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.


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.


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.


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.