Sunday, December 25, 2011

Clark and Floyd County Officials Cause Harm To Kentuckiana Medical Center

HARBESON: Where’s the justice?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Kentuckiana Medical Center may soon be drawing in its last breath. The private hospital has struggled from the start and will now die unless Clark County government acts to help resuscitate.

I wonder how much it hurts the doctors to ask Clark County government for help. I can’t even imagine how nauseating it must feel, considering Clark County government is, in part, directly responsible for the trouble the Medical Center has experienced in the first place.

The current deal supposedly puts a tourniquet on the bleeding medical center; however, the government involvement seems to be drawing blood of its own because if the deal goes through, the county could receive $200,000 per year for participating. This is ironic because one of the reasons the doctors wanted to open their own hospital was to get rid of the administrative middle man.

There’s more to this sordid story. So much so that if you are not currently in good health you may not want to read further.

The original idea was simple: a group of doctors decided to take a risk and provide another health care option for people needing acute medical care. However, Clark and Floyd county government, on behalf of their respective county hospitals, fought this idea. Hard. These people wanted to block competition.

In 2005, both counties’ commissioners assumed power they did not have and passed ordinances creating temporary moratoriums on new hospitals. The private hospital investors sued, successfully obtaining a permanent injunction against enforcement of these ordinances.

The damage had already been done, though. The private investors had to spend time, money and energy fighting the unjust interference instead of pursuing the plan developed and based on variables that existed at the time.

Imagine how much can change in a year. Previous agreements and approvals can expire, construction costs can increase, etc. It was as if the county injected the medical center with a slow-acting poison.

Amazingly though, the center opened and began treating the sick. But the symptoms of disease in the form of financial problems started a year later.

Clearly the government-forced moratorium negatively affected the center. I’m not sure there’s a way to revive the hospital in its current form absent further government involvement. Some might say the moratorium helps justify this deal, but government interference was wrong then and further government action is also wrong.

But what can be done about it now?

I wholly commend the investors for their attempt — if nothing else they have taught us what government entities are willing to do to you if you dare to compete with them. That’s not a satisfactory end to this story though. Those harmed deserve justice. They deserve at least some restitution.

Not from the abstract entity we call county government though. The restitution should come directly from the people responsible for taking individual action that was necessary to create the interference. Those people are the commissioners, and arguably the county attorneys, at the time of the moratorium.

One might want to include individuals in the two hospitals as well, but it was up to the commissioners to enact the ordinance and the attorneys to defend it. They could have done the right thing and ignored the hospitals.

Clark County passed their ordinance unanimously, and the commissioners at that time were Ed Meyer, Vicki Kent Haire and Ralph Guthrie. The county attorney advising them was Daniel Moore.

I do not know the vote or the attorney at the time, but I do know that Commissioners Chuck Freiberger and John Reisert signed the ordinance in Floyd County.

Individuals who act in ways that directly harm other individuals should be held accountable. Isn’t that what a healthy form of justice is all about?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would be adversely affected if government officials who cause harm were required to pay restitution because she’d surely have a heart attack.

Year-Round School

NOTE: I wrote this for publication on Thanksgiving day and just realized I never posted it here. I guess I ate too much that day and just forgot about it.

HARBESON: Talking around the year-round subject

SELLERSBURG — Will you have the pleasure of interacting with school-age kids on Thanksgiving Day? If so, I have a suggestion for you — ask them how they feel about year-round school.

Be careful though. If they don’t know anything about year-round school, their first thought will be that you’re suggesting they attend school for more days of the year than they do now. The very idea would likely freak them out and you could end up with cranberries up your nose for even suggesting such a thing.

So make sure you explain that, at least right now, year-round school means a “balanced schedule.” The mandatory sentence they have to serve out for the crime of being a kid would still be 180 days, but the days off would be spread out somewhat more evenly throughout the year.

If you can get them to understand this before your nostrils fill up, great. Now you should be able to find out whether they would prefer to have most of their time off grouped together during the summer, or whether they would prefer taking time off throughout the year and have a shorter summer break.

If you ask more than one kid, chances are good that the answers will vary. Some will prefer to get the school year over with and enjoy the longer break and others would rather take more frequent breaks in smaller chunks of time.

Some kids will realize that the question is really a request to make a choice that isn’t really much of a choice at all. Fundamentally, the question is just a scheduling detail to these prisoners — I mean kids. Either way, they still have to “do the time.”

I bring this issue up not because I want everyone’s Thanksgiving Day celebration to be punctuated by having little red berries falling out of their noses, although the thought does kind of make me smile.

No, I bring it up because local government school districts are discussing the idea of moving to year-round schedules, mostly because they say it could lead to improved test scores.

Whether or not that’s true, and the data is mixed, school schedules are like everything else related to education — a singular choice mandated for all will never fit the needs and desires of each individual child.

There are possible advantages with year-round school though. This schedule could give kids more experience with real-life math because more frequent breaks provide many more opportunities to calculate and count down the days to the next break.

Year-round school would also help the problem of kids not retaining important lessons while enjoying a longer summer break. For example, year-round school might help kids retain the lesson that what they do outside of school during free unstructured time, while engaged in self-initiated and self-directed play, is not as important as what happens in school where information is injected inside their brains for the purpose of passing a government test.

There would also be more chances to remediate kids, particularly the ones who struggle because they would rather learn in their own way, at their own pace, sparked by their natural born curiosity. Yes, I imagine year-round school could be very useful in helping to retrain those troubled kids.

On the other hand, maybe neither schedule is the answer. Perhaps society should dump the compulsion and work on creating wonderful places that would draw kids in by choice. Places where kids are free to play, investigate, experiment and explore on their own terms. Places that immerse kids in a friendly, respectful environment — one that supports year-round learning rather than year-round schooling. Yes, there is a difference.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson hopes she doesn’t end up with cranberries up her nose on this fine Thanksgiving Day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Business Pushing for Annexation in Clarksville Indiana

HARBESON: ‘Clarksville’ company cashing in any way it can

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Usually, when I see the word annexation in the news, the story is about a government entity extending their boundaries to neighboring property owners without their consent. But last week a local business, Rivera Consulting Group, actually requested annexation from the town of Clarksville. NOTE: If you click on the link, scroll down to the "Business Expansion" section.

Why would a business want a local government to annex property they plan to use for expansion? The only logical reason is to receive special government favors. However, I’m unclear at this point as to what the town of Clarksville might be offering.

I know the Indiana Economic Development Corporation has already offered this company $1.1 million in tax credits if they meet specific job creation goals. So maybe the annexation is just a necessary step required by the state and the town is not offering any additional government handouts.

It seems strange that the company is out promoting a move to Clarksville as if all the steps have already been completed. Clearly that’s not the case because the town of Clarksville does not have power or control over the property in question and has yet to present or vote on an annexation ordinance.

Yet Rivera Consulting Group President, Dr. Joey Rivera, has stated that Clarksville was “very aggressive” in keeping the company local and thanked them for their support as he announced the company’s move to Clarksville. On land that isn’t currently in Clarksville.

All of this increased my curiosity about Rivera Consulting Group. A company that promotes a move to Clarksville before the land is yet to be controlled by Clarksville must know a lot about working with governments.

And they do. This company specializes in U.S. Department of Defense software applications and has gained several specific designations that help push them to the front of the pack for certain types of government contracts. The federal government has to “set-aside” and award a certain percentage of contracts to specific groups of people.

Rivera Consulting Group has managed to collect quite a few of these designations, including: Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), Veteran-owned and Service-disabled, 8(a) certification, and HUBZone certification. These designations are all meant to give preferential treatment to businesses based on demographics, as opposed to merit.

There are many questionable practices that go along with such designations, one of the more controversial being a price evaluation adjustment, which means that a designated company could bid 10 percent higher than a non-designated competitor and still get the contract.

I am also troubled by the company’s mission statement which is presented on their website as a direct quote from Rivera:

“Our country is at war. Our Mission is to provide sound guidance and expertise to our government customer in a time when technical expertise makes a difference. We are ready to stand side-by-side with our customers as we support the war-fighter. We are ready.”

Remember the column I wrote in October about Indiana’s push to attract federal defense spending and promote businesses that are healthiest during times of war? It appears that this whole setup is another local example of that policy in action.

I can’t really blame this company for taking advantage of the special demographic designations if they meet the requirements. It’s perfectly rational for a company to go after them if it can. Of course, I’m assuming they didn’t have anything to do with the slimy political manipulation that created those programs.

However, is it wise to actively work for new government action, like the pursuit of this annexation, in order to gain even more government benefits? After all, by doing so, this company is actively working to force others to subsidize their growth so they can continue to cash in on war.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson invites reader response, but you should know she gives preferential treatment to specially designated groups.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Little Free Library Indiana

HARBESON: This idea is book smart

SOUTHERN INDIANA — There’s a lot of truth in the phrase, “bigger is not always better.” For example, due to my husband’s love of NASCAR, I’m forever thankful that tiny collectible versions of his favorite cars exist. If they didn’t we’d need a lot more garage space.

I’ve always been fascinated by miniature versions of most anything. (Well, except for those miniature versions of candy bars — that’s just annoying.) So when I first saw a photo of a Little Free Library, I was immediately intrigued. These little libraries look like tiny buildings and are usually mounted outside on posts.

The idea for building tiny libraries began in Wisconsin as a fun way to support literacy and build community. The Little Free Library organization is “building and promoting ‘take a book, leave a book’ structures that fit in a front yard, by a sidewalk, coffee shop or park and are just big enough to hold 20 to 30 books that kids and adults can give and take.”

The idea attracted me on many levels. I’m a voracious reader and I really like the voluntary, local, grass-roots aspect. Even so, I didn’t pursue it any further than bookmarking their website. But then several interesting connections happened.

Through the Courier-Journal, I found out that Jeffersonville resident Phyllis Wilkins has been working on promoting the idea, not only for the local area, but throughout Indiana. She has created Little Free Library Indiana which is a partner with Little Free Library International.

I was glad to see someone else enthused about this idea. We met last week to discuss the project and it was fun talking about all the possibilities. We came up with about a million or so.

Phyllis is planning a Little Free Library in memory of neighbors Charley and Mickey Reisert, who both passed away recently. That was yet another connection for me. Although I only knew him for a short time as a result of writing my column, Charley and I had a couple of interesting lunches discussing books we both read on politics, philosophy and economics.

This brings me to yet another connection. During one of our discussions, Charley told me he wanted to set up a lunch with me, himself and Mayor Tom Galligan. I’m always open to having lunch with anyone, but I can’t help but suspect that Charley just thought it would be fun to watch the fireworks if any heated discussions erupted.

Even though that never happened, being reminded of it did make me think this Little Free Library Indiana project might be good for Galligan. So I’d like to invite Mr. Galligan to join us in this local community project that needs people who enjoy construction. He’s going to need something to do in a few weeks after he’s no longer the mayor anyway and it might be a good idea to keep him away from bulldozers.

As a matter of fact, this project perfectly fits all local politicians recently put out to pasture. They could have complete control over a building project, with no taxpayers breathing down their necks about cost, no council members biting ankles about minor details and no columnists complaining about using government force.

Anyway, no matter who you are, if this project speaks to you as it does to me and you would like to help create little libraries throughout the local area (and there are many ways you can help), I encourage you to get involved. Phyllis is hosting the first “official” meeting of the Little Free Library Indiana at 6 p.m. Friday at the Red Cross office, 1805 E. 8th St., Jeffersonville.

You can also keep updated on this project through the Little Free Library Indiana Facebook page and the Little Free Library Indiana blog, which is at

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the inventor of those miniature bite-sized candy bars must surely be a masochist.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Haven House Revisited

HARBESON: Reflections on my Haven House column

JEFFERSONVILLE — Every once in a while, after writing about a specific topic, I sometimes wonder if I should have just kept my mouth shut. When this happens, I always know exactly what to do: Keep spouting off about the issue.

The specific column I’m referring to is one I wrote in September about Haven House. I did not expect the reaction I received after stating that I cannot in good conscience contribute to an organization that does not appear to be under competent financial management.

The responses I received, whether in writing or in person, were overwhelmingly in support of what I said and I was surprised to hear from so many people whose work is focused on helping those in need.

Even so, something still didn’t feel quite right and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It may have something to do with the unusual experience I had that led to the writing of that piece.

I subscribe to several email lists that pertain to home education and sometimes general parenting issues are discussed, too. One day, a young mother I’ve never met shared a struggle she was having and asked for support and guidance.

I could relate so well and I knew I could help. It really didn’t take much time to respond and I didn’t think much more about it until the next day when I received a private reply from her.

She told me that I really gave her spiritual food and said it might sound odd, but she had made a personal decision to tithe to people who give her spiritual food. I thought that was very interesting and decided I would accept her offering and pay it forward myself in some manner. The amount was really not that much in the grand scheme of things, but it was far more than I expected.

I’m not sure now why I decided to earmark this little windfall for the homeless. The reason the two of us connected had nothing to do with the homeless — we connected because we both reject spanking as a valid method of raising children.

Still, for whatever reason, I chose to pay this forward to help the homeless in some way. But when I thought about how to go about doing that, it reintroduced old feelings of frustration surrounding the management of Haven House.

I could have just kept my mouth shut and quietly worked around the organization. That’s what I did in the end anyway because after getting a recommendation from someone I trust, I purchased specific items for another group who assists the homeless.

So I could have just completely ignored Haven House and its issues. Instead, I wrote the column. And even though I wouldn’t change a word, I still wonder if I might feel better about the whole tithing experience if I had just quietly paid it forward instead.

Ahh, but maybe the whole purpose of the tithe coming when it did was to get me to say out loud what I, and apparently many others, have been thinking for such a long time.

I think it bothered me for a while because this was a situation where I was not forced to do anything at all. Donating to Haven House or not was completely under my control. No one was pointing a gun at me and telling me what to do like government organizations do.

So why did I feel the need to tell everyone why I would not give to this specific organization? Maybe it’s because even in our voluntary interactions, looking for effective and ethical management of organizations is still an important thing to do.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson only cares about keeping her mouth shut when riding her bike through a gnat cloud.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Indiana State Senator Luke Kenley Pushing for Online Sales Tax

HARBESON: I’m not buying what they’re selling

SELLERSBURG — State government officials hate the fact that online businesses do not have to charge sales tax on purchases if the company has no actual physical presence in the state where the customer resides.

In Indiana, Republican State Sen. Luke Kenley hates it so much that he even wants the federal government involved.

Like any good politician, Kenley is salivating to spend — he knows lots of transactions happen online and thinks the government should get a cut of the action. He estimates up to $400 million annually could be siphoned off the people if the government can get its hands on 7 percent of the total spent every time a person wants to buy stuff.

He wants states to be able to treat online businesses as badly as they treat brick-and-mortar businesses — by forcing the online companies to become tax collectors too.

Many brick-and-mortar companies are on his side. They say they want to “level the playing field,” which really means they want all businesses to be equally dragged down by government regulations. After all, if they have to perform tax collecting duties, then every other business should be forced to perform tax collecting duties.

I can understand their frustration. Some traditional merchants have found themselves in a situation where they are simply showrooms. Consumers come to look at products and then go home and order online to save money.

To make the situation worse, in 2007, when the big online retailer Amazon created a physical presence in Indiana, the state made a deal that allowed the company to continue not collecting sales tax. As a result, the state is being sued by a large mall retailer to force Amazon to start playing tax collector for the state too — just as the retail merchants in their malls have to do.

It’s too bad that Indiana’s brick-and-mortar companies see the online companies as the problem when they are only trying to remain free from the burden of tax collecting. They should be focused on the entity responsible for forcing any business to collect taxes.

If the brick-and-mortar companies are actually upset enough to come together to take action, maybe they should also refuse to play tax collector. Tell the government to do their own darn dirty work.

Why is any of this an issue in the first place? Because Indiana residents are supposed to report their out-of-state purchases and pay any sales tax they “owe” to the government on those purchases. Few people actually do this, which means the government has a problem.

Sales taxes can still be paid no matter what an online business does or where it physically exists but that’s not happening very often. Evidently the vast, vast majority of people don’t think they owe the government anything when they buy a sweater.

It’s good to hear that the amount of sales tax collected from online sales is tiny in comparison to the transactions that are occurring. It gives me hope to think that there are very few people brainwashed enough to actually believe they owe the government every time they happen to engage in voluntary trade with others, no matter where the buyer and seller happen to live.

If individuals throughout the United States did think they were actually under some sort of moral obligation to pay sales taxes, they’d pay. There would be no issue whatsoever and certainly no need for Kenley to push for federal government involvement so states could force business to collect the payment.

All Kenley’s proposal adds up to is an attempt to validate a government claim to property that the people are simply unwilling to accept.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson thinks the only thing worse than being forced to be a taxpayer is being forced to be a tax collector.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parks Are Political

HARBESON: A form of recreational government

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I’m not sure New Albany-Floyd County Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers understands the inherent nature of his job — he always seems surprised that politics is involved.

For example, he recently said, “We’re not a political group, but we seem to get caught in the middle of political groups.”

Mr. Jeffers is mistaken. All government programs are political. No matter how much he may not want it to be the case, Jeffers simply cannot deny being part of a political group.

Mr. Jeffers is a government employee running a government program. His group does not operate through peaceful voluntary means. He is inside a system that gets its funding through the threat of force.

He will always be part of a political group as long as government is involved in funding and operating local recreation. So if the pursuit of such funding feels political and makes him uncomfortable, well Mr. Jeffers needs to understand that it’s the system he chose to work inside and he must accept this sad truth.

Although Mr. Jeffers doesn’t see himself as part of a political group, he does admit that he’s involved in politics in general, however unwillingly, because he’s also said, “We want to take politics out of it,” when discussing alternative methods of funding parks.

That’s a nice goal, but this, too, is impossible, particularly when considering what Mr. Jeffers thinks is the answer. He has been consistently and continually promoting a proposed attempt to use state government to get what he wants — a special taxing district.

Talk about politics at its worst! If Mr. Jeffers doesn’t want politics involved he certainly should not be supporting a political scheme that would create yet another law upon the people, making it easier to force funding into a particular government entity. By appealing to a higher government authority to get what he wants locally, he would be using the very politics he claims to disdain.

Mr. Jeffers will never be able to “take politics out of it,” as long as it is a government program, and not something offered through the voluntary marketplace. However, when parks are voluntary, anyone who is not a user or involved in some way will never find himself unwillingly pulled into political battles.

No, voluntary groups just quietly go on their way, doing what they do, in whatever manner the people involved decide. We know this can be done even in parks because we have been able to see evidence for ourselves in the local area for 20 years now — Perrin Family Park in Jeffersonville. People who care can develop private recreational facilities through voluntary means.

But when people try to accomplish similar goals through the force of government, everything changes. People who don’t care and don’t want to be involved still have to endure fights over power and control, battles over money, disagreements on how a recreational property should best be used and on and on. It’s a problem because people who happen to live inside a geographical boundary cannot opt out of participating like they can when a park is privately operated.

It’s important to point out the truth when someone who is inside the system like Mr. Jeffers tries to pretend his little niche is different somehow. It’s not. It’s just another government program and we need to at least be honest about that before discussing any related issues.

In the end, I side firmly with Mr. Jeffers in his desire to get “politics out of it.” I’d love to put recreation into the private realm where people can voluntarily and peacefully interact with each other as they work toward common goals.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would love to get politics out of, well, everything.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Absentee Ballot Controversy in Jeffersonville and Clarksville

HARBESON: No absence of malice here

SELLERSBURG — After an election consultant, hired by various campaigns in Jeffersonville and Clarksville, was indicted by a Jennings County grand jury on charges related to absentee voter fraud, local campaign officials involved with him have been scrambling to defend their own campaigns in very colorful ways.

For example, while expounding on the intricacies of indictment compared to conviction, one local politician from Jeffersonville said, “You can take a grand jury and get indicted on the color of your lipstick if they want to do that.”

Wow, I was completely unaware of this. I thought grand jury indictments were only for felony charges, not for fashion faux pas.

I had no idea choosing the color of lipstick could make me susceptible to grand jury indictment. I’m glad now that I passed on that great two-for-one offer the other day for a special shade of glossy lipstick called “Smoky Purple Passion Temptress.”

Wearing that is an indictable offense for sure.

I wonder if the release of this information has anything to do with the reason why Clark County has experienced a much larger amount of absentee ballot requests for this municipal election.

Think about it. If a lipstick-loving voter is afraid of possible indictment, what would she (or he, I’m not going to be sexist about this) do about voting? These voters certainly won’t want to risk heading out to the voting booth all gussied up.

On the other hand, they certainly wouldn’t want to be seen in public with naked, pale, dry lips. So the obvious solution to this dilemma is absentee voting.

If this lipstick issue isn’t disturbing enough, a county political party official also made an interesting statement when talking about voter fraud accusations. He said this kind of thing happens all the time, “It’s like farting in an elevator and blaming it on the guy next to you.”

I guess that explains why politics stinks so badly. I’m wondering though — do such activities really happen that often? I have no idea. All I know is that the next time I’m unlucky enough to have to enter a government building, I’m taking the stairs.

A PAC named The Clarksville Democrat Town Committee also hired this guy. Should residents be concerned? Not according to one incumbent candidate — he dismissed any allegations as “political mumbo jumbo.”

I like that phrase. As a matter of fact, if I was an election consultant, I’d recommend using it for their next fundraising dinner so they could serve up some “political mumbo jumbo gumbo.”

No need to pay me for that idea, candidates — I know you can use the money since local campaigns spend tens of thousands of dollars to solicit absentee votes. I’m sure you are spending that much money for pure civic responsibility reasons.

I do have a question though. If lots of absentee voting is due to this form of active solicitation, how knowledgeable are these voters about the individual campaigns and issues in question? It just seems odd that political campaigns work that hard to actively recruit the ignorant.

This recent scandal has brought out calls for reform of absentee voter laws. These people want you to believe that more legislation can fix the problem. The laws are just not written “correctly” and all that’s needed is some tweaking. I’m not so sure — after all, voting is just another government-run program.

Rewriting legislation in an attempt to avoid corruption and abuse is merely putting another coat of possibly indictment-inducing lipstick on the system. It won’t hide the ugly truth that voting is the method of gaining power and control over other people using government force.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson says that from now on she’ll be wearing clear lip gloss when she leaves home, just to be safe.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Government-Created Black Markets and Violence

HARBESON: Who are the real offenders here?

SELLERSBURG — District Attorney Joseph Hogsett has completed his second publicity tour of our local area promoting his Violent Crime Initiative. The catalyst for this initiativecomes from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who became alarmed after noticing a spike in violent gun deaths of law enforcement officers.

Hogsett’s initiative intends to get the “worst of the worst” off the streets by charging and prosecuting suspects through the federal court system, which enables tougher sentencing. I’m trying to build a case that this initiative makes sense, but I’m seeing clues and evidence that just don’t line up with that conclusion.

With Clark County Sheriff Danny Rodden and New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey by his side, Hogsett reported on the initiative’s progress in his district. It has resulted in higher numbers of felony gun possession charges and drug indictments, in addition to seizing five times more assets from drug traffickers compared to 2010.

Hogsett places great emphasis on drugs. This is why I’m skeptical. It’s not clear to me that increased federal spending and involvement through this initiative is truly centered on the problem.

Hogsett points out that more federal involvement helps because the tougher sentencing gets the worst offenders off the streets for a longer period of time and the location of federal prisons makes it difficult for the prisoner to stay connected to local contacts.

However, the government-created black market for drugs still exists. The demand for drugs and the incentive for desperate and/or vile people to make money buying and selling drugs do not change at all when one person sits in jail longer. This merely gives competitors a chance to come in and gain control. So how much can this initiative help?

We’ve been through this already. Government employees just like Hogsett expressed the same concerns about gun violence and made the same points about the need for tougher enforcement as the solution for removing violent traffickers from the streets. It didn’t work.

But we no longer have those violent alcohol traffickers killing law enforcement. Now if someone would like to drink a gin and tonic, they are free to go buy it from someone in the business of serving the people who would like to drink a gin and tonic.

Why do they refuse to acknowledge drug prohibition as a large part of the problem? These people are trained to gather evidence so why does it seem like they don’t have a clue?

It’s not hard to see how twisted this is — the government prohibits the sale of a product people want, the people ignore this prohibition and some profit from it, the government prosecutes as many of the lawbreakers — and sometimes even innocent people — they can catch, seizing the assets of those who profit when the government prohibits the sale of a product people want ...

Maybe they’re just dizzy — I had to put one hand on the wall to stay balanced just to write that sentence.

These folks either see the evidence, which means they are choosing to ignore it for reasons I don’t even want to imagine, or they don’t see the evidence, which means we should question whether they are even competent to hold the jobs in the first place.

Yes, there may be an immediate need to get the violent criminals the government helped to create off the streets. It’s certainly valid to say that people working inside such a crazy system have to deal with the reality of the system as it is and need to focus on the violent acts that are happening right now.

But when are more people, inside the system and out, going to face the fact that the government plays a significant part in the very problem they are spending money, and human lives, trying to solve?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is looking for evidence of people who have a clue.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's Sick to Depend on War for Economic Health

HARBESON: At war with state’s business philosophy

SELLERSBURG — During World War I, Randolph Bourne wrote, “War is the health of the state.” Bourne was referring to nation-states of course, but considering what I’ve learned recently, it seems appropriate to say “war is the health of the state of Indiana.”

According to a 2011 Indiana University report, back in 2001, Indiana received $1.8 billion from the federal government in the form of defense contracts. This number grew to more than $4 billion over the next decade. We all know why the growth occurred: War.

This report, titled “Building National Security: The Economic Impact of Indiana’s Defense Industry,” explains that the ability to attract federal defense spending is of great benefit to Indiana. The introductory letter signed by the lieutenant governor and the IU president says, “... it is critical to the state of Indiana and its work force that the defense industry continues to flourish here.”

I don’t agree. It’s extremely unwise to develop an economy based not only on government spending, which requires taxation and/or debt, but which also depends on death and destruction for growth.

As a result of their desire for continued and increased federal defense spending, a private-public partnership firm, Conexus Indiana, and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. have created the Indiana Aerospace and Defense Council for the specific purpose of promoting Indiana as a great place for the federal government to spend its defense budget.

It’s bad enough that state government uses the euphemism “economic development” in an attempt to centrally plan an economy by spending tax money in ways that favor some industries and businesses over others, but using funds to lobby for increased federal spending that supports war attacks the sensibilities of all peace-loving individuals.

But those who directly benefit don’t see it this way. The groups involved — the politicians, the state universities and the corporations — all benefit from the business that results when the nation-state participates in war. No one wants to acknowledge the horrible truth embedded in the fact that pushing the defense industry encourages the development of businesses that are healthiest during wartime — in other words, peace makes them sick.

This council also wants to increase the number of companies involved, but any business owner should be cautious about such a move. Besides the more obvious concerns when businesses get involved in war, there can also be plenty of unanticipated costs.

For example, as I was browsing around the website of CACI, the newest business to locate in New Albany’s Purdue Research Park, I was amazed at how much time, money and energy this company is spending as it works to disassociate itself from the abuse and torture controversy at Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq. I wonder if they think the contract was worth it.

Indiana is already receiving fewer defense dollars as the federal government’s involvement in the current wars change. However, instead of seeing this as a warning, signaling a need to gain freedom from such dependency, officials are making decisions that will only suck Indiana in even deeper.

Should the businesses in this state increase their dependency on an “industry” that experiences its best growth when the federal government gets involved in nasty wars far from the actual soil they claim to be defending?

Or would it be better to spend energy working to create products and services that enrich lives, thereby encouraging mutually beneficial peaceful trade and friendly relationships?

I am concerned, and even mourning, this realization of where human energy and resources have been focused, because I do not want war to be the health of the state of Indiana.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is sick of government interference.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TSA Must Really Love Me

So yeah, it happened again. Returning home from Libertopia 2011 , I was “randomly” selected to go through a TSA body scanner at the San Diego airport. (Actually, as I watched, it looked like almost everyone was chosen to go through the scanner and the “random selection” was for a few people who for some unknown reason just had to go through the metal detector.)

Husband says I bring it on myself, expecting I’ll be selected. Okay if there is anything to this “attraction” stuff, maybe I did attract it last time.

But this time was different. Really. I was relaxed, smiling and singing to myself. (It wasn’t until later that I realized maybe my song choice created an “attraction.” I was mentally enjoying the Temptations’ Get Ready....“Get ready cause here I come!”

Anyway, same as last time, we were both “selected” and once again I opted out. They took me to the side for a “pat down.” But unlike last time, my husband had the camera and recorded the interaction.

At the beginning of the video below, she’s telling me what she’s going to do, "blah, blah, blah, okay?”

I say, "No it’s not okay; I’m only doing this under duress because I want to complete my transaction with the airline company.”

At about :52, she notices John taking video and tells me he has to turn it off. I said he’s perfectly within his right to capture video on this. So she calls her supervisor over and continues to explain what she’s going to do with him witnessing.

She says nothing about the video, but at 1:23 someone off camera says “Hey they’re videotaping…in case you’re wondering.”

The supervisor says “Sir, can you step out of the checkpoint area please?” This is where John thought he was being told told to stop videotaping and he turns it off.

So here’s that first video:

After he turns it off, I tell him he can continue to take video so he turns it back on and the supervisor tells my husband he needs to move “outside of MY checkpoint area,” so he doesn’t interfere.

Now in the second video below, watch where the supervisor positions himself.

They ask me if I want a private screening and say “No, I want everyone to see what you people do.” The rest of the video shows you a “pat down,” done on randomly selected people, guilty until proven innocent with the rubber gloves.

Maybe capturing video of this means nothing. Maybe it’s just spitting in the wind, but at least there was one instance in that particular day when they knew someone was watching THEM for a change.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I “chose” to fly. Yeah, I could have taken days to drive more than 2100 miles to get to the event. However, I would not have made it because that would have added even more travel days than my husband and I wanted to take for this trip. Would not going have made me feel any more free?

If I didn't go, then I couldn't have talked about unschooling to Libertopia attendees who were interested. I couldn't have connected with others who are looking for encouragement, inspiration and camaraderie as they try to get their kids far, far away from the government education system.

And I would not have spent several fascinating and enjoyable days learning along with others who feel the same way I do. So I'm certainly glad I jumped on those airplanes to get there and back.

The real question now about driving is how long will that be a preferred method? How much longer do we even have that choice before we have to endure random searches on the highways?

Think I’m just being paranoid? Think that’s just silly? Think that’s just crazy?

Well, it’s already started in Tennessee:

Tennessee Becomes First State To Fight Terrorism Statewide

One politician seems concerned. But I wonder if he’s just sitting out there in the middle of a long, dark, lonely stretch of road.

Edit: Here's another report on the VIPR issue from Wendy McElroy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Going To The Candidates' Debate

HARBESON: There’s some debating it

SELLERSBURG — When I heard that Leadership Southern Indiana and the News and Tribune planned to host debates for the three local mayoral races, I decided I would attend the entire series.

Yes, considering my aversion to politics and government in general, I know it seems strange to put myself in such a position but my reasoning is sound — I was looking for a challenge, a truly physically draining endurance event to test my fortitude.

What could be better than putting myself through several hours of listening to politicians make promises while simultaneously breathing in the stifling authoritarian air inside compulsory funded government schools?

The first debate was in New Albany, where four candidates were running, but no incumbent. As I meandered into the auditorium, I felt like I was entering a church — the lights were dimmed and the audience was strangely quiet.

Maybe it was the church-like atmosphere but the entire debate seemed equally subdued. After a while, the candidates blended together and I couldn’t differentiate one dark suit from the next. I lost attention and must confess I slipped out early.

I realized this was going to be harder than I thought and I would need to train harder if I was going to build up enough endurance for two more debates. So I stepped up my training, chaining myself to a chair and listening to every political debate I could find online.

The second debate in Jeffersonville was much easier, but I’m not sure it had anything to do with my training. There was a definite energy in the air, as if people were gathering for a big fight. I attribute this to the “throw the bum out” element that is usually present in any race that includes an incumbent.

Another difference in this debate may have been that the LSI host forgot to mention the “no applause” rule in his opening remarks which gave some audience members an excuse to forget they weren’t supposed to applaud. Even so, most of the time audience members respected the no applause request.

But the audience still needed a way to expend energy and they found it in the head bob. Sitting in the back of the auditorium, I could easily observe which candidate individual audience members supported by watching them aggressively nod in agreement. There was so much vigorous head bobbing during this debate that I bet Jeffersonville’s chiropractors experienced a boost in business the next day.

So thanks to incumbency and the head bobbers, I successfully made it through this entire debate. Since the challenge was now two-thirds complete and knowing the Charlestown mayoral race also had an incumbent, I didn’t bother to do any further training.

As expected, when I entered the auditorium in Charlestown I could feel a serious energy level. But it wasn’t just the incumbency factor — this race was also the only two-candidate race, which increases the “us” versus “them” energy.

The host remembered to request no applause and the audience respected that request at first. But as the debate wore on, I could tell that head bobbing alone was not going to handle the pent-up energy in that room and by the time the last couple of questions were asked, the audience finally erupted.

The most rabid applauders seemed to not really be supporting a candidate’s position as much as they were angrily smacking their hands together against the opponent, a strange act that I can only describe as applause assault.

I came out of this experience with two insights. First, I now know I can do anything I set my mind to and second, most debate attendees are not undecided voters gathering information — they are supporters providing cheerleading services for their candidate.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson noticed how well the debate timekeeper’s paddle fan worked to get politicians to stop talking and now wants one of her own.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Perusing the News

HARBESON: Which is Which?
> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I need to be more careful when I peruse the news. I used to be able to skim the stories, confident that I had the essence after a few paragraphs which meant I could reliably guess the rest.

But after an experience last week, I realized I might not be as good at guessing as I thought.

During a recent session of news skimming, I noticed separate stories about Cuba and the United States. They seemed quite predictable and I thought I had them figured out, but I was completely wrong.

The first set of news reports told the story of a country whose leader had previously authorized the killing of one of his fellow countrymen. The reports announced the successful completion of this government execution.

I wasn’t very surprised to hear this news; I had heard many stories over the years about Cuba’s Castro having fellow countrymen executed after he determined they were enemies of the state.

I guessed wrong though. It wasn’t about Cuba. It wasn’t about Castro. The story was about the United States and President Obama. The story described the successful government authorized assassination of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who was on a government hit list because he was accused of being a terrorist.

I mistakenly guessed that this story was about the Cuban government’s flagrant denial of human rights. Instead it was about the United States’ denial of due process to one of its own citizens accused of a crime.

It was about a unilateral decision determining that an individual’s actions justified execution without trial — a decision that endangers all citizens who may be faced with criminal accusations made by their own government.

I thought that only happened in Cuba. How could such a story be about America, the land of the free? I would have never predicted that Americans would quietly accept the assassination of a fellow citizen simply because the government declared him to be a terrorist.

How could such a story be happening in a country that is led by a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Maybe I’ve been inaccurately skimming over Peace Prize news too. I need to check and see if the prize produces magical powers, giving the winner some kind of special ability to gain peace by authorizing violent death without due process.

The other set of news reports were about the economic benefits of the free-market. The stories discussed a country that was in economic distress. They made the point that reducing government interference and allowing individuals the freedom to trade with each other would lead to economic growth.

I guessed wrong here too. The stories weren’t about increasing individual freedom in America. They were about increasing individual freedom in Cuba.

Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, has been in the process of instituting economic reforms into Cuba, as a way of stimulating the economy. This particular story was about how the Cuban people are now free to buy and sell any cars available. Previously, the average Cuban resident could only legally buy and sell cars made prior to 1959.

The stories also reported that the government planned to enact a sales tax as a way to increase government revenue and I knew that was the real reason behind the reform. The government acted as if taxation was a natural, necessary and valid part of the free-market, so you can see why I mistakenly guessed at first that this story was about the United States.

I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I’m going to read the news very carefully; particularly when the concepts of government and peace or free-market and taxes are mentioned in the same story.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I'm Just High On Life

HARBESON: Picture this
I’ve been wondering how long it would take before someone noticed that there’s something about me that’s kind of odd. I’m finally forced to address it because a reader, who goes by the name of Juan, has been regularly pointing it out in the online comments section of this paper.

It has to do with my current column photo.

From the start, I never liked the original photo taken of me at the newspaper’s office. It wasn’t the photographer’s fault though. He tried his best but every time he turned the camera to show me the shot, I winced. Finally I saw that look all photographers eventually give me that says “Listen lady, that’s what you look like, deal with it.”

So, after using the photo for a year or so, I decided it was time for a change and sent the paper an informal photo I liked. And that’s where my comment stalker, Juan, comes in. Juan has noticed something odd about this photo which he has shared several times.

Here’s the first comment he made: “Harbeson looks higher than Snoop Dogg in her column photo. Good for her. Smoke a blunt for me Deb.” Although it was easy to understand what Juan meant, I did have to look up the word blunt.

Then he wrote this: “I used to shovel snow and rake leaves to make a buck all the time. Thanks for the memories Deb. And man, I need to find some smoke like Harbeson’s toking. She looks higher than Cheech and Chong.”

And finally, “I'm not homeless but I will take some cash for beer Deb. Ha. Stoner.”

So Juan seems to think I really scored some stuff when this photo was taken. He’s right, I do look high. But my brain was completely clear of cannabis. I can see why he thinks I was stoned though — my eyelids do have that mellow droopy look.

I wish I could say it was because I was tired. After all, this picture was taken after I had to stand in line in the hot sun on a concrete parking lot next to a concrete wall so I could grab front and center seats at a Joan Jett concert.

It was one of those days where you could see the heat rise from the ground. Yes, Juan I swear that’s really why the ground appeared wavy to me.

I actually sent the paper two photos to choose from and the other photo was taken at a ZZ Top concert, another outdoor event held on a scorching hot day. My eyelids are drooping in that photo, too. But no Juan, I wasn’t high then either. You can ask my mom. She was there.

I had a third photo ready to send if needed. This one was taken at a Jimmy Buffet concert and although my eyelids were drooping in that photo as well, anyone who’s ever been to a Buffett concert knows that I could not have been high. No one ever gets high at a Jimmy Buffett concert.

As I looked at these photos, I started to wonder why I liked them so much, even though they highlight my odd droopy eyes. Could it be that I like these particular photos because of something only I can see: the memories of good times spent with people I care about? Could it be that, for me, a formal posed photo is merely a meaningless image, unanchored by memory?

Nah, I just like photos taken of me at concerts because it’s one place where my natural droopy eyelids look like everyone else’s for a while.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson always has a smoking good time at concerts.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Haven House, Barbara Anderson and Financial Management

COLUMN NOTES: The topic of this column concerns a long-running controversy in the local area. There is a lot of back story and history but my main concern is the ability to financially manage. I mentioned this issue once before when it looked like others were going to take over. Unfortunately, even after the property was auctioned off for payroll taxes that were intentionally unpaid, the property still ended up in the same hands. Now the shelter has been in the news again, here and here.

HARBESON: Haven House needs new direction

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Due to concerns about the ability to make financially responsible decisions, it’s generally agreed that if you encounter homeless people on the street, it’s not a good idea to give them money.

I feel the same way about Haven House, at least as long as Barbara Anderson is in charge.

I cannot in good conscience give money to this local organization helping the homeless because the management has simply not proven to be financially responsible. The most recent example is the discovery that Executive Director Anderson decided to ignore the shelter’s sewer bills since 2008, which has now resulted in a lien being placed on the property.

This is not the first time Anderson made her own decision on what she shouldn’t have to pay. The property was taken from her once and sold at auction for unpaid payroll taxes. (Yes, the property ended up back in her hands.)

I was actually a bit sympathetic the first time, since it was a tax she chose not to pay. Too bad she didn’t take this action based on the principle of taxation being theft — I would have supported her in the protest. That wasn’t the case, of course.

Anderson thinks the work her organization does is important. She’s right. It is important. But it’s not exclusively so. Many people do important work that helps their neighbors — important work that is done in charitable organizations, in for-profit ventures and simply within a circle of family and friends.

Yet, somehow everyone is supposed to believe that what she does matters more than the hard work everyone else is doing. It’s just not so. Even a single individual who can only manage to take care of his or her own needs is doing something that matters.

I do not find her financial decisions on behalf of the Haven House organization acceptable. I do not accept her decision to simply not pay the sewer bill because she determined in her own mind, based on her ideas of how society should work, that they should not have to pay.

She tells us that her organization deserves free sewer service, which of course really means that she wants to force other people to pay. Her attitude of entitlement is certainly not an example I want to see set for the people currently living at the shelter. In addition, ignoring utility bills doesn’t exactly teach lessons of financial responsibility does it?

The problem is complicated even further since government operates sewer service. Politics can easily get intertwined and there is potential for corruption in deciding who gets special favors and who does not.

Anderson herself complained that the private citizen who brought this to everyone’s attention only did it for political reasons.

Anderson claims Haven House deserves special treatment because it provides a service to the city. But the city is merely an abstraction. The service is actually provided to people in need and, again, helping people is something many others are busy doing every day in a variety of ways, while still paying their sewer bills.

So I will never give money to Haven House as long as the current management structure exists. Even though the problem may be directed at a certain individual, let’s be clear that it’s specifically tied into the relationship and involvement the person has to the organization in question. My feelings and actions are no different than deciding not to fund any other entity if it has leadership I do not trust for whatever reason.

I’d rather give money directly to a homeless person to get drunk than give it to an organization that has Anderson making financial decisions.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson sometimes solicits money on the street. Not to get drunk, but to get sloshed on soft serve ice cream.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

More Important Problems Than Sherman Minton Bridge Closing?

HARBESON: A weekend to whine about

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A lot of people in Southern Indiana have been in a bad mood this week. Of course, we all know why.

The news about the damage and what has resulted from it has completely consumed the attention of the entire area and will continue to do so for an indefinite amount of time. And I’m already sick of the whiners.

Oh sure, I know some people place a lot of importance on the ability to achieve effortless drives to the ultimate destination, but really now, it’s not the end of the world. People are making a much bigger deal out of this than necessary.

Reaction was really crazy as the news spread and we moved into the weekend. Under more normal circumstances, no one pays much attention, but due to this situation people were even having lots of discussions on Saturday, which hardly ever happens.

People with any sense already knew this was bound to happen eventually. Even though they hoped the situation would continue on for much longer, they knew the constant pressure of all those pounds moving at full speed for years and years were bound to have an effect after a while.

Everything eventually wears out.

Many people who have watched this go on for so long knew it was only a matter of time. So when trouble was first spotted by the experts, naturally no one wanted to take unnecessary risks that could cause further damage. The folks in Indianapolis made the right call. After all, no one wanted to end up with an unspeakable disaster.

So the whiners should stop complaining, particularly about age, and let those who are paid to handle these situations do their jobs. Yeah, I know we’ve already seen a lot of fumbling around, but surely it’ll get better.

I will say though that by the end of the weekend when it became very clear that tough times are ahead, I also started questioning some decisions. For example, I’m not at all confident about some of the changes being made to the normal type of drive everyone is used to. I think it’s a huge mistake to begin a drive with options completely cut-off.

Forcing a drive into specific lanes is not necessarily the best way to move forward. Everyone who has ever been out there playing this game knows that. If a hole is open, it’s important to rush in at full speed and grab all the gain you can, even if it’s only a few inches. If you don’t do this, you risk never moving forward.

But with or without that decision, we all know that stalls are inevitable. Yes, a lack of forward momentum is bound to happen and people will be completely bored while waiting for any movement. I recommend just making the best of it by enjoying the types of activities you don’t normally have time to do when all is going well — like drinking a lot more beer and texting updates to all of your friends who are lucky enough to be somewhere else.

So to all complainers, just relax and put the situation in its proper perspective. This will end positively — your precious Indianapolis Colts will get through this. One day soon I’m confident that a new and improved Peyton Manning will once again be where he belongs, behind the behind of Jeff Saturday.

Now, as far as the bridge problems we are experiencing, well, I’m not as confident about how that’s all going to shake out, so go ahead and whine if it makes you feel any better.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is standing by, ready to hand out plenty of cheese.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Job Creation: Does Government Help or Hurt?

HARBESON: Here’s to free trade

(COLUMN NOTES: There are quite a few comments on the newspaper's website that you may want to go check out.)

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Politicians spend a lot of time jabbering about jobs. They make a lot of noise, fussing with each other over what to do. But there’s really only one question we need to answer about job creation: Does government help or hurt?

Maybe it can help us find the answer if we strip down the issue. In simplest terms, a job is created when one person pays another person to perform a task. Even young children can do it. So let’s simplify and use a real-life example of a time when my two children created a job for themselves.

Some years ago, our family lived in a condo complex in Jeffersonville and a winter storm dumped a lot of snow overnight. This happened on a weekend, which meant many of the neighbors did not have to go to work, so there were many cars in the parking lot covered with snow.

My daughter and son saw an opportunity and decided to offer their snow-clearing skills to the neighbors. They charged 50 cents a car to clean off the snow and successfully earned a nice chunk of cash that day.

Now, let’s imagine how this could have turned out if they had to deal with the government. What might have happened if government was involved anywhere in the process?

First of all, depending on local ordinances, they would need to apply for an official government-approved solicitor’s permit before they could even knock on a neighbor’s door. Next, this job could require licensing. What if they had to pay fees and attend a government-approved class to get the proper “government training” because everyone who performs this job has to have a license?

What about the working conditions? The government certainly can’t let ambitious individuals decide for themselves when to go inside for a cup of hot chocolate. So they impose a break schedule much stricter than necessary, thereby restricting the number of hours they have available to offer their services.

Since this particular job was a result of a weather “disaster,” the attorney general may decide to take a look to see if they are taking advantage of the situation. If he determines that 50 cents a car was too much it could mean they’d end up being accused of “price gouging” their customers.

Let’s say another kid wants to help out. This prospective employee is very inexperienced and low-skilled, but they offer to pay him 15 cents for every car he helps clean. He agrees. But the government’s minimum wage laws require payment of 30 cents per car.

At that price, he’s not worth hiring, so this kid doesn’t get the job. Even if he’s perfectly willing to work for 15 cents, the government won’t allow it. So there he is, out of a job, unable to buy that superhero coloring book he wants. Until those other kids come along and offer to pay him 10 times the money he’d make cleaning cars to sell drugs. (Yes, the government does know how to create high-paying jobs.)

Finally, if the government was involved, the kids would pay taxes on their earnings, because, well, someone has to pay the salaries for all the jobs created for the people the government hires to enforce all these laws and regulations.

Yes, this is all imaginary, as far as my kids were concerned. They were completely free to offer a service to their neighbors who were free to accept it or not.

But stripping the job creation conversation down to this simple example does make me wonder what would be different if government did not interfere so much in peaceful voluntary trade between supposedly free individuals.

— When it comes to politicians, Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson doesn't even want to pay attention, let alone a salary.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Government is a Malignant Polyp

HARBESON: Cleaning out government

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — For some time now, certain people have been telling me I’m full of it, and as it turns out, they were right. I discovered this last week when I went through the process of having a colonoscopy.

For those of you who don’t know, a colonoscopy is a medical procedure that enables doctors to look inside the colon for any abnormalities such as polyps. Since some polyps can be precancerous, they are removed at the time of the screening.

Now, for a medical professional to have a clear view inside the colon, the organ needs to be thoroughly cleaned out. Although a laxative is taken the day before, the really strong stuff is taken a few hours before the exam.

The directions warned me to be close to a restroom because it’s supposed to work really fast. I took the first half of the bottle expecting to run to the bathroom at any moment. But nothing happened. A half hour went by. Still nothing happened. As I was getting close to taking the second dose I started to think something must really be wrong.

Why wasn’t this working?

I wondered if I should have told them I was a political opinion columnist. Maybe they would have given me a stronger dose. As it turned out though, after the second dose, the stuff started working really well. I was definitely cleaned out in time.

Maybe I was still high on drugs, but after it was all over, I thought the colonoscopy process could serve as a great analogy to understand government. Let me explain by using Clark County as an example.

A few years ago, a group of well-intentioned people on the county council thought they were doing a good thing by cutting property taxes. In essence, they gave county government a laxative to clear out the reserve that had built up over time.

Now Clark County is experiencing severe budget pains. It’s important to note that many local governments are also struggling because there have been other factors at play such as property tax caps.

However, since Clark County did get that extra laxative boost, it did create a unique situation that does allow for a better look inside the inner plumbing to see how government works.

The most glaring example is the various lawsuits that have been filed. First, the county judges sued the county council. Then, the county sheriff sued the county council and the county council is appealing a decision by the Department of Local Government Finance in court.

Yes, they whine and moan that they don’t want to do it, but, gee, they have to spend the money. After all, another department of the same government said so.

You’re supposed to focus on these lawsuits as if one government entity is suing another government entity to get money. But what’s happening here is that these people are really suing you, the taxpayer. You are the one who pays. The lawsuits merely use legal complication to help create an illusion intended to deflect and soften this truth.

So the previous council’s laxative that led to the lawsuits did accomplish something: Now we can clearly see that when the government wants more money, there’s always a way. We now know there is another method inside the government toolbox that officials can, and will, use to get your money.

What can we learn from this? Well, it’s not about getting “new” people in there to deliver a one-time laxative. Such a cleansing can feel good, but government itself is a malignant polyp.

Eventually, we’re going to have to go deeper, snare that abnormality and remove it. Until people accept that, it’s just going to continue to metastasize and cause problems.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson actually kind of enjoyed the time she spent not being so full of it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jeffersonville High School Principal Wants More Control

HARBESON: Making a judgment of errors

I don’t understand the uproar surrounding Jeffersonville High School principal James Sexton’s desire to have more control over the school newspaper. The conflict is completely unnecessary.

If Mr. Sexton is being truthful that his concern is not about content, but rather about grammatical errors, typos and other mistakes, then there is a simple solution which would benefit everyone involved.

I propose that the students prepare a newspaper draft chock-full of the various types of errors the principal worries about publishing.

This idea has several benefits. First of all, purposely making mistakes requires a good understanding of the rules that govern any structured activity and can be a great way to learn. So as the students purposely insert errors into their stories, they will learn a lot about writing and journalism in the process.

Inserting errors will also give the students a chance to test the principal and I’m sure this twist would be a refreshing change for teenagers who have grown up with the stifling testing requirements of current state and federal law.

In addition, creating an error-laden draft will go a long way in dealing with a government school principal who craves control. I imagine Mr. Sexton would likely be very happy and content while spending time marking all the errors — using a red and white pen of course.

Perhaps best of all, as an added bonus for the student body at large, Sexton would have less time available to bother others who are actually trying to learn by doing, which includes the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.

This is the only idea I would bother pursuing. I just can’t recommend spending too much time getting involved in fights between government school employees when there is way too much available out here in the real world for teens genuinely interested in communication and journalism.

I understand they may feel trapped in regards to obtaining credits for their future goals, so I can’t blame them for jumping through the hoops and doing what they need to do, but past that I really encourage teenagers to spend their free time educating themselves.

Teenagers interested in journalism are old enough and smart enough to get out here and jump right in if they wish. It’s so easy and cheap to start your own journalism experimental lab nowadays — one of the easiest is to create a blog using freely available software.

In addition, there are many places to learn about journalism, much of it available for free. I almost missed my deadline because I lost track of time browsing all the resources available online for anyone wanting to learn about journalism.

In an environment where people share information about current events in real time and any cell phone camera can be used to produce video news content, teenagers know that the controls desired by this principal, such as the three-day prior review, would teach them little, if anything of value for a world that is moving at increasing speed.

No one knows how the journalism field will continue to change as technology moves forward.

So my message to teens is to go ahead and do what you need to do to get the credit if you must. But I strongly suggest you spend your free time actually practicing journalism outside of that system.

If you think you need help getting started, let me know. I’ll be happy to share the resources I’ve found and volunteer my time to help you in any way I can. You’ll find out soon enough you don’t need me anyway.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is quite the expert at making mistakes but she’s still working on actually learning from them.

Monday, August 22, 2011

More on the Critical Analysis of War

HARBESON: Some deep thinking about war

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I hesitated before submitting last week’s column wondering whether medals and commemorations may stifle the critical analysis of war. I knew it would probably upset some people and it did.

However, I’m glad I pushed on because I received a very interesting letter from Mr. Sanford “Sandy” Kelson, a veteran who was not upset.

Mr. Kelson was born in 1944 and joined the U. S. Army in 1963. He explains why:

“When I was growing up, my education caused me to believe certain things. Education is not just what you learn in school. It’s what you learn at home, from TV, newspapers, the movies, from music, art, etc. I got a consistent message from all these sources. I learned that we Americans were special. We were better than others. Our form of government was the best; our economic system was the best; our leaders were more intelligent and just; we were more honest, smarter, more trustworthy and brave. God was on our side ...

“So, in 1963, young and patriotic, I enlisted in the U.S. Army for a three year tour of duty ...”

He became a sergeant in charge of a 10-man machine gun squad and although his outfit ended up going to Vietnam, Kelson himself did not. He continued:

“Just before my outfit was due to be shipped out, my commanding officer, a captain, summoned me to his office. He explained that since I had less than 90 days remaining in my three-year tour of duty that I would not be going to Vietnam. My orders were changed from going to Vietnam to being discharged from the Army and being shipped back home to Pittsburgh, Penn., to safety, to the bosom of my family, while my outfit, my buddies, would be going to Vietnam, into harm’s way. I was so naive and stupid that I had no idea what this would mean to me later on.

“After I got home, I started getting letters from my friends who were in Vietnam. The letters told of horror after horror.”

He shared stories about several men from his outfit who were killed or permanently injured. The stories in his email are extremely gory and unpleasant. But, I’m glad he sent them; we should all learn the gory and unpleasant details of war.

He then shared another letter:

“A buddy wrote and said, Sandy, everybody here hates us. I wondered, how could any of them hate us? My friends were dying to protect them from communism, from the North. We were spending billions of dollars in Vietnam. How could they hate us? We were the good guys, we wore the white hats. I was confused. Things didn’t add up. I began to critically think — possibly, for the first time in my life. Up until then, I had believed what I had been told by my government on faith. Faith is the belief in something for which there is no proof. I started going to the library and I read everything I could on Vietnam …”

“I have been speaking to students to tell them my story. I ask that students do not take what I say as truth. If students do, then, in a way, I will have done to them what others did to me as a young person … I ask that you not accept what anybody tells you as truth. Not your parents, not your teachers, not your religious leaders. You must explore, by reading, discussing and critically thinking and find your own truth and then to act on it for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, our brothers and sisters.”

There is much, much more in Mr. Kelson’s email. If you think it’s time you started taking a deeper, more critical look at war, let me know and I will be happy to forward his letter to you.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is hoping to wear out her index finger pushing the forward button on her computer this week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The (Purple) Heart of the Matter

HARBESON: The honor in war

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I’ve been thinking a lot about war lately. This is partly due to the U.S. Postal Service’s government-granted monopoly on delivering first-class mail.

See, I recently discovered that the stamps with the odd shape I’ve been using for a while, and slapping on envelopes upside down, are commemorating the Purple Heart. As most of you probably already know, the Purple Heart is an attempt to make us all feel better about the damage done to individuals who were unlucky enough to get physically wounded or killed by our nation-state’s involvement in various wars.

I think it makes a lot of sense to try to do something to acknowledge what has happened to these people and to their families. What concerns me is how such actions may contribute to the continuation of war.

Medals and commemorations worry me because they create an atmosphere of automatic hero-worship over the critical analysis of a given war. Growing up with memorials and commemorations helps build the belief that American wars are always moral. This has led to acceptance of actions from politicians that go far beyond any sensible understanding of defense.

Awards such as the Purple Heart are used by the government to promote abstract moral ideas like honor, glory and service to the country. But little, if any, attention is given to the effectiveness of using violence as a means to resolve conflict.

Ever since the phrase “greatest generation” was embedded in our culture, I’ve always thought it was strange how we talk about our aging veterans as if they all voluntarily consented to join the military. The way our society pretends that all veterans were willing to go kill people in other countries on behalf of this country hides the real dissent that existed in all wars fought.

People were still being conscripted into military service as recently as 1972 and I wonder how some draftees or families feel about the Purple Heart. Does a medal ease the burn or does it further inflame the horrific injustice?

When the draft ended, advertising on behalf of military service began almost immediately. This happened at nearly the same time the government created a law banning some cigarette advertising because, well, those things can kill you.

As Americans, it’s relatively easy to go about our daily lives insulated from the horror of war. We’d have to work hard to even imagine what it would be like to have another country’s military camping on top of the Knobs, claiming to be there in the name of freedom while at the same time killing our children.

So is it possible to hand out medals to soldiers and their families without glorifying war at the same time?

I noticed that the town of Clarksville plans to spend money on “improvements and additions” to its war memorial and the low bid was more than $300,000. Governments spend a lot of money memorializing war; that in itself may be one clue that it might not be a good idea.

Maybe the best we can do is stop focusing war commemoration activities on our singular perspective. Perhaps every time war is memorialized, mourning should include all the human deaths that occurred, the soldiers and the involuntarily conscripted on both sides, as well as the civilians who live in the country where the battles occur who just happened to be born on the wrong piece of dirt at the wrong time in history.

People should certainly be able to empathize with the helplessness felt by families who live in the countries the United States invades. After all, despite the claim on having greater freedom to control the government Americans live under, it still seems impossible to get the politicians, Democratic or Republican, to stop playing their war games.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson wonders if a day will come when a private entity creates a stamp commemorating the end of government.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

More Talk About ISTEP Testing

HARBESON: Playing the percentages

SELLERSBURG — A couple of weeks ago when this newspaper reported on local government schools’ ISTEP testing, I said it made me yawn because the results bear little relationship to my definition of learning.

So when I saw the ISTEP report on Southern Indiana’s two government charter schools, I prepared for a nice nap. However, I was jolted awake by the justifications both charters used to defend their inadequate scores.

Like me, Community Montessori administrators don’t put much stock in ISTEP scores because the learning that occurs in a Montessori environment would not necessarily show up on a standardized test meant for traditional schools. They believe if they did teach in a way that focused on standardized testing, then it wouldn’t be a Montessori school.

But since the school is government funded, it has to accept the strings attached and as a result it spent 20 percent of its time on improving ISTEP scores. So is it really a Montessori school any longer? I suppose we can say it is an 80 percent Montessori school, which is better than any number less than that point. But how much does a 20 percent change affect the philosophical goals?

Take a moment and pick something you value, such as your income, your family or maybe even the number of hours you sleep. Now, if you suddenly lost 20 percent, would anything change? For example, if your spouse suddenly went from being 100 percent faithful to 80 percent faithful, would you still define your relationship as a marriage?

What if we could ask Maria Montessori if she would accept 20 percent less focus on her philosophy? How do you think she might respond?

Of course, the most important person to consider in regards to the 20 percent marker is the actual learner. If a child has to spend time being molded to fit inside a government-imposed test, can we even measure the potential damage this might have on his ability to truly absorb Montessori values about learning?

Now, Rock Creek Community Academy probably doesn’t have it quite as bad. It’s true they had to dump their religious principles to grab government money, but they were already believers in the traditional school model of domination and control, so submitting to the authority of government-imposed testing is not really out of their boundaries.

However, even though the schools are quite different in philosophy, what I found most interesting in their comments is that they both claim to value the growth of the whole child over training skills for a government test. This is a fine goal, but what set my alarm buzzing was both schools’ direct claim on teaching moral development.

These two charter schools have a problem if they want to claim authority to teach moral and character-driven approaches because they are stuck in a moral contradiction of their own — accepting other people’s money taken by force in order to fund what they do.

That’s a tough enough moral quandary for traditional government schools, but these charters have it even worse because they both previously operated in the voluntary market. What is their lesson?

Well, if you are struggling to persuade people to voluntarily fund what you do, then it’s OK to use government to force people to fund it.

ISTEP might make me yawn, but I’m awake enough to realize it wouldn’t be right to lie down and pretend not to notice when ANY entity that uses aggression and coercion claims that their first priority is to teach the moral and character development of children.

I trust that those who believe in these schools and the values they claim to hold will seriously consider the contradictions here. I know it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for me, too, because I have personal connections to good people involved in these schools.

But that does not give me an excuse to ignore basic contradictions and not challenge them when I hear them. That just wouldn’t be right — even 20 percent of the time.

— Southern Indiana resident Debbie Harbeson says that when she loses 20 percent of her sleep time, it’s always a nightmare, particularly for the people around her.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Does fitness matter for police?

HARBESON: Is this a stronger union?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Note to readers: I’m about to discuss the Jeffersonville Police Union’s contract battle with the city concerning minimum physical standard requirements. I know I’m going to be tempted to mention doughnuts but I want to meet a higher standard for this job. That’s why I’ve imposed the following physical requirement: When I’m tempted to mention doughnuts, I’ll stop writing and run laps around my yard until the feeling goes away.

Why are Jeffersonville police officers so uptight about minimum physical standard requirements in their union contract? Prior to following this controversy, I thought that meeting physical standards on a periodic basis was just a logical part of a police officer’s job.

As I understand the main disagreement, the police union does not want failure to meet these minimum physical standards to be grounds for termination. They think this requirement is punitive and they apparently don’t believe punitive measures work well to motivate and direct human behavior, or at least police officer behavior. They obviously have no problem with punitive measures as an effective means of controlling and directing behavior for the rest of society.

At one point in the negotiations, it was agreed that police officers would not immediately be let go if they failed to meet the minimum physical requirements. Instead, union members would be given three chances to pass and meet the age-graded standards.

In other words, police officers were going to be held to a three strikes and you’re out standard and they didn’t like that at all.

So even though various changes have been proposed about meeting fitness standards, the union has remained firm in its position and it wants any physical standard requirement to be incentive-based. Union members would like a specific reward, such as a monetary bonus, for meeting the minimum standards.

But the purpose of incentives is to spur action and motivate someone to perform at a level significantly above and beyond minimum standards; not for maintaining the basic minimum for the job.

It seems so odd to me that the police union members would balk at demonstrating a minimum standard of physical ability. Where is the sense of pride in themselves and respect for the community that pays their salaries?

I know police officers don’t necessarily think this way because they are used to dealing with those who pay them from a monopoly-based standpoint. I can imagine how different this all might be if they actually had to persuade people to purchase their services in the voluntary market.

Think about it. Instead of being coerced to fund city police, what if you had the freedom to choose from a variety of protection services? (Assuming you wanted to hire one at all.)

Do you think minimum physical standards would be on your list of criteria to consider as you made your decision?

Even when we only consider activities where police officers actually assist peaceful citizens who may be in need, and ignore possible dealings with dangerous (and fit) criminals, it still seems wise to make sure that police maintain minimum physical condition. No one wants to see police officers become part of the story because they let themselves go so much that they were physically incapable of performing the job.

Rather than fighting minimum physical fitness standards as a contractual job requirement, what if the police officers had spent their time and energy for the past two years working to ensure that they and their fellow union members reached their minimum age-graded physical standards? Would any of them really need to worry about holding on to their jobs? If so, then I guess that’s all anyone needs to know.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson ran around her yard about 500 times while composing this column. Which means she now deserves a doughnut.