Book Release: Last Curtain Call

We’re pleased to announce the release of FFP’s latest book, a historical novel addressing the struggles of mining families in western Maryland during the late 1800s.

last-curtain-call-cover-frontAll Annie Charbonneau wants is to stop working at her father’s bakery in her small Maryland coal village, graduate from high school, and go on to college. But in 1894, she is thrust into a personal battle against the ruthless coal company preying on the vulnerable women of her town. Unaware that her actions will bring the evil to her own front door, Annie is caught in a web where her every movement is watched and a vengeance-seeking enemy wants to silence her.

When Jonathan Canavan arrives from Philadelphia and is hired as the new school principal, he becomes an ally, helping Annie to lead the miners’ wives in retaliation against the coal company. As Annie finds herself thrown into a position of leadership, she discovers that sometimes leaders are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. She is forced to choose between fidelity and love. How can she decide to keep her family safe, when she knows it will cause her to lose the man she has come to love?

 

And we’re pleased to share some advanced praise for the novel as well:

“Sittig is a master of coal company town writing. Her characters are so real, I feel I could sit down and have a conversation with them.”
~ Homer Hickam,
New York Times Best-Selling Author, Rocket Boys/October Sky, Carrying Albert Home

“Take a trip back in time to when women shopped daily for groceries and the aromas from Charbonneau’s French Bakery made customers eager to savor the pastries. However quaint this picture may be, know that this story carries with it intrigue, hostility, bravery and courage, in a time when women also became drawn into the violence of local coal mining strikes.”
~ Susan M. Holding
Author, The Little French Bakery Cookbook

“For those of us who live in mining communities like Western Maryland, Last Curtain Call reconnects us back to our past. A thoroughly inspiring and great read.”
~ Jeffrey A. Snyder
Geologist Lead, Maryland Bureau of Mines

Last Curtain Call is available on Amazon and from the Freedom Forge Press publisher store.

Gone (An Election Day Story)

BY VAL MULLER

shoes1 John sat on the seawall overlooking the ocean. The moon was nearly full and reflected on the rippling water. How could the sea always be so peaceful? It seemed strange, somehow, that the ocean went on and on, the tide came and went, when the country was falling apart.

He tightened his grasp on his bottle of beer. “Did you decide?” he asked.

George shook his head. “Does it matter?” He sighed. “Do you remember elections when we were younger? I’d stay up late watching the news and rooting for my pick. And now, what is there to stay up for? Either way…”

“Either way, the people lose.” John took a long pull. “Used to be a time we didn’t fear what would happen to the country if one candidate won versus the other.”

George scoffed. “Doesn’t matter. Neither one is good news. It’s like—you’re going to Hell. How do you want to get there?”

John clinked his bottle against the stone wall. A toast. “I guess I’ll go t hird party. For what it’s worth.”

George shook his head. “I guess. For what difference it will make.”

“Which isn’t any.” The public was given no choice. The next president would either be Biff Tannen from Back to the Future 2 or else turn America into a secret dictatorship, one in which enemies of the White House disappeared in mysterious and never-spoken-of ways. Either way…

But what could they do? The system was rigged. Each party seemed to choose someone more despicable than the next, and everyone’s arguments centered on “lesser-of-two-evils” logic. But John’s was just one vote. What could he even do? “Unless…”

George turned to him. “Unless what?”

“Unless I just don’t play.”

“You mean you aren’t gonna vote?”

John shook his head. “Not only that.”

“What do you mean?”

John finished his beer and placed the bottle neatly on the seawall. “I’m just gonna leave.” He brought his foot close to him and unlaced his boot and pulled it off his foot. Then he took off the other. “You got a camera?”

George reached for his phone. “Yeah. Why?”

John set his two boots on the wall next to the bottle. “I’m leaving the system. I’m deregistering.”

“So? What good will that do?”

John bit his lip. “Okay, I’ll work for cash only. Not only that. I’ll work for trades. I’ll move out to the middle of nowhere. I’ll move off the grid. I’ll deny them my tax dollars. I’ll—”

George reached for the beer bottle. “Dude, what’s in this stuff? You on something? What you’re saying is nonsense.” John didn’t respond. George laughed. “Okay, what are you, a new revolutionary?” He thought for a minute. “Okay, a sound bite to Tweet out: this election, the people lose.”

“Every election the people lose,” John said. He looked out at the sea. Then he smiled. “Take a picture of my shoes.”shoes2

George turned on his flash and snapped the shot. “Okay, and?”

“Send it out. Put it on Facebook, on Twitter. Send it to your representative. Send it to the national committees and let them know what we think of their candidates. Let them know that John Adler is not playing the game.”

“Dude, you’re just gonna leave your shoes there?”

John stood up on the wall. “Yes. And maybe the first person to find my shoes will be confused. Maybe the second, too. But you post it on social media, and eventually, someone, somewhere, is gonna pick up on it. And pretty soon there will be another pair of shoes somewhere. Shoes from someone who’s tired of playing the game. Shoes from someone who refuses to cast a vote for one of two evils, someone who refuses to play in a system in which third parties are ridiculed and money talks and the people have no voice. And maybe by Election Day, there’ll be five pairs of shoes or ten. And maybe next time there are twenty, and then two hundred, and then two-hundred thousand. And eventually there will be so many shoes that the system has no one to stand on, and it does what it should have done decades and decades ago—and collapses.”

George took another picture. “Better make it a good shot, then.” George turned to his phone. John could see his was busy writing a narrative on Facebook. The post was going to be a long one. George, an adamant blogger, would have fun with it. “Dude, this is inspired, John. Truly inspired.”

The tide disguised John’s departure as George became more and more absorbed in his post. John went to bed, resisting the urge to read his friend’s postings.

* * *

John headed out on Election Day, walking toward the 7-Eleven where the immigrants went to find day work. He hadn’t been kidding. He was moving off the grid, and he’d find cash work until he could figure something more permanent. The elementary school where he used to vote was full of red, white, and blue signs boasting of one candidate or another. People handed out flyers to voters as if their chosen candidate had the power to rid the country of all ills. Did any of them actually believe they held any power?

John shook his head. Sheep, all of them.

Turning the corner toward the 7-Eleven, he stopped. If he still had a cell phone, he would have snapped a picture and texted George. There, on the sidewalk, a pair of expensive-looking brown loafers. Office worker shoes belonging to someone who certainly made more money than John ever would.

John didn’t allow his heart to beat too quickly, though. Probably just coincidence. Maybe someone just pulled over to change out of the uncomfortable shoes after some meeting—and then forgot and left them on the side of the road.

Don’t get your hopes up, John.

He took a few more steps. He could already see the convenience store, a gathering of workers waiting for the day’s work. Some of them brought their own shovels and pick axes, looking for a random day job. John hurried to join them until he was stopped again in his tracks.

Another pair of shoes. This time a bit more casual. Brown loafers kicked off right there in the street. One pair, maybe, but two? This had to be intentional. John squinted across the street, and he knew. Three’s a charm. A pair of athletic flip-flops, the expensive kind.

He headed toward the 7-Eleven with renewed enthusiasm. His revolution had started.

* * *

Editor’s Note: “Gone” originally appeared on the author’s webpage on 10/20/2016 as part the Spot Writer’s flash fiction project.

 

Freedom Friday: A Win for Free Market Capitalism

This  blog post was originally posted by our editor at www.ValMuller.com as a “Fantastic Friday” story, but we liked the freedom angle so much, we decided to repost it here “Freedom Friday.”

“Fantastic Friday: Capitalism”
By Val Muller

This week, 7-11 gave out a free small Slurpee to all customers. Then, Chick-Fil-A celebrated the next day with “dress like a cow” day. All customers who dressed “cow-like” were given a free entrée.

Without trying to be too political for a Fantastic Friday post, I wanted to celebrate the wonders of capitalism. I know that sometimes our system of “crony capitalism” rubs people the wrong way (as it should, when certain businesses are given favors by corrupt government officials and politicians). But while I was on a road trip the other day, I listened to an NPR story about what’s happening in Venezuela, about how the instability in the country is forcing talented young folks to leave if they are able. Their socialist economy has collapsed, and people cannot secure even basic essentials. In some cases, people are so desperate for food that they wait in line even while witnessing a murder—because they cannot afford to lose their place in line.

Juxtapose that with two businesses in the course of a week vying for customer business by giving away goods. Here’s a picture of the small 7-11 parking lot, which is never crowded. This time, I had to park in a lot next door because there were no spaces left.711-license plates blurred

Are all the customers who received a free drink or a free entrée going to return and patronize those businesses? Probably not. But you can bet a good deal of them will (I’ll be one of them, but I love Chick-Fil-A’s lemonade and sweet tea so much that sometimes I dream about them!).

I’m building a gate in my back yard, and it’s amazing that I can go to Home Depot and secure a handful of various-sized screws and bolts (not sure which I’ll actually need) for a relatively inexpensive cost, along with a bag of pea gravel, a square, various sizes of wood, and several other odd but available items. All there for me at a moment’s notice. And on the way home, if I get hot or thirsty, I can stop at any convenience store or drive-thru and purchase a beverage for a dollar or two and a minute of my time.

It strikes me that capitalism—pure, unadulterated, free market capitalism—is the most hopeful type of economy. It puts faith in human beings who want to serve others the best they can and rewards them—monetarily—for doing so.

The employees at Chick-Fil-A were all friendly and seemed happy to be there, enjoying looking at customers’ strange cow costumes. And the customers were all happy, even despite a line that wove to the end of the restaurant. When we saw how long the line was, my family and I could have easily gone down the street to McDonald’s or KFC, but everyone in line was friendly, and the employees succeeded in moving the line along in record speed—even though most of the items being ordered were free. In exchange, customers gladly spent extra money to add items to their free entrees.

I believe it was John Stossel who mentioned on one of his shows that a capitalist economy is the only one where you will have both customer and vendor say “thank you” to each other—because in free market capitalism, it is truly a system that works to the mutual benefit of both parties.

When humans are left alone, they strive to please each other to mutual benefit and mutual pleasure. And that’s something to celebrate.

Fighting for Freedom From Fortress Bastille to “The Fortress” in the Vercors

Prise_de_la_BastilleToday marks the 227th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a prison in Paris that became a symbol of the corrupt authority of the French monarchy during the rule of Louis XVI. The storming and fall of the Bastille would become marked as one of flash points of the French Revolution.

In the spirit of freedom and the fight for individual rights, we thought it an appropriate occasion to announce our latest acquisition, a novel called The Fortress by debut author Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey. The novel takes place during WWII France:

The occupation has not made much of a difference in Alix’s life. Her father has seen to it that she grow up, unaware but safe in her tiny village under the cliffs of the Vercors. All around her he has built a fortress whose walls he defends-until the 27th of April, 1944. That day he makes a stupid mistake up on the edge of the cliff, and the walls come crashing down. The war breaks into Alix’s life with unrelenting violence, unforeseen possibilities. Whom then on, every decision she makes will mean life and death.

We’re excited to share the novel because at the heart of it lies everything Freedom Forge Press is all about: an individual’s search for freedom in a world that seems it will never be free. We asked Madeleine to write a bit about what inspired her to write the novel:

(Sharing the post from Madeleine’s website:)

madeleineromeyerdherbeyLand of revolutions and invasions, France has a deep, almost intimate relationship with the fortress, whether it stands in the way of tyranny or freedom. Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the people of Paris rose and stormed the Bastille fortress, a symbol of oppression and corruption, and took the first steps to claiming their God-given right to chart their own destiny. Seventy-two years ago on the same fateful date, Vassieux-en-Vercors was destroyed by the Nazis, sealing the fate of that last of French fortresses, the Vercors libre. To commemorate the occasion, I wanted to reflect on the reason I wrote The Fortress.

It started when I looked around one day and realized things were no longer making any sense. First I thought, maybe it’s me. My internet is slow, I don’t have satellite TV or a cell phone, I must have missed the Hi Tech revolution. The change, the hope, the promised land.

And then I thought again. It was not me, it was really the world that was changing fast, much too fast for me or anyone to understand. Maybe all of us, safe, successful, and inclined to look the other way, had missed, or rather ignored, what is really happening.

“What are you going to do about it?” my husband said. “It’s too late for America.”

Because he was right, I started writing. And because he was wrong, I kept on writing.

I had to go back two generations, to a time when strong women liked strong men, people knew which bathroom to use, and we weren’t killing babies, in order to find the broken thread. Two generations ago we could name our enemy and look him in the face. Two generations ago we knew what it took to stay free. But even then we waited till it was almost too late. The reckoning was painful—an absolute concept if there are any. We had to be routed first, utterly crushed before we understood what we had lost. When that handful of men came to the Vercors Mountains, they were beyond debating the meaning of life and moral purity. They had nothing left, no friends, no allies, no hope of ever succeeding. Dying an honorable death to redeem the shame of defeat was their last dream, and the Fortress was their last stand.

Today we don’t have to die, but there’s something to be said for Resistance. Uncompromising, vigilant, always rational, the indestructible belief that the last spark of light will conquer darkness. Maybe it’s called Faith.

Which brings me to my main point. The past, the present, the future, nothing is accidental. We build tomorrow, one individual at a time, one decision at a time. An act for freedom, an act for servitude. An act of resistance, or surrender. Neither Alix nor Marc, the two protagonists, set out to change the world when the war breaks into their lives. They finally find the point beyond which life is no longer worth living, and stop backing up.

Whether the world makes any sense—has it ever? We all find that point, the starting point of our resistance. Agree, stand down, shut up—or not. How we choose to resist remains our decision, and ours only. Our dream, our fortress, our spark in the darkness.


PHOTO CREDIT
Prise de la Bastille (The Storming of the Bastille) by Jean-Pierre Houël via Public Domain

Of Sparklers and Property Rights: A Libertarian Reflection

2550178805_5afb1b72c0_oBy Val Muller

My favorite Independence Day memory involves me running around the backyard, catching fireflies, and waiting until it was dark enough to light sparklers. While waiting, we ate through courses of burgers, ‘dogs, and s’mores. I didn’t have to wear shoes, I didn’t have to worry about bedtime for school or how many burgers I could eat or how sticky my hands got from the melted and flaming marshmallows.

It was kid freedom.

When I reflect about what went into making my favorite memory, I realize at the core of sticky marshmallows and burgers was a more durable principle: property rights. It’s one of the pillars that makes this an exceptional country.

Property rights gave us all a sense of pride. Even though our yard was small, it was ours; and we took care of it. The small but well-loved garden in the corner always bloomed in the spring and yielded bountifully in the summer, fed by the compost pile that we willingly made in the opposite corner of the yard from grass clippings and food rinds.

Even in a simple Independence Day celebration, this right was mirrored in my childhood experience. One year, I was given my own property: a box of sparklers. My sister was given the same. We were allowed to use our sparklers “whenever” we wanted—just not in the house. I don’t remember which of us it was, but we were so excited that one of us lit a sparkler before it was even dark out. Though it was sparkly and awesome, we saw what a waste it was to light them in the daylight. We learned this at the cost of our own sparkler, and it made us treasure the remaining sparklers all the more.

I treated each sparkler like gold, using it only when I had planned out the exact way I wanted to consume it. One, I decided, I would stick in the sandbox and just watch as it burned down. Another, I would race back and forth across the yard with, seeing how many times I could make it before the sparkler burned out. For another, my sister and I coordinated, deciding to write words in the air with the glowing sparklers.

Though a silly childhood story, the larger point is this: people take care of the things they own. But if everybody (and thus nobody) owns something, the experience would have been different. Our sparklers were special because they were ours and there was a limited supply. How would we have acted differently if we could bully our neighbors into giving us their sparklers after we lit off a bunch of them during the day? The sense of ownership and pride naturally led my sister and me to take care of our things, a lesson learned that went far beyond sparklers and summer kid fun.

And what is true at an individual level is repeated hundreds of millions of times over for a nation. Property rights are a pillar of what made America exceptional. Glossed over in school history books – if discussed at all – is the story of New World settlers to America. Both Jamestown and Plymouth colonies flirted with collective property, seeing that each person received what he needed from “the common stock.”

The experiment failed in Plymouth, as Governor Bradford noted people faking illness and not working the “common” farm plots. Communal property was abandoned in favor of individual property rights.

The Jamestown colony was a more vivid and cautionary tale: the colonists also tried communal property and farming and nearly starved themselves to death. Of a colony of nearly 500 in the winter of 1609-1610 only 60 survived, the rest (nearly 90 percent!) perished from starvation. Some resorted to cannibalism or digging up graves to consume the corpses of their fellow colonists in order to survive.

Modern examples exist, too.

Private ownership saved the American buffalo population. When individuals were given ownership (and therefore incentives) to raise buffalo, they did. Now, 90% of the 500,000 buffalo in this nation exist under private ownership, whereas collectively “owned,” they neared extinction.

In Europe, the Landmark Trust rescues historic buildings that would otherwise be lost. Under private ownership, the Trust rents out the properties, using profits for maintenance.

When things are owned by the government or the public at large, “everybody” owns it. So if the US population is 319 million, then you have an ownership stake of 0.00000000313%. And how much do you care about maintaining 0.00000000313% of anything? Everybody owns it and so nobody truly does. And that means nobody takes care of it quite like it would be if it had been owned by an individual.

Consider the federal budget and the fact that the government’s chief auditing agency (GAO) published a report estimating that the number of “improper payments” in FY 2014 was $124.7 billion. These are by the government’s definition simply put, “any payments that should not have been made.” (Examples include Social Security or other benefit payments made to dead people; most improper payments are connected to abuse of an entitlement program.)

To put that into perspective, if “Improper Payments, Inc” were a US corporation, it would be the 15th largest on the list of wealthiest US companies. If it were a country, its annual GDP would be larger than 131 other countries on a ranking of economic output.

But who “owns” the US Treasury? It’s a public federal agency. We all do. So nobody takes the care needed to avoid wasting over $100 billion in tax revenue on an annual basis. What privately-owned company could operate in this manner? Perhaps more depressing to think about, is what other things could have been done with the money wasted on improper payments? Cancer research? Fixing the crumbling infrastructure? Or better yet, returning the money to private hands.

Now grown, I own property myself, and I hope to teach my daughter the same sense of pride and ownership, that good things come when we understand our resources (and their scarcity) and make plans based upon careful study (essentially, the opposite of what our government does!). So as I listen to the fireworks for another Independence Day, I remain thankful for my freedoms, and most of all for my property rights.

PHOTO CREDIT: 

“Sparkler” by Stuart Heath, via Creative Commons License

The Importance of Independence

It seems you hear everyone say “Happy Fourth of July!” At Freedom Forge Press, it’s one of our favorite holidays, but we prefer “Independence Day.” To us, understanding the importance of independence is essential in preserving liberty and an empowering way of life.

This “Man on the Street” video from Mark Dice would suggest that many people don’t know why they’re celebrating the Fourth of July:

Of course you can argue selective editing. Not everybody is as clueless as many people in the video (it finally ends on a positive note!). But a Rasmussen poll of 2014 found nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t know why we celebrate Independence Day.

One of the reasons we founded FFP was to provide a forum for people to share stories about the importance of independence. It’s no coincidence that many of the authors we talk to have stories from other countries or other times in history, ones that long or longed for the freedoms offered by the United States. These authors are all passionate to share their tales, victorious or cautionary, to help future readers understand what is truly at stake when a loss of freedom is involved.

And really, what makes America exceptional is our independence. Here we believe that humankind is born free and that it’s government’s job to protect our freedoms – not take them away or bargain them back to us. There really is nothing more effective in fostering the potential of the human spirit than a liberal helping of independence. When people are left to their own devices, they find the passions that drive them. And when they’re forced to work for someone else’s passion, they typically deliver the minimum needed to get by.

In schools, children are more routinely passionate about project-based learning—projects they are free to choose themselves— rather than assigned tasks such as rote memorization of dates and locations.

The film 300 effectively illustrates this concept too. A group of 300 passionate Spartans volunteered to defend their homes against impossible odds—a huge army numbering over 100,000. In fighting to the last man, they inflicted significant losses and halted the Persian advance to allow for the organization of a more forceful defense. In one scene, the Spartan king says to the Persian king, “You have many slaves, Xerxes, but few warriors. It won’t be long before they fear my spears more than your whips.”

In America, independence is essential to keep—and, in some ways, to rekindle. Free markets—not crony capitalism or corporate welfare—allow buyers and sellers to meet and determine value by voluntary exchange. There are no political favors owed, no secret agendas hidden from voters and buried deep in the bowels of an innocent-sounding-titled law, tucked away inside another “must pass” law such as an emergency or disaster response package or “‘Murica Good, Terrorists Bad” law.

When people are free to determine their own course, few things can hold back their ingenuity, aspirations, and drive to excel. The #LearnLiberty campaign recently collected the results of improving the independence of free people with government policies increasing personal freedom and independence and illustrates how the lives of people across the globe have improved:

  • Health Savings Accounts in Singapore were enacted in 1984, giving its people independence to plan for health care needs. Today it boasts an infant mortality rate 70% lower than the US, has a life expectancy of 82 and one of the lowest health spending as a percentage of GDP.
  • Botswana is rated as one of the freest economies of the African continent. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a per capita GDP that grew from $70 in 1966 to $16,400 in 2014.
  • Irish taxi deregulation in 2000 led to shorter wait times, greater taxi availability, and reduced prices.
  • Guatemala removed its monopoly on phone lines in 1995. Phone ownership rose from one phone per 37 people to 1.5 phones per person in 10 years.
  • France removed regulations of its mobile phone providers in 2009; prices fell 30% in two years.
  • New Zealand is the only industrialized country that has zero farm subsidies. Agriculture accounts for 2/3 of the country’s exports.
  • England and Wales eliminated laws regulating closing times for pubs (11pm?!)  and allowing them to stay open until 5am. Traffic accidents recorded on Friday and Saturday nights fell by a third.

Independence gives people the power to solve their own problems, far more effectively than can be done for them on their behalf by a self-appointed expert in a distant capital passing ineffective laws that restrict freedom of action.

Although we enjoy celebrating freedom–and our Independence–this weekend, maintaining and increasing our freedoms against power hungry do-gooders, politicians, dictators, and the like, is a constant battle. It’s one we’re passionate about fighting every day because we believe the proper state of humanity should be that of free individuals interacting peacefully and willingly to foster the best we have to offer each other.

And that is always worth fighting for. We invite you to join us!

 

Freedom Friday: Freedom Briefs

high resolution 3d rendering of a compass with a freedom icon

high resolution 3d rendering of a compass with a freedom icon

For this Friday, we’d like to celebrate with five quick celebrations of freedom. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the news these days and feel that the world is on a downward track to oblivion (who are you voting for in November: bad, or worse?). Even though blood is what sells, we thought we’d end the week on a positive note by highlighting some of the more celebratory stories we have encountered. It’s good to know there are still lots of instances of increased human freedoms despite everything else going on.

A Civil Forfeiture Victory

For those not familiar, civil forfeiture is when the government decides it has the right to grab property or money that belongs to an individual. Usually, this occurs when an individual is pulled over or discovered to have large amounts of cash. Law enforcement often assumes the worst and confiscates the cash, subscribing to a guilty-until-proven-innocent philosophy. The government is many cases does not have to even prove the owner’s guilt )or even bring charges) in order to keep the property. Critics (which should include everyone!) of civil forfeiture note that departments often seem to be on the lookout for large assets to seize as a way to raise revenue. It often affects cash-only businesses, such as restaurants, often with the least ability (time, resources) to fight the red tape that allowed their money to be stolen in the first place or to recover their property from the government.

In a recent case, The Institute for Justice launched a case on behalf of a Burmese Christian rock band against police in Oklahoma—and the case was dropped in record time—that same day. In this case, the band was raising money for charities in Burma and Thailand and was found with $53,000 of cash in their car. Although no drugs were found in the car, police jumped to the conclusion that the band had made that money selling drugs, and seized the group’s assets.

According to the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws: in some cases, they can keep 100% of the proceeds from these forfeitures. This case required international outreach and knowledge of the law. We’re glad, as always, for organizations like the Institute for Justice, fighting for rights and reform that support individual freedom, property rights, and due process.

Human Progress

HumanProgress.org is a fun site to read if you are looking for reminders of all that is good in the world. A favorite section of the site is the “data” feature, in which you can access interactive maps that compare various elements of human progress over the last several decades. For instance, you can view this handy chart to see how deaths from cancer among males has been declining.

Labyrinth

And speaking of human progress, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize this week as the 30th anniversary of the release of Labyrinth, starring David Bowie, of course. At Freedom Forge Press, we love stories almost as much as we love freedom (which is why we believe freedom-themed stories are so vital!). Labyrinth is such a fun, whimsical film while still fulfilling all the tick-boxes of an archetypal journey. We especially like how protagonist Sarah falls prey to her life of relative privilege but learns by the end to appreciate what she has.

And Speaking of Appreciating What We Have…

We enjoyed reading in Reason magazine that in absolute terms, the upper-middle class has been growing since 1979. There seems to be a myth perpetuated by vote-grabbing politicians in this country that Americans are getting poorer and it’s the fault of the rich. But the numbers just don’t support that.

And thinking about it, we have made progress in the last forty years. Computers used to be room-sized devices for geeky men in laboratories. Now, almost everyone can afford one, and they’re small enough to fit on your wrist. We can access information in record time, and we can usually acquire food, gas, and entertainment on-demand without shortages or lines.

As much as we hate the idea, we sometimes feel that Americans don’t or won’t appreciate what they have until it’s gone.

And this:

There’s really nothing more we need to say :)

Freedom…From The Cable Bill

By Eric Eggercord-cutting

One of my first adventures in “libertarian parenting” has been to evaluate the household budget and look for savings that could be used to pay for child care expenses. As a universal truth about babies: they ain’t cheap.

From diapers to car carriers to day care, the expenses pile up. As I looked over my monthly budget, one item has stuck out for some time now as not adding much value for the price paid.

It’s the cable bill.

The cable provider collects nearly $110 per month for content, equipment, and of course, taxes. And what do I get in return? I can watch a show from hundreds of programming choices – and record up to 4 others to watch later.

Sport events? I don’t really care – yet fees for channels like the battery of ESPNs has historically accounted for nearly 20 percent of cable bills. Meaning I’m paying the bill for others to get their fill of live event coverage and in-depth talking heads offering their opinions about why Player X is having, about to have, or had, a good, bad, or mediocre game/day/week/season/whatever.

I noticed my leisure time, spent with my wife and newborn, consist of watching movies or shows on Netflix. Despite all the programming content that the cable provider offers, I sadly live an analog reality of only being able to upload one show at a time into my visual cortex.

I also noticed cable usually provides a backdrop of familiar – and admittedly at times comforting – noise while other things are going on. We dutifully watched evening news programs while surfing the ‘Net or cleared out the DVR storage from time to time by watching current and past re-runs of Big Bang Theory, Pawn Stars, and Hell’s Kitchen.

But is that worth $1,320 per year? The answer for me was a decided, and firm, “No!”

So I joined the ranks of an elite and shadowy syndicate known as “The Cord Cutters.” (Not to be confused with The Stone Cutters.)

A Cord Cutter is someone who is comfortable with using the Internet as the primary, and sole, means of providing media entertainment. They—not quite literally—“cut” the cable cord to their home. The actual “cutting” going on refers more to the cable service (and monthly bill) rather than taking an actual pair of scissors or wire cutters (not recommended) to your home’s wiring diagrams.

The Mechanics…

All you need is a broadband Internet connection. Likely, you’ve already got one of those.

Next, you’ll need some content providers. I was already paying for two before I joined the Cord Cutters “guild.” So in reality, my starting point was my monthly cable bill, plus my existing content providers. At the moment, I’m using two: Netflix and Amazon Prime. But there are plenty of others. I might consider adding Hulu if I start missing my broadcast shows enough. And HBO Now gives me my Game of Thrones fix.

We’ll pretend that we didn’t have Netflix or Amazon though, since it’s easy to finance your new content acquisition from the cable bill savings.

Here is the fiscal tally:

Monthly Expenses:

Cable Cancellation (-$110/month)
Netflix ($7.99/month for the Basic plan)
Amazon Prime ($99/year; $8.25/month)

Cable Savings = $110.00/month

Expenses = $16.24/month

Let’s go as far as to add Hulu and HBO Now: $7.99/month, 14.99/month)

Monthly Expenses = $39.22

Monthly Net Savings = $70.78

Next, unless you want to attach a laptop to each of your TV screens, it’d be helpful to obtain some hardware. I went with Amazon FireTV. The voice enabled remote edition is $50. This is a one-time cost for each TV you want to include. No monthly equipment fees or taxes.

So if the average home has 3 TVs, budget $150 in equipment costs. This is a one-time, non-recurring expense, as long as the Amazon hardware doesn’t break.

One-time equipment costs: $150.00

By your third month you’ll be generating positive cash flow to your cord cutting project. ($150.00/$70.78)

And I’ll be saving about $850 per year that I can use to pay for day care and buy the odd season DVDs or movie that I might not be able to get from my cord cutting strategy.

Breaking the Shackles…of the Mind

Within a few days of cutting the cord, I noticed something that may be even more remarkable than booking the monthly savings from cancelling an un-necessary bill. My TV watching habits became deliberate choices instead of sharing similarity with a Pavlovian-trained hamster, racing away in my little wheel.

I wanted to watch House of Cards or Breaking Bad. So I watched an episode or two and then moved on to the next task on my daily agenda. I didn’t simply turn on the TV and “vege” out to the soothing background din of a couple hundred channels of content that I still can only watch one at a time. I actively chose how to fill my time.

Not only did cutting the cord free my wallet from the cable overlords, but it also freed my mind from feeling the need to mind meld with my TV on a daily basis. And what price can you put on that kind of freedom?

About the Author:

ERIC EGGER is an editor and founder of Freedom Forge Press.

PHOTO CREDIT:

Cord-cutting is reshaping the cable industry” by openmedia.org. Used with Creative Commons License

Writing Wednesday: Celebrating Writing

Power of WordsBy Val Muller

I was having a discussion with several soon-to-be-graduating high school seniors the other day. They were talking about how parents today are allowing the next generation to ruin themselves via technology. As an example, they cited a family who was eating at a very “happening” restaurant. Upon sitting at the table, the mother reached into her pocketbook and retrieved two tablets, which she promptly handed to each of her two children. The kids then automatically turned on a movie and a game and turned off their attention to their parents. What shocked my students about this display was that the parents didn’t even try to engage their children: technology was the preferred “babysitter.”

My students’ distress at this behavior gave me hope, and I was reminded again of eras in history in which sharing ideas allowed humanity to blossom and grow. As a writer and editor, I hope that the sharing of ideas never fades or pales to paltry video games or movies. I hope we always have the poets, the artists, the entrepreneurs who insist on creating something from nothing, who want to better humanity and leave their mark on the world.

As part of its mission, Freedom Forge Press is dedicated to preserving the written word as a medium for sharing ideas. We are currently open to submissions for novels.

At FFP, we hope to publish the best freedom-loving literature we can find. But we also like encouraging the written word as it applies to any theme. So we’d like to share some other writing opportunities we’ve compiled from around the web:

http://www.futurescapescontest.com/. Can you imagine the city of the future? Check out the website for this year’s contest. July 15 deadline.

http://www.chickensoup.com/story-submissions/possible-book-topics Chicken Soup for the Soul has built quite the franchise. The editors are frequently on the lookout for new essays, and deadlines vary.

http://www.writersofthefuture.com/enter-writer-contest/ The Writers of the Future contest got me writing when I was in high school. It’s an ongoing opportunity to compete with the best amateur writers of speculative fiction. Quarterly deadlines and prizes.

http://www.newpages.com/writers-resources/young-authors-guide and http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2015/03/26/publication-opportunities-for-young-writers/. These blog posts offer a collection of international writing opportunities for young writers. As always, be sure to read the details of each one before you consider whether to submit.

http://fundsforwriters.com/ This site often appears in the top 100 websites for writers. There are several newsletter options, including a free one, for writers to receive updates on markets and agents looking for talent.

In the past, we at FFP have called for a renewed Age of Enlightenment, a renewed Age of Reason in which we demand the most of our minds to make the world a better place. With everyone surrounded by technology, it’s easy to be distracted and pacified by minutiae. It seems a constant battle to fight against the pull of the screen’s warm glow. But let’s “not go silent into that good night.” Let’s write and read and discuss and think.

The world will be better for it.

About the Author:

VAL MULLER is an FFP editor, fiction writer and teacher living in Virginia.  You can keep track of her at www.valmuller.com.

Binding the Civil Forfeiture Bully

School BullyThe Institute for Justice (IJ) is one of our favorite champions of freedom. Earlier this week the Internal Revenue Service handed IJ one of their fastest victories ever.

Within hours of IJ filing a lawsuit, the IRS returned nearly $70,000 in funds it had exploited in civil forfeiture proceedings from the Vocatura family, third-generation bakery owners in Norwich, Connecticut.

For those of you not in the know, civil forfeiture is a process by which government agencies can seize private assets merely on the suspicion of wrong-doing. The government can take, and keep, private property without ever bringing charges against whomever the property was taken from. For many property owners, there is no conviction required. No due process. No day in court due to the cost and judicial proceedings required to force the government to return the seized property. And agencies have behaved badly – using the funds for anything from travel, banquets, boats, equipment, political consultants, and in some cases, even illegal activity such as buying alcohol, marijuana, and prostitutes.

More information about civil forfeiture, or “policing for profit” as IJ calls it – including a video, here.

The IRS is not the only agency engaging in such behavior. Other agencies from local to federal law enforcement also use the practice.

Not only does civil forfeiture fly in the face of fairness for many Americans, but we believe it to be legally sanctioned criminal behavior. Think of the classic school bully who upends a kid in order to take his lunch money. That’s the essence of civil forfeiture, except instead of a maladjusted school yard bully, the individual faces the full weight and power of the government.

The US Constitution clearly and plainly states in the Fourth Amendment, “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.”

“Shall not be violated” is about as plain as it gets, folks.

Yet the total value of private property taken from individual citizens is alarming: an estimated $4.5 billion at the federal level alone in 2014 according to an IJ analysis.

Let’s return to the Vocatura family and their conflict with the IRS school yard bully. The family made bank deposits from their bakery’s business – often in cash, and often in amounts less than $10,000, which would trigger currency transaction reporting (by law) at US banks. Yes, it appears that even in 2016, people buy baked goods with cash, just not more than $10,000 at a time.

So the IRS, the school yard bully, showed up at the business, with armed agents, and conducted a raid, seizing $68,000. The Vocaturas resisted the IRS seizure and sought the return of their property in court. The school yard bully responded by launching a criminal tax investigation – a battle which has caused 3 years of legal wrangling between the IRS and the Vocaturas, who frankly have a bakery to run and shouldn’t have to be spending their time trying to seek the return of their own property that was seized on suspicion of a crime they have never been charged with.

The IRS has filed no charges. Did not bring the case in front of a judge. They preferred instead to try to strong-arm the Vocaturas into a plea arrangement to voluntarily give up the funds, serve 3-4 years in prison, and forfeit an additional $160,000 in personal assets. Without the benefit of a trial. Without charges ever being filed. The school yard bully has quite an appetite for school lunch money.

We’re glad there are defenders of freedom like IJ out there to stand up to the school yard bullies at the IRS and other similarly-minded agencies.

But in our view, defense is not enough. How many stories like the Vocaturas are out there – just to a lesser extent? Government agencies from the local, to state, to federal level routinely have poor transparency, and no accountability procedures for the property seized. Civil forfeiture outstrips criminal forfeiture (where an actual crime is proven and a party found guilty) by an almost 7 to 1 ratio. For every  criminal forfeiture where a defendant has pled or been found guilty, there are another 7 civil forfeitures.

To protect our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution, which is why government exists in the first place, it’s time to go on the offense.

The IRS may have finally, begrudgingly returned the $68,000 it seized from the Vocaturas. Yet the criminal probe goes on. Surely the best and brightest agents at the IRS would be able to discover evidence enough for charges to be filed against local bakery operators after 3 years of investigation. (It took the government less time to investigate and convict Martha Stewart.)

Where do the Vocaturas go to get 3 years of their life back? How are they made whole after having their business violently raided by armed federal agents when they committed no violent offenses themselves? What recourse will they have for having to prepare and provide 8 years of records to the government to try to prove their innocence against charges that were never brought against them?

Stripping a citizen of their Fourth Amendment rights should become a criminal act both for agents and agencies alike. Holding officers of the government personally and criminally liable for wrongdoing is not without precedent and is a practice that may need to be expanded in order to protect our civil liberties.

The Privacy Act of 1974 establishes criminal penalties for employees or officers of agencies who knowingly and willfully disclose personally identifiable information. It is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a $5,000 fine. The agency can also face civil penalties in court, to include payment of attorney fees and representation costs.

This sounds about right to us.

IRS agents who engaged in willful seizure of property, failed to bring charges, failed to obtain warrants, and instead engaged in a 3-year protracted legal battle with private citizens, could be found guilty of misdemeanor offenses. Law should be established to compel the IRS in this case to pay civil penalties and legal fees as atonement for the civil terrorism it has inflicted on private citizens.

In such cases as these, we are reminded of a sentiment from Thomas Jefferson, who said, “The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.”

We can’t think of a more relevant modern example of government engaging in criminal behavior that is legally sanctioned than the kind of school yard bullying that the civil forfeiture process has become.

PHOTO CREDIT: “Bully” by Terry Freedman