Friday, May 26, 2017

On Body Slamming Reporters, Memorial Day and What's Really at Stake in America

Greg Gianforte won his election yesterday for the open Montana Congressional race.  This victory came on the heels of a misdemeanor assault charge for "body slamming" a journalist from the Guardian.  Gianforte's win is "disappointing" to Democrats who pumped a lot of money into this race while trying to install a folk singer named Rob Quist as Congressman.

Gianforte apologized for the assault--as he should have.  I am not condoning attacking reporters; every person of good will should be opposed to assault on a journalist.  I have journalists in my family so I am particularly aware of the importance of freedom of the press.  And I do believe that we are witnessing a hardening and coarsening of our culture that began long before the last election and has worsened since.  I believe that this hardening is ultimately very damaging to the society as a whole.

As people who read this blog already know, I did not vote for Donald Trump in the last election--nor did I vote for Hillary Clinton.  For the first time in my adult life I voted for a third-party candidate.  I agreed completely with author Brad Thor's description of the Trump campaign as "an embarrassment to clown shows," and I really think that description applies aptly to his administration as well.  I have given up on seeing a genuine repeal of Obamacare, a repeal of Dodd Frank, or even a really good tax plan.  At this point I am just really hoping he keeps his word about not honoring the Paris Climate Accords.  I still believe that Trump has neither the temperament nor the skills to be a good president.

Having said all of that, however, I also am increasingly aware that the media circus that covers Donald Trump and for that matter Greg Gianforte and all other GOP candidates and politicians is in itself a clown show.  Daily headlines about Russian involvement in the last election, bad behavior by the Trump camp and general incivility from our elected leaders are basically smoke screens.  These headlines are designed with one aim in mind--to paint all conservatives as fascist, violent brutes and to make Democrat candidates look more attractive for future elections.

As we look at these headlines, I think we need to not forget that beneath all of the nonsense there is a really serious movement afoot to take this country down a hard-left path from which we will never return.  In just a decade, the left has moved from demanding free healthcare and higher minimum wage to Mark Zuckerberg's suggestion this week during a commencement speech that we should have universal income: “Every generation expands its definition of equality. Previous generations fought for the vote and civil rights, they had the  New Deal and the Great Society. And now it’s time for our generation to define a new social contract. We should have a society that measures progress not by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful.
 
“We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas. We’re all going to change jobs and roles many times so we all need affordable childcare and healthcare that’s not tied to one employer.”

Universal income? Really?  The government should guarantee income so that people can try new ideas?  The last person to posit an idea this absurd was Nancy Pelosi when she promised that Obamacare would free people from "job lock" and allow them to pursue their artistic talents.

Or how about this piece I shared two weeks ago from the New York Times entitled How Homeownership Became the Engine of Income Inequality.  When I shared this piece two weeks ago it was to comment on the fact that the author equated mortgage interest deductions with Section 8 housing subsidies.  But the real point of this article is that in our society homeownership is reserved for the more fortunate while the less fortunate are left out and that homeownership itself is a symptom of inequality.

The author writes, "The owner-renter divide is as salient as any other in this nation, and this divide is a historical result of statecraft designed to protect and promote inequality. Ours was not always a nation of homeowners; the New Deal fashioned it so, particularly through the G.I. Bill of Rights."

The article profiles several families--some of whom own homes and others of whom are renters.  The first person profiled immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana as a child and was initially enrolled in a school in Boston where he faced a lot of discrimination.  However, his parents saw that he was being bullied by white classmates so they took him out of that school and enrolled him in a private academy--an act which paved the way for his future success.  Today he is the founder of a consulting and technology company and his wife is a tenured professor of romance languages at Boston College. The couple's income is $290,000 a year and they recently purchased a $665,000.00 home.  To contrast their success they profile a single mother who earned  $38,000 a year in her job in a non-profit before being fired.  This woman cannot get housing subsidies from the city of Boston.  She is unable to improve her life due to a lack of available welfare.  The author notes that she wears "thick glasses" so I suppose we are to believe that this renders her incapable of improving her life through more traditional means--like finding a mate with an additional income.  She tells the reporter that she may have to move in with family members.

We the reader are supposed to be outraged because our system favors those who have supportive family structures, those with enough ambition to pursue and obtain higher education and those who pursue good job opportunities and marry well.  People who choose not to pursue education, who are not as ambitious or who choose to be single parents do not enjoy the same level of success or the same rewards. When all is said and done, the real villain is our inherently unfair capitalist system which rewards some behaviors and not others and prevents equality of outcomes.

The solution to this unfairness, in the eyes of the New York Times, the DNC and Zuckerberg and the Silicon Valley crowd, is socialism.  If only America could be a socialist paradise everyone would have equality--equality of income, housing, experience. 

When I was reading the article, I thought about what my sister-in-law told me about Venezuela.  My sister-in-law had prosperous friends living in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez took power.  Brenda told me that when Chavez socialized the country, the government no longer allowed one family to occupy a home.  Her friends had to open their home to whomever the government chose to move in with them.  Their property was now the property of the government and the government decided how it could be used.  They eventually left Venezuela and moved to the U.S. but the government had essentially seized everything they owned. 

What Zuckerberg and Company won't tell the American people is that in order to give to those who don't have anything, the government must take everything from those who do.  This is not just in the form of income redistribution through higher taxes--ultimately it is wholesale confiscation of all personal property and wealth. 

In his insightful piece in The Daily Signal, Ricardo Pita summarizes the real impact of a government like that of Hugo Chavez.  He was born in Venezuela and lived there as a child before his parents immigrated after watching leftist schemes destroy his country.  He writes, "Socialism is a scam best understood by those who sell it and, eventually, the ones swindled by it."

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day and we remember the men and women who fought and died to defend our country against threats to our freedom.  Today, although we have conflicts worldwide and threats from terrorism and here and overseas, the biggest threat to our freedom is not an enemy we can defeat in battle.  The biggest threat to our freedom is the promise of a socialist paradise where every need and desire of every person is satisfied by the federal government.  Democrats have not been able to sell this lie on its own merits, so instead they are trying something else--keeping a media circus going until Americans are so sick and tired of the "embarrassment to clown shows" that they vote in a leftist government with a socialist agenda.

I am not saying we should give the current Administration or the bad actors a pass.  I am saying that we need to understand the bigger issues involved and determine which stories have merit and which are just part of the on-going circus.

Alexandra Swann has a master's degree in history with emphasis on the French Revolution. 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.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

You are Invited...

Growing up in the 70's--in the age of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus specials every few nights--I saw a lot of reminders about "the true meaning of Christmas".  Christians reminded us that the true meaning of Christmas is that God's only Son was born in a stable and the angels sang at His birth.  Secularists said that the "true meaning of Christmas" was love and friendship and faith in some unsubstantiated Good somewhere that wanted us all to be nice to each other.

Christmas is long over, and a week from now it will be Easter.  I have never heard anyone say that we need to be mindful of the "true meaning of Easter."   Stores are filled with candy and table settings with bunny motifs and egg-coloring kits.  Beyond candy and fun with the kids, whether  secular or Christian, everyone seems to be pretty sure they already know what is Easter is all about.

I recently attended an event where the speaker was a veteran who had served in the Gulf Wars.  He started an organization called "Carry the Load" because he was distressed that Americans don't properly honor Memorial Day.  He has organized a walk to raise money for veteran's causes and every year the participants meet at White Rock Lake in Dallas and walk to remember the sacrifices of those who served and did not come home.  I was very impressed with the energy that this man brought to this volunteer project and with the passion with which he spoke about not forgetting our troops.  He said that growing up he thought Memorial Day was about picnics and sales at the mall and having fun with family and friends, and he wants to change that for the next generation so that they will understand that real people gave their lives for freedom and hat freedom has a cost.  It is a very worthy project.

For the most part, as Christians, Easter is our Memorial Day.  We tend to view Easter in a historical setting.  CNN is currently airing "Finding Jesus".  Mel Gibson's truly excellent film, The Passion of Christ will air several times over the next few days as it has every year since its release.  Other less well-executed Biblical epics will also air and churches will have live Passion plays, and we will enjoy these and be moved by them.  Growing up, I remember my parents teaching me that Easter is about remembering that Christ died for us two thousand years ago so that we could be forgiven.

The memorial aspect of our Easter celebration is good--it is appropriate and important.  We remember that Jesus was a real historical figure who lived and was crucified and came back to life.  But I have come to believe that it is completely possible to participate in all of the historical and memorial aspects of Easter and still miss the meaning.

The true meaning of Easter is that because Jesus died on that cross two thousand years ago and rose again after three days, the entire world has an invitation to start over.  Easter is God's invitation to every person to begin a new life right now, today.  It is an invitation written in the blood of Jesus--an invitation that says that no matter what the past has been or what we have done or what has been done to us, we can be forgiven, we can forgive others and we can start over. We are invited to be adopted into God's family and become His children.  Easter is the greatest gift that the world has ever known.  And because it is such an amazing invitation, there is a huge cost to those who refuse to accept it.  To refuse this invitation is to turn away from everything that God has planned for your life--both in this life and the next one.  It is to shut the door (often permanently) on the future that Jesus paid for on your behalf.

This year, don't discard the invitation.  Accept it and find out what it means to experience a completely fresh start and discover the life that God has planned for you.   

G-God's
R-Riches
A-At
C-Christ's
E-Expense

Alexandra and Joyce Swann's newest novel, The Invitation, was released Christmas of 2016.  For more information, visit their website at http://www.frontier2000.net.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Higher Loan Limits and Lower MI Make 2017 a Great Year to Buy Despite Rising Rates

The rates are rising…The rates are rising.   Like Paul Revere riding through Boston we are hearing alarms from a lot of the industry.  To read the headlines, we would think that the sky really is falling in and about to crush us.

Truth be told, we have a lot to look forward to in 2017 including a potential relaxation of over regulation and the opportunity to possibly see Dodd Frank rewritten (I hate to say this but I honestly think repeal is too much to hope for).  But assuming that nothing earthshaking happens with regulations, here are three reasons this is still a great year to buy in spite of rising rates.

1.       Rates are still very low.  Even with all the talk of rising rates, we are still well under 5%.  When I started in this industry in 1998, Bill Clinton was president and mortgage rates sat between 8.25% and 8.5%.  Alan Greenspan was chairing the Federal Reserve and most Americans were pretty happy with the economy.  When rates dropped to 7.125% in the first part of 2000 there was a refinance boom as people rushed to save 1.5% on their mortgages. Today even in the increasing rate market, a thirty-year fixed mortgage rate is sitting about 4% lower than the thirty year fixed rate was then.  I have spent this entire week in industry meetings, and most experts seem to believe that although the Fed is is scheduled for three interest hikes this year, mortgage rates may not exceed 5% by the end of the year.  But let’s say that they go up to 5.875%.  In 2005 5.875% was a good rate.  The housing market was booming.  As the economy improves and millennials are able to find higher wage jobs, they may want to start leaving those apartments and getting into homes.  And while a 6% rate won’t be as low as the one their parents have, it will be substantially lower than most of the rates their grandparents paid.  Perspective is important here.
2.       Fannie, Freddie and FHA have all raised their loan limits for 2016.  Fannie and Freddie’s increase, though relatively small, is the first increase in 10 years.  The new conforming loan limit for 2017 is $424,100.00.  That number makes it possible for a person purchasing a $530,000 home to put 20% down and get a conforming loan.  With a second lien, homebuyers can go even higher on a purchase price without tapping into jumbo rates and jumbo restrictions governing credit, assets and debt to income rations.  The FHA increase is even more significant.  The new FHA loan limits for DFW—which includes Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant is $362,250—a pretty significant jump from the previous $335,000.00.  FHA loan limit increases mean that more borrowers can qualify with higher debt to income ratios of 55% allowed by FHA.  Since FHA loan limits vary by county, you need to know the specific limits in your area before you start to shop.  You can check these here on the HUD website at https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/hicostlook.cfm.

3.       MI rates are going down as interest rates are going up.  Last year we saw mortgage insurance companies significantly reduce premiums on mortgage insurance (which insures the loan to the lender for borrowers making less than a 20% down payment.  The biggest reductions are for those borrowers with higher credit scores, and the reductions were high enough that it made sense to refinance borrowers out of second liens and into one loan with MI.  This year FHA is reducing its annual MI premiums by .25%.  Outgoing HUD Secretary Julian Castro says that this action is directly tied to the rise in interest rates, but it really is significant.  The former MI premium of .85% on the 30- year fixed 96.5% LTV is now just .60%.  This is a big enough savings to offset much more than a .25% increase to rates.  And with rents rising, an affordable monthly payment on a home is going to make a lot more sense.

If you are thinking of buying a home, don’t let the negative media discourage you.  Home ownership is still affordable and a home purchase is still one of the best long-term investments you can make.


Alexandra Swann has a master's degree in history with emphasis on the French Revolution. 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.
 
 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Search and Rescue


“For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost”  Luke 19:10 KJV  

The end of every year is a fitting time to take stock of our lives.  We count our failures and successes, our blessings and our losses, and we look at where we have been and where we are going.

Many of us will make resolutions to change some aspect of our behavior in 2017.  We may want to lose weight, or get in better physical condition or to get promoted at work or develop better personal relationships, but for most of us when night falls on 2017, most of those resolutions will still be unfulfilled, shuffled forward to another year as we continue in a never-ending desire to become a better us.
Our newest release is The Invitation, the story of a man trapped in a miserable existence who unexpectedly one night receives an engraved invitation to begin a new life.  Kevin treats the invitation as a joke and does not respond, but the next morning when he awakens, his circumstances have profoundly changed. As the story progresses, though, Kevin learns that it is not enough to simply enjoy his new surroundings.  He must find a way to accept the invitation for himself and fully embrace the new life that it offers.
We just finished celebrating Christmas, and we looked at nativities and sang songs of the child in the manger, but Christmas is so much more than a sweet story about a little baby who was born in a stable.  The cave in which Jesus was born is symbolic of the tomb where He was laid after his crucifixion, and the swaddling clothes in which his parents wrapped him represent the grave cloths.  He did not come to earth to be a good man or a good teacher—He was born to die for us in the greatest search and rescue operation of all time.  The God of the universe looked down and saw our lonely, lost, dysfunctional world—a world which we were powerless to change—and loved us so much that He sent His only Son to save us. Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer who came to release our debt, and He extends to each of us the greatest invitation we will ever be offered. But for His invitation to impact us, we must recognize the immense opportunity which we have been offered; then we must be willing to accept it for ourselves and fully embrace our new life.
As we start the New Year, I invite each of you to see 2017 as more than an opportunity for a new resolution.  2017 can be a year for a rescue—a year for salvation and a new life.  Accept God’s invitation to you in 2017. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
Alexandra and Joyce Swann's newest novel, The Invitation, was released Christmas of 2016.  For more information, visit their website at http://www.frontier2000.net.