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Be Free! by Joe Blow

Are we free?

It’s a two stage question. Before we decide whether we are free individuals within our society, we have to ask ourselves whether we are free in our own minds. Are we prisoners of what William Blake called “the mind-forged manacles”? Is there a division in our psyche itself? Are we at war with some aspect of our own nature?

Often we look only at external social and political factors when considering the question of freedom. But whether we can be controlled or exploited by others depends on the vulnerability or otherwise of our psychological state. Divide and conquer is a basic principle of warfare, and, in the same way, if our psyche is divided then we become much easier to control.

The less we need, the freer we are. We only need to take a look at the life of any drug addict to see that where there is absolute need there is also absolute slavery.

The psychological foundation for any kind of meaningful state of social or political freedom is self-sufficiency in the area of personal esteem. If we really don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks about us then not only are we freer economically ? not having a need to make any kind of statement of self-worth through ostentatious material goods ? but we are much harder to intimidate.

The route to this kind of freedom is radical self-acceptance.

If we consider ourselves as we are at this moment, we know these things :

  1. The past cannot be changed, so anything which has happened to us in the past or which we have done in the past is best accepted without regrets or guilt.
  1. While our actions may harm others, our thoughts and feelings, in themselves, cannot. So we might as well accept those thoughts and feelings unconditionally.

One of the great ironies of life is that we spend so much effort on trying to improve ourselves, struggling with our feelings or trying to censor our thoughts. And yet, if we can learn to accept ourselves as we are and allow our thoughts and emotions absolute freedom to go where they will, we find that these thoughts and feelings ? even the most shocking and frightening ones ? are part of a movement towards wholeness in our being.

We are born with a capacity for unconditional love for all of our fellows. It never goes away, but only becomes subsumed by our struggle against accepting ourselves.

What would it be like to live in a world where nobody had anything to prove? Left wing politics, right wing politics, religions of various stripes… All dogma is a defense against free thought based on the fear that such thought might lead to a scary place.

The world is a mirror in which we see ourselves reflected. Those of us who are greedy think the government is greedy and wants to tax us too much. Those of us who are full of hatred see enemies everywhere. Those who have a hard time repressing their sexual desires see “sinners” on every side.

But freedom exists in the hearts of those who, unhampered by self-obsession, are open to love, that force of attraction which draws the individual to find his or her fullest meaning within a freely unfolding society which cannot be controlled by those in the grip of closed-minded insecurity.

This is already happening. The old dogmas are dying. In the middle ages you could be tortured to death for questioning the concept that the sun revolved around the earth. Today you can say pretty much anything you like on the Internet.

We live in the latter days of civilization. Civilization is socially-enforced repression. Anything which threatens its cohesive structure has to be made civil, that is tamed or repressed. This is what civilization means. So what is it which threatens the cohesion of society? Mainly two things ? sex and violence. If we were to act on all of our sexual desires or give our feelings of anger uncontrolled physical expression it would be very hard for society to keep functioning.

Of course, even without any externally imposed repression, each of us restrains those impulses which we recognize as being potentially dangerous to society. For various psychological reasons some have more to repress than others. The more someone is struggling to repress something within himself the more its expression by others seems to threaten that struggle. So, while the initial reason for social repression was to avoid forms of behavior which might be directly destructive to society, later the need to protect the feelings of the most repressed also became a factor.

And since the desire to control others arises in the struggle to control oneself, it follows that the members of society who most commonly sought power were also the ones who were the most repressed, and thus the most insecure or neurotic. As a result, civilization became patriarchal, sacrificing the freedom of women and children and homosexuals to avoid disturbing the fragile psychological state of the male hierarchy.

Will the collapse of this kind of sick civilization mean a descent into violent chaos? I don’t think so. While these structures were repressing our scary aggressive and sexual desires, deep below those impulses our profound capacity for unconditional love has also been laying dormant. Wars, terrorism, riots, etc. These are eruptions from this stockpile of repressed hostility, but they are the exception, not the rule. Often we see the dramatic, the violent, but not the gentle and the creative. But we have a medium now ? the Internet ? for voluntary global cooperation of an anarchistic rather than imposed variety. Our society has, historically, been a hierarchical one, and hierarchy is an attempt by the most frightened and unimaginative members of society to keep love and creativity from expressing themselves freely.

Set free that which is within you!

About the Author:

JOE BLOW is the author of the ebook How to Be Free. Find Joe’s ebook at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/88690

Photo Credit: Image: Chaiwat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Revealing the Magician’s Secrets to Government Programs

Step right up, folks; step right up! That’s right, make some room. Gather round. For the past two years we’ve been wowed by the sleight of hand of O the Magnificent and his trusty sidekicks in Congress. This is truly one of the greatest tricks of illusion in decades. Nope, we haven’t seen a trick this good since the Progressives lauded the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment to empower Congress to tax incomes.

In that illusion, an income tax was justified to fund the normal operations of government and to defray lost government revenue due to eliminating various taxes on foreign imports (tariffs). The nation’s first permanent income tax authorized by the Sixteenth Amendment was 1% on incomes above $10,000. The tax topped out at 6% on incomes of $250,000.

Not even 5 years later, Congress had found that it liked spending other people’s money so much that rates were increased to 16% on the first $10,000 and a whopping 72% on incomes over $250,000. What’s that you say? We had World War I to pay for? True, but after the war was over, the rates never went back down to prewar levels.

Fast forward to the present day and consider the newest government sleight of hand. Now they say a good magician never reveals his tricks, but in this case we’re going to make an exception. So gather round, and listen up, ‘cause I’m only going to show you this once.

Now here. Watch the lovely assistant. That’s right. Become captivated by her siren’s call. The sparkly dress, the bright lights, and the smoke and sparks are all there for a reason. They distract you from what is really going on. That government healthcare won’t cost taxpayers a cent—heck, if she’s feeling flirty, she may even tell you it’ll save Uncle Sam money in the long run without sacrificing quality of healthcare. Watch her wink as she clip-clops in those heels and promises you: if you like the insurance plan you have with your current employer, you’ll get to keep it. See her smile! You believe her, don’t you? Of course you do, folks; of course you do!

Now stand captivated as she waves around red velvet and lit torches and promises you amazement. And wait for the illusion to play out. And if you tire of the circuses, I’m sure she has some bread for you, too. But I won’t make you wait around to see how this trick ends. You’re an FFP reader, so you’re smarter than that. Instead, I’ll take you behind the scenes, showing you what’s really going on behind that velvety red curtain.

Illusion #1: The government (some anyway) tell us the private sector messed up health insurance.

At least one of our political parties in the US will argue unequivocally that “big business,” in its quest to gobble up the world in the name of profit and trample the huddled masses of exploited workers, is responsible for messing up health care.

What these razzle-dazzlers conveniently forget to mention is that employer-provided health insurance is an artifact of an earlier government intervention into the private market. In 1942 during the economic depression and World War II, Congress passed and Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Stabilization Act of 1942, which, among other things, froze wages that a business was allowed to pay its workers to the rate in effect as of September 15, 1942. (See how easily wars are misused to justify the government stealing individual freedoms? This is in the same camp as “never let a crisis go to waste”…)

Businesses wanted to continue to attract and retain talented workers, but Congress knew best in those days just as they do today. Another government regulatory body, the War Labor Board ruled that indirect benefits, such as employer provided health insurance, did not count as “salary” or “wages.” Lastly, in 1954, the beloved IRS decreed that employer-provided health insurance was tax exempt. Employer-provided health insurance policies proliferated at or about the same rate as many small rodents, folks!

Illusion #2: The government likes to ignore unintended consequences.

Impressive tom-foolery, eh? Want more, you say? Try this hypothetical gem:
In 2009, Joe works for a company offering a health plan with family coverage. The biweekly premium is $550, or $14,300 per year. The employer wants to cover 80% of this cost and pays $440 of Joe’s premium, or $11,440 per year. Enter ObamaCare and the increased minimum coverage requirements (E.g., contraceptives, coverage for dependent children up to age 26—“dependent” and “child” don’t seem synonymous at that age…). My own insurance premiums have increased 41% since the passage of ObamaCare—a much steeper rate of increase than observed in years past. Suppose the same happens to Joe’s insurance. His annual premium for coverage of himself and family now costs $16,130. The company can try to keep pace with the new premiums (now $12,900!), it can select a less costly plan, or it can pay less of the overall cost (both options increasing out-of-pocket costs to Joe).

But suppose the company needs capital to implement new “green” equipment to meet EPA regulations and needs to cut operating costs. Fast! The company could terminate its employer-provided insurance program and pay a $2,000 fine (or fee if you prefer) to the government. Joe would no longer have coverage from his employer, but would have coverage from the government via a variety of programs such as Medicaid, SCHIP, or the government insurance exchanges.

A sympathetic boss or HR rep will call Joe in to tell him that the company’s health plan has just become too expensive to maintain and that the company is cancelling its health insurance program. A preprinted pamphlet explaining the government’s health exchange program will be slid across the counter to Joe who once believed the mantra of “if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance.”

Illusion #3: The government uses magic fairy dust instead of mathematics. Sort of.

Last Friday, on the eve of the 2 year anniversary of the Affordable Choice Act (aka “Obamacare”), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report bearing the riveting and engaging title “CBO and JCT’s Estimates of the Effects of the Affordable Care Act on the Number of People Obtaining Employment-Based Health Insurance.”

One of the scenarios explored in the report opined (promising the scenario was unlikely of course. Picture the magician tapping the glass to show you it’s real glass—never mind the false bottom) that 20 million Americans who receive health insurance through their employers will lose this coverage. Despite the projected increase in participation in this scenario, the CBO waved its magic wand, sprinkled some pixie dust, and assumed that despite more costs and more users in government programs, the net cost to the government actually goes down.

How? The analysis opines that the business will pay more in taxes to individuals to make up for the lost benefit and more in business taxes because the business will no longer receive a tax exemption on the amount paid for health insurance premiums for employees. The missing link of course is that in our scenario, one of the reasons the business had to consider cancelling the insurance program was other expenses (also tax deductible…) that were needed to keep the business operating. Ergo, no magical untapped source of tax revenue for Uncle Sam. Just fairy dust.

Illusion #4: When things get bad, the government will start waving around torches and sending out more sexy assistants to dance.

Since the health care law isn’t fully implemented in the US yet (and as we’ve been told by one of the Great Magician’s assistants, “we had to pass the law to find out what’s in it”), let’s turn an eye across the pond to our neighbors in the UK who have the single payer national health service craved by many in Congress. This is a great illusion, watch closely! In the UK, citizens complained about wait time to get to an emergency room at hospitals. The magicians (the Labor party) campaigned on a promise of no more than 4 hours wait to receive treatment.

And deliver they did by pulling a thriving rabbit out of a box that onlookers thought must have surely crushed the poor thing. Unfortunately, news reports in the UK decried the fact that 7 of 11 ambulance trusts reported more than 43,000 cases where patients were literally parked in an ambulance outside a hospital. Thus, Labor could deliver on its promise to have patients treated within the promised timeframe…….of arriving inside the emergency department. Hidden from view is the dead, crushed rabbit as the magician distracted the audience by pulling one out of a hat that looked similar.

I can’t wait to see what happens in the US as we find out what else is in the health care law. And now you know, my friend. The secret’s out. But don’t try this at home, kids. It’s a dangerous trick that requires layers of dishonesty and deceit that pervade layer upon layer of America, from its well-intentioned employers to its greedy lobbyists. But that’s an unnecessary warning, isn’t it? After all, you’re a FFP reader—dishonesty and deceit just aren’t your style.

Acknowledgements:

National Bureau of Economic Research Report “Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance and Health Reform

Daily Mail “A&E patients left in ambulances for up to FIVE hours ‘so trusts can meet government targets’

Quick Update!

Hello Freedom Lovers!

This week we take a quick break from your regularly scheduled program to bring you a quick update on FFP.  We officially closed out our first full month at our new URL and clocked in over 300 visits. Thanks for your support!

In the near future, we’ll ramp up the pace of updates from our current weekly posting pace. We also will be implementing a few paid opportunities as we have noticed a healthy number of followers from the author community who may be sitting on the sidelines waiting to pounce on a “paying gig” that recognizes the time spent on writing a contribution.

If you’re committed to fanning freedom’s flames, here are a few things you can do: follow us on Twitter (www.twitter.com/#!/FreedomForgeLLC) and give us a like on Facebook (www.facebook.com/FreedomForge).  If you see an article, story, or essay that speaks to you, take a moment to leave a comment!  At this time, comments are enabled, but must be moderated prior to posting to keep spam off the site.  And of course, if you’d like to share an article you’ve written, a personal story, or an essay, please share with us at submissions (at) freedomforgepress (dot) com.  If you think we’re missing an issue or prompt idea for the collection of writing prompts, let us know at editor (at) freedomforgepress (dot) com.

Stay tuned to the site and keep an eye on our Twitter feed and Facebook wall.  A contest giveaway is coming next week to help build our readership base.

Thank you again for your support of Freedom Forge Press!

Eric

Freedom of Mind by Val Muller

Knowing my political leanings (because of the Gadsden flag on my car’s bumper), a student turned in an essay today and told me I was going to hate it. The student labels himself a liberal and couldn’t wait to see my reaction.

His essay was an extended metaphor comparing the poor/working class to slaves. The rich “slave masters,” the student asserted, included corporations and were the ones in this country that could afford large campaign contributions and lobbyists—all in an effort to repress the working class. The student further asserted that, compared to these wealthy and influential people/groups, the poor were being kept as metaphorical slaves and were powerless to do anything to change their positions until a Teddy Roosevelt-esque leader took over to lead the working man from oppression.

My student was surprised when he read the comments I left on his essay because I—for the most part—agreed with his assertion.

There is indeed a group of wealthy and influential people and organizations who are using their power to “keep the poor man down.” Where I disagree with my student is this: I believe these influential groups are not limited to “evil” corporations and businesses, as it has become popular to believe. Rather, the metaphorical “slave masters” can be extended to any entity—be it a corporation, a labor union, or a very wealthy individual—that chooses to use its influence to maintain or increase its control over others.

The heartbreaking example that comes to mind is the issue of school vouchers and charter schools, especially concerning inner-city families. If you’ve ever watched video coverage of the “lotteries” used to select students for charter schools, you’ve surely been moved to tears by the children who cry after not “winning” the lottery, for they know their chance for a brighter future has been decreased by the shackles that chain them to a failing educational system.

Leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, DC schools racked up the one of the worst records of all 50 states with some of the lowest graduation, highest dropout rates, and worst performance on fourth and eighth grade benchmark learning tests. Fewer than half of students were considered to be proficient reading at their grade level. It is estimated that comparable students in DC charter schools at the time were 19 months ahead of their peers in academic achievement*.

If charter schools are so successful and desirable, why don’t elected officials do more to help their constituents by increasing the number of such schools available? Wouldn’t they want well-educated children who are able to think crucially about modern issues and become the future leaders of this nation?

No.

The President’s recent failure of leadership in this area speaks volumes.  During the last presidential campaign, he stated regarding vouchers, “Let’s see if it works…And if it does, whatever my preconceptions, you do what’s best for the kids.” However, two years and $50 million in union campaign contributions later, the President supported and signed a law effectively nixing the voucher program for DC schools. Adding further insult to injury for DC’s families, the President has the luxury of school choice—sending his children to Sidwell Friends to the tune of $30,000 per year, a price tag well out of reach for average DC families.

The real kicker here is that the President’s administration held onto a report completed weeks before the voucher program’s day in Congress. The report showed that the DC voucher program was indeed working, bringing noticeable results for 1,700 students enrolled in the program. The report was completed but didn’t contain information convenient to the administration’s cause of ending vouchers—so the report didn’t see the light of day until after Democrats in Congress voted to end the program*.

So it turns out my student was right: there are rich and powerful people out there trying to keep the poor, poor. The hypocrisy of these powerful people is that they use their wealth to free their own children from the shackles of a failing system while using their power and influence to enslave those who can least do anything about it—insuring another generation of poorly-educated citizens who were never taught to think critically about their world. And why should the politicians and union bosses do any differently? Why teach a child to fish when, instead, the child could be dependent for life, relying on those in power for a small filet night after night?

Here is where my student and I disagree. My student follows the popular belief that the “enslaved”—those without money or influence to better their situation—need to wait for a savior, a “Teddy Roosevelt-esque” figure who will save them from oppression.

I, on the other hand, believe that power will always corrupt, and it is only individual reason and critical thinking that can keep those in power in check. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no savior in the form of a political candidate or otherwise who will become the panacea for what ails us.

No, we cannot wait for someone else to free us from oppression. Instead, we must realize that the key to our freedom lies tucked away in something that can never be taken once we obtain it. It is our ability to think—critically and individually—that once made this country great. The ability—even the encouragement—to question authority that kept away the dictators and the monarchs that plagued (and still plague) Europe and the rest of the world. It was a group of people whose life experiences had told them that a government that provides everything can just as easily take it away. A group of people who had enough self-confidence and drive to believe their lives could be what they made of them, and succeed or fail on their own merits.

What I would tell my student is that we cannot wait around for a politician who can wade through the filth of Washington without getting his own feet soiled, for that person may never come to be. And he shouldn’t need to. The solution is to fight metaphorical enslavement with a better weapon: a better-educated and better-informed voting population. Teach our children to question what they are being told, to be wary of sugared words constructed to hide the venomous bite they coat.

In the 1800s, Frederick Douglass taught us that education is the key to freedom. And his words ring true today. We must not unquestioningly accept that which we are told. Even if it’s as comforting as the words of a teacher’s union insisting that all it does is just “for the children.” Rather, we must engage our minds and think critically. No measure of wealth or power, no group of collectivists no matter how many thousands strong, can ever compare to the power of a single, critical, informed human mind.

About the Author:

VAL MULLER is a fiction writer and teacher living in Virginia.  Her first novel Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive is a middle-grade mystery.  You can keep track of her at www.valmuller.com.

 

*  Dalmia, Shikha. “Obama’s Hypocrisy.” Forbes.com. 17 April 2009. http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/16/school-voucher-washington-dc-teacher-union-opinions-contributors-obama.html

**Photo Credit: “No Slavery” by Vectorportal http://www.vectorportal.com