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.