One if by Land, Two if by Sea

Yesterday our country celebrated Memorial Day--a day set aside to honor the over 1 million servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in the service of this country and the millions of others who have been wounded while protecting our nation and its freedoms.

When we recall all that our military men and women have endured so that we could become and remain a sovereign nation, it is especially sad and disturbing to see that so many in the United States are now determined to throw away our freedoms and even our national sovereignty with both hands.

Followers of this blog know that I normally write about over-reaching government on a federal, state and local level, especially as it pertains to property rights and the rights of small business owners.  But today, I am taking a moment to discuss a violation of national sovereignty so egregious that it cannot be ignored--the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) which Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and many Senators are currently attempting to force upon us.

LOST is an extremely appropriate acronym for the Law of the Sea Treaty. If the U.S. Senate ratifies this treaty, for the first time in our nation's history we will be giving what amounts to taxing authority to an international body (the United Nations). Under Article 82 of the treaty, royalties from natural resources located more than 200 nautical miles from our shores (the extended continental shelf) will no longer belong to the United States.  Instead, these royalties will be turned over to the International Seabed Authority, a new authority created by the treaty and based in Kingston, Jamaica.  The ISA will have sole discretionary power over the distribution of  these funds (which according to an opinion piece last week co-authored by John Cornyn and Orrin Hatch are estimated by the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Task force to be valued at "billions if not trillions" of dollars.)  And since the purpose of the ISA is to distribute cash and technology from the "developed" to the "undeveloped" world, they can choose to send this money to any Third World dictatorship or aspiring government they wish--even to "peoples who have not attained full independence or other self-governing status." 

Our own country is about 15 trillion dollars in debt and growing thanks to years of bad decisions, and now the Senate wants to give away one potentially powerful source of revenue to a international body who will spread our funds around the world as they see fit.  Additionally, we would be legally obligated to share our mining and resource recovery technology--just in case some of these undeveloped nations can't figure out how to retrieve the resources after we turn them over to the ISA.  That technology and those resources will likely end up in the hands of enemy nations who use what we have discarded to fund actions against us.

Those who favor LOST believe that turning control of the oceans over to the UN will ensure peace.  That's actually the job of the U.S. navy--to protect our waters and our interests on the seas. Under LOST, it will become the job of the UN.  Interestingly, LOST has been in effect for over a decade, although the U.S. Senate has never ratified the treaty.  The nations who are currently members, such as China, do not obey its provisions now.  Yet, we are supposed to believe that if we sign onto this travesty and begin abiding by it, all of the other nations of the world who have already signed onto its provisions will also begin to obey its terms.  What nonsense! Never should we consider allowing an international authority to take our money, our technology and our rights as a nation to protect ourselves.

Ronald Reagan refused to sign this dog of a treaty in 1982.  He had the right idea.  Now LOST is back--last Wednesday Senator John Kerry (D-Mass) led a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations committee on LOST.  The committee featured testimony from proponents of LOST who are pushing the Senate to now ratify the treaty.  Fortunately Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Sen James Inhofe (R-Ok) each stood against LOST's ratification by pointing out the huge financial losses to the U.S. that the treaty will cause. The House of Representatives does not ratify treaties, but it does fund the operations of the government, and a few days ago it approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which will ban federal funds from being used to implement LOST if the treaty is ratified.

The American people need to stand up against LOST by getting informed about its provisions and letting their Senators know that these provisions are unacceptable.  Sen. Kerry has promised more hearings on LOST this summer.  We need to let our Senators know that we expect each of them to uphold our national sovereignty and to reject all attempts by the United Nations to infringe on that sovereignty.  If we refuse to stand up now, we will soon wake up to discover that all so many have worked, fought and died for over the past 236 years is truly lost and gone forever.

Alexandra Swann is the author of No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master's Degree at Age Sixteen. For more information, visit her website at

Housing Discrimination Alive and Well in the 21st Century

Some people are in denial that in this day and age, discrimination simply does not exist anymore. Taking things at face value, one can see how an individual may be lulled into a false sense of security – legislation designed to protect minorities, affirmative action, et cetera, exist for the advancement of colored peoples in this nation.

However, according to a recent study by the Consumer Action group, all is not fair in home and housing. Consumer Action contacted 5,000 community organizations across the country, compiling information from 549 respondents, who reported “serious issues with housing discrimination.” The survey shows that immigrants, the disabled, and families with children aren’t welcome in some places, and that “immigrants face the greatest hardships in finding legal recourse for housing discrimination.”

One reason, Consumer Action claims, may be cultural barriers. Non-English-speaking minorities could be left out in the cold by unfair housing practices. The study found that “seven out of 10 Community-based organizations (CBOs) say that housing discrimination is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem for the people they serve,” and that “roughly half of CBOs (48 percent) agree that housing discrimination is a “very serious” problem today.”

The study also found that “among the most common barriers to filing discrimination complaints, as reported by CBOs, are factors that specifically concern immigrants, including: “cultural issues, such as the fear of authorities” (59 percent); “language barriers” (54 percent); and “legal status in the U.S.” (56 percent).

Other protected classes, disability (77 percent), race (62 percent) and family status (60 percent) are the top three distinguishing features of individuals seeking help with housing discrimination problems from CBOs.

To make matters worse, Ken McEldowney, Executive Director of Consumer Action, said in a press conference that “two-thirds of the responding community organizations reported people were generally unaware of their rights, affecting their standard of living regardless of what housing they can afford.”

Consumer Action found a pattern across the nation, showing that housing discrimination often bars immigrants, people with disabilities and families with children from living in safer, higher-income neighborhoods they could afford, forcing them instead to move into high-crime areas.

Although our country has made great strides in the effort to provide fair housing for all, it appears that for many of our immigrant communities, fair housing remains unattainable.

Killing a Housefly with a Sledgehammer

Having worked in the mortgage industry for over fourteen years, I have seen more than a few property owners who skipped part of the permits process when either building or renovating a property. Normally, these infractions result in the part of the structure that was illegally altered being "red tagged" by the city inspectors until the work meets city standards, and the owner pays the cost of a building permit.  A few years ago I talked to a homeowner in Nevada who had completed a massive remodel and addition to his already expensive luxury home completely without permits.  No lender would refinance his property because the appraiser reported that the renovation on the house had been done without a permit. The homeowner staunchly refused to obtain the permit for the same reason that he had refused to get proper permitting at the beginning of his project--he did not want the county taxing authority to recalculate his property taxes based on the additional square footage on the house.  So he was trapped in a higher interest rate loan than he would have normally qualifed to have in exchange for paying property taxes on a home half the size of the one where he actually resided.  Normally, these are about the worst penalties a property owner can expect for skirting the permitting process.

Not so with the owner of a Massachusetts ice cream stand located at the Great Brook Farm State Park.  Mark Duffy has owned and operated the stand for 26 years, and until last Friday he employed 13 high school and college students to dispense ice cream. But Friday night, armed environmental police showed up at the ice cream stand and forcibly closed it down. According to the article in today's Independent Journal Review, the police posted armed guards at the stand over Mother's Day weekend to make sure that it could not reopen and to turn away potential customers who might want to treat Mom to an ice cream.

What was Duffy's crime that required that armed agents be posted at his business?  He made improvements to the property without proper permission.  According to the Lowell Sun,  Duffy has made “countless improvements to the farm over the years without permission.”  His latest infraction involved creating an area in his building where he could show instructional videos produced by the Massachusetts Dairy Industry.  Duffy told the Lowell Sun, "The reason I’m here and the purpose of having me here is to improve the facility and operate a commercial dairy farm.”   Apparently, he actually has improved the property--he just didn't have permits to do so.

I understand that states and counties have a permitting process in place which is primarily designed to raise revenue and secondarily designed to protect the public safety. (I realize that a building inspector would take exception with this statement, but it is my observation nevertheless.)  But to send armed guards to shut down an ice cream stand and make sure that it cannot reopen is not just a case of over-regulation; it is a ridiculous case of over-enforcement.  Why should the the state version of the EPA even have jurisdiction in a case like this one?  This should be an issue for the local building inspectors or the city health inspectors, if appropriate, but not a state environmental agency with armed police.

Massachusetts is a state notorious for its restrictive building and planning codes and its commitment to density, Smart Growth and New Urbanism.  In an environment where citizens are not allowed to make simple choices about where they will build, how they will build, and how they will live, sending armed guards to shut down a business for a violation which is not a threat to public safety may seem perfectly acceptable. Those of us in the rest of the country are more inclined to see this for what it is--an overly aggressive government entity terrorizing  and destroying a small business owner simply because it can.

As the rest of the nation embraces the same types of restrictive building codes that define Massachusetts, we may find that we, too, are receiving visits from armed environmental police if we fail to follow the many new regulations being implemented in our communities.  And we will see more and more of our tax dollars being used to enforce unreasonable rules and regulations which overburden small businesses such as this ice cream stand. 

It's the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to kill a house fly.

Alexandra Swann is 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

Counting Down to 2015: Banks Looking to the Future to Bring Back the Past

The National Mortgage Settlement was enacted not just to punish the wrong-doing of the nation’s five biggest lenders, but to create new safeguards to regulate the home buyer’s market. The deal involved Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Ally Financial to pay an unprecedented $24 billion to fund government programs like the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, or HAMP.

While the effectiveness of these government programs funded by the settlement is being debated, the policies put in place by the settlement are due to expire in 2015. The Huffington Post reports that legal agreements among the banks, and the states and federal government hold for only three-and-a-half years. Good news for the banks. Bad news continues for those facing foreclosure.

But there’s a way around the expiration of the Federal mandates. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, for example, is attempting to make permanent some of the National Mortgage Settlement's most important "servicing standard" reforms by writing them into state law. "The success of the national mortgage settlement in terms of reforms is laudable, but it only lasts for three years," Harris said. "We need to make the fixes permanent." More states should follow California’s proactive idea.

Lenders, however, are fighting back, spending a reported $500,000 in lobbying efforts in the State of California alone during the first three months of 2012. While this display of monetary “shock and awe” tactics seems unnecessary, Lenders are willing to be it all in the high stakes game of politics.

California’s proposed bill, “Homeowner Bill of Rights”, if enacted, would require all banks and servicers in the state to adopt the National Mortgage Settlement reforms. "Dual-tracking," a procedure by which banks would pursue foreclosure proceedings against homeowners, who, at the same time, are pursuing a trial loan modification, prohibited in the Settlement, would be illegal according to the proposed legislation. Another proposed law that mimics the Settlement would require financial institutions to establish a single point of contact for troubled borrowers -- a response to widespread complaints from homeowners that when they called for help, they never could speak to the same person twice.

The Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau plans to propose rules this summer that will protect mortgage borrowers "from being hit by costly surprises or getting the runaround from their mortgage servicer." The agency will finalize those rules in January, it said. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said that if he were elected, he would try to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act that created the agency, though that effort would likely face long odds in the U.S. Senate.

With banks spending millions of dollars in an effort to comply with these new regulations, on top of the $24 billion hit they took this past February, lenders are looking for an escape route. Although 2015 is still a long ways away, reminiscing about the lending industry before the national mortgage settlement means looking to the future.

Being Julia

This week the Obama Campaign created a fictional character named "Julia" to showcase the President's initiatives on behalf of women.  The purpose of this interactive campaign is to allow Americans to "Take a look at how President Obama's policies help one woman over her lifetime—and how Mitt Romney would change her story."  To visit the page with Julia's story visit

The interactive slides take us from Julia at 3 years old when she enters headstart to the her retirement at age 67 when she begins drawing a comfortable Social Security.  Julia is able to get her education and then go to work as a web designer.   She is able to postpone having children until she is ready and when she does have a child--no mention of marriage at all--her maternity bills are covered under Obama care. She gets a loan to start her own business through the SBA and lives happily ever after until she is ready to retire.

Yesterday I received an award from the regional SBA as the Minority Small Business Champion of the Year for 2012 because of my work with the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The awards luncheon was part of national small business week, which has been recognized by every president since 1963. We heard a lot of speeches about how the President is committed to the growth of small business.  When I received my award, I mentioned in my speech that I have been in business for just over fourteen years.  What I did not say, is that thanks to the regulations of the Obama Administration, our mortgage company  is now weeks away from closure. For that reason, I decided to take a look at the "The Life of Julia" if she had chosen a different profession--say financial services or real estate.

If Julia had chosen to become a mortgage broker or loan originator--as many women did since these professions required attention to detail and solid customer service skills, which are areas where women tend to excel--she would now be losing her business.  Since 2009, she would have been required to meet increasing regulatory requirements, including passing a state and federal test and a criminal background check--requirements that her brothers and sisters employed by banks would not have to comply with.  She would have been required to sign restrictive contracts with the lenders she worked with which would not allow her to compete against banks for business since she would not have the ability to negotiate her fees.  And now, she would be weeks away from having her income cut off totally as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is about to regulate that all total fees on qualified mortgages cannot exceed 3% of the loan amount--leaving Julia no ability to get paid.  Julia would be in the process of closing her business and looking for a job in an environment where actual unemployment and underemployment is rumored to be about 19% of the population.

If Julia had chosen to make her living as a real estate agent--another profession which typically appeals to women--she would be trying to work in an environment of continuing declining home values.  Home ownership has now reached its lowest point in 15 years.  Restrictive lending guidelines mean that she would show houses to families who do not qualify to purchase because they have too much debt or or they have credit issues or they cannot get get together the downpayment.  And when the qualified mortgages are put into place, she would find that the already small pool of eligible buyers will further shrink until she too needs to seek other employment. (As an aside, I notice that there is no point in "The Life of Julia" where she decides to purchase her own home--probably because her chances of qualifying for a home of her own will be next to zero in the new environment.)

If Julia had decided to be an independent securities broker, she would probably be looking at closing her firm rather than trying to navigate the difficult regulatory environment created by Dodd Frank. Independent securities brokers are a declining breed--according to Investor News, 93 broker-dealer firms closed their doors in the first quarter of 2012.  The average net loss of broker-dealer firms is 10 per month and as strict new regulations raise the cost of doing business, more and more small firms are expected to disappear. Investor News quotes David Alsup,  national director of business development with the Compliance Department, “I don't see an end to the steady downtick. And I don't see an uptick for a while. You just can't be a two-man shop and hire a $70,000-per-year compliance officer and stay in business.”

If Julia had chosen any of these professions, she would be drowning in a sea of regulations which would eat up her savings and any cash that came into the business.  These business-killing regulations hurt women--either directly as the owners, or indirectly as the wives of owners--because, of course, in real life many women are married and depend on both incomes.  Or, in the case of the fictional Julia, they hurt women peripherally--as businesses lose all of their cash to regulations and taxes and are ultimately forced to close their doors, the real life web-designing Julia cannot find enough paying customers to keep her own doors open.

"The Life of Julia" implies that all women are needy nit-wits who want a nanny state and need only to be assured that the government is going to support us.  As a single woman who has been self-employed for fourteen years, I find that pretty insulting.   I chose to work for myself because I believed that I could make a better future for myself than any corporation was going to give me.  I needed neither a hand out nor a hand up--I just needed for the government to leave me alone and let me work.  Instead, my business has been crushed under a mountain of regulations designed to favor large corporations while destroying small players. 

If Obama wanted to help women, he would take the shackles off of business.  By allowing small businesses to prosper, he would create an environment in which men and women can succeed on their own merits.  A capitalist free market is the only answer for women, men and the society at large.  Mitt Romney has promised us that, and personally I am hoping that he can change my story and the story of millions of other small business owners across the nation.

Alexandra Swann is 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

New career opportunities at Govan Law Centre

The Govan Law Centre Trust is seeking the following new people to join its award winning legal team:

Senior Solicitor with court/tribunal experience required. Experience in social security, housing, employment, equalities  or administrative law would be an advantage. The successful candidate will also be responsible for the management of funded projects within the law centre including Govanhill Law Centre. Govanhill Law Centre is a branch office of Govan Law Centre based in Govanhill with a focus on enforcing the rights of minority ethnic communities and in particularly the Roma community. The post will involve working in partnership with a number of agencies, in particular in relation to the work with the Roma community.

Solicitor for public legal education role and general casework required. The successful candidate will lead a dynamic new Public Legal Education (PLE) Project in Govanhill with a focus on empowering local citizens, community groups and residents associations to tackle property factor and landlord and tenant disputes. The PLE project is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The post holder will also undertake some general law centre work in Govanhill, supported by the Glasgow Regeneration Agency, in partnership with Crossroads. (Fixed term post for 1 year). We would be happy to consider a job share for this post.

Trainee Solicitor required. Role is primarily in defending evictions and mortgage repossessions, with some scope for other social welfare casework.

Vulnerable Client Caseworker required for award winning Prevention of Homelessness Project. Role involves assisting the project co-ordinator in the delivery of the project. Some travel required.

Please send CV and covering letter to: Mike Dailly at Govan Law Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Glasgow, G51 2BX or Closing date Friday 18 May 2012. No recruitment agencies necessary thank-you. Govan Law Centre is a Registered Scottish Charity SC030193.