Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Last Friday our country was stunned to learn of a senseless shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, which left 14 people dead and over 50 wounded.  This inexplicable act of evil has left many in our country calling for solutions to prevent any other such events from occurring. For many on the left, the tragedy has given life to resounding calls for more gun control.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg called on both President Obama and Mitt Romney to take a stance in favor of new gun control laws.  In Congress, liberals have been calling for bans on assault rifles and limitations on ammunition. 

Yesterday, Obama stated his position on increased gun control. While he affirms that he, "like most Americans" believes that the second Amendment guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, he also believes that we need stricter laws to prevent criminals from purchasing weapons and ammunition.  Specifically, he is calling on lawmakers to work to prevent "mentally unstable" people from purchasing weapons. (I would like to know who determines whether a given person is 'mentally unstable' considering some of the definitions of potential terrorists that we have seen from Homeland Security over the past few years.)

The timing of this new push for gun control is interesting in light of the new UN Small Arms Treaty that is being completed this week.  The UN Small Arms Treaty is an international attempt at gun control, both on a military and individual level, which has been endorsed by both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Volumes could be written on the various provisions of this treaty--including the wisdom of allowing an enemy nation such as Iran whose leader believes that he has a mission from his god to establish a Muslim Caliphate (government) which will spread across the world to be allowed to dictate the number of weapons each country can have. Today, though, I want to focus on just one aspect of gun control--it's ineffectiveness in preventing violence.

As a life-long resident of the El Paso, Texas, region I have gotten to witness up close and personal the difference between a society which limited gun control (Texas) and a society with restrictive gun control (Mexico) and to see the differences between the two.

Many who live off the border wrongly assume that Mexico's problems with violence are the product of the drug war between warring cartels.  That is the current source of the murder and mayhem in Mexico, but Juarez has been a dangerous, violent city for many years--long before outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon began the war that has torn the country apart.  Several years ago, before the drug wars began, I did a mortgage loan for a woman living in the U.S. whose family owned a money-changing business in Juarez.  She and her brothers had inherited the business, but she told me that her brothers did not want to work in it because it was too dangerous.  The business had been robbed a number of times, and during one of these robberies her husband had been shot.  Fearing that he would be killed if he continued to work in the business, she had encouraged him to go to work in a restaurant in El Paso. She, herself, continued to cross the bridge every day to open and operate her business, and she hoped and prayed each day that she would not be killed while doing so.

My client was unable to buy a gun to protect herself and her business because of the strict gun control laws in Mexico.  These laws, which are among the strictest in the world, are designed to make gun ownership nearly impossible.  According to an article in the Washington Post, the entire nation of Mexico has only one gun store, which is located in Mexico city and operated by the Mexican military.  The clerks are soldiers.  The store is located on a secure military base and to enter customers must provide valid ID, pass through a metal detector, give up their cell phones and cameras, provide proof of income, submit references, pass a criminal background check and provide proof that they have been honorably discharged from any military service.  If they pass all of these checks, they are allowed to purchase just ONE small caliber weapon and a box of bullets.  The weapons are allowed only at home. A business owner who wants to possess a weapon must apply for a separate permit.  Business owners are normally encouraged to hire a private security company to protect themselves rather than getting a gun.

Mexico's no tolerance laws about gun control frequently cause problems for U.S. citizens who cross the border with weapons.  Several years ago, a member of our police force drove his vehicle across the border in pursuit of a suspect. Upon crossing to the Mexican side, he was immediately detained by Mexican authorities and jailed. (He remained in custody for months while U.S. officials negotiated his release.) Most recently, a young truck driver from Dallas, Texas, who was transporting a shipment of ammunition, crossed the border and was jailed in Mexico.  Although the Mexican customs official who detained him said in her statement that he told her he had crossed accidentally and was trying to turn around before entering Mexico, and in spite of calls from various civic leaders for his release, he remains incarcerated for illegally bringing guns into Mexico.

So how has all of this gun control worked out for Mexico?  Since 2008, over 51,000 people have been murdered in Mexico in the nation's drug war. (To put this figure into perspective, only about 58,000 Americans died during the entire Vietnam War).  In 2010, over 3100 people died in the city of Juarez, Mexico, earning the city the title of the "murder capital of the world."  In 2011 the number of murders in Juarez dropped to 1904.  In 2012,  murders are declining, but there is still incredible violence in the city. Year to date, 60 women have been murdered in a story that is being largely obscured by the larger story of the wars over drug territory; a total of about 100 women have been reported missing over the past two years.  More women have been killed in Juarez in 2012 than in any of the earlier years of "femicide."

Our whole nation is mourning the Aurora, Colorado shootings, as well we should be.  This is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.  But a look at international headlines shows that in Mexico, where guns are virtually impossible to legally obtain, a shooting that claims the lives of 14 people is a common occurrence:

1. October 23, 2010, at least 10 gunmen burst into a birthday party in a private home in Juarez, killing 13 people and wounding twenty.  The party was for a 15 year old boy; at least four of the people killed at the party were teenagers, and one wounded was nine years old.  This incident was the second shooting at a house party that month--in the first attack, gunmen stormed a house and killed six people.

2.  February 12, 2011, LA Times reports that 8 people, six of them waitresses, were gunned down in the Las Torres bar in Juarez, Mexico.  Assailants bearing assault rifles opened fire in the bar. Elsewhere throughout the city, an additional 10 people were killed in other shootings for a total of 18 deaths in 24 hours.

3. January 13, 2011, Mexican activist Susana Chavez was found strangled with one had cut off in Cuidad Juarez.  Chavez had worked during the 1990's to bring attention to the murders of hundreds of young low-income women in Juarez.  The Chihuahua State Attorney General's office said that Chavez's death was not the result of her activism but was the work of teenagers who cut off her hand to make authorities think she had been killed by organized crime.

4. April 5, 2011, CNN World reports that 41 people were murdered in Juarez, Mexico in four days, including a 10 year old boy who was shot and killed in an attack meant to kill his father.

I have known many people living in Juarez who have not been able to continue to run their businesses because of crime and violence.  Many are afraid to visit family members and loved ones because of the constant threat of violence. Danger is not confined to people involved in drug trafficking. In Mexico, business owners are routinely targeted for kidnappings.  In Mexico in 2011, an average of 49 kidnappings took place every single day.  In 2010, there were 13,505 abductions; in 2011 that number rose to 17,889.  These figures do not include "express kidnappings" which normally last just a few hours and are facilitated by taxi drivers.

Today with the election of the new president of Mexico, there appears to be general consensus that the city is going to become less violent.  Many attribute that to the fact that "El Chapo" Guzman and his Sinaloa Cartel have actually taken control of the city away from the Juarez cartel.  Last week, our local news featured a story about business owners who are once again reopening restaurants and nightclubs in downtown Juarez to take advantage of anticipated visits from Americans as well as to serve the needs of residents of Juarez who are becoming less afraid to go out in public.  These entrepreneurs admit openly that they are allowed to open these businesses only if they pay protection money to organized crime, but the "tax" that the cartels impose on them is just a cost of living and working in Mexico.

When the drug war started in 2008, many of us who own businesses and work in El Paso feared that the violence might spill over into our community. By and large, that has not happened. El Paso has been ranked for the past several years as one of the safest cities in the United States.  In 2010, there were just a mere 5 murders in El Paso.  In 2011 that number rose to 16, but six of those were proven to be domestic-violence related killings.  I could not find specific statistics regarding kidnappings in El Paso, but I did find FBI statistics that in 2010 the FBI had identified 25 cartel-related kidnappings along the entire Southwestern border of the United States.  Our city has made national headlines when bullets have strayed across the border and hit our city hall or bounced off a pedestrian, but the guns and gunmen connected to those bullets have remained on the other side of the border. (In a recent incident, a bullet grazed, but did not penetrate, the leg of a woman pushing a stroller near the border.  The bullet was believed to have come from a shoot- out involving automatic weapons taking place between masked gunman and authorities on the streets of Juarez.  The woman was treated for minor injuries and allowed to go home.)

So what is the difference?  Why is Juarez, Mexico, so dangerous and El Paso, Texas, so safe?  Some attribute Fort Bliss to the safety of our city, but the military is not allowed to function as a police force on U.S. soil.  And the mere presence of military does not make a city safe--during the height of the violence the president of Mexico stationed military troops in tanks on the streets of Juarez, but it did not stop the killings or the extortion or the other crimes.  In fact, residents just complained that they were now victims of crimes perpetrated by the soldiers.

Is it our law enforcement?  We do have a lot of federal law enforcement here--FBI, DEA, and ICE all have a powerful presence in our city.  But is that enough to keep armed gunmen at bay and to protect a population of over 800,000 people?  I don't think so.

Is it demographics?  No.  Many of the residents of El Paso have family members living in Juarez or in other parts of Mexico.  We are separated from Mexico by a few international bridges and a river--for the most part our culture and the dynamic of our community is the same.

The difference is guns.  Whereas Mexico has restrictive gun laws that allow criminals to access weapons illegally while keeping weapons away from the citizenry, El Paso is the beneficiary of Texas' gun laws which allow residents to carry guns openly and to apply for concealed carry permits.  Would be killers and kidnappers who operate without any real obstacles in Mexico know that if they enter an El Paso business to kill or extort money, they run a very good risk of being killed themselves.  And this is a better deterrent than the world's finest law enforcement.  Trained law enforcement may be able to successfully track down murderers after crimes have taken place and bring the perpetrators to justice, but an armed populace can keep those murders from ever happening in the first place.

Last week, I received a tweet criticizing my anti-gun control stance that said that mutually assured destruction is not a good deterrent.  I disagree.  Mutually assured destruction is often the only deterrent. A lifetime spent living a few miles from one of the most dangerous cities on earth has taught me that most violent criminals are also cowards.  They may not mind slaughtering everyone else, but they don't want to risk getting killed themselves.  Mexico is proof that complete disarmament of a society is not possible.  We just have to decide who we want to be armed--only the violent criminals, or the whole of society.  Having seen both situations up close, I definitely vote for the latter.

Alexandra Swann's new novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven government is available on Kindle and in paperback. She is also the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Government Giveth and the Government Taketh Away

The old Testament Book of Job records that the Lord tested a righteous man named Job by allowing the loss of his health, family, prosperity and possessions.  As Job reeled from the news of the deaths of all of his children, followed by news that all of his flocks and herds had been driven away and that he had become destitute, he responded by saying,  "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord,"  or as The Living Bible paraphrases this verse, "The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were His to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."  (Job 2:21)

I was reminded of this story this week as I saw President Obama's comments about business owners replayed in the news over and over. While it is widely accepted that his non-teleprompter address signals his desire to justify higher taxes on Americans earning over $250,000 a year, I think that his statements signal a much deeper hostility toward business in general and a much greater sense of entitlement than many of even his most serious critics realize: 

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back...If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen...The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."
For video of the event and Mitt Romney's response see,  Obama's Remarks on Business

Obama's remarks have been rightly attacked by everybody from Dan Danner, the President of the NFIB, to GOP candidate Mitt Romney for being insulting to business owners, and they are.  As someone who has worked in small business since 1998, I can say definitely that the government was not there when I cashed in an IRA to open the business; they were not there for the long days and late evenings spent in the office working to close loans; they were not there for the countless hours spent training and paying for training to learn how to do our jobs better. What the government has done is increase the cost of doing business and heap on regulation on top of regulation so that most businesses like mine have closed.  They have piled on forms and buried us under paperwork.  They have created an environment that heavily favors huge corporations over small companies, and now they are about to destroy us with taxes we cannot afford.  Before the economy and the housing market became so bad under the weight of all of their rules, we had excellent health insurance, but because of the constraints of the economy we are no longer able to pay for that, and now we are being told that we will be fined because we do not have the money to pay to for something we used to provide of our volition.

Although some of the details of the regulations vary, my story is not that different from that of other small business owners.  Our doors are still open in spite of the government--not because of it.  True, the military created the Internet, and that has created opportunities for business owners.  But does Obama really believe that small business success begins and ends with the Internet?  The Internet is only about 30 years old--small businesses have been impacting the American economy since before the Revolutionary war.  True, we have roads and bridges. So does everyone else.  The ancient Romans had roads so well planned and maintained that they gave birth to the saying, "All roads lead to Rome."  But well maintained roads do not produce a thriving economy or a thriving business environment.

Many are taking Obama's comments as just his personal opinion of business--a reflection of the fact that he has never owned or managed a business, never made a payroll, nor hired nor fired an employee.  He is the community organizer who thinks welfare and food stamps are economic stimulants.  He doesn't know what creates jobs or builds opportunity, so when he gets up to speak he puts his foot in his mouth.

Maybe.  My own opinion is that Obama's comments are symptomatic of a much greater ideological problem in this nation, which goes way beyond just increased taxation.  This idea is the concept that no one succeeds on his own merits--be it in business, or as a parent (It Takes a Village) or as a non-profit or in any other area of life.  As Obama says, "if you are successful, you didn't get there on your own."  Success is the result not of individual effort or initiative or hard work but of the collective. That being the case, any rewards for this success belong to the collective. For any individual to believe that he has a right to profit from his own achievements is selfish, egotistical and un-American and unfair. And this mindset can extend far beyond increased taxes to actual nationalization of industries and confiscation of personal property.  (After all, if you have a luxurious home which you bought because your business was thriving, you don't really have any right to it, since all of your success was made possible by the greater society in which you live.) To paraphrase Job, "The government [state, society, the collective] gave me everything I have, and it was theirs to take away. Blessed be the name of the government."

The book of Job records that when the Lord was finished testing Job, He restored to Job twice as much as he had lost--wealth, flocks, herds--and God even gave him ten more children to replace the ones who had died.  Those of us who are Christians believe in the inherent goodness, fairness and mercy of God who always ultimately looks out for our good.  But when the government becomes our master, there is no such happy ending--just widespread poverty and overall hopelessness that never ends as bureaucrats take from the producers while extending unconditional welfare to create a class of unskilled, uneducated people who will never be able to do anything except depend on the collective for their next meal.  Such thinking produces people who quickly determine that since there is no reward for work, they are better off not working and just being on the receiving end of whatever the society is able to dole out.  And as more and more people embrace this idea, our productivity will continue to drop and our deficits will continue to increase as we slide into Marxism.

Obama's words are not just insulting--they are dangerous, for business, for individuals and for the American way of life.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her newest novel, The Planner, about an out-of-control, environmentally-driven federal government, was released June 28, 2012. For more information, visit her website at Frontier 2000

Friday, July 13, 2012

It Feels Like Friday the 13th

Last week we got to celebrate our country's birthday (albeit on a Wednesday which made the rest of the workweek strange for those of us unfortunate enough not to be able to take additional vacation). That set the month of July off on a strange note, involving a series of bizarre,Twilight-zonesque events in the lending world so that I now find myself, appropriately, on the afternoon of Friday the 13th wondering if the past five days have been an out-of body experience.

Monday, July 9th was the final day that we could give the CFPB our input about a series of proposals they are considering implementing to make mortgage lending even more difficult than it already is.  Among these include adding residual income requirements for all borrowers on conventional loans--a residual income requirement means that the borrower must have a certain amount of cash left over at the end of the month for himself and each dependant after paying all of the bills, utilities, credit cards, mortgage, etc.  Residual income requirements are currently used for VA loans, which have traditionally provided loans with reduced down payment requirements, but now the CFPB is apparently considering adding this as a requirement to the new qualified residential mortgages.  Also up for consideration--a proposal to require that every borrower prove that he has cash reserves sufficient to cover several months worth of  payments on all of his debts, credit cards, car payment, child support, and mortgage at closing.  Currently, some conventional loan products require that the borrower have two months of mortgage payments in the bank at the time of closing.  This is the first time that we have seen a proposal expanding that requirement to cover all debt.  These are just two of a number of radical new proposals which will exclude a greater number of borrowers from being able to purchase or refinance a home under the new qualified residential mortgages. The CFPB had granted an extension on the comment period through July 9th, but that also means that the final rule will not be published until after the November 2012 elections.  My own personal opinion is that delaying the final rule until after the elections was the ONLY reason for the extended comment period; based on what we have seen so far I think the CFPB probably has already written their final rule and is just waiting to publish it with no regard for any comments they may receive about it.

Also this week, the CFPB released  for public comment their proposed new version of the Good Faith Estimate and the Truth in Lending.  The Dodd-Frank bill charges the CFPB with combining these two estimates into one estimate which will be more user friendly.  I examined the form.  The three page good faith estimate and the two page truth in lending have now been combined into one new five page form.  Beyond correcting two of the serious problems in the 2010 good faith estimate--1. The estimate did not show the total amount of cash that borrowers would need to close the transaction 2. The estimate did not show the total payment including taxes and insurance--the form is very similar to the two forms it is replacing.  More disturbing is that the CFPB has released 1100 pages of proposed regulations accompanying their new five page form.  In an industry that is drowning in regulations now, I am curious to see how many more our regulators can pile on top of us.  We will find out soon.  To see the forms and the 1100 page regulations that accompany them, click the links below:

In other news, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers testified before the House Financial Services Committee regarding the unintended consequences of the Dodd Frank Act.  I hope that they also had time to comment on the intended consequences--the goal of Progressives is to cut off individual access to wealth and capital and to destroy single family home ownership in America.  To the end of achieving these goals, Dodd Frank works beautifully. To read the written testimony and view the House Financial Services Committee hearings click the links belows:

Finally, Wells Fargo closed all of its wholesale lending operations today in response to a settlement with the Department of Justice over discriminatory subprime loans originated by mortgage brokers.  Although exiting wholesale was not part of its settlement, Wells believed that no longer dealing with brokers was in its best interests as a company.  I think we can expect to see more of this as the DOJ is used increasingly as a political weapon to enforce policy decisions rather than a law enforcement agency.

To put all of this in perspective, on Wednesday I closed a refinance for a long time acquaintance of mine.  He was refinancing his primary residence to a new fifteen year loan to take advantage of the lowest interest rates since the 1950s.  Although his credit scores are over 800, he has millions of dollars, owns a number of successful companies, has been self employed his entire working life and pays himself a high six figure income, this refinance took 60 days to complete.  We had to document every company he owned, every penny he was using for closing and basically every aspect of his life.  All of this was to do a conventional rate and term refinance with the same lender who currently holds his mortgage note.  My client leans considerably left of center politically but by the end of the process, he told me that Congress needs to fix these housing regulations because as long as borrowing for a mortgage remains as difficult as it is today, the housing market will never recover, and without a robust housing market the overall economy will never recover.  He's exactly right, of course, but unfortunately, few people appear to understand the correlation between massive over-regulation that is strangling the life out of lending and the lack luster economy.  Until both the people in this country who make the laws and the people who are forced to live under them begin to recognize this problem, all of us will continue to suffer under a slow economy with high unemployment and little opportunity for advancement.

For now, I am just glad that Friday the 13th and the week leading up to it are coming to a close.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her newest novel, The Planner, about an out-of-control, environmentally-driven federal government, was released June 28, 2012. For more information, visit her website at

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Planner

My new novel The Planner was released on Friday and is available for free as a download on Kindle or PC using a free Kindle App this week through July 5th.  Since The Planner deals with many of the issues that I have blogged about for the past two years, I decided to take this post to explain what this book deals with and why writing it meant so much to me.

The Planner is a work of fiction. All characters in this book are strictly products of my imagination. However, the issues that The Planner addresses are very real. From the statistics about our aging population, to the data about annual food waste in the U.S. which was obtained from the EPA’s website, this book deals with real challenges that our world is facing.
U.N. Agenda 21 is also real. In 1992, the United Nations’ Earth Summit launched an initiative called Agenda 21, which had as one of its primary goals redistribution of the world’s wealth and reallocation of the world’s resources.   Agenda 21 calls for an aggressive environmental agenda to be imposed through local ordinances mandating common green spaces and tightly-packed “human settlements.”  These goals were initially marketed to Americans under the guise of “global warming” and then “climate change.” Today they are being repackaged using the term “sustainability.” One of the ultimate goals of Agenda 21 is to eliminate the American way of life—single family homes, private property and individual automobiles.  Instead, proponents of Agenda 21 aggressively promote public transportation and mixed-use housing—tiny, crowded apartments situated above shops and stores. This initiative creates cities where the government can control where and how we live, where we work, where we worship, and how we raise our families.
Over the past twenty years, Agenda 21 has been voluntarily adopted by cities and municipalities throughout the United States through membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives—now renamed ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainable Solutions. The organization has over 1100 member cities, and nearly six hundred of these are located in the United States. Most major U.S. cities are members of ICLEI. From Portland, Oregon, to El Paso, Texas, cities across the United States have embraced the concepts of sustainability by passing city ordinances mandating “Smart Growth” and “Smart Code”.  These ordinances rob individual property owners of basic ownership rights, including the rights to rebuild or remodel properties or to construct homes or buildings on their own land. Smart Growth and Smart Code policies also permit municipalities to exercise eminent domain to confiscate private property for the greater good of the community.
In 2010, retiring Senator Chris Dodd sponsored the Federal Livable Communities Act which mandated federal standards for environmentally-sustainable housing.  His bill created a new federal czar who would have had oversight over development in all cities and towns in the United States. Dodd’s bill was to have been his final crowning achievement in the Senate, but it failed to obtain the needed votes for passage.
In June of 2012, Agenda 21 celebrated its twentieth anniversary in Rio de Janeiro with the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. Rio+20 promoted radical initiatives, including creation of a new international environmental agency with authority to mandate green agendas—investing in green technologies and structures, reducing pollution caused by animal husbandry, introducing sustainable diets and reducing food waste both at the point of sale and consumer-use levels.  The conference goals also called for worldwide legalized abortion and access to birth control and “conservation of genetic resources.” The conference proposed that these goals and the massive social indoctrination program needed to successfully implement them be financed using a number of methods including a new green tax on every American family.
Also, in 2012, Alabama became the first state to pass legislation to protect private property rights of all individuals, to safeguard citizens against the loss of their property without “due process of the law,” and to prohibit implementation of any of the goals of Agenda 21, either directly or indirectly. The Alabama law also forbids any municipalities from giving or receiving any funding to any organization which is connected in any way to Agenda 21. The bill was passed and signed into law because ordinary citizens became concerned about the far-reaching implications of this U.N. global power grab and decided to take action to stop it. However, in spite of citizen activism and recent attention given to Agenda 21 by the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and other conservative and libertarian organizations, most Americans do not even know that it exists, and they remain completely unaware of the threat that it poses to our freedoms, our national sovereignty and our way of life.
As I said at the beginning of this post, The Planner is fiction, for now.  But I do believe that the nightmare of Section W and the FMPD could become reality for many of us if we refuse to act to reign in big government.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. Her newest novel, The Planner, about an out-of-control, environmentally-driven federal government, was released June 29, 2012. For more information, visit her website at