Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Code Red

It may come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog that I was not always as conservative as I am now.  My parents were very conservative, and I always had pro-life, pro-traditional family values, but when I was in my late teens and early twenties I was much more supportive of welfare and government assistance programs than I am today.  At that time, I held the views of many of the people who now seem to think that I am mean and unfeeling--I believed that the government needed to provide a hand up to people and that those recipients of this federal aid would go on to become grateful, producing members of society.  These views were shaped in part by the fact that when I was a teenager my father lost his job and over the years that followed our family became destitute.  We were never on any type of government assistance--including unemployment.  My father had money saved and after he lost his job, he cashed in his retirement savings which allowed us to live until my brothers and sisters and I were old enough to start contributing to the family's support. From that time on we worked and paid the bills as best we could.  I was deeply aware of how more affluent people looked down on us--and since virtually everyone was more affluent than we were I definitely sympathized with the underprivileged.

What changed?  Was it starting my own business and working the long hours and paying the taxes that are part of self-employment?  Not really.  Certainly, owning and running a business for close to 15 years has made me understand much about how jobs are created, how wealth is built and how excessive regulation stifles and smothers initiative and opportunity.  But the experience that really transformed my thinking about welfare and social programs occurred many years before I became a business owner.  What fundamentally transformed my thinking about government assistance was having up close and personal exposure to it.

Shortly before my nineteenth birthday I began teaching at the local community college, where I worked for years.  I was a part-time instructor in the history department but I also picked up additional classes in developmental education studies and English as a second language.  Since I have a Master of Arts in Humanities Degree with a history major and philosophy minor, I was eager to teach what I had learned in graduate school to students whom I was convinced would prove to be eager sponges ready to soak in knowledge.  I taught hundreds of students over the four years that I was at EPCC.  I opened each semester the same way--by introducing myself and then asking each student to introduce himself or herself and tell me what specifically they hoped to get out of the course I was teaching.  I learned over the years that these early introductions set the stage for the entire semester because in the twenty or thirty minutes that it took for me to meet the students and learn a little about them, I could predict who was going to succeed and who wasn't. I had many older students who had come back to school in an effort to earn a degree to improve their chances for promotion at work.  When I taught English as a second language I had quite a few students who were taking those classes because they needed better English skills for their jobs and several students who were the mothers of English speaking teenagers who wanted to be able to understand their children's conversations.  But every semester, in every class, I also had another type of student.  These were the students straight out of high school who were enrolled for only one reason--their parents had told them they had to either get a job or go to school, and they had decided that school was the better of the two options.

Nearly all of my students were attending school on some sort of financial aid. And I did have some very motivated students who actually worked hard and were eager to learn, but they were invariably the older students who had gone back to school because they had some personal motivation for self-improvement. They virtually never came from that young group of students who were the majority of the class.  In fact, after a few weeks, a good number of these would stop coming to class.  They were still physically going to the campus--I would see them hanging around the halls smoking and chatting with their friends. They might even attend the minimum amount that they had to in order to keep from having me drop them from the class.  But they weren't learning anything because they were not interested in working or studying or doing anything that they needed to do.  They were simply kicking the can down the road a few years on the taxpayer dime--using federal financial aid to give themselves a place to crash so that they could delay going to work and accepting adult responsibilities.  Seeing this colossal waste of opportunity in the form of grants and student loans handed to a group of people who did not appreciate them or take advantage of the education offered taught me the first simple principle of conservatism--what is obtained without effort is not valued.  People only appreciate those things that they work for and sacrifice to get; they never really appreciate anything that is just given to them.

Twenty years later, we have just gone through a horribly disappointing election in which a majority of Americans--though not a very big one--voted to give President Obama a second term.  Young people, minorities and women overwhelmingly voted for big government, more social programs, and more welfare.  In the wake of this election, we see the GOP now trying to figure out how to reinvent themselves to make our party more "relevant".  The GOP leadership appears to be bent on making our party more liberal so that its principles will more closely align with the desires of the electorate. 

I am very certain that the problems that the GOP faced in this election are not the result of being too conservative.  And I am equally certain that the solution is not to try to rebrand ourselves into a more marketable entity.  As long as we continue to make our elections about which candidate gets the most or best looking celebrity endorsements, we are never going to be able to address any of the real issues that are plaguing either the party or the country.

As I see it, we need to start addressing a couple of fundamental truths:

1. Liberals have a better understanding of human nature than conservatives.  As a result they are able to manipulate people using our basest instincts.  They also have a better understanding of the laws of physics as they apply to humans--specifically the law of inertia which says that an object in motion has a tendency to remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force while an object at rest has a tendency to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.  (This principle of inertia makes it difficult to transform welfare recipients into productive workers overnight since they have a tendency to want to remain at rest.)

Because of these truths, conservatives can never win public relations battles using political theory.  Liberalism simply sounds better.  The idea of a big, benevolent cash-rich government spreading wealth around to make sure that all citizens are happy, well educated, fed and fulfilled is too good a sales pitch.  It is certainly more appealing than a message that tells people to get up early in the morning, go to work, provide for themselves and their families and live as productive, contributing members of society.  As a theory, liberalism will always prevail.  But that leads me to the second truth:

2. Conservatives have a much better grasp on reality than liberals.  In reality, socialism produces sloth and poverty. Government handouts disincentivize individual effort and achievement and produce a society where no one is productive. And the big government that can meet your every need can also strip away every freedom--enslaving the people who looked to it for protection.  History teaches repeatedly that collectivism is a disaster and big, out of control governments become totalitarian and dictatorial. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

Because of this truth, conservatives can win political battles by demonstrating the  real world differences between conservatism and liberalism.  Conservative principles produce prosperity, limited government and personal freedom.  Liberal principles produce poverty, and bloated bureaucracy and destroy personal freedom.  The question for us as conservatives now is not how we better market this message or how we rebrand ourselves.  The question is whether we are willing to stand up for our principles and live under them.

Unlike many Americans, I do not support secessionist movements, for two reasons. 

1.  As a student and teacher of American history, I know that the last secessionist movement in America ended with over half a million Americans dead and the secessionist states being forced back into the Union under less than favorable terms.  The southern states remained second-class states for many years after the Civil War.  That is not a model that any of us wants to follow.

2. We have enough conservatives states that we can demonstrate the superiority of conservative principles if we are willing to do it.  If we have the desire, and the will, we can prove in a real world setting that our principles still work and always will. But in order to do this, we have to be willing stop focusing on national politics for a time and instead we have to focus on what we can do within our own states.  By fostering conservatism on a state level, we can showcase its strengths while highlighting the weaknesses of liberalism.  This show and tell approach is going to be the best weapon against the growing popularity of socialism in the U.S. and I believe that it is our only real hope for turning the tide of American opinion.

The rest of my posts for this year will be devoted to some simple ways that I believe we can foster and grow conservatism on a local and state level.  None of the ideas is very radical, and many are currently being explored.  But I think that if all of us who believe in conservatism are willing to stand together and work towards our goals, we can make a big enough impact in our nation's thinking that when we do face liberalism again on a national stage, we can defeat it soundly.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me A Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why, as an Evangelical Christian, I Stand with Israel.

I wrote this in October as a pre-election post, but now with Israel and Gaza in the current conflict it seems even more relevant than it did when I first wrote it, so I have edited it a little to remove the election references and I am re-posting it today.
In the summer of 1997, my two youngest brothers were attending seminars at BYU in order to earn their undergraduate degrees. I took a two week vacation from my job and went to Provo, Utah, to be with them and with my mother during that time. Stefan and Judah spent every day in school from morning till late afternoon, and so Mother and I had to find ways to entertain ourselves during those hours.

During that two week period, BYU was hosting an exhibit of the artifacts from Masada, which was on special loan to the campus via the BYU Jerusalem Cultural Center. The exhibit traveled under guard with posted signs that the 1997 trip was the first time that these artifacts had ever been in the United States.

As I went through the exhibit, I was amazed. We saw portions of the book of Isaiah contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls, pottery from the Holy Land, and artifacts which had been excavated from the fortress at Masada, where the last Jewish rebellion against the Roman government occurred about 66 A.D. The residents of Masada had lived in the fortress for five years, before they finally committed suicide to avoid capture and execution by the Roman army.

Cassette tape recorders were provided to each visitor so that we could tour the displays while listening to an explanation of each item that we saw. We saw replicas of Herod's palace and the last temple, artifacts left by the Roman soldiers, and shards of pottery and makeup brushes and brass mirrors left by the women who had lived at the fortress. When we came to a collection of very small clay lamps which were about the size of the palm of an adult hand, Mother motioned to me to turn off my tape recorder. "Look," she pointed. "This explains the parable that Jesus told about the ten virgins--five had enough oil for their lamps and the other five did not. This explains why the five with the oil could not share theirs with the others." I looked more closely at the lamps and saw what she meant--each little lamp was made like a nightlight with only enough supply of oil for one night. When we had finished talking I clicked my cassette recorder back on to hear the narrator explain, "These oil lamps would have been the ones referenced in the parable of the ten virgins."

Of all of the experiences I have enjoyed over the course of my life, seeing the artifacts from Masada is in the top 5. The exhibit was a profound reminder that the nation of Israel was completely gone for almost 2000 years. As the child of parents who were in the Jesus movement, I grew up in a house where the star of David was prominently featured, and I learned from my earliest youth that the Jewish people are precious to God. To see the belongings of these people who were exterminated and scattered by the Romans was a profound reminder of the struggles of the Jewish people throughout history and particularly the long struggles of Israel as a nation to maintain its sovereignty.

As evangelicals, we believe that Israel is a nation that has a special and unique history and an important future. We believe that the promise of God in Genesis to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and the entire world will be blessed because of you," extends to the entire nation of Israel. We also agree with Benjamin Netanyahu that the reestablishment of the nation of Israel May 16, 1948 was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and that it was God who re-established this nation as an independent state. Therefore, we reject statements such as the one made recently by Henry Kissinger that within ten years the nation of Israel will cease to exist. We stand against Iran's anti-Israel rhetoric not only because it is racist and genocidal but also because it stands against the purposes of God.

As the conflict continues between Israel and Gaza, we pray especially for the peace and safety of Israel.  We pray that God will guide their military efforts and protect this nation which is so dear to His heart.  And we pray for a speedy end to this conflict and for God to intercede in this situation so that the region can live in safety and so that Israel's neighbors will come to respect her national sovereignty and right to exist.

Abraham Lincoln said, "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." When we stand with the nation of Israel in friendship and military support, we are on God's side.  That's why, today, I stand with Israel.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me A Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government implementing Agenda 21, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Give Thanks

Every Thanksgiving for as many years as I can remember, my mother had a tradition at Thanksgiving dinner. After my father prayed over the food, my mother asked each of us to name one thing that had happened in the last year that we were thankful for. As I got older, knowing that I would have to state what I was grateful for, I started thinking about the year a couple of weeks in advance of the holiday, and I found that even in difficult years, I had a lot to be thankful for. My mother's tradition, which she continues to this day, has helped me to really think about the meaning of Thanksgiving each year.

For many of us, 2012 has been an exceptionally tough year ending in an extraordinarily disappointing election. We have seen so many negative changes and so much bad news, while being painfully aware that that we are weeks away from another onslaught of bad news in the form of massive new regulations,  that those of us who work in real estate and mortgage lending might feel stumped at my mother's dinner table next week. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving week, I have compiled a list of 4 things that all of us in our industry can give thanks for on November 22.

1. We still have low interest rates (for now at least).   For all of the problems we have had with rule changes, underwriting changes and guideline changes, 2012 has seen record low interest rates. When I started in this industry in 1998, I would have never believed it possible that I would be financing people at fixed interest rates in the 2's. I realize that this is mixed blessing at best--a short term boon with long-term inflationary implications--but in the spirit of Thanksgiving I choose to focus on the bright side of the situation. Those low interest rates have allowed those of us in lending to weather tough times and perform a real service for borrowers who now have fixed rates lower than we ever imagined.

2. We are seeing lower housing prices (a trend which is likely to continue into 2013.) Yes, I know that this is also a mixed blessing at best, but think about it. With underwriting standards so tight, many borrowers could not qualify at all if housing prices had not dropped. Lower prices mean that many home buyers who had been priced out of an accelerating market can actually afford a home (provided that they can navigate the minefield of strict guidelines waiting for them.)

3. We still have access to great programs (for now at least). We have seen a huge number of products go away, but there are still some great loan programs that allow borrowers to qualify for financing. Programs like Fannie Mae's Home Path give borrowers an opportunity to buy a home with conventional financing, a reduced down payment and no mortgage insurance. I just finished quoting a loan on the Home Path investment program with 10% down and no mortgage insurance and a 3.875% fixed rate for 15 years. Although we mourn the loss of some of our past programs, great financing still exists for qualified buyers.

4. We are still alive, and we are not alone! "Don't worry about things--food, drink and clothes. For you already have life and a body--and they are more important than what to eat and what to wear. Look at the birds! They don't worry about what to eat--they don't need to sow or reap or store up food--for your heavenly Father feeds them...And why worry about your clothes? Look at the field lilies! They don't worry about theirs. Yet King Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as beautifully as they. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't He more surely care for you....So don't be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time." (Matthew 6: 25-34 TLB)

Now that's something we can be thankful for every day! Happy Thanksgiving.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net.

Monday, November 5, 2012

For God and Country

Tomorrow is November 6th--a day many of us have been awaiting for several years.  I work in a heavily liberal Democrat district of the United States.  El Paso County, Texas voted for George W. Bush when he ran for his second term as governor, but Bush did not carry the county during his two presidential runs, although he easily carried the rest of the state.  In fact, I cannot remember El Paso County voting for a Republican candidate for president at any time during the past twenty-four years that I have been voting in presidential elections.  But even here, in this stronghold of liberalism, Romney-Ryan signs are appearing throughout the area.  I am also seeing a number of professionally made signs saying some variation of "This is my business; I did build it," coupled with or without Romney Ryan signs.  Yesterday on my way to church I noticed a new banner sign posted at a business that read in part, "I built this business without any help from the government."  That sentence was followed by a crass, unprintable suggestion to President Obama. The tone of the banners and the whispered conversations of my clients who reluctantly tell me that they are not going to vote for Obama indicate to me that there is a huge amount of anxiety, concern and discontentment in the business community and in our society at large.

During the month of October, I wrote a series of posts on various reasons why I am voting FOR Mitt Romney tomorrow and not just Against Barack Obama.  I am completely opposed to Obama's policies--not just in terms of the anti-business practices that he is using to crush the small business community, or the anti-Israel foreign policy that threatens our most important ally in the Middle East.  I am opposed to this "remaking" of America that Obama is determined to impose on all of us.  I stand against this idea that we need to be a socialist nanny state that has no room for God or freedom but plenty of room for an ever-expanding bureaucracy of government that should tell us where to live, what to eat, what to drink, where to work, what we can earn and what we should think. 

Last week, President Obama told his supporters that the best revenge is voting. Revenge for what?  Revenge against whom?  Why does one group of citizens need to plan revenge against another group who disagrees with them politically?  The revenge comments ties in nicely to comments made by White House advisor Valerie Jarrett last week that when the election is over it will be "payback" time for everyone who has opposed this Administration politically.  Of all of the un-American rhetoric that has eminated from the Obama camp over the past four years, these final threats against political opposition have to be a first from our political leaders.  The whole idea of voting for revenge is repugnant; it is the language of an angry, vengeful Administration that has nothing new to offer us and has therefore resorted to bullying and threatening the citizenry.

I will not vote for revenge tomorrow; I do not want revenge.  I want to see freedom expanded, I want to see harmful, abusive regulations turned back, I want to see jobs added, I want to see greater opportunities made available for all Americans.  I want to see the ranks of those on government assistance shrinking as those people who are currently receiving government assistance experience the self-respect that comes only from self-reliance.  I want to see our Bill of Rights defended for all Americans.  I want to see freedom of religion defended so that no one is forced by the government to violate his or her conscience.  I cling to God and guns and Freedom, but I do not do so bitterly as President Obama once derisively commented.  Rather, I cling hopefully to the values and freedoms that founded and built the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth.  Tomorrow I am voting for the Constitution and the rule of law--for the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  That's why tomorrow, I am voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and I am praying that across this country tens of millions of other Americans will do the same.  Tomorrow is our decision day; it is our chance to take a stand for God and country.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree At Age Sixteen and several other books. Her novel, The Planner, about an out of control, environmentally-driven federal government, is available on Kindle and in paperback. For more information, visit her website at http://www.frontier2000.net.