Saturday, November 17, 2012

Time to Move Forward

HARBESON: That's all I have to say about that

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I have important news to share with you this week. It’s either good news or bad news, depending on your perspective. As of today, I will no longer be writing a weekly column for this paper.

No, I did not have an affair. I don’t even have a biographer. I’ve simply decided I’m ready to move on.

For some time now, I’ve been writing with a very specific underlying theme in mind. Ever since I reached the conclusion that following the non-aggression principle, respecting private property and engaging in voluntary interactions are preferable to government force, I have been attempting to analyze local issues and conflicts from this voluntaryist perspective.

We will never be able to create ideas that will help us lessen conflicts with each other as long as people continue to accept the legitimacy of pointing the government gun at each other to get what we want. That’s simply not going to work in the long run.

So from the standpoint of that philosophy, I have tried my best to critically analyze and question everything surrounding government, especially the messages put forth by politicians who have been pushing this propaganda in an attempt to maintain their power for far too long.

I’m at the point now where I have said all I can say about these ideas.

In addition, I’m just worn out. I don’t know how other writers do it, but for me, it takes a very long time to produce a column. Perhaps I’m a perfectionist and tend to over-analyze, but I find I must spend lots of time, an embarrassing amount of time actually, crafting each column to my satisfaction. Even after all the time spent, I still think I could have done better.

I don’t know why but I’m just not a very efficient writer. I need time to let an idea brew in my mind and a weekly deadline means that I sometimes find myself not fully present in my actual life. I am getting to the point where it’s too much of a chore to put the effort to produce a product I am proud of and respect my readers too much to just “phone it in.”

Ending my current relationship with this paper does not mean I will stop writing though, particularly since writing helps me learn and grow. I will probably be writing for more specific audiences — people who already understand and share similar underlying philosophies.

This will likely happen in the area of education, mostly because that’s where I have the personal experience. As a matter of fact, our family’s experience of really living outside of government control by deciding to home educate is what started me down the path of understanding the benefits that can accrue when individuals, even young children, are given lots of freedom to learn and grow.

I would like to thank News and Tribune Editor Shea Van Hoy for giving me the opportunity to take up space here every Thursday and for granting me the freedom to say the things I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say them. I know he’s caught hell more than once after publishing my opinions.

I also want to thank the readers. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all of your responses, both positive and negative, and I appreciate everyone who took the time and energy to send comments and reactions to the opinions I’ve shared on this page.

One final point for those who may be glad to see me go: I wouldn’t celebrate too hard because who knows, I may return sometime in the future with a guest column if something happens to rile me up enough.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson took an embarrassingly long time to write this final signature line. You can take an embarrassingly long time to write her at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pondering A Serious Family Issue

HARBESON: Play the name game

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Let’s face it. Even if you feel like there is a candidate worth voting for, the final week leading up to a presidential election is annoying. Newspapers, electronic media, direct mail, phone calls and yard signs blast political messages constantly. The only way to even come close to avoiding the bombardment is to leave the country — which is exactly what I did this year.

It was an excellent plan. I thoroughly enjoyed not having to hear the politician’s distortions, outright lies and promises that can’t possibly be kept. Once we were out of the country, the air was clear, crisp and almost devoid of election pollution. I could finally take deep breaths without gagging and my sinuses even cleared up.

The trip wasn’t all fun and games though. I did have a particularly serious family issue to think about while on this trip. Apparently, I am going to be a grandma, whether I want to or not. Don’t get me wrong, I want my daughter and son-in-law to have a baby, really I do. I am very excited and happy about it. I just don’t want to be a grandma.

Well, to be more precise, it’s not that I don’t want to be a grandma. I do. It’s just that I don’t want to be called by that name. I’m sorry but no matter how much I think about it, the name just doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Instead, every time I say the word, another joint starts aching, cracking and popping.

There are those who say I can’t control this anyway and the kid will figure out for him or herself what he or she will call me. But I’m telling you now if the kid tries to call me grandma, I’m just not going to answer.

Yes, I realize that might backfire because he or she will just assume I’ve lost my hearing but I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway. Maybe I can’t control getting older but by golly, I will have some control over my name.

Yeah, yeah I know what you’re thinking. I’ve heard it before — you think that when the little tyke begins to talk, I just won’t care anymore. But you’re wrong. Despite Shakespeare’s beautiful poetic prose about the sweetness of that rose, grandma as a name simply stinks as far as I’m concerned.

Look, I don’t mean to insult those of you who really like to be called grandma. If you love it, that’s great, grandma.

When my daughter, son-in-law and husband realized how strongly I felt about this, they started throwing out lots of alternative suggestions, all of which I rejected because they were just more euphemisms which said to me, “Look old lady, you are a grandma so just shut up and deal with it.”

So after they finished with their barrage of mi-mi’s, gi-gi’s and lady ga-ga’s, I said, “Can’t the kid just call me Debbie?”

In reply my daughter said, “Well, why don’t you poll the readers of your column and see what they think?”

What a great idea, an actual poll about something important for a change!

So, what do you think? Shall the name Debbie be retained by, well, Debbie to be used even by her grandchildr ... I mean, her children’s children?

If you do not think they should call me Debbie then feel free to offer alternative write-in candidates. Send your vote to the email listed below.

Oh and maybe it goes without saying but any write-ins for “grandma” will be thrown out immediately so don’t even try to stuff the ballot box. However, I will not be checking IDs so go ahead and vote as many times as you like.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is now accepting all votes and suggestions for alternatives to the name grandma at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: John Goodman's "Priceless"

HARBESON: Learning more about health care

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A couple of months ago, a reader contacted me and suggested I review a book that he thought more people should know about. I had previously read a few articles from the author which intrigued me so I agreed. The book’s topic covers what is arguably the most important service/product everyone purchases at some point — health care.

Everyone has at least one personal story about health care that left them feeling frustrated. Medical professionals and patients feel trapped by the current system. Various third parties (government, huge insurance corporations and employers) are so deeply involved in the process that normal market forces don’t even come into play. As my friend noted in his initial email, “What other service or product do we engage the services of without knowing what the price is?”

This book, titled “Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis,” was written by John Goodman, an economist who is sometimes referred to as the “father of Health Savings Accounts.” Goodman has been deeply involved in the study of the health care system and has spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve it. After reading this book, which is loaded with footnotes and references, I can’t say I have a complete handle on this complex topic but I’m certainly more informed.

One aspect of health care that has always puzzled me is how health insurance developed in a way that it often isn’t insurance at all, at least in the traditional sense of being a product offered to protect against a possible and unpredictable catastrophic event.

Goodman writes: “Most people in health policy view health insurance as just a way to pay medical bills. This book is one of the very few places in all of the health policy literature where you will find a defense of the idea that there is a social need for real health insurance. It is also one of the few places you will find an argument that we need a real market for health risks to determine the best way to insure against them and to determine what is the best way to partition insurance products between self-insurance and third-party insurance.”

Goodman’s book examines how interference in the health market has created perverse incentives as patients, doctors, insurers and other third parties try to make it all work. Professional licensing laws, tax laws, labor laws and employee benefit laws have created unintended consequences which have played a large part in creating the health care system we see today.

These artificial laws create an atmosphere that attempts to defy and ignore economic laws. No matter how much we may want to, we simply can’t avoid basic economics. One of the best examples of this is the problem of pre-existing conditions. Goodman points out that “Most of the time, the problem of pre-existing conditions arises precisely because health insurance isn’t portable.”

The reason it’s not portable is because of laws interfering with market forces.

Interference in the market has changed the very idea of insurance in regards to health.

Goodman explains: “The casualty insurance market is a real market in which real insurance is bought and sold. The health insurance market, by contrast, is an artificial market in which the product being exchanged is not real insurance at all. To a large extent, it is prepayment for the consumption of health care.”

He goes on to explain how this has created many problems leading to the huge increases we have seen in health care costs. One of the most interesting statistics Goodman notes is that spending on health care has much less effect on mortality than we think: “Studies show almost no relationship between aggregate spending on health and population mortality. Lifestyle, environment and genes have far more influence on life expectancy than anything doctors and hospitals are doing.”

He also talks about equality in health care and mentions many studies done in Britain and Canada that show the poor still do not get the access and quality of care that everyone hoped. Britain even has a term for one aspect of the inequality that comes from location: “postcode lottery.”

My favorite chapter in this book was “Designing Ideal Health Insurance.” Starting from scratch and taking all the interference out, he asks the reader to think through the process of how 1,000 people might set up a health care plan that works. In addition, when discussing problems to consider he adds this point: “Since all agreements are voluntary in this imagined scenario, coercion is not an option.”

Although he doesn’t really take this idea through to the end (he appears to be more focused on reforming the current system) anyone who tries to help people think about social issues from a voluntary standpoint is certainly on a better track than most.

So if you are interested in learning more about health care, including how you will be affected by the Affordable Care Act, you may want to read this book.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would love to see a health care plan where coercion is not a pre-existing condition.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cast of Characters in Clark County Government

This week's column:

 HARBESON: M*A*S*H, Clark County style

I have to admit that I’m having trouble following the latest episode in the ongoing saga that is Clark County government. Was property improperly sold to a commissioner’s daughter? Did her father know about it? Did Erika’s long lost twin-sister’s deceased ex-husband come back from the dead?

Oh sorry, I think that one is from another soap opera. Maybe what I should do for now is see if I can just sort out the cast of characters.

To help put all of this together, I’m going to match them to characters in the television show M*A*S*H. The inspiration for this idea came from Clark County Commissioner Les “Col. Potter” Young. When asked about details surrounding his signing over deeds to a fellow commissioner’s daughter, he introduced M*A*S*H into this controversy by claiming that he may be the victim of the “Radar Treatment.”

He was apparently referring to County Attorney Greg “Radar” Fifer, since he was the person who presented the deeds to Young for his signature. “Radar” Fifer agrees that “Col. Potter” Young may not have completely understood the “significance of the deeds he was signing.”

Fifer has an even bigger part to play in this particular episode. The commissioners say they were following his specific recommendation to handle the sale of some of the private properties that did not receive bids during a 2010 tax sale.

According to the News and Tribune report, there were a total of 182 properties left over and Fifer recommended that the commissioners use a company called SRI Inc. which specializes in tax sales. However for some as of yet unknown reason, Fifer recommended they use this option for 130 of the properties. For the other properties, he recommended using a local law firm, one where he just happens to be a partner.

In addition, he may have made mistakes in following government regulations for advertising the properties. In the article, Fifer said, “I’m not perfect. Maybe I made a mistake, I don’t know.”

This is not a problem though because if he did make any mistakes that may end up costing the county money, surely he’ll step up, say he’s accountable for his actions, and take responsibility. After all, that’s exactly what he thinks Attorney Jack Vissing should do in regards to mistakes Fifer says Vissing made concerning the fiasco over property purchased for the Clark County airport.

But enough about “Radar,” next up in our cast of Clark County characters is Commissioner Ed “Maj. Frank Burns” Meyer. On the television show, Maj. Burns often hurled confusing comments at people who confronted him with questions about his actions. Similarly, when Meyer was asked to give his daughter’s contact information during a commissioner’s meeting, he said, “Don’t mess with my family.”

Meyer certainly is under no obligation to give out anyone’s contact information, but what is that comment supposed to mean? How is asking for contact information messing with someone’s family?

Meyer says that his daughter has the same right as any other adult citizen to bid on property. That’s true, and just like any other individual who wants to try to make a buck by taking advantage of tax sales on property claimed by government, she moves out into the public realm. Meyer cannot possibly be surprised that there might be increased scrutiny when a government entity makes property transactions with a close relative of a county executive, particularly if regulations on handling the sale may not have been followed properly.

To complete the cast, I should mention the third county commissioner, John Perkins. However I don’t think Perkins can be thought of as a major character, considering how he got the part of county commissioner. Since he was chosen by a tiny caucus to fill a vacated seat, he may be more like one of those characters who only play bit part and then go away, never to return again.

In addition, Perkins can’t be a main character in this episode because he says he has “no specific knowledge” about this deal. I believe him. After all, he’s been pretty busy handing out his own special benefits by ordering the county highway department to do work on his neighbor’s private property.

I don’t know, maybe Perkins should get higher billing because the more I think about it, he’s right there with the rest of them playing out the consistent underlying theme of any government show: Taking advantage of the power that comes with the monopoly on force.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson has noticed that even when the cast of characters change, the government show is still predictable re-runs.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Telling Big Bird the Truth

This week's column...

 HARBESON: What would Big Bird do?

CLARK COUNTY — This column is being brought to you by the letter “V.” V is the first letter of many wonderful words, but my favorite is voluntary. It’s not used much during political election seasons and is certainly not likely to be a word you’ll hear vociferously proclaimed during a presidential candidate debate — mostly because presidential debates are for discussing eight-foot tall yellow bird puppets.

Big Bird is a perfect symbol for politicians to exploit as they try to manipulate people in their quest to gain government power. Both parties benefit from the current hyper focus on their disagreement about funding this fowl because it keeps attention away from issues they heartily agree on, like the continued use and funding of other big birds, ones that are currently terrorizing, and sometimes killing, children.

Since they both endorse drones, the parties don’t want you to think about funding those big birds. They want you to focus on fighting with your American neighbor over funding the benign Big Bird.

But even that makes no sense. Why should the politicians be the ones to make any decisions about Big Bird? We should be asking Big Bird what he thinks.

I’m sure if someone on Sesame Street actually told Big Bird the truth and took the time to explain how the Corporation for Public Broadcasting [another example of the many bipartisan efforts from the 1960s] is funded, he would be shocked. From what I’ve seen, Big Bird is a peaceful fellow so once he learned the truth he surely would not want to accept any funds that were gained through threats of force.

Big Bird would want people to fund his work voluntarily, because they saw value. He wouldn’t be too worried about whether or not people would donate because he can see that many do so already. In addition, Big Bird and his buddies know how to sell lots and lots of branded products to children.

Big Bird would understand that not everyone will want to fund his work for a variety of reasons. He’d accept that some people prefer not to fund television shows like Sesame Street because they don’t care for passive learning and would prefer not to encourage parents to sit their young children in front of a blaring, flashing screen. He’d leave those people alone.

Big Bird would be annoyed that the Democrats want him to remain at least partially dependent on government funds and don’t want him to prove he can pay his own way. He’d be mad when he realized that they only want to use him to manipulate the voters so they can have control of government.

If some people tried to convince Big Bird that he should continue accepting the coerced funds because it’s a relatively small amount that he gets, he would hang his head in disappointment. He’d tell them the specific amount is not the point. To someone like Big Bird, principles matter.

Big Bird would behave like this because he cares about how others are treated. So of course he would think that each person should decide for themselves whether or not to fund a television show.

Once he learned the truth, once his eyes were opened, Big Bird couldn’t go back. He could never feel good accepting money that was taken without consent from people on Sunflower Street so it could be redistributed to Sesame Street.

Although Big Bird would be irritated at people who are trying to keep him down, he would still understand their anxiety because his success could really change the way things are done. If Big Bird really can fly on his own, everyone would have to consider how many other full or partially tax-funded operations could also do just fine without government involvement.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is still wondering how to get to Sesame Street.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Prominent and Notable?

This week's column...

 HARBESON: What the Internet thinks

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Over the years, people have slapped a wide variety of labels on me. I thought I was used to it, but over the last month, I received two letters that put me into a category so horrendous I’m having trouble sleeping at night. Although I don’t see how this label could be even close to accurate, it’s truly shaken me to my core.

I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, how bad can it be? She’s probably already been called every name in the book and deserved most of them so what’s one more?”

Well, you won’t say that when you learn what these letters said. We’re talking one scary label, people.

According to one of these letters, I am apparently “one of America’s most notable Republicans.” As if that’s not bad enough, two weeks later, a second letter arrived, saying I am also one of the Republican Party’s “most prominent members.”

How can that be? What did I do to deserve such an accusation? I can’t think of anything that could equal that. Well, except being called a prominent Democrat.

I’ve been working at least 47 percent of my brain trying to figure out how I became a notable and prominent Republican. Yes, it’s true that I’ve done things in my past I’m not proud of, but that was way back in the 1980s when I listened to Rush Limbaugh. You must understand — it was that, or ’80s music. I simply chose the lesser of two evils.

As usual, when something happens to me that I don’t like, the first person I blame is my husband. I desperately wanted to put this all on him. I checked his Internet history and saw a link titled “Conservative Boobs,” and thought we probably got on a list after he did that. However, when I confronted him, he claimed that was just an article describing the latest slate of candidates so that couldn’t have led to the letters.

The truth is though, that even before I talked to him, I knew he didn’t have anything to do with it. I knew the letters couldn’t be his fault because they are addressed to me only. They don’t even say “Mrs.” on them. Plus, he didn’t receive a copy of these letters.

I suppose they could have just made a mistake. Republicans are known to do that. Yes that must be it. I mean really, look at the photo next to this column, does anyone really think that’s what one of America’s most notable Republicans would look like?

What the Internet thinks

I’ll probably never know for sure if those letters give any real indication of what Republicans think but thanks to a new website, I can finally learn what the Internet thinks. WhattheInternetthinks.net is a site that will tell you what the Internet thinks about anything. Type in any word and it uses an algorithm to give you a result of, well, what the Internet thinks.

When you enter a search term, the site calculates and returns a percentage for three categories: negative, positive and indifferent. After calculating it also states a conclusion.

When I first encountered the site, those letters were still weighing heavily on my mind, so the first term I entered was “Republicans.” This term came out as 93.9 percent negative and the site’s conclusion was “The Internet is very negative about Republicans.” After that, I didn’t dare search for “prominent” or “notable” Republicans because I was afraid my laptop might explode.

I did decide to risk it and enter “Democrats” though. The site calculated that term to be 73.9 percent negative with the conclusion saying, “The Internet is negative about Democrats.”

I then typed in “government” which calculated to be 42.1 percent negative, the conclusion being “The Internet is negative about government, but only just.”

Next I decided to see how consistent this site is so I searched for a similar term, “Mafia.” That one came out as 59.5 percent negative, concluding “The Internet is negative about the Mafia.”

OK, so the site appears to be somewhat consistent, at least in how it views organizations that collect revenue through force.

What does the Internet think about “politicians?” After I asked, the site lit up again, saying 94.2 percent negative. Then I decided to search for “lawyer” and it was nearly a dead heat with 49.6 percent positive and 49.6 percent negative and .8 percent indifferent. So the conclusion for lawyers was, “It seems the Internet cannot decide what to make of lawyers.”

Neither can I, Internet, neither can I.

Finally I tried one last search, “voluntaryism.” That term came out as 100 percent positive, with the site concluding, “The Internet is absolutely positive about voluntaryism.”

Me too, Internet, me too.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is very glad to learn that “the Internet is absolutely positive about big butts.”

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Proof that anarchy is more peaceful than government

HARBESON: Great debate: Bumper stickers or license plates?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — People love to share messages and make personal statements by slapping bumper stickers on the backs of their cars. As we drive around and read bumper stickers we can learn a lot about a person, assuming the bumper sticker was placed there by the current owner.

We can discover important distinctions, such as whether someone is a cat person or a dog person. Name the subject or issue and you can find a bumper sticker about it. There’s probably even a bumper sticker out there somewhere that says “down with bumper stickers.”

The messages displayed on one’s car can sometimes be quite controversial and yet rarely do we hear about them being the direct cause of a conflict with others. Since everyone enjoys the same freedom to control the privately owned areas on their cars, people can and do tolerate differences and co-exist peacefully.

However, there’s one space on your car that is not so peaceful. Although it’s a relatively tiny space, measuring a mere 12 inches by 6 inches, it’s been the cause of huge conflicts. I’m talking of course about your government-issued license plate.

This tiny space, this piece of metal the government requires that you screw into the rear end of your car, became a source of conflict shortly after the government started issuing specialty plates intended to help raise funds for nonprofit organizations. The problem was easily predicted because anytime the government controls any boundaries, although they claim that their existence in the area brings peace, in reality it often only brings conflict.

Last year, people who didn’t agree with the messages being promoted by some groups began to moan and complain because those groups were being allowed to raise funds and spread their message on government property. These people were never concerned about the government handing out this special benefit as long as they had no problem with the organization’s message.

As a result of this controversy, arguments arose about who should be allowed to use the government property to raise funds and promote their cause and who shouldn’t. After the BMV found a way to remove one particularly controversial nonprofit from the program, it caused even more controversy.

So now specialty plates are suddenly a “big problem” which means politicians now “need” to work on “fixing” the situation. Indiana’s government has already spent time and money on a legislative interim study committee created specifically for this issue and they met early this month.

The politicians are spitting out their usual controlling language, saying specialty plates are a good idea but there just needs to be “tighter regulations” and “more oversight.”

This type of language almost always translates directly into more money being spent as the government defines, creates and administers current and new regulations. This will not only add to the bureaucracy but it will very likely also lead to costly lawsuits. [There have already been lawsuits over specialty plates before last year’s brouhaha began.]

Many people don’t have much problem with specialty plates particularly because the folks who get them pay $40 extra and the money goes to the nonprofit. Well, not all of it — $15 goes to the government for, you know, “administrative fees.”

To me, it makes much more sense to simply buy a $2 bumper sticker and donate $38 to the organization, removing the government completely from the transaction.

It’s very likely though, that plenty of time will be spent during this winter’s legislative session fussing about specialty license plates. Many nonprofits have become dependent on this form of government assistance and will fight to keep it. To remain relevant, politicians will fan the fires and push opposing groups against each other.

This issue is a great example to use to critically examine whether or not what you’ve been told all your life about governments is really true. The next time you are sitting in a traffic jam looking at bumper stickers and license plates, ask yourself this question — which area is more peaceful, the boundary that exists in a state of market anarchy, or the boundary that is controlled by government?

Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson has no bumper stickers on her car because she likes to keep her opinions to herself.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Evaluating Government School Teachers

HARBESON: There’s a lesson to be taught here

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Why are so many government school teachers upset at the idea of being at least partly evaluated according to the test scores of the students they are supposed to be teaching? Isn’t that their job — to cram government-mandated curriculum into each child’s brain so they can pass a government-approved test?

Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students makes perfect sense considering the factory-style setup of the school system. Each widget, I mean student, moves along the assembly line and is molded according to strict specifications set by the administrators and politicians who control these government school factories.

So it’s certainly logical to verify whether or not the student-widgets match the specs before they move farther along the conveyor belt to the next laborer who performs the next step in the process.

How can government school teachers complain about this? After all, by accepting these jobs, they are actively supporting the factory model of education and if a one-size-fits-all evaluation is valid for the students then why shouldn’t the teachers also be judged on the one-size-fits-all evaluation method?

If the kids have to endure year after year of standardized testing, shouldn’t the teachers, who dutifully play their part in this compulsorily funded scheme (happily collecting the pay and benefits), also have to endure being evaluated according to how well the students do on these things?

Teachers do not think it’s fair to be evaluated on how the student performs on the test because there could be lots of reasons why a child might not do well. They don’t want to be judged based on the performance of another individual.

Yet teachers themselves push a common “real life” lesson on the students — group projects. I’ve heard many people complain about group projects they were forced to do in school. Everyone seems to have a story about a member of a group who did not do well with his or her part of the project and brought the final score down for everyone in the group. If this is valid “real life” experience for the students, then why isn’t it for the teachers? They’re all in this together, right?

The most common defense I’ve heard lately about kids who don’t do well is that it’s the parents’ fault. They are uninvolved, don’t care and don’t cooperate. This may indeed be a valid concern. But if it is, then the teachers can’t have it both ways. If they want to place the blame for low scores on the parents then they must also place the credit for good scores on the parents.

It’s one thing for teachers to say they don’t want to be evaluated in this manner and another for them to use unions and attempt to create barriers to prevent experimenting with this option. The whole idea of government unions is contradictory anyway. These unions are not fighting against “the man” — some capitalist pig of a business owner — they are merely making further demands on taxpayers who are already being coerced to pay their salaries in the first place.

However, there does not have to be a one-size-fits-all answer to the task of teacher evaluation. If we separated education from government and opened it up to the voluntary market, people who think standardized testing works well and would like to see teachers directly evaluated on those test results could set up and fund an organization built on that foundation. Those who don’t think standardized testing promotes learning could create and fund their own alternatives.

True education is unique to each individual and there are many different needs and desires within families. The most respectful way to help each family meet those needs is to set education free from government control so a wide variety of educational philosophies can flourish and compete. This would create unlimited benefits to society as education in general grows much stronger, healthier and more dynamic.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is tired of smelling the stagnant, stale air of government run factories called schools.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Does Government Enhance Quality of Life?

HARBESON: Quality is job one

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — New Albany City Council member Dan Coffey recently introduced a resolution to move city council discretionary funds to the Board of Public Works and Safety. When questioned by other council members for specifics as to how the money will be spent, Coffey said the money is intended for “quality of life” purposes.

This really confused several members and no wonder. “Quality of life” is one of those fluffy, fuzzy phrases politicians love to utter when they don’t want to answer a question. When pushed further though, Coffey did offer up an example — a recent “Beach Day” where the fire department turned on its hoses so kids in public housing facilities could splash in the water.

So I guess quality of life has something to do with being wet. That does make some sense and not just for kids. I know many men who would say their quality of life definitely goes up when women in T-shirts get wet.

Seriously though, if asked, we know the examples people would offer up as quality of life issues would be virtually unlimited. When it comes right down to it, quality of life is one of those vague terms that can vary widely between individuals. Your determination of quality of life may agree with mine and it may not.

For example I like to get up early and go on bike rides. But I know others who would rather go out dancing, stay up all night and sleep in. Still others don’t care if they have to get up early or stay up late, as long as they can see wet women in T-shirts.

Isn’t it contradictory for government entities to take your money through threats of force and then tell you they are going to spend it to improve your quality of life? Wouldn’t your quality of life go up if they just got out of the way so you can determine for yourself how to give your life quality? Isn’t quality of life built on a foundation of mutually respectful voluntary relationships with others — relationships without coercion and threats of violence?

Even with projects that we have been told are “necessary and proper” functions of government, it’s impossible to definitively determine quality of life to everyone’s satisfaction. For example, just last week a recent letter to the editor in this paper was from a New Albany resident who claims that the quality of life in the city will go up if all of the city government roads were two-way instead of one-way.

When the questioning members of the city council continued to push Coffey for specifics, he finally said, “You know what, figure it out.”

What does that mean? It can’t mean he really wants them to determine quality of life purposes because at a subsequent meeting the issue came up again when discussing the city’s portion of costs for a new air conditioner for the City-County Building.

Coffey said that would not be a quality of life issue and in response a council person said it is for the people who work in the building. That’s probably true, particularly if they also get the fire department in there to spray any woman wearing T-shirts.

Of course, we must remember that both sides are really just concerned about who gets control of other people’s money. After all, those skeptical, questioning council members who voted against the funds being moved do not appear to object to the concept of a discretionary fund. Yet a “discretionary” fund is as equally confusing, fluffy and fuzzy for a city council when it comes to determining “proper” spending.

At some point during the discussions about this money, it was mentioned that spending it on the upcoming city bicentennial celebration would be a nice quality of life expenditure. What do you think? Does government spending on items like bicentennial celebrations really improve anyone’s quality of life or is it just a local example of bread and circuses meant to appease and deflect from the reality that these people are bickering over spending money that no one gave them voluntarily?

— Southern Indiana resident Debbie Harbeson knows that if her T-shirt ever gets wet, it would probably not enhance anyone’s quality of life.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Smell of Wealth Redistribution

HARBESON: In federal money we trust

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — People who are concerned about government spending usually point out problems such as cost overruns and waste in a given government project. However, it’s also important to pay attention to the “add-ons,” which are what I call side projects that increase spending and go beyond the scope of the original government plan.

The city of Jeffersonville just gave an excellent example of how these “add-ons” work. Mayor Mike Moore proudly announced that the city will be receiving a $250,000 Main Street Revitalization Grant which will be used to pay for costs associated with redeveloping a block of roadway next to the proposed Big Four Station, which in itself is an “add-on” to the original Big Four pedestrian bridge plan.

Big Four Station, the park Jeffersonville wants to build at the end of the bridge ramp, is supposed to be funded with TIF funding, which would come from city taxpayers. However, the second “add-on” to redevelop the roadway will be using money coerced from people all across the nation.

Many people don’t realize that Main Street Revitalization Grants actually come from the federal government because there is another layer of government at the state level that is in charge of redistributing the funding. In Indiana, this layer of government bureaucracy is called the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (which I always thought had something to do with marital infidelity).

This state bureaucracy distributes Community Development Block Grant money, which is a part of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a program that was passed under a Republican administration in the supposedly great bipartisan days gone by.

If you read up on the Main Street Revitalization Program, you will see that the eligible national objective of this federal government welfare program is the “prevention and elimination of slums and blight.”

I don’t know how these government redistribution schemes work, but Jeffersonville tried to get at this money before and was turned down.

I also don’t know how bureaucrats make decisions in how they will dole out money to the supposedly needy communities but if eliminating blight is a primary objective I guess it couldn’t have hurt the second time around that several homes in the area which had been purchased by the city have been left sitting there, boarded up and unoccupied, which of course led to various problems that could certainly cause the area to be defined as blighted.

The main reason city officials want to develop this block is so they can push pedestrians and pedal pumpers to their downtown shopping district. I’m not sure why a sign or two purchased by the businesses who would like to market to those people couldn’t suffice to direct potential shoppers a block or two away from where they roll down the ramp.

Will there really be the influx of consumers just panting and sweating in anticipation of what they can purchase in Jeffersonville? Most people who cross are likely just interested in finding their way to the river, where they can continue to walk or bike along the water. The river-crossers won’t even necessarily be needing any refreshments because the Waterfront Development Corp. plans to sell licenses to vendors, giving them special “permission” to sell stuff very close or perhaps even right on the bridge itself.

One other point that is often lost when communities celebrate being “awarded” these types of grants is the part they play in increasing the ongoing costs of maintenance and security of more and more government property.

Oh but maybe that doesn’t matter — if the costs get to be too much and the community gets run down and blighted, the federal government will probably just give them even more money to revitalize the area.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson wonders if there is a federal program that pays for revitalization cream to eliminate the blight of aging skin.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Indiana State Police Marijuana Eradication Team

HARBESON: Weed it and weep

JEFFERSONVILLE — The Indiana State Police has a very special team of people performing very special work this time of year. Dressed in camouflage, these government employees get paid to traipse around Southern Indiana counties and pull weeds out of the ground.

The ISP’s Marijuana Eradication Team wants you to believe this is important work. Somehow every pot plant they manage to successfully creep up on and wrestle to the ground makes your community safer. See, it’s these green leafy stalks that put communities in danger of violence, not the black market created by the government’s prohibition on voluntary trade of this particular agricultural product.

The weeds these guys get paid to hunt down are usually hidden inside corn fields, which is so ironic considering how important corn was as an ingredient in illegal products distilled during alcohol prohibition. Yet now it’s perfectly fine if these fellows, thirsty from a hard day’s work among the vegetation, decide to go out after work, probably around 4:20 or so, and throw down a few shots of corn-based whiskey, toasting themselves for eradicating a couple of marijuana plants.

There is a double irony to the prohibited pot plant being hidden inside corn fields. Corn has grown tall in the market due in part to lots of government favor over the years and the subsidized plant has been used to make a product known as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is used in loads of processed foods, which has enabled sugar addicts to obtain a cheap high, which has helped cause an increase in obesity, which can lead to many assorted health problems and even early death.

But hey, marijuana, that’s the bad stuff.

Oh and meanwhile, as this group of government employees is running around ripping roots, we find out that inmates inside several of Indiana’s prisons have been successfully operating a flourishing drug business while sitting in the government cages.

So while you are constantly being fed the baloney by one group of government agents that the government’s drug war is actually a positive action, other government agents are failing to control the drug trade even when they catch people, lock them up and force you to pay to house, clothe and feed them.

The only validity to pulling weeds that even comes close to actually looking like it could involve defending against aggression is the illegitimate use of a farmer’s land without his permission, which means the land owner’s property rights are being violated.

That thought doesn’t really take one very far though because the main reason the marijuana plant growers invade the farmers’ property in the first place is because of the government prohibition. So we’re back where we started — just like the Marijuana Eradication Team is back where it started when a new growing season rolls around.

Growing plants on other people’s property without their permission is not a big problem otherwise as far as I know. I don’t really hear stories about people clearing out parts of someone else’s corn field to grow a stash of tomatoes. We might if the government suddenly decided to prohibit tomatoes though wouldn’t we?

I don’t know what’s worse, paying these guys to weed someone’s garden or hearing them pontificate about their work in terms of the supposed street value (a distorted price created by prohibition) of the plants they confiscate and pretending that slicing a few stalks is doing much of anything to stop the marijuana drug trade.

There is good news though. Despite the fact that the people who make money off of prohibition keep trying, fewer and fewer people are willing to inhale the government propaganda that groups like the Marijuana Eradication Team use to justify their jobs.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is thinking about forming a Government Eradication Team.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Few Thoughtful Responses

Harbeson: Tales from the mailbag

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Today, I would like to share and respond to a few thoughtful responses I’ve received in the past few months. The following is from Tammy, responding to a column I wrote in May about vouchers where I pointed out that true educational freedom cannot occur as long as government is involved:

“What you wrote makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, you might as well hear from someone who has a child using a school voucher. My daughter went to a local school in New Albany. The principal was distant and not very communicative whenever we came to the school to talk with her about our daughter. Our daughter has no learning disability. She’s shy, though, and tends to be overlooked. She’s one who falls through the cracks. And the principal would not listen to us and help out.

“We decided to get her out of the situation and applied for a voucher. Now our daughter is going to a Catholic school in New Albany. There, she is getting all kinds of attention and she finally thinks that school is enjoyable. She’s begun to improve her reading skills by leaps and bounds and she wasn’t afraid to take her ISTEP this year (unlike last year when she wanted to play hooky).”

“Vouchers really do help the kids. They help families help their own kids. They’re actually a good idea and I applaud Tony Bennett and any and every legislator and the governor who has supported them. In fact, I cannot thank them enough.”

• Tammy’s story shows us that some families’ lives can be dramatically changed and I personally know other families who have benefited from various school reforms. It’s only fair to acknowledge these heartwarming stories. However, any benefits that accrue to some people do not justify the continued use of threats and force against other people.

TAX TALK

The next item is a response from Joyce reacting to my claim that property taxes are rent.

“Debbie, by framing property tax as another government encroachment, you are creating a problem where there is none. Property tax, or whatever you call it, spreads the cost of important local public services: police, fire, schools, libraries, water, sewers, animal control, parks maintenance, road repair and trash pickup to name just a few.

“From this perspective, aren’t those of us who are lucky enough to own property doing our part to take care of our communities? Would you have every person pay a separate ‘user fee’ for each public service? And how would that play out each time you receive the service, for example response to a fire or break-in?”

• I was glad to see Joyce asking important questions about how to provide services without government. For a long time now, many people have been working to answer such questions and if you want to investigate those ideas for yourself, one of the best places to start is mises.org, an online site full of free books, articles, audio and video.

MY DOMAIN

Next, I want to thank Kurt Fetz for responding to my request and actually reading the court opinion for himself concerning the Linden Meadows property ownership controversy. Here’s Kurt’s response:

“Debbie, after reading the opinion it is clear, at least to me, that your interpretation is the correct one regarding the disposition of the Linden Meadows case regarding eminent domain.

“Where I would disagree is that this case will not serve as precedent so much as it relies upon it. Eminent domain is firmly established in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and is an essential, if unfortunate (especially when it’s your property that gets condemned), power for the proper functioning of the states. At least the takings clause and just compensation provide for recourse …

“It looks like eminent domain goes back farther than the constitution actually and derives from common law. However, prior to the Fifth Amendment it could be exercised without compensation. The Fifth acknowledges its crucial function, while guaranteeing just compensation. Anyhow, the point is that there is a long history for this power and it would be difficult to argue that it does not serve an important function. How would you suggest interstates, railroads, sidewalks, etc. get built without it?”

• Kurt also asks an important question and once again I’ll recommend mises.org for anyone interested in learning more about peaceful voluntary alternatives to the coercive state.

MORE PROBLEMS

Finally, I have been meaning to respond to those who complain about my consistent focus on the problems of government, but then I saw this concise response by Jim Wetzel that said it all for me:

“I’m sure, that I can’t say with certainty what Debbie H. might do under any hypothetical set of circumstances. I’ll venture to guess, though, that she’ll write about things other than government when government gets out of the robbery-and-tyranny business.

“I’m not holding my breath while waiting for that to happen, though. Blue’s just not my color.”

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson happens to like the color blue but, like Jim, she’s not holding her breath either.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Indiana IOLTA Funds Boosted By New Law

HARBESON: Public money for ‘free’ work

CLARK COUNTY — Republican State Sen. Ron Grooms is getting so good at writing laws to force his neighbors to hand over money to others that he’s now collecting awards from the groups who benefit.

Grooms received the President’s Award from the Indiana Bar Foundation for his help in authoring a bill which led to the new pro bono legal services fee that now must be paid by those filing civil cases in Indiana. The fee will go directly to this private foundation and is supposed to be used to help pay for legal services for the needy.

Helping people gain access to legal services can certainly be considered a good cause to support but is it any more important than the hundreds of other causes and needs that exist? Why should Grooms and his buddies single out one charitable fund over all the others who are also struggling in the current economy?

One reason may be that the bill’s other author, Republican Sen. Brent Steele, just happens to be a lawyer and just happens to think the work of this particular charity is important. Steele wanted to do something to help the struggling pro bono fund and said, “This is the only thing I could think of.”

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the only idea a politician might have is to create a new law to force people to fund his pet cause in the amount of $450,000 per year instead of going out and seeking voluntary donations.

Perhaps the reason his brain blanked out has something to do with the history of funding Indiana’s pro bono districts. The districts are primarily funded by the Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account program (IOLTA), which comes from pooling trust accounts held by lawyers on behalf of clients which are either too small or too short term to be set up to earn interest for the client.

The interest earned from the pooled accounts is paid to the Indiana Bar Foundation and is supposed to be used “primarily” to support pro bono civil legal services. This idea of pooling trust accounts and giving the interest to groups who provide legal aid was controversial nationally from the start because these trust funds are private property of the clients.

When objections were raised about the setup, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that these programs do amount to the taking of private property, but hey, it’s OK because the interest is used in a manner that they considered to be the “common good.”

Yet many other charities and foundations do work that is in the “common good.” There is only one reason I can see that explains how this particular charity is deemed more worthy than others — it involves the lawyers and the courts. In other words, lawyers and courts told other lawyers and courts that what they were doing was OK because there are direct benefits to lawyers and courts.

The court also said no compensation was due to those whose property is taken since the accounts, held individually, would not earn interest anyway. (Of course if compensation was due, then that would defeat the entire purpose of what the lawyers and government courts wanted to achieve by taking other people’s property.)

This scheme of skimming interest off the pooled private property accounts of other people worked well for awhile — until the economy tanked and decreased earnings of the IOLTA fund, which is what led to the new legislation instituting the pro-bono filing fee.

This is not just about instituting yet another government fee either. Like all government actions do, this legislation also costs taxpayers in general. The state has already incurred the costs of pushing this bill through the legislative process and now there will be the continual costs of collecting and processing the fee.

In addition, the funds spent are supposed to be audited by the State Board of Accounts. Yes, that’s the same entity that has been so busy here in Southern Indiana finding mistake after mistake in almost every single local government’s spending.

Now the award-winning Grooms just gave the SBA more spending to audit, all because he decided this specific cause demanded the use of government force. Thank Ron for increasing government bureaucracy and costs the next time you see him.

By the way, all of the local legislators in Floyd and Clark counties voted in support of this new fee. State Rep. Steve Stemler even sponsored the bill for the House. I don’t know if he received an award though. If not, he should probably ask Grooms for advice.

One of the worst aspects about this type of legislation is that the politicians and people who run the private entities present themselves as the charitable ones. They send out press releases and grab all the glory as if they did something really virtuous. But all they did was collaborate to use the force of government to get what they want, rather than respectfully asking people to voluntarily donate to their cause.

If people were asked to pitch in a dollar to the fund, many would do so. If the property owners of the trust accounts were asked to consent to the pooling of their money to help pro bono districts, many of them would have given consent as well. No one asked though.

Politicians just went straight to the force and now here we are, with yet another new law and all the associated new burdens that are always attached.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson would be happy to preside over any award ceremony for a politician, provided the token is a pin of some sort.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Government School Clothing Control

HARBESON: School clothing choices should be optional

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Clothing is a good example of a topic where there is a wide variety of opinions on what’s “proper” in certain situations and what’s not. Individuals can and will draw the line at very different levels.

Clothing choices are not normally a huge issue though, and even in public areas most of us are willing to leave each other alone even when we may not agree with another person’s choice of clothing.

However there is one place where this is not necessarily true: government schools.

At first glance the conflicts over clothing and calls for dress codes or uniforms make little sense. The students are not wearing anything that they can’t wear in society at large so where is the justification for the government to have any involvement in the clothing a family chooses to buy for school?

From an individual standpoint, we all know that clothing choices are quite irrelevant when it comes to learning. After all, uniforms or dress codes are not needed for a toddler to learn to walk, people can read just fine in their pajamas and this column is proof that writing can be done wearing only underwear.

So when students’ clothing is deemed “improper” by some, the reason most often used to justify interfering in their clothing choices is because it can be a distraction to other students. In other words — unless the school simply has administrators who merely want to demonstrate their power — controlling clothing in schools is not so much about the person wearing the clothes as it is about the other students who may be distracted.

I can understand this concern. It’s very easy to become distracted in these institutions that do not allow for individual interests.  Government regulations are already standardizing the most important part of an individual — his mind — so they might as well standardize clothing too, right?

I believe that the answer to this problem is the same as most other conflicts that result from compulsion in education. All that needs to be done is to make both attendance and funding voluntary.

However, I know not enough people are ready to accept that answer, which means this problem will continue as long as the compulsory institution exists. So I’ve decided to search for an idea that might at least help lessen the conflict over government school clothing control.

Though nothing can be perfect, I would like to offer what I consider to be the best way to handle the problem — all government schools should adopt the burqa as the official school uniform, for both male and female students.

Now, hold on. Don’t get your sexy, revealing panties in a wad until you hear me out. Here’s just a partial list of reasons why burqas are the perfect clothing for government school uniforms.

• First of all, students can continue to wear whatever they want to school. They only need to pull on the burqas while on the government property.

• Burqas are as close as you can get to removing all the distractions of the human body, as well as distractions of slogans and images on unapproved clothing.

• Burqas not only hide distracting breasts, butts and beautiful faces, they also reduce teasing by hiding less desired differences like weight or acne.

• Since burqas can be worn over clothing, they don’t need to be washed very often and schools can easily keep a few extras on hand to use for students who show up without the approved uniform.

• Income, gender and racial disparities disappear under a burqa. In a burqa, everyone is equal.

Since the forced association that occurs in the government schools can easily create a clash of values among those compelled to attend, it’s clear that burqas are the best solution to the inevitable conflicts that arise concerning “proper” clothing.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson learns best when wearing only underwear.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Updates on Three Items

HARBESON: These things come in threes

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — I have three items to discuss today. The first two are follow-ups to recent columns and the third item is about the Greater Clark County Schools hoping that lots of people in the area will take their eyes off the road while driving.

Linden Meadows

In response to last week’s column “The sad tale of Linden Meadows,” a reader who calls him or herself “M” sent in two replies to the newspaper’s comment section on their website. You can go to newsandtribune.com to read the full text of M’s comments, but there is one specific point I’d like to address here concerning the lawsuit over ownership of the land used for the project. M said, “The court’s 3-0 majority did not base its decision on anything having to do with eminent domain.”

After I saw M’s reply, I felt like I should read the opinion again. I didn’t want to though. I had already read the darn thing several times before writing the column. I was sick of reading it. But I grabbed a bucket and read it again anyway. I still stand by my contention that eminent domain played a part in the court’s decision.

But don’t take my word for it. Don’t take M’s word for it either. Read the opinion yourself at this link: http://tinyurl.com/linden-opinion

If you do, I would be very interested in hearing whether or not you think the court “did not base its decision on anything having to do with eminent domain,” as M claims.

Mayor Moore and Competition with Private Business

My column, “Fit to be tied,” about Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore introducing a new government funded program (Anchors A-Weigh) through his newly created Fitness Council sure caused some people to burn a lot of calories pounding on their computer keyboards.

Several commented on the newspaper’s website, but there was also a rather lengthy discussion on one of the local online community forums, ClarkCountyChatter.com. A few forum participants did not understand that the column was not specifically about Anchors A-Weigh. It was merely an example I used to discuss the actions of a local politician.

The reason I chose Anchor’s A-weigh was because Moore had publicly stated his concern about government competing with private business and then spent government money to fund a brand new program that does the exact opposite of the principle he claims to hold.

The direction is clear for any politician who truly does stand for the principle that government should not compete with private businesses: Do not spend government funds to create new programs that contain services already being offered by existing private businesses.

Greater Clark County Schools Billboard Advertisement

The final issue for today is about the Greater Clark County School board’s decision to spend $2,000 for a billboard promoting their government school system.

Lots of thoughts popped into my head after reading this, some I can even talk about in public. Here’s my first thought (and it came up when I saw New Albany-Floyd County’s billboard as well): “Are there really people out there, people capable of driving down the local interstates while reading billboards, who really might not know — until they see a large shiny advertisement — that these government-funded and government-operated school systems exist?”

Greater Clark’s board and school officials sounded like they were unsure whether this was a good move or not and this tentative attitude is certainly understandable. After all, they’ve held a monopoly on government funding for so long, I’m sure it’s a real chore to figure out what to do now that some rules of the education game in Indiana have changed to allow more schools to grab money that’s been coerced from taxpayers for education.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson keeps a bucket handy because she never knows when she may have to read a government document. Write her at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Housing Disaster in New Albany Indiana

HARBESON: The sad tale of Linden Meadows

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Linden Meadows. Just the mention of this failed attempt to provide low-to-moderate-income housing in New Albany is enough to make people scream and pull at their hair.

The project is now a complicated, tangled mess of private and government entities, and what may be most troubling is the part the federal government has played in the fiasco.

Let’s begin with the soon-to-be-defunct New Albany-Floyd County Community Housing Development Organization. Although set up as private nonprofits, Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDOs) exist to take advantage of special federal funds (HOME Investment Partnership Program) offered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The government, perhaps learning from past mismanagement, did create various restrictions on HOME funds such as requiring a 25 cent nonfederal donation for every federal dollar received.

It’s clear that this setup is part of the reason people in New Albany thought it would be a good idea to donate an entire neighborhood of old homes that were displaced due to hospital expansion to CHDO. We don’t know what decisions may have been made concerning these houses otherwise, but we do know now that — although this setup was meant to provide more taxpayer fund accountability — what this federal program did for New Albany was provide an incentive that created a perfect storm which has been nothing but disaster for the city.

Once CHDO had the houses, they needed somewhere new to locate them. The land they ended up acquiring from the city for $1, a park area, set the scene for more trouble.

After CHDO bulldozed the area, a suit was filed because this property was originally donated to the city in 1935, specifically to be used as a park. (Not sure what government tax policy was at that time, but could this decision also have been guided by government incentives?) The owner, Catherine Fawcett added a clause that said the title would revert to her heirs if the land use changed.

If the situation remained as it was in 1935, a settlement of the issue would have likely been fairly easy, but that’s not what happened. Ms. Fawcett correctly suspected government mischief might occur, but I bet she had no idea that it would be the federal government who would literally drive right over her deed by way of the interstate highway system.

When the state came to build Interstate 64, they decided they needed to take the park land and one of Fawcett’s heirs was paid $1,600, apparently as compensation for her reversionary interest in the land. I think. More on that in a minute.

To complicate the matter even further, the highway didn’t use much of this land at all. The unused portion remained in the state’s hands and continued to serve as a park, even to the point of spending additional money to add a ball diamond.

The neighbors and heirs who filed suit against CHDO based their objection on the reversionary clause that the property be used as a park but the local court ruled that the heirs had no interest in the property because of the compensation accepted at the time the land was taken. This did not satisfy the plaintiffs, particularly since the 1960 deed included the same reversionary clause. No one can figure that out. Even the appeals court says that’s confusing!

However, in the end, the appeals court decided the deed details were not relevant: “We base our decision on Dible (Dible v. City of Lafayette) and the principle that a reversionary clause cannot be enforced against an entity with the power of eminent domain.” They added that doing so would defeat the purpose of eminent domain. One can expect to be compensated as any other person with interest in a property, but that’s it.

They were very worried about maintaining eminent domain power: “If the reversionary clause would have been enforced against the state, it would have been unable to build I-64 as planned.” The court was much more concerned about the 1960 action than Linden Meadows not only because they needed to back up all the eminent domain actions that have taken place since then, but also to maintain the power for the future.

In other words, the court, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “Holy Cow Batman! We can’t allow this to go through! If we did then that means individuals can avoid having their property taken by government! People would start putting restrictions on land so they could actually own it! We can’t have that! Let’s enforce this stuff for private battles but by golly we need to give the government a special exemption!”

As you can see, we have at least two nasty results of this project — the Linden Meadows deal created another legal precedent which further bolsters the powers of eminent domain and, after seven years of various entities spending money on the project, the homes are apparently going to be razed anyway.

What is the best outcome to hope for concerning Linden Meadows now? I don’t know — maybe create a nice little park?

— Southern Indiana resident Debbie Harbeson has been pulling at her hair ever since she started really looking into government actions.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jeffersonville Government Competing with Private Business?

HARBESON: Fit to be tied

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Shortly after taking office, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore announced that he would not pursue renovations on the big blue barge, which was purchased under the previous administration and intended to replace the current RiverStage entertainment barge. Since this new barge included a banquet/reception hall, one reason Moore gave for drowning the idea was that he doesn’t want the city competing with private businesses.

That’s a great principle to hold and although there are many ways the city of Jeffersonville currently competes with private businesses, Moore at least took a first step by not adding another one. Upholding this principle didn’t last long though. Moore has already directly contradicted himself and created a brand new government program that has the city competing with private businesses — coincidentally using the RiverStage barge.

Here’s how it happened. One of the personal causes Moore wants to push as mayor is health and fitness so he created a Mayor’s Fitness Council and appointed people to work on ideas to promote fitness in the community. (Let’s hope these are walking meetings and members are not sitting on their butts in a conference room.)

 One result of these meetings is the Anchors A-Weigh program. This program, which has cost $19,000 — appropriated by the city council — so far and even has its own dedicated website, uses the RiverStage to hold “free” fitness classes, two of which are Jazzercise and Zumba. Guess who gets paid to teach the classes. That’s right, members of the same government council that created the government program — who just happen to be Zumba and Jazzercise instructors.

There are several questionable aspects here, but let’s focus on Moore’s previously stated principle that he doesn’t want the city competing with private businesses. Teaching various fitness classes is actually one of the few areas left that does not have huge barriers to entry due to government regulation. It’s a good choice for those who have a passion for fitness and want to be more independent and start their own business.

Many people work very hard in this field trying to build and grow a customer base that will enable them to make a profit. They stay busy trying to find prospective clients who are seeking effective methods to help them keep healthy and fit. So when Jeffersonville offers “free” fitness classes nearly every day of the week, the city is directly competing with those hard-working small business owners.

In addition, getting one’s name out there and developing a reputation as an expert is important in the fitness business, which means the members on the Mayor’s Fitness Council who are now employed by the government to teach these classes are getting an additional marketing benefit. While they are being paid, not only to teach but to market themselves, their competitors are out there marketing themselves on their own dimes.

Owners of fitness businesses understand that they need to find ways to attract clients and persuade them to use their services and they use various techniques to accomplish this goal such as giving free or introductory priced sessions to new students. Moore’s government program interferes with this process and creates competition with private fitness-based businesses, in direct contradiction to his stated principles.

If the mayor and his friends are so passionate and interested in promoting fitness to others, there are loads of ways they can do so without creating city programs that compete with private businesses. The instructors on the council can volunteer their time and host truly free sessions to introduce people to various forms of exercise. Mayor Moore could set up group sessions outside his government office focusing on squat exercises and call it “Quads on the Quadrangle.”

If they worked to promote their cause using purely voluntary means, then no government spending is necessary and private businesses will not be forced to compete with city government. Which is what the mayor wants, right?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson exercises hard in the summer sweating over lots of push-ups — the orange kind that is.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Handling Racism in Government Police Departments

HARBESON: What’s the problem?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Now that the Indiana Supreme Court has denied a request for appeal, the City of New Albany may finally have closure on the controversy surrounding the allegedly racist comments made by police officer Jack Messer. So like Barney Fife did when Andy took his single bullet away, I guess Messer will have to accept his 30-day suspension.

I don’t blame Messer at all for trying to get his suspension reversed based on his constitutional right to free speech. As a government employee, he has the ability to file such a suit. (Click here for a pdf of the Indiana Court of Appeals Opinion.) However, this would be a completely different story if he worked in the private voluntary market. As a matter of fact, it may not have even been a “story” at all.

If Messer was an employee of a private security firm, a situation like this would likely have been handled much differently. For example, if, after a “roll call” meeting of security officers, several employees gathered together and Messer made statements that seemed to be racist, it’s doubtful that a co-worker would run off to outside groups or the media.

If he was concerned enough to act, he would likely approach his employer. There’s no guarantee the private employer would do exactly what the complaining co-worker wants but an employer certainly has an incentive to do his best to handle the situation in a manner that will protect the business’ reputation.

Messer does not work for a private firm though. He works for an organization which claims monopoly control over a geographical area. In addition, Messer and his co-workers enforce not just the laws that follow natural logic and have real victims — they also enforce illogical and inconsistent laws that are determined by political whim and personal preference.

This creates an imbalance of power in relationship to other individuals who don’t have the shiny badges and since the “customers” do not voluntarily pay for the government enforcement, the potential for abuse and corruption exists.

Certainly everyone wants to believe that all police officers are consistently virtuous men and women, yet intellectually we know that’s impossible. We have to admit that this imbalance of power is just as likely, if not more so, to draw in people who are the exact opposite. So it makes sense to have policies that hold police officers to an extremely high standard of behavior and whether deserved or not, Messer got caught up in it.

It’s entirely possible that “getting caught up in it” is exactly what happened. Messer has claimed from the start that he was misunderstood and that his point, even if horribly verbalized as Messer himself admits, was really supposed to be about how government policies may have harmed black people more than they helped.

Who really knows if he’s just desperately backtracking, but there is no reason to think he meant otherwise. After all, during the entire time this issue has been in the news, no evidence has been brought forth to show that, in his 27 years of being an officer, he has ever mistreated a person of color while performing his job.

If Messer’s comments were questionable, the reaction by the local NAACP was questionable as well because back when this all started, representatives of this organization behaved as if they knew this man’s exact intent as well as his beliefs and, without even being present to hear the conversation in context, were somehow still able to judge him guilty of racist attitudes.

That’s just wrong. The NAACP representatives were doing the same thing — assuming ill intent without clear evidence — that they accuse police of doing when they pull people over for “driving while black.”

Messer says he would apologize to the person at the roll call who was apparently offended by his comments if he knew who it was. I do find it odd that this individual did not confront Messer directly at the time this all occurred. After all, the police are supposedly trained in conflict resolution so shouldn’t we expect that they would be capable of using their training to actually resolve their own personal conflicts?

Southern Indiana resident Debbie Harbeson never has a problem resolving conflicts with her husband. If you want to know how she does it, you can write to her at Debbie@debbieharbeson.com

Sunday, July 8, 2012

All You Need to Know about the Constitution

HARBESON: Two issues, put simply

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Today I want to comment on two major news items from last week. Let’s start with the one that caused the most fireworks.

You can probably guess which story I’m talking about. For months, people have been discussing, speculating and making predictions about it. When the papers were finally filed, social media sizzled. The story was so hot you could literally feel the heat here in Southern Indiana.

Some people were celebrating the decision. Some were angry and disappointed. Still others, myself included, were just plain apathetic. I’m talking of course about the breakup of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Holmes filed for the divorce and though I don’t really know for sure what the problems are between the couple, I heard from my secret media sources that at least one issue centered on an annoying habit of Cruise’s.

No, it’s not his propensity to jump around on couches. Yes, I’m sure that could be a potential issue causing irreconcilable differences since it could prematurely wear out the living room furniture, but from what my sources tell me, the problem is not about what Cruise is doing. The problem is focused on what he’s not doing, which is to say he’s not putting the toilet seat down.

Apparently, Holmes tried to settle this by giving Tom a mandate. She even reportedly pasted a note on the bathroom wall reminding him that it was “necessary and proper” to put the seat down and if he failed to do so, he would be charged a “shared responsibility payment” because she had to hire someone to take care of it.

Wait, I think I may be getting my stories confused. Those points are relevant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, the second story I wanted to discuss.

Sorry about that. My mind’s a bit rattled after reading just a part of the Court’s opinion. I’m still trying to process the similarities and legal implications of using the words “shall” versus “may” in federal government legislation.

Speaking of similarities, the more I dive into these political controversies, the more the Constitution seems to be like any other old text that groups of people decide to worship — if you work hard enough, you can search through these documents and find plenty of vague phrases that will allow you to interpret them in any way that fits your needs.

The proclamations and interpretations made about the Constitution may be more dangerous than those other texts, though, because these judgments and decisions can end up legitimizing aggression — the initiation of force — upon others.

Once the aggression begins, everyone is stuck trying to deal with the damage. Previous government interventions have created a lot of damage to the health care market and this is one reason why all three branches of our so-called limited government have been spending so much time on this particular issue.

We know there’s a problem because all the concern is focused on insurance rather than health care. Due to the effects and consequences of long-term government involvement that have increased regulations and costs, we now have a system so messed up that no one can imagine being able to provide and access health care without piling on even more government involvement.

Even those who support this law should be able to see that something is very wrong when you find yourself gleefully cheering the fact that people may now be forced to hand over money to either big corporations or big government.

In hindsight, I realize I could have prevented myself from getting so confused if I had just stopped reading the Supreme Court opinion at page five, where Justice Roberts said: “Put simply, Congress may tax and spend.”

To understand our current situation, that’s really all anyone needs to know about the Constitution.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is slowly coming out of her Constitution-induced confusion.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Consequences do not disappear when governments interfere

HARBESON: Laws create a smoking gun

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Up until last week when I learned that Indiana is one of several states that passed what’s known as “smoker’s bill of rights” legislation, I thought it was only the nonsmokers who were willing to use government force to get what they want. I had no idea that 20 years ago smokers did the same thing.

In 1991, Indiana politicians passed legislation that prohibits employers from making hiring decisions based on whether or not the prospective employee smokes and also prohibits employers from making smokers pay for the higher costs it takes to provide health insurance benefits.

That law, as well as the statewide smoking ban that comes into play next week, should have never been passed. Neither law would have either, if everyone respected two very basic concepts: property ownership and accepting responsibility for the consequences of one’s choices.

I’ve always maintained that government-mandated smoking bans ignore the concept of property ownership and the decision on whether or not to allow smoking in a given business belongs to each individual business owner. Patrons and other interested parties can certainly work to persuade a business owner to take a specific action, but the ultimate decision belongs to the owner.

Like the smoking ban, the “smoker’s bill of rights” legislation also ignores the concept of property ownership. The jobs that an individual business owner has available are his property and he should be free to make decisions about the requirements of a given job however he sees fit, which would include requirements regarding smoking.

The owner needs the ability to set whatever parameters he chooses for a given job and it doesn’t matter if you, I, or politicians disagree with his choices. None of us are the owners of the business; we are not taking the risks involved when creating a job and hiring an individual to perform the job.

There are many factors to consider when making any business decision and those factors can be quite different for each individual business. This is why the decision needs to be left to each individual owner. It may be a good choice or it may be a mistake but it’s the owner’s decision to make, not anyone else’s. Prospective employees can either agree to the job requirements or they can move on.

Government need not be involved.

It goes both ways though. The business owner should not get special government favors or protection from any consequences or costs of implementing their policies. The freedom to control the business and make decisions in how to run the business includes accepting all the risks, costs and consequences associated with those choices.

Much of the problem in regards to smoking, and most other issues where government gets involved I suppose, is a result of everyone trying to avoid the consequences of their choices by creating laws that force others to take on the responsibility they are unwilling to accept.

The smokers who supported the “smoker’s bill of rights” wanted to avoid any negative consequences resulting from their choice to smoke. They wanted other people to hire them even if those business owners did not want to hire smokers, and the smokers also wanted other people to bear the extra costs of insuring their health.

The nonsmokers who support government bans are no different in this regard though. They also wanted to push the consequences of their choices on to others. Instead of accepting that it was their responsibility to stay away from establishments that allowed smoking if they did not want to be near smoke, and/or actively working to persuade business owners to change their policies voluntarily, they were willing to use government to force business owners to comply with their wishes.

Using government to avoid consequences does not lead to a better society. The consequences do not disappear when politicians interfere — all that happens is that the responsibility for the consequences is transferred to others.

So, as special interest groups battle to transfer consequences back and forth, piling law upon law over decades, the consequence we now all must bear is a bigger, more intrusive government — one that is not going to suddenly stop with smoking.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson wishes she could transfer the consequences of standing underneath that bird the other day.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

HARBESON; It’s all a matter of opinion

The Indiana Democratic Congressional Victory Committee is running a TV ad which includes this quote from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock: “To me, the highlight of politics, frankly, is to inflict my opinion on someone else.”

The ad’s intent is to shock you, as if what Mourdock said is extreme and unusual. It’s not — Mourdock merely happened to state the truth out loud, that’s all. Inflicting opinions on other people is the entire purpose of gaining control of the government gun.

Do the Democrats really not understand this?

Of course Mourdock wants to inflict his opinions on others — that’s why he wants this government job. It’s also why Democrat Joe Donnelly, Libertarian Andrew Horning and Independent Jack Rooney would like the job. They all agree that government force is valid, but have differing opinions on the best way to use that force.

As soon as one of these candidates gets elected, he will begin to work hard to do what every other politician that ever existed has done: inflict his opinions on other people. You probably don’t mind and may even be happy, as long as you agree with the winner’s opinions.

But if you disagree — if you have a different opinion, then you do mind and this is why political groups are willing to spend a quarter of a million dollars for a 30 second advertisement.

The opinions of others don’t matter as much in our private lives. It’s true that we can be in situations where we may have to deal with another person’s opinion which differs from our own. For example, we might have a different opinion than our boss in how to perform an aspect of our job, but the difference in our daily voluntary interactions is that we are free to end any relationship if a difference of opinion becomes a problem.

We can also look at what I do here every week. I can’t inflict my opinion on you. I can only share it. I COULD WRITE IN ALL CAPS but this print version of yelling still wouldn’t mean I could inflict my opinion on you like politicians with power and control can.

When someone like me shares an opinion with you outside of government, you are in control. You get to consider the opinion and decide for yourself if you think it has any value and if you want to take any action regarding that opinion.

This even includes political ads. Candidates and their campaign staffs cannot inflict their opinions (unless they engage in voter fraud) — they can only share them like everyone else does while in the private realm. It’s only when one of the candidates wins that he gains the power and control to potentially inflict opinions.

We see this happening all around us, at every level of government. Here’s a list of examples where opinions are inflicted on you through politics: war and methods of fighting terrorism; entitlement programs; where you can smoke; who you can marry; various permit and licensing requirements; designating and protecting historic property; how many bridges to build across a river; whether you should pay tolls and how much the tolls should be and — what’s that?

Oh you’re right, that probably was like scratching my nails on a chalkboard. I’m sorry for inflicting so many examples on you at once. AT LEAST I DIDN’T WRITE THE LIST IN ALL CAPS.

Considering all of this evidence, the people who created this ad sure must have a low opinion of you and me if they think we’d actually believe that one candidate is any different than another when it comes to the desire to inflict opinions on others.

— CLARK COUNTY RESIDENT DEBBIE HARBESON LIKES TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS SO SHE CAN HEAR WHAT SHE’S THINKING.