed contract exists for this land swap deal, so when the time came to actually complete this transaction, government officials didn’t agree on the details and the fighting began.

Government lawyers — probably the same ones who should have made sure signed contracts were in place to begin with — now had plenty of work to do. After two years of negotiations, appraisals, threatened lawsuits and other legal wrangling, the two government entities settled and the school corporation agreed to pay the city $122,000. No land swap was included.

Now at this point you might think the city would take this money and put it toward replacing the swimming pool that was destroyed. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead the money is going into a fund for a much bigger project.

Mayor Bob Hall wants to spend money on a “total youth and family activities complex” which he says will cost more than $2.5 million. Of course, the mayor has no clear idea where this money will come from.

I don’t know what it is about mayors in Clark County, but every time plans are made that involve water, they fall off the deep end with grand visions that require spending other people’s money at exponential rates.

A group of residents who want the current pool replaced don’t really care for Mayor Hall’s plan. They just want a new pool built. This group collected signatures and showed up to share their views at a recent council meeting.

At one point during the meeting, the pool debate actually started to veer off into the area of voluntary action when a councilman asked a speaker if he would donate land for the pool. The resident said no, but offered to match any voluntary dollar contribution this councilman would donate.

In response, the councilman said something about the resident’s money being “too dirty.”

I don’t know what he meant by that. I do know that any government employee would be very wise not to ever mention the term “dirty money.” Of course, I’m assuming he actually has a real understanding of how the money is collected that pays his salary.

It’s too bad this councilman chose to muddy the conversation right at the point when the discussion was starting to move in the direction of respect for all by way of voluntary donations — particularly since neither the government nor this group of citizens pushing for the pool are considering the people who don’t care to be involved with any form of government-provided water recreation.

When you really stop and think about it, what is government, which was originally set up to protect individual rights, doing in the pool business anyway? Or to put it another way, why aren’t they also in, say, the bowling alley business?

This isn’t really about a pool. This isn’t about swimming. This isn’t even about “the children,” or sprinklers or water guns. This is about who has control of the government gun.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson says her favorite swimming stroke is the unregulated freestyle.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There Are Reasons Why I'm Not A Journalist


HARBESON: Taking attendance of the community rally

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — There’s really only one miscalculation Lindon Dodd made when preparing for last Saturday’s Community Rally event. He scheduled it so that I’d be able to write a column about it before he could.

Let me start by talking about attendance. I’ve been to at least five politically oriented events at the Clark County 4-H Fairgrounds and although this one was probably the largest, the turnout was still small.

I’ve had several years to think about why all of these events had low attendance and I think I’ve finally figured it out. Most people really only want to come to the fairgrounds so they can experience the excitement and thrill of risky behavior that can only happen at the county fair itself.

I’m sure you know the thrilling experiences I’m talking about. Activities like wearing a brand new pair of shoes just to see if you can get back home without any chicken, cow or hog excrement stuck to them. Or trying to see how many corn dogs and cotton candy swirls you can eat before puking your guts out.

How could any political rally or candidate forum ever compete with such fun?

On the other hand, I could also classify this event’s attendance as too large, at least for my purposes, because I ran out of copies of “The Law.” It’s encouraging to know there are others out there who are interested in educating themselves about political philosophy.

If you’re reading this to find out what the speakers had to say, I’m afraid I won’t be of much help. I’ve already pointed out that I have very short attention spans at these functions. As a matter of fact, at one point, when a speaker was getting way too long-winded, I started imagining how fun it would be to have one of those shepherd hooks — you know, the kind used in vaudeville times to pull bad performers off stage.

In the middle of this mind distraction, I was jerked back to reality when this same fellow apparently went too far with his comments when discussing a specific candidate, something the organizers requested speakers avoid.

I’m not surprised this happened since this speaker is a lawyer. Lawyers consistently rate second, behind only politicians, in the list of professions who often don’t know when to shut up. Of course, coming in a close third are newspaper columnists.

I do mean it though; don’t ask me what this little brouhaha was about. I truly missed most of the details because I was in the middle of that shepherd hook fantasy. This is one reason why I’m not a journalist.

Not long after this ruckus, I found myself faced with my own potential disturbance. I had two fellows come up to me at nearly the same time requesting a book. Having only one book left, I wasn’t sure what to do. Just as I was about to suggest a cage match they worked it out for themselves.

They behaved like perfect gentlemen too, politely engaging each other with phrases such as “Oh, you take it,” “No, you should have it, you were here first …” I learned a lot about these two while watching them work out the problem — neither of these guys would ever cut it as political campaign advertisement writers.

I’m glad I went because I enjoyed meeting several people I’ve only interacted with online until now. There was one downside though — by Sunday evening, I noticed the rash. My doctor warned me this could happen because I’m allergic to anything political.

He says I should engage in less risky behaviors so from now on, I might just stick to riding the Rock-O-Plane on a full stomach.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson prefers the Rock-O-Plane to politics because hanging upside down is much less disorienting.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Can Government Create Jobs?


HARBESON: Not all jobs are created equal

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s very fashionable this election season to talk about “job creation.” As a matter of fact, using this phrase is almost as popular as big hair was in the 1980s.

I also noticed the way this message is being conveyed by some candidates really has Morton Marcus, an economist who used to be with IU’s Kelley School of Business, upset. In his latest column he complains that a candidate for state representative has promotional items that say, “it is private business — not government — that creates jobs.”

According to Marcus, “This is stupidity if believed; a lie otherwise. A job is created when a person is hired and paid for his/her work. It does not matter in the grand scheme of things if this person works for the private or public sector.”

Marcus is right. And wrong. He’s right that government can create jobs. As a matter of fact, government is pretty darn good at it. Madonna’s past ability to offend people with her MTV music videos pales in comparison.

We can see that they are actual jobs. We can observe that a government employee gets up and trudges off to a job, just like a person does in the private sector. So the job does exist, at least empirically.

However, Marcus is wrong when he says it does not matter whether a person is working in the private or government sector because, at some point, the worker has to be paid.

How does the government get money to pay people holding government jobs? They have to take it from people doing productive work in the private sector. And when this wealth is forcibly taken to pay for government jobs, it lessens the private sector’s ability to invest in private sector jobs, which are the ones that actually pay for government jobs. Anyone see a problem here?

Of course the government has other tricks that only government is allowed do, such as printing money, or operating in a deficit and deferring the forced payments to a later generation. But in the end, it’s the private sector that pays.

It must be true that the private sector pays for government jobs because if not, then we wouldn’t have a jobs problem at all. The government could just create a job for everyone and we’d all be just fine. So, just like it was an illusion that a person had a thinner waist when wearing outfits with those huge shoulder pads, it’s an illusion that a government job actually moves the economy forward.

Morton Marcus wants us to believe that “in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.” But if we continue to listen to people like him, then at some point “in the grand scheme of things, we’re all going to be broke.” Not to mention morally bankrupt if we keep supporting these schemes.

•••

On a brighter note, how would you like a free book? Really, it’s free! No strings attached. All you have to do is find me at the Community Rally which will be from 11 to 2 Saturday at the Clark County 4-H Fairgrounds.

I have purchased 10 copies of Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law” and will be giving them away to the first 10 people who request one. OK, I guess that means there is one string attached — you do have to risk being seen with me for a few minutes.

But it’ll be worth it. Bastiat’s book is a classic on political philosophy, originally published as a pamphlet in 1850. It’s quite short and very easy to understand. So if you’re interested, look me up on Saturday.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson will not be making any fashion statement Saturday because she’s still recovering from that disastrous stirrup pants episode of 1985.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Some Readers Are Hard To Please


HARBESON: Sex sells, Roger says

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I have a friend who’s been complaining about my columns. This friend who I’ll call “Roger” — mostly because that’s his real name — says that my columns have been boring lately. He much prefers it when I write about sex.

Roger’s referring to past columns where, as he so eloquently says it, I defend perverts. These columns defended Theatair X’s private property rights and a father’s desire to watch his son play baseball in a government park even though he used to be on the sex offender’s list.

I want to please my readers but I often can’t keep up. So Roger, if you’re not getting enough from me, then use the Internet. You’ll be able to find all sorts of stories about government employees who find themselves dealing with unfortunate sexual situations. The latest example actually occurred in our state and now “Indiana BMV” and “sex” will be forever linked on search engines.

•••

I also get responses from people who have a difficult time understanding my perspective, particularly when I criticize any political action. I’ve mentioned the philosophy I follow before but I think it’s worth mentioning periodically because I know not many people have heard much about it and mistakenly place me into categories that don’t fit.

I am a Voluntaryist. The most important thing to understand for the purposes of this column is that Voluntaryists are nonpolitical. I reject politics as a valid means to the end I hope society reaches one day, a voluntary society, and am searching for nonpolitical ways to work toward that goal. I believe that lasting change can only happen outside the political realm.

Some people get this but say that while they don’t “want” to get involved; they feel that they must, if only in self-defense. I can sympathize to some extent, but it doesn’t work for me because I can’t see how grabbing control of a violent institution will help develop non-violent institutions. As a Voluntaryist, I understand that if “one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.”

This is why I will always be lukewarm at best to any political action. If you want to learn more about Voluntaryists and voluntaryism, I trust you will contact me and/or do your own research.

•••

Finally, I want to help spread the word about an event at the 4-H fairgrounds from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 30. Lindon Dodd, a long-time columnist for this paper, has taken time from his quest to eat his way through any senior citizen food discount available to arrange a community event so amazing, so strange that I simply cannot miss it.

Why is it so strange? Well it’s a community rally to discuss local issues, right before Tuesday’s elections but no politicians or political candidates are speaking. Also the “citizens just like you” who are speaking have been asked not to endorse specific candidates and will speak for only five or 10 minutes each.

Can you believe that? What are the speakers going to say? Will any “good old boys” show up? Will there be any interesting placards? My curiosity is getting the best of me, how about you?

Now, based on what I just said about being a Voluntaryist, you might think this event has no benefits for me but I’m not so sure. The people who attend are at least willing to consider the effects of government actions on their lives and that is a good first step toward voluntaryism. So I’m going to see what’s up. And I hope you do too.

Oh and Roger, you can come too, but it’s a family event so don’t expect any sexual perversion speeches. However, maybe you, I and anyone else who wants to join us can discuss those topics during any boring parts.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is looking forward to listening to speeches from regular folk that should be within her attention span.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Business and Government Just Don't Mix


COLUMN NOTES: There were several responses in the comments section of the paper so if you want to see them, you can click on the linked headline.

HARBESON: Is there power in the PAC?

SELLERSBURG — Until recently, I had never given a lot of thought to the chamber of commerce, now known locally as One Southern Indiana. I always thought of the chamber as a private voluntary organization whose main objective was to help local business people network with each other.

To me, they were simply a business-to-business marketing tool that some found useful.

Although I knew the individual businesses within a chamber of commerce would unfortunately have to deal with governments, I never really thought the chamber itself would purposefully get enmeshed in sticky political activities.

But One Southern Indiana has jumped headfirst into the nasty goo of politics now that it has created a political action committee. This year marks the first time they have really stepped in it and endorsed specific candidates for office.

What a mistake. Business owners, even in a given geographical area, have far too many disparate interests for a chamber of commerce to speak for the area as a whole politically.

Before even looking at details, we already know political action will firmly gel around specific special interests, because that’s the only way government operates. When a politician votes for or against any government action, some businesses win and some lose. The same government action one business celebrates can hurt many others.

So, by endorsing candidates to promote some local business interests, One Southern Indiana will almost surely be actively working against others, even their own members, depending upon the specific government laws enacted.

Which means One Southern Indiana will now help government more than free enterprise.

Even on a very basic level, endorsing candidates does not make sense for an organization that supposedly exists to help local business owners. Helping local business means giving owners the information they need to succeed, not to work against some of them through government action.

The only reason to form a PAC is because the powers that be in the organization want to make sure their particular business’ special interests are served. Now, it’s reasonable to say that the bigger players are putting in most of the money and would therefore control the organization. It’s an association of private businesses after all, and if they want to roll in the political sludge and use government to protect their interests then so be it.

You could also say that as a private, voluntary organization anyone who disagrees with their actions can simply opt out and refuse to support any of their functions. And I would agree with you if that were the case. But I found some muck oozing out that makes this questionable.

For example, did you know that according to 1si’s website one of the “top investors” in One Southern Indiana is the city of Jeffersonville? How does having a government entity as one of the top investors affect what is being done in a so-called business organization?

In addition, one of the candidates endorsed is Ron Grooms, a current Jeffersonville city councilman who is hoping to get a job as a state senator. This means an endorsed candidate is working for a government that is one of the top investors in the, umm, business organization.

I also noticed that one of the PAC members, Marty Bell, represents Greater Clark County Schools, according to the website. Why would the largest government school system in Clark County be a voting member of a PAC for a private business organization?

How do you think all this mixing of government and business would tend to affect the workings of One Southern Indiana? It can’t be in the best interests of those who are working toward more freedom from government control that’s for sure.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson hates to find oozing government muck because it’s really hard to clean off.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Voluntary Situation or Not?

COLUMN NOTES: I was spanked for this one by a voluntaryist friend of mine. He made some great points and I want to share them here. First, in general he's not too fond of the United Way. He had an amazingly bad experience when a previous employer treated him badly, even threatened him with a bad job review if he did not donate. He's not the only one and I heard stories even before I wrote this piece and so kind of wondered if I'd hear from anyone about it. He gave me a link he found that shows there are others who have less than favorable views on how companies raise funds for the United Way.

He also pointed out to me that many organizations that get United Way funding are government organizations and/or already funded by the taxpayer.

He also really didn't like the idea of giving a "voluntary salute to the mayor." (For the record I didn't write that headline.) My friend's view on this revolves around the idea that all of these people are parasites living off of coerced funds. But let's hear from him in his own words:

"It bothers me on another level because I can't see someone who lives at the expense of others, who literally lives off of the looted earnings of working people, as having done something praiseworthy because they drop a few of their stolen coins in a box marked 'charity'. Big f'n deal if a mugger drops a few dollars into the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time, it wasn't his money to take or give. Same way with your mayor and all his tax-parasite employees. Every dime they donate to United Way was stolen from someone else."

And he also said this:
"Giving a 'voluntary salute to the mayor', TO ME, would be like giving a salute to Hitler because he started a voluntary charitable organization
-The Winterhilfswerk (WHW) was an annual drive by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (the National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization) to help finance charitable work. Its slogan was "None shall starve nor freeze". It ran from 1933-1945 during the months of October through March, and was designed to provide food, clothing, coal, and other items to less fortunate Germans during the inclement months.-

Hell, southern plantation owners used to voluntarily give presents and clothes to their slaves, particularly at Christmas- Praiseworthy?

Ted Bundy took time off from his serial rape/murder spree to voluntarily donate his time to work the phones at the local rape crisis hotline - true story- praiseworthy?"


I will certainly not argue with that logic and I think he makes good points but I still hold on to hope that writing this column may have caused someone, who's not quite where my friend is philosophically, to perhaps think more about voluntary actions versus using the government gun.

What do you think?


HARBESON: I voluntarily salute the mayor


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — This week, I would like to focus my energy on commending and praising Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan. For the third year in a row, he’s helping promote the United Way by entering into a friendly competition with New Albany Mayor Doug England.

The cities compete in a contest to see who can get the most city employee participation. The winner gets possession of a traveling trophy and the loser has to sweep the street around the winner’s city hall.

I find it very refreshing to see local politicians putting their energy into promoting something that is voluntary. It’s also kind of jarring because it’s so odd to see this happen with no ordinances written, no property being forcibly taken from other people, no one controlling anyone else — just respect and voluntary action. And yet it still works somehow.

The United Way is a well-respected organization but it’s not the only one out there. There are hundreds of ways people help each other. Some people also choose to help others by giving time and talent, rather than money. And yet, thousands of dollars are raised despite the fact that the employees are free to decide how much, and if, they want to participate.

Of course, adding the competition factor is a nice way to inject some spark into this charitable effort. The mayors and city employees may give a bit more to the United Way as a result because competition can help motivate people.

Isn’t it interesting to see government officials so deep into freedom-oriented ideas of competition and voluntary cooperation?

To watch how this plays out compared to other work mayors do using government control is instructive. There is no controversial edge to this; it’s just one of those fluffy feel-good stories. There are no critics, no one is forced into it kicking and screaming, everyone involved is respected enough to make his or her own decision.

This kind of action brings forth a completely different energy doesn’t it? It’s by far the best thing Galligan has done since taking office.

This really shouldn’t be so surprising and normally it’s not. Businesses do similar contests and competitions for charitable giving. Charitable giving goes on constantly, some of it through institutions and organizations and there’s also plenty done without any institutional involvement whatsoever: family helping family; friend helping friend. Hardly any of this makes the news because it’s just the normal way we live our daily lives.

But when government officials do it, it’s kind of like a man bites dog story.

If only we’d see more of this type of action from our local politicians. Playing cheerleader for local charities and businesses would be a great way for the mayor to spend his energy. There’d be less time to think about ways to spend other people’s money, which means there’d be more out there for charitable giving and investing in local business. More cheerleading and less controlling would make us all better off, don’t you think?

What would life be like if politicians just got out of the way and let businesses and charities do what they do? I would love to see much more action promoting voluntary methods of interacting with our neighbors and giving individuals the respect to make choices that work for them, their families and their individual situations.

So, Mayor Galligan, let me say well done, sir. Please, do more work cheerleading for voluntary and business causes and put less energy toward using government to control. You could create a more peaceful community everyone would enjoy.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson doesn’t mind mayors playing cheerleader, and even using pom poms, but she draws the line at those skimpy uniforms.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Eagles And Guinea Pigs


HARBESON: This little piggy went to the arena

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — When my husband asked if I wanted to go with a group of friends to see The Eagles, I wasn’t sure what to say. I’ve done my share of listening to classic rock radio stations, so I questioned the wisdom of spending our entertainment budget to hear “Hotel California” for the 1 billionth time.

I was also concerned because this is the first official event at the KFC YUM! Center which means I would be one of the guinea pigs to help work out the kinks in traffic and parking.

Did I really want to be a part of what is likely to be a painful experiment? When he suggested that being a parking/traffic guinea pig might be a good way to collect column material, I had to agree, so I’m going.

I don’t know whether we’ll use what’s offered in Southern Indiana but it does makes sense for local businesses to try and piggy-back off of arena activity and take advantage of potential parking issues. What doesn’t make so much sense is why government gets so involved.

Jeffersonville’s government is already working on a deal with Louisville to use the government owned and operated Spirit of Jefferson tour boat. The idea is that people will spend money over here and then ferry to the event. It’s not a sure thing that the ferry is good for business. People might just ride the ferry. And even if they do partake of restaurant row, the cars would be parked for hours afterwards so what effect will that have on total sales if it keeps other customers away? And what if entrepreneurs with private boats want to take folks across? Would the government prohibit them from doing so?

Clarksville’s government thought about getting in on the action with shuttles. Rick Dickman, the town’s redevelopment director wanted to close off the bridge so only shuttles and buses could cross during events but he didn’t get his way. Clarksville needed such special treatment if any plan of theirs was going to work because their business hotspots are located farther from the river.

Dickman expressed irritation with Louisville for not including Southern Indiana in the plans. He said “I don’t think they’ve thought about Southern Indiana at all.”

There’s a very important reason for this though: tax revenue.

See, Louisville has little incentive to keep people in Southern Indiana to spend money because one of the ways they are paying off the huge debt is by using sales tax revenue in a designated area. They are already behind because projections at this point were far too optimistic.

As a matter of fact, there is enough concern that Standard and Poor’s warned Louisville that they may downgrade arena bonds to “junk” status if the situation doesn’t change.

Louisville residents will pay more if sales taxes don’t hold up because the Metro government would have to cover costs. So Louisville needs as many of us as possible to spend our money inside their special tax boundaries. I’d say the main reason they are cooperating with Jeffersonville’s government for the boat is because sales tax can apply to ferry rides.

Many Louisville residents are not happy to learn that the arena authority said costs would be covered and now the method of payment may not work out like they said it would. The same thing happens over here of course, the most recent example being Jeffersonville’s recent trolley purchase.

I don’t know what my group will end up doing as far as parking is concerned. I just hope traffic moves so smoothly that I feel like I’m on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair.

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson’s mind is Tiffany-twisted and she got the Mercedes Bends, but she can still read your mail so write her.

Photo courtesy of Steve Alexander through Wikimedia

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Flush Forced Annexations

HARBESON: I was forced to write this column

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Sellersburg government’s attempt to forcibly annex the Covered Bridge subdivision and surrounding areas received more court action last week. Many people in the area do not want to be annexed and by law if at least 65 percent of property owners object and sign a remonstrance, they can stop a local government from grabbing control. In this case, a whopping 81.5 percent of the property owners signed on.

Usually, that’s the end of it, but there is a controversy over whether many of those people who signed can actually do so. Sellersburg government says most of the signatories are property owners who lost their right to object because of a previous agreement made with the original developers when Sellersburg provided sewer service.

This is being battled out in the government court system and Sellersburg’s lawyer explained that the town held up their end of the deal. He said, “Once this sewer service goes into effect, that’s a condition that triggers this particular provision.”

That certainly sets up an interesting situation for the homeowner. I can imagine him now, contentedly sitting on his new toilet in his new home for the very first time, probably reading the opinion page of this newspaper and completely oblivious to the future implications of that first flush.

I have even greater sympathy for the property owners outside of these subdivisions. When the subdivision homeowners are subtracted from the total it still leaves about 136 official signatures. If the battle is about the right to remonstrate, then what about these people? Where do they fit in?

They did not buy their property under any developer-government sewer agreement, so aren’t their rights being completely ignored? If their right to remonstrate for the 65 percent figure is tied to the people in these subdivisions, then their right to remonstrate has been completely taken away from them when they didn’t even sign anything.

It’s one thing to fight over an agreement that developers made with the government over sewer services in those subdivisions, but it’s an entirely other matter for these people who had absolutely nothing to do with that. Do these 136 property owners have the right on their own to tell Sellersburg to go jump in the sewer?

Will their rights even be taken into account during this current court battle? The ability to remonstrate has to exist for Sellersburg to say people signed away the right. So if the courts say the property owners inside the subdivisions can’t remonstrate because they did indeed sign this right away, then it will also be taking the right away for those who did not sign any deed restriction. It would be a self-contradictory judgment.

Forced annexations have to be one of the worst aspects of government and Indiana is not the only state wrestling over this kind of abuse. Last week Rock Hill, S.C., caught lots of attention. The situation was quite similar to what we’ve seen here locally in that the property owners were receiving a single service from a town government, except in this case the service was water. The government made news when they threatened to turn off water service, not for nonpayment, but as a threat against property owners objecting to forced annexation.

Isn’t it amazing how governments work to grow and expand? When a government entity gets involved in providing a service, it’s not good enough that people simply pay for the service.

No, unfortunately power hungry government control freaks will go for nothing less than complete territorial rule. There is one thing to be thankful for though, at least they don’t mark their territory like dogs do.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson can usually be found hanging out in the yard because her favorite activity is marking her territory.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jeffersonville's Wi-Fi Welfare Zone Creates Government Granted Monopoly


HARBESON: Why is there Wi-Fi welfare?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Business owners who happen to be located in Jeffersonville’s new Wi-Fi welfare zone sure seem happy about being given the chance to benefit from other people’s money. I don’t blame them though — it’s not their fault. As far as I know none of them went to the government begging for this handout.

I don’t know where the idea for government-funded Wi-Fi came from. I do know the money is coming from government organizations that need to find ways to look useful and justify their existence. This means creating projects so they can spend the coerced funds that fall under their authority. Well, after they siphon off lots of it for expenses, of course.

The business that won the bid for this project wants you to think this is a great idea because it supports small businesses. This is just another example of someone who benefits from a government program doing their best to frame the message so it sounds fair. But for clarity, accuracy and truth, what the company representative should have said is that this project supports “some” small businesses.

As anyone who’s ever been in the Wi-Fi welfare zone knows, the businesses that have a market-based reason for providing wireless access to their customers could already do so. There was opportunity for any technology-based businesses to make money for their families by offering various competing technological services to these downtown businesses. This opportunity is no longer possible in this Wi-Fi welfare zone. What exists now is a government granted monopoly to boice.net, effectively pushing out competitors.

Also consider the small businesses located in less favored areas of the city. If they decide Wi-Fi is important for their business model, not only do they now need to invest their own money for their business, they also have to support those in the Wi-Fi welfare zone, who could even be direct competitors.

In addition, since Internet users can hook up anywhere in the Wi-Fi welfare zone, they don’t need to spend a dime in anyone’s business. Gone is the natural market environment of mutual cooperation and exchange, where the customer is happy to purchase goods and support a business in return for the extra customer service provided.

This project does not support small business. It only serves as another sad example to clearly demonstrate the harmful consequences of government intervention into free and competitive enterprise.

Some readers might be irritated at my use of the phrase, Wi-Fi welfare zone, and you may have a point. After all — as most of us understand welfare — it is intended to be used for those in hardship or need. Yet this situation is like seeing people who can already afford to eat fancy steak dinners every night and government deciding they need to spend other people’s money so these folks can continue eating the fancy dinners. So I guess it’s not like welfare. It’s worse.

Another stated benefit is that this project will increase the hits to the city’s website. Why is the city trying to buy hits to its government website? Do they want to show increased usage in order to justify future expenditures? And why would more people go there? Are we really supposed to believe that new visitors and shoppers to the area will be spending their time on the Internet so they can watch Mayor Galligan videos?

However, if this project is going to provide links, let me suggest that mises.org would be a great one to add. This would prove useful to anyone interested in learning more about economic freedom and get a better understanding of how government intervention can only lead to dependency.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson creates irritating phrases when she gets irritated. If this irritates you, then irritate her by sending your own irritating phrases to her.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sheeple In Training?

Does anyone else find this creepy?

Free the Children!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Staring Blankly Is Hard

HARBESON: Readers write, Dear Debbie


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — This past weekend, if someone mentioned my column or a local controversial issue, I just stared at them blankly. Even if they mentioned a local politician, I still just stared at them blankly.

Then when they asked if I was feeling OK, I shrugged my shoulders and said I just didn’t have an opinion one way or another. Then they stared at me blankly.

All of this blank staring was beginning to look like a legislative session so to snap us out of it, I explained that I was only trying to celebrate Labor Day weekend the way most people do — by taking a rest from my work.

It completely wore me out.

I don’t have the energy to write a column now so you know what that means. Yes, time to share reader’s opinions.

The column about storing a gun in your locked car while at work led to several people writing in with additional examples of why someone might want to do so.

One writer said, “No pun intended, but you hit a bull’s-eye on this one. There are a myriad of reasons for possessing weapons secured in your automobile on your employers property while you are working. Following are just a few of many:

1. You live in a desolate section of Clark County with the nearest neighbor 1/2 mile through the woods and you return from work at midnight.

2. Your workplace parking lot is unlit and unsecured. You work the second shift. You would want your weapon handy

3. Coming home from work at midnight — or any other time — your car breaks down on a desolate stretch of a county road.

4. Car jackings at night at stop lights are not uncommon. You would want your weapon handy.

You get the drift ... Galligan doesn’t!”

•••

Several people wrote in response to my column on the tax referendum for Clarksville schools, where I suggested that those for a tax can always pay it voluntarily. Some didn’t seem to think my idea would work:

“I’ll bet this one is going to go over well! I’m amazed how often people will demand a general tax increase; but, if there is not one, they will be the LAST people on earth to freely give any money to the cause.”

“Gee, I know those people that voted yes will run right over to the school and give them money.”

•••

After a recycling column, I found out one reader also shares her opinion regularly with the solid waste district:

“Every year the bill irritates me no end; I write [in red] “Paid under Protest” on my check and the bill remittance.”

•••

The responses on the Lee Hamilton column had the predictable love it, hate it responses but I found out that many are a bit conflicted about our government system:

“Your article on Hamilton and career politicians was 100 percent accurate. Hopefully people will listen. Having said that I still would prefer Hamilton over Hill if that were the only choices I had. Naw ... maybe I just wouldn’t vote. I hate voting for the lesser of two evils.”

“… I have to commend you on an honest look at what Lee was saying … Lee did some good things. But I agree with you, he was very instrumental in giving us a huge government that appears to be nearly out of control.”



Finally, let me share one last tidbit from someone advising me on my topic ideas:

“Ease up on my buddy, Tom, would you? Give somebody else your attention for a while. How’s this for an idea: ‘The reason I write so much about Tom Galligan is that he appears to be the only elected official in Clark County who is really making things happen!’ ????”

When I read that, I just stared at my computer screen blankly.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson enjoys staring blankly at readers’ responses.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Government Gone Wild: Ohio River Bridges Project

HARBESON: Delusions of a grandiose bridges project

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I was in my PJs reading this paper’s front page article about Jeffersonville’s credit card statements when my husband rudely interrupted the fun.

“Debbie,” he said sternly, “You’re working on a column about Peggy Wilder aren’t you? I see it in your facial contortions.”

“Of course. It’s just so deli-,”

“Stop right there. You said you wouldn’t write another column about it.”

“Yeah, but ...”

“Debbie, you promised.”

I pouted for a while but I knew he was right. It would be personally unacceptable to break my promise. I got dressed and thought about a new topic. I put on my bra, the one I bought from Victoria’s Secret with my husband’s business credit card. Fortunately, that gave me all the support I needed and a new topic pushed up immediately.

I remembered I wanted to respond to a guest column written by Michael Dalby, president of One Southern Indiana. In this column, Dalby derides people who aren’t too enthusiastic about the direction of the Ohio River Bridges Project, our best local example of all that is big government.

See, some people actually have the nerve to think that the project should be scaled down. They believe that doing more than building the east-end bridge right now is unacceptable. Dalby said they are delusional and not living in reality.

As soon as I read that, I immediately sympathized because I’m called delusional all the time. Sure, it may be for completely different reasons, but still I know how they must have felt.

Dalby doesn’t want to scale down to just an east-end bridge because he said it will do nothing for the transportation problems downtown. He is in full support of the project as is, which is nothing short of humongous, involving two brand new bridges and a total revamping of Spaghetti Junction. The cost estimate is staggering — more than $4 billion and counting. For that kind of money, it seems like we should be able to just part the river like Moses did with the Red Sea.

Dalby also took these people to task on tolls. Many people already dislike the idea of tolling on a new bridge because they feel like they are already paying with gas taxes, but they really became upset when they heard the discussion move toward the possibility of also tolling existing bridges. Dalby said if tolling is needed to finance the project, then he thinks it’s a good idea and is confident the bi-state bridges authority will set up a smaller toll for local residents. He then claims that the current estimate of $3 is unacceptably high.

Really? Couldn’t this be a delusional vision on his part, to think the entire project could be done without a $3 toll on local residents? What will he say if $3 is considered to be the only way the souped-up version of the project will get accomplished? Will he accept this as reality?

If it can be considered delusional and lacking in reality for one group to claim that parts of the current project are unacceptable, then the same principle must apply to Dalby and anyone else making claims of unacceptability — on any part of the project.

It’s sad that tolls are even a part of this discussion because it implies that tolls are not ever a good idea. But tolls would make perfect sense as a pricing mechanism in a competitive transportation market.

The reality is that government involvement and monopolization in transportation has led to central planning, which has led to the heavy subsidization of one particular politically favored mode of travel over others, which has led to everything we’ve seen happen with this bridges project over many, many years.

Or maybe that’s just my delusion.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson often finds herself in discussions that involve a bridge project because people are always telling her to go jump off of one.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lee Hamilton's Love Affair With Government

COLUMN NOTES: As I thought, this one led to strong reactions both pro and con. Something to be expected for a career politician I suppose.

HARBESON: You don’t have to love government compromise

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Lee Hamilton loves government. Of course, being a politician for more than three decades how could he not?

Hamilton started his love affair with government when he was first elected as a representative to the United States Congress in the mid 1960s. During this time, there were some folks who were becoming less enamored with government. They saw through the caked makeup and feared that it was becoming too powerful and taking too much control.

But Hamilton was part of a larger group that was much too infatuated to see any problem with massive government expansion. As a result, Hamilton participated in a government love-in that instituted major changes, leading to huge increases in government spending and control.

Hamilton and this group were soon the proud parents of a government love child, Medicare. He and his fellow government groupies also started spending lots of federal money on elementary and secondary education and he was there when HUD, the department of Housing and Urban Development was born. And this was only the beginning of a long, long relationship with his beloved government.

Since retiring, Hamilton has continued this love affair and is now working to make sure everyone else loves government too. This is very important for a career politician such as Hamilton because his legacy depends on it. So he set up a center, which has been partially funded by the government, to help us understand how beautiful government really is.

Oh, he’ll admit there can be problems, but in the end, he thinks government works very well. He apparently believes some of us just can’t appreciate the beauty he sees because we haven’t been as intimate as he has, having spent 34 years with government. So he wants to educate us.

One repeating theme I’ve noticed as he works to educate the public on the subject of Congress is the importance of compromise. He’s very happy when the parties work together. He’s one of those bipartisan lovers.

But is compromise really such a good thing? Oh sure, compromise is great in various voluntary associations, such as a marriage or a business partnership, because the compromises are made individual to individual. However, in the realm of government, compromise amounts to politicians making deals with other politicians who then use government force against citizens to make their deals happen. And somehow, even with compromises, government still grows.

All we have to do to see evidence of this is to analyze the three categories already previously mentioned — health care, education and housing — and what happened with them after government became involved. We can easily observe the unfortunate consequences that developed over time in these federal government programs. No one can deny the immense growth and dependence we now have on government in these areas and many others.

Now Hamilton wants to play the congressional expert and defend the art of political compromise. He wants to educate us on the intricacies of how government works. He doesn’t talk about the part he played in creating and maintaining many problematic government programs, probably because that would cause many to question the wisdom of compromising, the very thing he’s been out there promoting.

Hamilton would rather dismantle ideas like holding on to principle and act like he’s somehow above it all because he was willing to compromise. But if what we have now is a result of compromise, then it’s time we stopped paying any attention to people who were part of the problem.

And we definitely need to stop regarding career politicians as some sort of experts we need to rely on when we are looking for the truth about how well government really works.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson would never participate in a government love-in because she loves freedom too much.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Does this Town Need an Enema?


COLUMN NOTES: The situation with Jeffersonville's Clerk-Treasurer Peggy Wilder has been going on for some time now. I wrote a previous column about it. After I did, two other local columnists wrote about it here and here. Ms. Wilder was silent for a long time, but then decided to do an interview with the paper which garnered front page attention. Shortly after that was published, she was arrested for OWI.

HARBESON: The Wilder way

By DEBBIE HARBESON

— I’ve changed my mind about Peggy Wilder. It was a good thing she did not resign and no, it’s not just because it’s been extra easy to find a topic to write about lately.

OK, look. I know you’re sick. I know you’re tired. But can’t you just lie down and put your hand over your mouth to stop the heaving for just a bit longer while someone at this paper writes one more time about this issue?

I need to write another column because I believe Ms. Wilder deserves a lot of credit for what she’s accomplished, even while barely stepping into her government office. She’s done a fantastic job of demonstrating, to me at least, all that is wrong with government and how it operates.

Let me explain.

If Peggy Wilder had resigned, I would not have been able to see how well our local politicians can stick together. If the 3M Corp. could figure out a way to package that, they could stop all further R&D into adhesives.

If Peggy Wilder had resigned, I would not have had the surreal experience of watching politicians remain eerily silent for an unusual amount of time. Oh, if only we could package that.

If Peggy had resigned, I might not have understood how hard it is to actually get rid of an elected government official. I might never have learned just how many rules, regulations and laws government officials write which make the process as difficult as possible.

If Ms. Wilder had resigned, I would not have observed the local state government representative, Steve Stemler, also remain oddly silent — that is, until the issue reached just the right level of ripeness. When it did, he inserted a press release filled with platitudes as smoothly as an Italian might insert a pimento into an olive.

If Ms. Wilder had resigned, I would not have noticed that in the state level, too, it’s never as simple as publicly speaking the truth to help persuade someone to do the right thing. No, the situation is merely used to assure citizens that it’s only a matter of the right government employee inserting the right government language to tweak proper government procedures to answer any question of government failure. Politicians are so helpful.

If Peggy had resigned, I would not have learned what is of primary importance to Stemler, which is maintaining the “public’s trust in its elected officials.” I would not have had the chance to think about how this constant effort to maintain legitimacy is vital to making sure the public continues to buy into this game instead of looking for alternatives.

If Peggy had resigned, I would not be able to watch as a group of disgusted and frustrated citizens organize an effort to clean out various local governments — and I mean really clean them out. So much so that for days now I’ve had Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker in my head as he says, “this town needs an enema.”

If Peggy had resigned, I would not have thought about how easy it is to individually withdraw support, financial and otherwise, when something occurs as part of daily voluntary associations and how free we are to act, based on our own individual standards of acceptable behavior.

Finally, and most importantly, if Peggy had resigned, I might have focused much more on her personal struggles and been better able to compassionately extend my heartfelt support and best wishes that she finds a way out of her troubles. Instead, I see a front page interview from a politician making excuses, and unfortunately Ms. Wilder deserves all the credit for that.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson hereby formally resigns from ever writing another column about the Peggy Wilder situation.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Voluntaryist Project: Debbie and Carl


I have a new project. You can learn all about it here.

Oh, and let me know what you think of my voluntaryist chicken.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Who Wants to Get Rid of Drug Law Pushers?


HARBESON: Admit it, we have a drug law problem

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I’ve heard many quotes by those who support the drug war and make a living off of government prohibition, but the best one lately was by Gary Ashenfelter, speaking for the Indiana Drug Enforcement Association.

He thinks we need another drug law. He says the current laws aren’t working and do not give law enforcement what they need to fight the drug war. In frustration, he asks, “You’ve got to wonder, what the hell are we doing?”

This was in reference to an upcoming Indiana Legislative Study Committee, which will consider whether or not ephedrine and pseudoephedrine — ingredients in over the counter cold medicine — should be classified as controlled substances.

Ashenfelter and the Indiana DEA believe this law would be a good idea. No doubt many politicians also think it would be a good idea. Just like they thought it was a good idea for all the other drug laws that have been passed over the years but are not working.

It was not that long ago that Indiana decided to fight the growth of methamphetamine labs by passing a law controlling the amount of over-the-counter cold remedies people could purchase that contained these ingredients.

Suddenly, everyone was required to show identification and sign forms if they wanted to purchase a pack of pills at the pharmacy to help them relieve their cold or allergy symptoms. If grandma ended up purchasing more than the government allowed, she was committing a crime.

The inconvenience this created for families was worth it, we were told. The money and time spent by government and by retailers was worth it, we were told. Yes, this law would really help fight the problems that were created by the previous drug laws they were so excited about, but didn’t work.

This one would work for sure though. After all, Indiana’s pseudoephedrine law was even tougher than the drug laws passed in the renewed Patriot Act. (Apparently it’s not patriotic to try to shrink swollen nasal mucous membranes.)

But now, they’re telling us this law is not working. Just like all the previous laws that have been passed because of previous laws that were passed to control other people’s drug use, which created the violent, dangerous black market.

What’s the solution now? Well there’s really only one choice for the law-addicted: Create another law ... A law that’s even more invasive to the everyday lives of the general public. A law that can only add to the high cost of health care because it makes these products available only by prescription.

When the study committee convenes in September, you will hear claims that this law is working in Oregon. Changes are common when new laws are first introduced but as alcohol prohibition proved, they are either temporary or irrelevant. As we’ve seen repeatedly, people will figure out a way around drug laws.

Yet we continue to hear from these drug-law pushers. They will use these statistics to convince us we need to take one more hit. We feel the high and hallucinate that this time it’s going to work.

But too soon, we come down when the law proves to be ineffective. But we take another hit. Over and over and over.

So, like Mr. Ashenfelter, I now have to wonder, what the hell are we doing? How much evidence do we need to understand that new laws intended to fight the drug war will not work and in fact create more problems and less freedom?

When are we going to finally hit bottom, admit we have a drug law problem and start working on this harmful addiction?

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson often runs into people who ask her what the hell she is doing.