Writing Tip: The Reader Is Not Inside Your Head

Introducing: Wednesday Writing Tips

We’re pleased to introduce our newest feature here on the Freedom Forge Press blog. Editor Val Muller will be writing a periodic column featuring mini writing lessons inspired by reading through slush piles, published novels, and working with writers on all stages of the editing process. The feature will run weekly until the list of topics is exhausted. At that point, it will run “as needed.” We’ll be posting a list of all topics here for easy reference. You can also subscribe to our blog to receive email updates each time we post.

We hope you find this feature helpful and encourage you to share it with other authors and aspiring authors.

Write on!

Writing Tip: The Reader Is Not Inside Your Head

Probably the most common problem I see in writing is that, though the author clearly has an entire world playing in his or her head, that world is not being conveyed onto the page. This is a common reason for rejection or request for rewrite. Though it’s true that a writer should “trust the reader” and avoid over-explaining, a writer should also not assume that a reader shares the same background knowledge and information about a topic.

Remember those coloring books we had as kids? Think of the level of detail as providing the outlines of our world. Trust your readers to fill in the proper colors (in reading, most of us will fill in an ocean with some variation of blue), but make sure they have a proper outline of what the world is supposed to look like.

To illustrate, consider historical fiction (or even nonfiction). Imagine that the protagonist jumps into a carriage and hurries across town to the port before her beloved’s ship departs for a different continent. Don’t assume the reader shares your idea of a carriage ride. For one, how many horses are pulling this carriage? Is there a driver? Is it an open carriage, or is it enclosed? Are we in a time period when there was not an adequate public sewage system? If so, what smells might the protagonist encounter? Is the road dirt? Packed down and filled with ruts? Cobblestone? Is it a bumpy ride? A smooth one?

Now, you don’t want to kill a reader with details, either. Even in narrative nonfiction, a reader isn’t looking for a historical report. Don’t write, “Mary climbed into the cart, which was a wooden cabin enclosed on all sides with a window on each side. It was pulled by two horses and a driver who sat up front.”

These are boring details. Readers’ brains are going to turn off—if they continue reading at all. Instead, “sneak” these details into the narrative. Whether it’s a thriller, a suspenseful mystery, a love story, or a dystopian tale, readers want to connect emotionally with a character. In any scene, ask yourself: what is the reader supposed to feel regarding the main character? Use that as your goal, and build details to that end.

For instance: let’s say the reader is supposed to be worried for Mary: she really needs to get to the dock in time to stop her would-be fiancé, Thomas, from boarding a ship that would take him on a months-long excursion to a new continent, thereby ending the prospect of a marriage. Let’s say he’s leaving because she turned him down, but she’s had a change of heart. Okay—we have our goal. We feel sorry for Thomas because he’s been turned down, and we sympathize with Mary because she’s made a mistake and is trying to make amends. We also have a natural “countdown” (to ship departure), creating inherent tension in this scene. Now let’s build our details around that emotion:

Mary didn’t even brace herself as the rickety cart bounced on the cobblestone. Instead, she stuck her head out of the carriage’s one window and shouted to the driver. “Please hurry.”

The man pulled his scarf tighter against the chilly morning. His eyes bulged at her audacity, but he kept his tone polite and pointed to the trotting horse. “He’s going as fast as he can, Miss.”

The horse clip-clopped around a rut, but the carriage’s wheel caught in it, slamming the back of Mary’s head into the top of the window. She winced. The wind carried putrid fumes from an open sewer, and Mary swallowed to keep down her breakfast. It was the same wind that would carry Thomas away if she didn’t hurry. She considered climbing out of the moving carriage, freeing the horse and riding it, bareback, to the harbor. But her head pulsed where she hit it, and the world spun around her. She retreated into the carriage and leaned against the seat, hoping the aging horse could win the race against the unfurling sails of The Salty Prayer.

In this example, we learn indirectly that the carriage is closed; the road is cobblestone (and it’s a rough ride); there is only one (aging) horse pulling it; Mary is acting beyond what is proper for the time, but the driver is trying to be polite anyway; there is only a primitive public sewage system; it’s a cold and windy day; the ship Thomas is to board is called The Salty Prayer.

We don’t know what color the carriage is. What color were you picturing? Does it matter to the meaning of the story as a whole? Probably not. Based on the details given, you probably weren’t thinking of a shiny metal spaceship, right? What about the horse? Do we need to know what color he is? In this case, it’s not important. What about the driver? What did he look like in your mind? Did you picture what the open sewer would look like? Does it matter? Even though each reader might have a different description for each of these elements, there were enough details included that we’re all within the same range of possibilities. In a following paragraph, we might add a few details about the other people out that day—seamen, merchants, citizens—to give the reader a glimpse of the world that clearly exists in the author’s mind but does not always make it to paper.

The same applies to settings that are not historical. Imagine a modern high school. Should we assume that all readers have the same idea of what a high school looks like? We probably all have similar ideas, but writers should not assume. If it’s important, for example, that the school has a senior lounge, that detail should probably be described. Are there administrators roaming the halls all the time, or is it easy for a student to roam around undetected? If I’m a reader whose principal seemed to be omniscient and omnipresent, I might question the validity of a work in which students are sneaking around all the time—unless I’m given a few details to explain the culture of the book’s particular high school.

In short: think about the emotion and tension you want to convey to the reader. Use that as the central energy of your scene. Then, build details around that energy, making sure they all contribute to the feeling the reader will take away from the scene. If you want readers to be disgusted, show them why they should be. If you want them to feel sorry for the character, let them share in the character’s suffering and goals. When you sit down to edit your scene, try to take yourself out of your own head, and ask yourself: as a reader completely disconnected from my own background and preconceived notions, what would I actually take away from this scene?

You might find the answer is more bland and boring than you would like.

Virtual Interview with Howie Lind – Candidate for US Congress, Virginia 10th District

Freedom Forge Press resides in the 10th Congressional District in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The seat for the House of Representatives is being contested this year due to the planned retirement of incumbent Frank Wolf (R-VA) who has represented the citizens of the Virginia 10th District since 1981.

We invited all candidates who have publicly announced their intention to run for the seat to a Virtual Interview.

Howie LindFreedom Forge Press (FFP):  Chris Christie remarked in July 2013, “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought.” Christie appeared to be discussing the government’s role in fighting terrorism and responding to critics of all the federal government’s widespread domestic spying programs. Do you think Christie is right, or do civil libertarians have legitimate concerns?

Howie Lind (HL): The legitimate role of the Federal government has been subverted; we all want “the bad guys” tracked and interdicted. There is absolutely no evidence that the widespread dragnet of metadata accomplishes this. As an example, our intelligence agencies knew that we had major issues with the two individuals involved in the Boston bombing, yet failed to respond. Obviously, we have a major disconnect here, and if we continue the indiscriminate gathering of individual information, someday it will be used for the worst of reasons.

FFP: What would be your top 3-5 legislative priorities if elected?

HL: Repealing and replacing Obamacare, Reforming the tax code, reforming Federal spending, Restoring defense capability.

FFP: Considering all the federal government does and all the influence and control it exerts on states via Medicare/Medicaid and other spending, do you think the federal government is successfully doing its job to “promote the general welfare” of all citizens in these United States?

HL: No.

FFP: Gallup recently released a poll with a record number of respondents (72%) saying that “Big Government” is the biggest threat to the future of the country. “Big Government” has always led the other categories (Labor, Business). Yet the president, a clear advocate for transformational large government, won re-election with 51% of the popular vote. What do you think we are missing here?

HL: Our culture and our educational institutions have not been promoting or educating the American public on the foundational constitutional precepts of liberty and individual responsibility.

FFP: A quote is attributed to John Adams: “But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” Looking over the past 10 to 15 years and the rapid pace of government expansion invites a lot of pessimism to accept that quote as true. Do you think that quote is true? And if not, what do you think it will take for the country to get back on track?

HL: Historically it is accurate. I don’t think it is too late, but time is growing short. Reagan is the model to follow; it is possible to turn the ship of state, however, it takes bold, consistent effort.

FFP: When, if ever, do you think it is acceptable for the federal government to play favorites with favorable regulatory requirements, grants, tax credits, or other policy levers?

HL: As a general rule, no, there should always be a level playing field. Of course, there may be some exceptions that are of such national importance that they demand attention; the space race, interstate highways, and some other very narrow exceptions come to mind.

FFP: Grover Cleveland is one of our favorite Democrats. Following a drought in Texas! Congress passed an appropriation for a seed bill of a modest sum of $10,000 (about $289,000 in today’s dollars). Cleveland vetoed the bill and issued this statement:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering… …though the people support the government, the government should not support the people. The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. … Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

Given the various types of federal aid, the increased participation in those welfare programs—which shot up markedly during the current administration, and the record high level of people who have left the labor force, do you think Cleveland had a valid point, or does government have a duty to relieve individual suffering?

HL: Yes, Cleveland was broadly correct. Cases of calamity and individual suffering, the individual community and its private resources, and the state are the best provider of services. The Federal government has proven time after time that the least efficient manner in which services can be delivered is through the central government, regardless of constitutionality. FEMA comes to mind. Certainly the Federal government has a role in exceptional circumstances where a region or state is affected and request support, but clearly we have “federalized” every type of event that should and can be handled locally.

FFP: Is it time for term limits?

HL: Yes.

FFP: If elected, what will you do in office to promote individual freedom?

HL: Adhere to the Bill of Rights.

FFP: If elected, what will you do in office to limit the size, scope, and power of government?

HL: Tax reform and the elimination of base line budgeting. Complete reorganization of EPA and its oversight functions. Consolidation of antiquated agencies and programs spread throughout the government.

FFP: The Tax Foundation estimates that the average tax payer will work into the 2nd week of May just to pay his/her federal, state, and local tax bills for the year. Do you think this is appropriate?

HL: Of course not; anytime that the federal budget grows beyond 18%, there is clear historical evidence to suggest that there negative economic growth is stalled. The tax structure is in need of major reform.

FFP: By many objective measures, spending by the federal government has ballooned out of control in the 20th Century to unsustainable levels where we find ourselves today.

Is there a specific aspect of government (e.g., an agency, program, function) that you would agree to freeze, reduce, or cut?  (If so please name the agency/program/function?)

HL: I believe the time has come for massive re-organization; one tiny example is that there are 19 job training programs spread over the government. We need to ask a basic question: What is the legitimate constitutional role of the Federal government, what are those things that only it can do? Everything else needs to be returned to the states to pursue – and we’ll find many of them are never picked up by the states because they simply are not critical programs.

FFP: Why are you running for office? (Or if you’d like to address a question we didn’t ask, please add it here and give your response).

HL: I want to go to Washington to do something, not be someone. The Republic is in a critical place, and there may be little room left to turn our course back to economic sanity and individual liberty.

We would like to thank Howie Lind and members of his campaign staff for participating in our virtual interview. For more information about Howie, visit his campaign website.

Status of campaign participants (As of 3/29/2014):

[Republican Candidates]

Barbara Comstock – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

Stephen Hollingshead – Has accepted our invitation; responses are pending.

Howie Lind – Has accepted our invitation and submitted responses.

Bob Marshall – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

Marc Savitt – Has accepted our invitation; responses are pending.

Rob Wasinger – Has not yet responded to our invitation to participate.

[Democratic Candidates]

Richard Bolger – Has withdrawn from the race.

John Foust – Has not responded to our invitation to participate.

Sam Kubba – Has withdrawn from the race.

Cover Reveal: Patriots and Tyrants

Freedom Forge Press is pleased to reveal the cover for our upcoming novel. Patriots and Tyrants by D. G. Bagwell is the first in the Grandchildren of Liberty series. Check out the bottom of post for information on how to pre-order the book at a special pre-release price.

Patriots and Tyrants-Front-Cover

When genius JP Cain saw the nation he loved crumbling, he did the only thing he could. He founded a new one. He and 117 like-minded souls founded the Republic of Secundus, a nation on an alternate Earth that was anything but Eden. Filled with animals out of prehistory, Secundus forced the colonists to fight for their very existence. If they could win, a new dream would be born: A republic based on the ideas of personal freedom, liberty, and responsibility.

Two decades later, the citizens are embarking on a new mission: to help free the world they escaped. The United States has broken under the yoke of tyranny, and Secundus’ best hope rests with political prisoner, former historian, and radio personality Lukas Faber.

But even with JP’s technology and their drive, can the people of Secundus overcome the forces of the UN, the mass media propaganda machine, and the shadowy figure pulling all their strings? They are all that stand between Earth’s greatest tyranny and true personal freedom.

Let the battle begin…

Special thanks to Jason Lee of Vektor Visual for his artistic vision and expertise on the cover!

Patriots and Tyrants is available for pre-order on our publisher’s store. Pre-orders will receive a special introductory price of $12.95 (free shipping to US addresses) and will be fulfilled as soon as paperbacks are available from the printer. Reserve your copy today!

Senator Feinstein Is More Equal Than Others

FeinsteinSenator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) is very important. She is the senior senator from California–occupying one of the state’s two senate seats since 1992, and she is the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Throughout the past several months, Feinstein has been an ardent supporter of the federal government’s domestic spying programs since the program was revealed to the public by Edward Snowden in June 2013.

In June 2013, Feinstein arrogantly said of the domestic spying programs, “It’s called protecting America.”

In October 2013, Feinstein came to Obama’s defense following revelations that the NSA was spying on US allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Oddly enough she’s reported as both saying she doesn’t fault the president for not knowing, but later said that it “is a big problem” if the US government was spying on Merkel without Obama’s knowledge. Yes, we’re scratching our heads over that one, too.

In December 2013, a day after a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s broad data collection is likely unconstitutional, Feinstein again was on record as saying that domestic spying programs were “important” and “a major tool” for protecting against terrorist attacks.

This storied history stands in stark contrast to Feinstein’s comments from earlier this week, when she accused the CIA of spying on Senate committee staff and alleging that the CIA’s actions violate the US Constitution’s principles of separation of powers.

So it seems that the good senator is perfectly fine with the federal government spying on you and me. After all, we are merely but lowly serfs who toil in the fields to earn money for the government to tax and pay for her public office and pursuits. But if the federal government spies on the lords of the manor–the high and mighty Senate–then that is a violation of the Constitution.

All of this reminds us of one of the rules necessary to keep things running smoothly for (some of the) animals on a certain farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

Setting aside our gleeful snark and sarcasm for a moment, Feinstein does have a point that the Constitution does include principles of separation of powers between the three branches of government–a fact that the president would do well to remember. The legislative branch makes laws, the executive branch enforces them (not just when it’s politically convenient), and the judicial branch reviews and provides interpretation of the laws. Division of power ensures that no one branch simply picks up a pen and a phone and runs the government as a despot or group of despots would surely do.

So we are surprised at Feinstein’s willful or sloppy ignorance of the Constitution’s actual, explicit (not implied!) prohibition of unreasonable searches and intrusion into the private lives of law-abiding citizens.

From the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

No implication needed. “Shall not be violated” is fairly easy to understand that even an important senator, president, or government official should be able to comprehend. Phone calls, email, Internet searches, web traffic all seem very reasonably to be “effects” of the people. And despite early statements by Feinstein that legislators knew of massive data collection by the NSA based on a general warrant issued by a FISA court, the Constitution is clear that a warrant is called for and it must “particularly [describe] the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” General warrants violate the Constitutional rights of the people. If the government must rely on wiretaps and interceptions of Internet traffic, then specific warrants are the appropriate tool.

This should be such a basic concept that no further discussion is needed. The Fourth Amendment is part of our Bill of Rights. It’s called a “Bill of Rights” for a reason and not a Bill of Suggestions or a Bill of Privileges.

We will offer Senator Feinstein a slow clap-clap-clap for finally calling something the government does with respect to domestic spying unconstitutional. But we have a hard time thinking that Feinstein is sincere in her criticism of the Obama Administration’s spying programs. Given her years-long defense of whole-cloth spying on law abiding citizens, it’s difficult to believe that Feinstein doesn’t simply believe that she was created a little more equal than everyone else on a little farm we call America.


Elijah Cummings Is Not a Victim

At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting earlier this week, former IRS executive Lois Lerner was scheduled to testify about the agency’s involvement in inappropriate activities involving delaying and denying tax exemption status for political organizations that were less than friendly to President Obama.

But instead of testifying, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and declined to answer the committee’s questions. The committee chairman, Darrell Issa, then adjourned the hearing, but not before the following spectacle played itself out with Ranking Minority member Elijah Cummings.

Cummings goes on a tirade against Issa for ending the hearing after Lerner declined to testify. Issa stays to entertain the question that Cummings keeps saying he has, yet Cummings clearly wants to subject the committee to a rant rather than ask any question. Notice Cummings never does quite get around to asking his question, which he claims will “help” Issa and the committee.

And that became the focus of the story that carried into Thursday this week when Democrats sought a House vote to censure Issa (which failed), the Congressional Black Caucus called for Issa’s removal as committee chair, and Issa issued an apology to Cummings. Cummings still claims that he was only trying to help Issa and the committee in their investigation of IRS wrongdoing. Helping by obstructing, that is.

Following the event on Tuesday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer remarked on air:

“It is so rare. I can’t stress enough to see a member of one party, a chairman, shut down a hearing as a ranking member from the other party wants to speak. This is something that sort of took our breath away. It is something that is incredibly rare and speaks to the bubbling conflicts here in Washington right now. So impolite to Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat. He wanted to make a statement. The chairman, Darrell Issa, wouldn’t let him make a statement.”

Wolf Blitzer is either incredibly naive, dishonest, or breathtakingly stupid.

The story that deserves airtime and media attention is the fact that the IRS was used as a political weapon against people and groups who do not agree with the president.

Whether the IRS engaged in this behavior is not questionable. It did. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released a report finding that IRS officials did in fact use inappropriate criteria to flag tax exempt applications of certain groups for further scrutiny and review.

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; the members of the groups harassed by the IRS were.

The TIGTA report also showed that some applications languished at the IRS awaiting approval for more than 1,000 days!

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; the applicants of tax-exempt status that waited for more than 3 years for their request to be reviewed and determined are.

Apart from the IRS’s apparent enmity for political groups not ideologically in agreement with the president, the IRS apparently engaged in additional unlawful activity.

Delaware Republican and Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell was informed by Treasury Department special agent that her tax records were “compromised,” which confirms what she suspected when she received press inquires barely hours after announcing her bid for a Delaware US Senate seat.

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; Christine O’Donnell is.

Texas conservative Catherine Engelbrecht founded True the Vote and applied in 2010 for nonprofit status as an election-monitoring organization. Two years later, when the IRS had still not yet issued a decision on her application, she asked what was taking so long. When Catherine dared to ask questions, federal agencies finally found some initiative.

But it wasn’t to take action on her tax exemption, nonprofit request. The IRS audited her business and personal taxes, and the manufacturing company she owns was visited by federal agents of two separate agencies: Occupational Safety Health Agency (OSHA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; Catherine Engelbrecht is. In fact she’s also a victim of Elijah Cummings’ harassment as he decided to launch his own probe–against Engelbrecht, that is–not against the IRS.

In an email exchange obtained by Judicial Watch, Lois Lerner is known to have provided information to a Federal Election Commission (where Lerner worked prior to joining the IRS) attorney who requested information about two conservative organizations, American Future Fund and American Issues Project. The problem is the FEC’s commissioners had not agreed to investigate either group, so for the FEC to contact the IRS or for the IRS to provide information to the FEC on these groups would be inappropriate. This would be a violation of 26 USC 6103 and 26 USC 7213. Violation of this statute by improperly disclosing information to those individuals not authorized constitutes a felony. No wonder Lerner is pleading to take the Fifth and enjoying her $100,000 taxpayer-provided pension!

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; the members of AFF and AIP are.

The Washington Free Beacon has identified more instances of improper IRS disclosure of confidential information. The disclosures always seem to be information belonging to groups who are not politically friendly to President Obama.

Americans for Responsible Leadership, Freedom Path, Rightchange.com II, America Is Not Stupid,  A Better America Now, and Crossroads GPS are all among groups whose confidential information was released by the IRS to ProPublica in violation of confidentiality requirements that forbade disclosure of confidential application materials until after the IRS made a tax-exempt determination.

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; the members of the above groups are.

In 2010, senior administration official Austin Goolsbee apparently disclosed confidential tax filing information about Koch Industries–a company well reviled in Democratic and liberal circles.

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; the Koch brothers are.

Elijah Cummings is not a victim; we as Americans are.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or whatever political affiliation, the IRS should never be used as political weaponry by any administration. And when that line is crossed, severe consequences should follow for a government’s illegitimate use of force against its own citizens. Force is exactly what the IRS is.

We note that the president himself seems to have a stunningly casual and cavalier attitude toward using the power of government to punish his adversaries.

At a commencement speech to Arizona State University–a college whose basketball team foiled his bracket picks–Obama joked that the college president and board of regents would “soon learn about being audited by the IRS.”

And who could forget a 2010 pre-election interview with Univision where the president suggested that politics is about punishing enemies and rewarding friends.

Dean-enemies-1But this attitude isn’t unique to Obama and Democrats.

We note that in 1971 during Republican Richard Nixon’s administration, White House Counsel John Dean penned a memorandum with subject “Dealing with Our Political Enemies,” where he opined on how to “maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration. Stated a bit more bluntly — how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”

Emphasis is ours, but the words are shockingly his.

Was there a directive from President Nixon to engage in abusing government power to punish political enemies as one might find in a dictatorship? Not that we’ve seen.

But yet people close to the president believed they should undertake these reprehensible actions on his behalf.

The key difference between Nixon and Obama, in dealing with their enemies, is the IRS Commissioner in Nixon’s time had enough integrity to refuse to engage in unjustified persecution of political enemies. The media had enough integrity to continue to overturn rocks and conduct actual investigative journalism into Nixon administration abuses such as the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s “Enemies List.” And Congress had the integrity to proceed with investigations and ultimately was planning an Impeachment vote against Nixon prior to his decision to resign from office.

In striking contrast from the 1970s, the current IRS leadership in Obama’s day seems to have little such restraint. Many media elites such as Wolf Blitzer and several “main stream” news outlets aren’t interested in the investigative zeal they once had for investigating Republicans. And members of Congress–particularly those of the president’s party such as Elijah Cummings and Gerry Connolly–obstruct and even openly mock attempts to investigate alleged IRS abuses (and a variety of other administration scandals) and discover the truth.

Whether caused by gross incompetence or criminal conduct is irrelevant; the result is the same: the IRS has engaged in a systemic violation of Americans’ rights.

And that violation requires investigation and appropriate consequences. Loss of pensions, debarment from future federal service, prosecution, and jail time all seem appropriate tools for dealing with federal officials who have willingly violated laws in order to generate advantage by engaging in political terrorism of political opponents.

To paraphrase a popular graphic, if a boot is on your throat, it doesn’t matter if it belongs to a Republican or Democrat, a liberal or conservative, or whether the boot is a left or a right one; the only thing you want is for the boot to be removed.

The best solution is to deny both parties such power and insist that government remain limited, exercising its powers only within the confines of its Constitutional boundaries.

Our Interview with Katrina Pierson

We had the exciting opportunity to talk to Katrina Pierson. Katrina is running for Congress in the 32nd Congressional District in Texas.

Freedom Forge Press: We love your outlook for freedom, liberty, and limited government. Our mission aligns with your outlook—we found you on Twitter because of these beliefs. Your website indicates that you have a preference for promoting market-based reforms. So to get started, what kind of specific proposals would you bring with you to Congress in terms of improving the healthcare system?

Katrina PiersonKP: I have years of experience in healthcare. I was an administrator at a hospital; I ran outpatient neurology. I have experience with how these things can work. I know lots of people are talking about Heath Savings Accounts (HSAs), which should be on a market level, not a federal level. We need to have full transparency with all medical costs for patients so they can compare costs, rate doctors, and know where to go. We need to incorporate those types of transparency requirements so patients know where to find good quality care at an affordable price.

Tax reform is a good starting point—there’s been talk of eliminating that tax exemption altogether, and providing either a tax credit, or dumping it into an HSA. We can also break up insurance markets to compete across state lines. If you have a plan for a family of four, you could compare the prices side-by-side and have a difference of five thousand dollars from one state to another. [Selling insurance across state lines] would drag down the cost because the companies would have to compete with each other.

Also with regard to Medicare, we’re not means-testing people. I know a lot of people who don’t need to be on Medicare but are, and this shouldn’t be. There are so many common sense solutions that we just so completely ignore.

FFP: One of our editors has had a Health Savings Account since 2008. Talking about transparency: when he got to the dentist and asked about the cost of getting a cavity filled, the response was, well it depends on what insurance you have. It’s that complicated. So should the private market sort this out through an insurance conglomerate, or what?

KP: I don’t think it should be a federal government mandate. Take Texas, for example. If we want transparency in Texas, that would become a state law. Most people want transparency. With larger HSAs, which would cover many insured, you could change health care in just a few years [by increasing transparency]. Something not a lot of people are talking about are wellness programs. AFLAC is ahead of the curve in this. Some big employers are providing wellness programs. Companies should provide wellness programs for employees as a substitute for preventative medicine, even. But as long as we keep things at the state level, individuals have a lot more control.

FFP: Speaking of a national marketplace, Congress’s duty is to regulate interstate commerce. If Congress were to try to set up a national market for insurance, do you think this infringes on states?

KP: I don’t think the federal government should establish a national market; I just think they should eliminate the inability to buy across state lines.

FFP: What would your priorities be if elected?

KP: You wish you could fix everything, but there are a few things more heavy on my to-do list than others: one of those things is I believe we have to make a priority of fundamentally changing the education system in our country. We should be able to have this debate with the public. This is where we lose on a lot of issues; people go into smoke-filled rooms and work things out with fellow bureaucrats, and we lose out.

We should put the states on notice and say “no” to the Department of Education (DOE). The DOE was established in the 1970s. If you look at all the big innovators and the successful people, they didn’t go through public education. We’re losing that [type of innovation] right now—we’re not getting anywhere with education in this country. It’s a big issue for me because if we’re going to change anything in this country, we’ve got to save our kids.

There are simple policies to put in place like a federal check registry. I think we should require every department and agency to do the same thing. We’re living in the age of technology. We should not have to wait for the GSA scandal to break before we find out how outrageously they’re spending money. This is the people’s money; they should see it. The technology is there; the state of Texas does it.

I’d also like to get back to single-issue bills. We shouldn’t have to be in a situation where we have to pass it before we know what’s in it. The reason we have such outrageous spending is they tack on these little things to these bills they know are going to pass, and we find out later we’re paying for things like breast implants for prostitutes. We need to raise the standard on how we do business and how we govern.

Think also about bringing back the anti-appropriations committee. That committee was cranking out three billion dollars of waste. Why is the committee gone? Because it was cranking out three billion dollars of waste!

FFP: Back to education for a moment: What do you think about Common Core?

KP: I am adamantly opposed to Common Core. It’s more of a curriculum thing—I know some people like the structure of it. I have a background in science, and when we look at education standards in the US versus the other countries, we teach linearly. But when you look at the human brain, it doesn’t think in a straight line. It thinks in colors. The BBC did an interesting program about struggling students, and they taught them how to draw their ideas with curvy colors. These students improved in education, and their self-confidence and behavior improved. We’re teaching with a very archaic system, and we won’t fundamentally change it—we need drastic changes to get our children back on track.

FFP: So the Common Core wouldn’t allow for individual flexibility. Looking at the history of our education system, wealthy industrialists contributed to our educational system, and the mindset was, “we don’t want thinkers; we want assembly line workers.” So it seems we’re still training people to live in the 20th Century.

KP: We have an opportunity here. One pet peeve of public school [in Texas] is in the African American community: these students can hardly speak English, but they are required to speak and write Spanish. Mastering lower education—reading, writing, arithmetic—shouldn’t be too difficult. We are taking away kids’ ability to think on their own. They are being pushed into group think. Math classes now push students to do math in group, four to a table, and have to pass or fail based on what your group comes up with. A straight-A student was upset because she was receiving grades based on what her group did, and she wanted to quit school. These students are mixed together so their grades average out. Luckily in some schools, like in Texas, we still have AP classes, but in some states it’s getting really bad.

FFP: Taking America as a whole, thinking about everything that is happening, what do you think is wrong, and what do we need to do to fix ourselves?

KP: We have a morally bankrupt society. We’re too complacent. We’re going to struggle with that. By electing people who are interested in engaging the public rather than joining the club and making decisions behind closed doors, we will fix some of the complacency part. When the Tea Party started, we had people who had never been involved before, and now we can’t get them to stop being involved. Problem is, there are few people willing to lead on principle.

I’ll go back to one of my legislative priorities. We need to have debate about the UN. I have spent years on the local level pushing back against the international standards being pushed into our community, whether it’s zoning, putting up signs that don’t require people to read and speak English, we’re just seeing the UN dictate the way we plan our cities, the way we interact with international communities, the way we hold our elections. That isn’t what our country is about. The UN has been operating outside its mission system for quite some time. We need to revisit the UN and our involvement in it.

FFP: “Soft tyranny” seems to have the UN written all over it. It’s not the power to overtly destroy, but to make every one play to a lowest common denominator. You don’t have pioneers willing to depart from the norm. It’s hard to see or prove.

KP: I think we can fix the engagement of the American public. We have so many qualified people who would be very good legislators, good on a local, state, and national level—good, solid freedom fighters. But our society is so conditioned in fear, in every aspect. They have us afraid of everything and everyone. The cycle of people stepping out there, like myself, it’s a question of “who is going to take the beating?” Once we break that mold and get more people to fight back… well, human beings follow courage. Nothing has changed with the human psyche, but we’re conditioned to not stir up the pot. Hopefully it’s not too late.

FFP: Looking at a recent Gallup poll, a record number of people said big government is the biggest threat to the country. Big government has always been at the top of the list, well above big business or big labor. So what are we missing? Americans seem to think big government is the problem, but we have a president who won the election and is an advocate for big government.

KP: Republicans have to govern on principle. It’s sort of tragic, what we have on “our” side (if we’re on the side of freedom). We’re not just going to blindly vote for anyone. The perfect example is Mitt Romney. When he ran and knocked out each conservative one at a time, before he won the nomination, he was completely against Obamacare. After he won the Republican primary, he said, “I’ll repeal Obamacare, but I want to replace it.” People didn’t like that.

That spring, Romney got on a microphone and said, “There are some things about Obamacare that we’ll keep.” I talked to hundreds of grassroots leaders in swing states, and millions of those people did not vote. Their reason for not voting? They said that they refused to have Obamacare under a Republican. It wasn’t enough to vote against Obama; they didn’t have a reason to vote for Mitt Romney. That was very telling. I mean, you look at Ted Cruz in Texas. People couldn’t find a reason not to vote for Ted Cruz. He beat all odds. That’s what’s happening. The Republican Party is all talk and no action. They say they’re free market, but they’re not. They’re pro-business. This is not the same as free market. It’s all depending where the money’s coming from. Challenge politicians to define what they mean. They’re saying what they want you to hear, but they’re not saying what they mean. For example, the word “amnesty” is one of those words. It means different things for different people.

FFP: You had been a Tea Party activist in your area, and a grassroots leader. It seems like you’ve reached the point where enough is enough.

KP: I can’t just sit there and walk. I met with my congressman for the better part of the year, tried to explain what conservatives in our district wanted, and he just wasn’t interested. He was only interested in supporting John Boehner. He didn’t want to hear it. He made it seem like we didn’t know what we were talking about. He supports farm bills, amnesty, the NSA, indefinite detention. I couldn’t sit back without challenging him.

FFP: Do you think we need a third party. Could the Tea Party provide a viable option?

KP: I don’t know if the question today is if we need a third party. That’s a question for 2010 or 2011. I think the question today is with Republicans actively trying to stomp out conservative voices and freedom and liberty-minded voices. The question today is if we’re going to be able to stop a third party. I have no idea if the Tea Party is a viable option. There are some people saying the Tea Party was “kind of” right about Obamacare, “kind of” right about privacy. I don’t know if they can recover from all the image damage done to them over the years. I think we’ll know over this next cycle or two if we’ll be able to stop a third party, though I think a third party will be devastating to Republicans. I can’t see organizations backing the Republican Party again after all that’s coming. The Republicans are not governing like Republicans. I hope this election cycle, we can make enough noise to guide the ship back onto the right course.

FFP: John Adams said, “A Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.” Do you think there’s hope for freedom in the future or is it too late?

KP: I think we still have hope. I do believe once it’s gone, it’s gone; I just don’t think we’re there yet. I think we’re in the transition, and it’s going to be up to the American people to make the final decision. That’s why it’s so important to bring these discussions to the American public so they know exactly what’s going on and exactly how these things are happening… like the IRS, DOJ, and NSA scandals.

If Republicans were smart, they would jump on this, bypass the media, and go straight to the people and say “this is what’s happening to you.” The federal government should send a letter to every single person whose cell phone was spied on. Then you would start to see the American people say, “Wait!” The problem is, everything done in DC is kept in DC. Americans have to be touched personally before they get engaged. There has been no accountability on the federal level, there is no one going to the American public. People don’t know what do to, so they say, “Oh well, nothing I can do about it.”

FFP: So do you believe the media isn’t doing its job for the American people?

KP: Absolutely. The media needs to point out how the government isn’t doing its job. There are now three million signatures on petitions against Obamacare. People had no idea what was coming with Obamacare, but because Ted Cruz  and others went to the American public, people are now questioning Obamacare. That’s why they blamed the shutdown on Cruz, but people can see that he was trying to warn us. That was just a month or two ago, and now no one is mad at him anymore—people are thankful to him for informing them. Imagine if all Republicans did that—how much they could inform the American people.

FFP: Is anyone even about small government anymore? The Republicans don’t offer a difference from Democrats.

KP: I wish Republicans would take the anger against conservatives, and use it against the Democrats every once in a while.

FFP: Grover Cleveland once vetoed a bill from Congress aimed at easing severe drought conditions in Texas by spending $10,000 on distributing grain seeds to farmers.

In his veto message, Cleveland said:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering… Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct [individual charity] which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

We like some Democrats, but it seems the good ones are gone. Thinking about the Texas Seed Bill, does the federal government have a role to play in easing individual suffering?

KP: It is so not a government duty. Think about how long ago that was and where we are today. We’re the most abundant nation in the world. Not only have we given up our responsibilities, but our churches have, too. Our states have, too. The states are now copying the governing in Washington, DC. Texas’s state budget is now fifty percent federally funded. States are going to go crazy, but it [cutting federally-funded budgets and programs] has to be done. It’s not the federal government’s role to babysit people or states. Responsibility has to be put back on the states.

FFP: It’s exciting to find people like you who are standing up and running for office.

KP: It was not an easy decision to run. I tell people, the good news is I’m not your traditional Republican candidate. I’m not an old rich guy, I’m a single mom. That’s also the bad news. I’m going to go into it fully prepared for a full character assault. Nobody else would step up. I’ve reached the point where, as Thomas Jefferson said, “resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” I’m young enough that I’m able to recover. If I have to move, I’ll survive. I couldn’t consciously not do anything. Ted Cruz always says, you lose one hundred percent of the battles you don’t fight.

Katrina Pierson is a candidate for the United States Congress in the 32nd District in Texas. Keep track of her at her website, on her Twitter feed, and Facebook.

Olympic Update: The Results Are In, And They’re Not Good!

800px-Olympic_Rings.svgWe recently posted that Team USA would need to sweep all 98 medal podiums at Sochi (and 122,000+ more Sochis besides) in order for the IRS to have enough taxable medal winnings to pay off the interest on the federal government’s debt in 2014 alone.

Unfortunately, Team USA did not win gold, silver, and bronze in all 98 events. Accordingly, we will have to revise our projections.

Team USA won 9 gold medals, 7 silver, and 12 bronze medals. This will give the IRS the opportunity to leech a mere $178,200 in tax revenue, a downward revision from $1,940,400.

This unfortunately means that the IRS will have to wait for more than 1.3 MILLION Sochis (which will take 5.3 million years!) in order to collect the revenue needed to pay off only one year of interest on the federal government’s debt today.

Are we being ridiculous? Of course we are! The US was never going to win all medals at all 98 events at the Winter Games.  But then again we’re no more ridiculous than the federal government’s politicians who continue to irresponsibly enact unrealistic budgets that spend far more than is collected in revenue and far more than is the constitutional mission of the federal government.

Go Team USA, Your Government Needs Your Prize Money!

800px-Olympic_Rings.svgThe 2014 Olympic Winter Games are underway in Sochi!

Team USA Olympians are engaging in their quadrennial quest for winter gold, and, if they’re successful, they’ll pay for it. Each medal comes with a cash prize of $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze (per medal) paid by the US Olympic Committee to the event winner.

And the IRS is already salivating at the opportunity to stick Team USA with tax bills on their winnings.  At the highest tax bracket, Americans for Tax Reform estimates an approximate $9,900 tax bill for each gold medal, $5,940 for a silver, and $3,960 for each bronze medal.

But let’s take it a step further.

There are 98 events at the Winter Games this time around.  If Team USA were to sweep the medal podiums and win every single medal available (gold, silver, AND bronze) in every single event, the IRS would need more than 122,000 Sochi Winter Games (at 98 events each!) just to pay the interest on the federal government’s debt, for this year alone!

Despite having imposed math mandates on states, it’s clear yet again from this example that federal government elected officials utterly fail to comprehend even the most basic math.

So ski, snowboard, skate, shoot, and curl hard Team USA. Your government needs you!

Slavery Is Freedom?

Harry Reid Argues Government-Induced Languidness Is Freedom

The Congressional Budget Office released a report revising employment projections under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). The report was not so good for defenders of the health care law.  The CBO projects approximately 2 million full time jobs lost by 2017, due to the provisions of the law, with another 500,000 full time jobs lost by 2024.

Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sagely remarked in 2010 that “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it…”

As it turns out, what’s in there is a host of tax and regulatory provisions relating to income taxes and insurance subsidies provided by the federal government (i.e., the taxpayer) such that 2.5 million people will eventually make the decision that not working is more preferable to working.

The remarkable takeaway from the report is that it doesn’t quantify how many jobs might have been created by employers absent the tax and regulatory scheme that is Obamacare.  Instead, the report analyzes individual choices people make with respect to the level of free subsidies received from tax payers, the cost of insurance coverage, income levels, and what is available as public assistance.  The CBO proves an age-old adage that mankind generally wants what he wants, and he wants it in exchange for the least possible effort.

Perhaps competing with Nancy Pelosi for the dunce’s crown, Harry Reid is reported to have said at a meeting with the press, “We have the CBO report, which rightfully says, that people shouldn’t have job lock. If they — we live in a country where there should be free agency. People can do what they want.”

Generally we would agree, but this statement is about as dumb as they come.

Harry Reid is advocating that having a job to pay for one’s expenses represents  a kind of slavery from which one should be freed. “There should be free agency,” he says. But free agency refers to being “able to act freely without being controlled by someone else.” The good folks at Merriam-Webster even published that, maybe just for Harry!

People who make their decisions based on the coercion of government tax policy are not acting freely without being controlled by someone else.  They’re being controlled by the government and its policies. When the government makes a life of mooching mathematically valid and more profitable than a life of holding a job, three things are certain. One, the person giving up work for life on the public dole is definitely being controlled by government policy. Two, there are a healthy number of people who will take the government up on their offer. Three, someone else must pay the bill.

Is it truly freedom or slavery when a government-created policy creates a disincentive to work and favors collecting public welfare as a new career path? What about the person who faithfully maintains a job, pays his or her own bills, and pays taxes?

Is it freedom or slavery to take away the fruits of his or her labor and give them to someone who has made a conscious choice not to work and to collect tax-payer funded benefits?

wiley-reidWhat about the man who stands in front of you, and with all sincerity tells you that giving up your job in exchange for government benefits somehow sets you free? Is he showing you a tunnel to freedom and new opportunities? Or is he setting a trap for you to run at full speed into a boulder face? Is he offering you freedom? Or is he offering you slavery?

One thing is certain: it’s anything but “free agency” or “freedom.”

A Freedom Gram Special

Adopt a Government Official in Need Today

There are thousands of government officials every day who go to their offices and have lost their sense of why preserving individual freedom is important and have lost their understanding of the principles embodied in the Constitution that promote such freedom and prosperity.

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The package starts at just $11.00 and allows you to adopt a government official in dire need for an additional $11 per adoptee. That’s right for the annual equivalent of a mere 6 cents a day, you can get yourself a copy of Forging Freedom as well as adopt a Democrat, Republican, or other government official who is in desperate need of a reminder about their promise to uphold the Constitution and the principles of freedom.

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