Celebrating Your Right To Know

by Curt Kovener

Today we are in the middle of Sunshine Week 2019.
No, dear reader, this is not a week when they sun must shine and warm us up a bit…though it would be welcome. Sunshine Week, which highlights the importance of open government, was established in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors.
The timing of this week-long observance coincides with two related celebrations: the birthday of our fourth president and “father of the Constitution,” James Madison on March 16; and National Freedom of Information Day, which is set for the same day.
In simple terms, freedom of information is your right to know what your government is doing— how it spends your tax dollars, how it creates and implements policy, how it makes decisions that affect you.
Over the past several weeks we have published the annual reports of cities & towns, townships and counties. Those reports tell you the receipts (tax revenue), spending on government services, and the financial health of those governmental entities. This week, we begin publishing Annual Performance Reports for the area school systems.
Let’s say, for example, you want a copy of the budget for Crothersville, Austin or Scottsburg (or any other governmental entity). You have the right to walk into City Hall and ask for it.
And the governmental entity has to give it to you, or it must explain why it can’t.
If you request a public record in person, the governmental entity has 24 hours to respond to your request. If you make the request by mail, it has seven days.
In considering your request, the government office can’t ask why you want the information. It can’t even legally ask who you are.
If all you want to do is examine the document, you have the right to do that right there in the office. If you want a copy, the office does have the option of charging you a reasonable fee.
The fight for open government isn’t about liberals and conservatives. Freedom of information advocates come from the right and the left.
And they keep fighting the good fight year in and year out because they truly believe in a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
James Madison was a champion of the elimination of secrecy in government, which as you may have noticed lately is an issue that’s more important to highlight than ever.
Journalism and the very concept of truth have been under attack, so it’s important not to lose sight of primacy of the First Amendment in our society. When true stories public officials don’t like are called “fake news,” and when the holder of the nation’s highest office calls the free press “the enemy of the American people,” you know it’s time to stand up for these ideals.

Words To Be Guided By

by Curt Kovener

February is Black History month, so as we approach its final day, some quotes from civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are in order. There were fitting when said; they are more fitting in 2019.
Our thanks to Professor Ron Adkins for contributing these life lessons.
•The time is always right to do what is right.
•Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
•Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
•Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
•Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
•Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
•Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.
•Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
•The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.
•The quality, not the length, of one’s life is what is important.
•We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.
•We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
•A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

Incivility: Just Where Are We Headed?

by Curt Kovener

“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” Hosea 8:7
The prophet Hosea warned the people of his nation, Old Testament Israel, that their actions had consequences, consequences that would be much worse than they could possibly expect. Think wind blowing through the trees. Then think whirlwind another term for destructive tornado.
As our public discourse somehow manages to get worse and worse almost daily, one can’t help but wonder if a whirlwind is in the offing.
There are numerous examples of elected officials doing and saying things that are contrary to how many of us were brought up. But maybe that is how many of them were brought up. And in that case, we need to talk to their Mamas on why they didn’t wash their mouths out with soap… or at least report them and their actions to their old Scoutmasters.
In a civilized society like ours purports to be, can it get any worse? Unfortunately, history tells us it can. Look to the Roman Republic, that form of government our Founding Fathers were so fond of acclaiming as a paragon of civic virtue.
In the century running roughly from 150-50 B.C., that ancient republic staggered under assaults on its institutions and cultural mores. Operating under a set of formal and informal rules, Roman politics were constrained within a boundary of acceptable behavior. Just because a tactic was technically legal under the constitution did not make it suitable for use. Called the mos maiorum or “way of the elders,” it was a society-wide gentlemen’s agreement to keep civic affairs civil.
Until, that is, one young but ambitious politician didn’t get his way. He certainly considered himself an idealist wanting only to provide a practical solution to a real problem, but the methods he used were the equivalent of starting a small snowball rolling down a long, steep slope.
Each response and counter-response escalated the snowball’s path. Public theater was the handiest tool in the astute politician’s toolbox, with the public demonstrations degrading into uncontrollable mobs. The violence meter rose progressively higher until it was no longer containable. All a politician could do was to promise more and more to the voting public and try to direct the mob’s anger toward his opponents.
Boy Howdy, if that doesn’t sound like the 21st Century.
Violence, both the verbal and the physical kind, inevitably begets more violence. Rome’s beloved republic finally died a death of a thousand cuts to be replaced by what was nothing more than a military dictatorship, sometimes ruled by a benevolent despot but mostly not.
Is this America’s path? I hope not, but I am not so optimistic about our chances. As one who grew up in the 1950’s & 60’s, I fear for where our country is heading. We can’t look to Washington for the solution because it merely reflects what we are in our local communities.
And if the leadership in Washington acts that way, it should be okay for us in small communities to do the same whether in public or on Facebook or other social media. Thus we do our part to continue the snowball rolling down the hill.
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.), wrote a book entitled ‘Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal’. His solution is one of grassroots civility and rebuilding personal relations where we live and work. It sounds Pollyanna-ish but then my recollection is that the little girl proved right in the Disney movie.
So I’m rooting for Sasse’s prescription. The alternative is too depressing to entertain, especially for a hobby historian like me who reads too much about bad things that happened in the past and knows that those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it.
So how did things work out for the nation of Israel back in the 8th century B.C.? Not well at all. They’re not called the Ten Lost Tribes without reason.– – – –
Mark Franke, a former associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, contributed to this column.

I Guess That Is Why They are Called Comforters

by Curt Kovener

(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)
You had probably just finished reading your last Times of January on Wednesday evening, when I dismissed some mild stomach and queasiness as something I ate. But before long the stomach pains sharpened to occasional bolts of electricity of the 220 volt variety and I began to make frequent trips to the bathroom.
I had gotten a flu shot so I wasn’t concerned. Besides, I had planned a day in the woods clearing some trees and burning brush. Sitting at a computer most of the day, I figured working and exercising out-of-doors—even in cold temperatures—would do me some good. It would keep my mind off whatever was bothering my body and may even work it out of my system.
Sure enough, stacking and burning all afternoon and my mind didn’t wander to my stomach a single time.
But after the walk back from the work site, I was extremely worn out. By the time I dragged myself to the house I was tired and achy. Sitting on the couch a couple of shivers shook my weary body.
After another trip to the porcelain room, I came to the realization that some bug was definitely trying to wreck havoc with my body. The more I cursed my luck the more violently my chilled body shook and shivered.
I opened the antique oak blanket chest and got out Granny’s old comforter. It is a heavy, heavy bed cover pieced together with squares of recycled cloth.
There are pieces of my Gramp’s old suits, cut apart when they became worn out. There are pieces of flannel, corduroy, velveteen, and what appears to be some upholstery material all having former lives probably back as far as the early 20th century. Whatever it is stuffed with is certainly heavier than the usual quilting… perhaps a worn quilt or another comforter.
I was given the old comforter in the early 1980’s after Granny and Gramp has passed on. Granny left this life in 1967 so I know this comforter is old.
While I don’t remember her working on this particular one, as a youngster, I can recall my Granny sitting in her wooden rocking chair first cutting then pinning and finally stitching together bits of former suits, dresses, heavy curtains and robes to craft warm comforters for the kinfolks’ winter bedrooms.
These creations were like Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, “…I thought that we were rich, because I knew of all the love that she sewed in every stitch.”
We don’t use the comforter regularly in the winter. It is old, it is an heirloom; and we don’t want to risk damaging it. But Granny’s comforter is put to use for special occasions when we are feeling ill. Maybe it’s the warmth from its sheer weight or maybe it’s the grandmotherly love reaching across the years embracing us that helps keep us warm when we’re feeling particularly puny.
After sinking between flannel sheets topped with Granny’s Comforter, I shivered a couple time more and then drifted off to a deep sleep aided in part to a couple of shots of medicinal bourbon (sorry, Granny).
The next morning I awoke not feeling any chills, my stomach didn’t hurt, and no urgent need to hurry to the bathroom.
Maybe it was just a 24-hour bug, but I prefer to think that just maybe it was the healing power of Granny’s Comforter.

Chilling Cold Quotes

by Curt Kovener

Here we are now halfway through winter. It just about six more weeks until the first day of spring. We’ve gone through a few days of negative temperatures followed by a warm up and followed yet again by another 6-8 or 10 weeks of occasional bone chilling temperatures.
I compiled this during single digits and by the time you are reading this it is no doubt warm. But, dear reader, cold temperatures will return.
So what have others said about the #$%^& cold temperatures. Here are some humorous and philosophical thoughts (the ONLY way to plow through frigid temperatures is being humorous or philosophical) of others
•“In a very cold night, even houses want to have houses of their own to enter and feel warm!”
•“In the cold dark days of the winter, dream about the flowers to get warmed up.”
•“I like the cold weather. It means you get work done.” ~Noam Chomsky
“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~John Steinbeck
•“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”~Edith Sitwell
•“Warm weather fosters growth: cold weather destroys it. Thus a man with an unsympathetic temperament has scant joy: but a man with a warm and friendly heart overflowing blessings, and his beneficence will extend to posterity.” ~Hung Tzu-Ch’Eng
•“One thing about cold weather: it brings out the statistician in everyone.” ~Paul Theroux
•“Scarves, mittens, and hats are a great way to express your personality in the cold weather.” ~Brad Goreski
•“In cold weather a good rule is to light your fire first before doing anything else. It is always more sensible to keep yourself warm rather than trying to thaw yourself out later.”
•“Nothing burns like the cold.” ~George R.R. Martin
•“The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold, wet day.” ~Dr. Seuss
•“The cold cuts like a many bladed knife.” ~Israel Zangwill
•“Cold? If the thermometer had been an inch longer we’d have frozen to death.” ~Mark Twain
•“I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.” ~Bill Watterson
•“It was so cold I almost got married.” ~Shelly Winters
•“Shut the door not that it lets in the cold but that it lets out the coziness.” ~ Mark Twain
•“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” ~Anne Bradstreet
•“If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.” ~Horace Traubel
•It was so cold that the Statue of Liberty put the torch INSIDE her dress.”

Indiana Legislature: The Public’s Business Is Not Everybody’s Business

by Curt Kovener

The Indiana legislature, under the guise of saving money wants to eliminate telling you how government spends your money by publishing legal notices in your county newspapers. Their idea is to put the information on the internet.
And that could work except for a couple of things: information you read on the internet can be changed. A newspaper gives you a printed copy of what the government reported and it can’t be altered after you get your weekly newspaper.
Secondly, the urban dwelling state representatives who have multiple choices for high speed internet think everybody has the same high speed internet access. Some readers in Scott and Jackson County know that there are areas—all rural— that are underserved when it comes to connectivity. This is a deficiency that Gov. Eric Holcomb specifically spoke to as one of his priorities in the recent State of The State address.
When banks move to foreclose on homeowners, it initiates a legal process that includes the publication of a notice of a sheriff’s sale.
The published notice, whose cost is collected from the winning bidder at the sheriff’ run auction, serves to protect the elderly, the disabled, the uneducated, or people who are out of state, such as deployed members of the Armed Forces.
There are stories from all over the country of people who didn’t realize their property was in foreclosure until a friend or family member saw the published notice. There were cases in Florida where homes were being foreclosed on by Wells Fargo when it had no mortgages on those properties.
The published notices also increase the possible bidding pool for the foreclosed property. The idea being that more bidders mean the auction price should be higher, which serves the homeowner because the auction price is applied to his/her debt. Even after the loss of the home, the bank can still pursue the balance of the unpaid mortgage.
Publication of the names of those being foreclosed may also tip a business owner to be more cautious about extending credit to someone that he/she discovered may be suffering through a financial crisis as indicated by the foreclosure.
But Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, has filed a bill to eliminate this publication requirement. She would replace publication in the newspaper with a posting on the sheriff’s website or county government website.
McNamara testified before the House Committee on Financial Institutions that her ultimate goal is to eliminate all publication of public notices in newspapers. That would include information about school performance, how local government units spend tax dollars, requests for zoning variances, etc.
She calls the notices “a subsidy for newspapers”.
Newspapers are paid to publish public notice advertising. Since the founding of our country, newspapers have been the most cost-effective way to disseminate information that state legislatures have deemed so important to share with citizens that they statutorily require the published public notice. The payment is for the service, not a subsidy.
Hoosiers have repeatedly in surveys indicated they want those notices published in their local newspaper. Even when told government notices can cost thousands in taxpayer dollars, 63% said they want those notices published. If you get 63% of the vote in an election, it is called a landslide.
When asked if they would be as likely to see notices posted on government websites rather than the local newspaper, a measly 4% said they’d look for this important information online.
Who would benefit specifically from the elimination of the notices of sheriff’s sale from local newspapers? The bankers and select insiders who know how to reap the bargains available when a home is foreclosed. They no longer would have to pay for the cost of publication of the ad if they win the bid and bids will likely be lower because the competition will be less since the notices posted on a sheriff’s website will not be seen by nearly as many people.
Taxpayers also lose because H.B. 1212 will require the sheriff’s office to increase resources to constantly update the website with new postings, develop a system to verify when notices were posted and not altered or taken down prematurely, and also create a system to archive notices over a three-year period. This costs money and time– two things that could be better spent on law enforcement rather than assisting banks in the foreclosure process against homeowners.
Since newspapers already have this process in place at no cost to the taxpayers through the printing of the notices and placement on newspaper websites, it begs the question as to why throw away a system that works?