Time to protect Scottish consumers against CMCs

Govan Law Centre welcomes news of additional consumer protection for customers of Claims Management Companies (CMCs) in England and Wales, but remains concerned that Scottish consumers continue to go without any legal protection in relation to CMCs providing services in Scotland.

The UK Government has announced that from next year people who are ripped off or receive a poor service from CMCs will be able to pursue a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman for England and Wales. The Ombudsman can award up to £30,000 in compensation in individual cases. CMCs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) under the Compensation Act 2006 for services provided in England and Wales, whereas in Scotland they remain unregulated, albiet the subject matter is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said, "Consumer protection is being strengthened south of border in relation to poor service by CMCs – and rightly so - while Scotland remains an oasis for CMCs to do as they please.  Our unregulated market means that the people of Scotland continue to have no redress or protection against CMCs. We call on the Scottish Government to close this major gap in Scots law sooner rather than later'.

Many CMCs are well known for malpractice and ripping consumers off; including not providing customers with contracts or paperwork, not allowing cancellation of their service or refusing to allow any refunds, misleading and exaggerating their success or service during sales calls, taking payments from customers’ bank accounts or cards without authorisation, and using third parties to engage in unsolicited marketing.

It Just Isn't Fair....(What Disparate Impact Rulings Really Mean)

On July 12, Wells Fargo Bank, the nation's largest mortgage lender, agreed to pay $175 million to settle DOJ accusations that it had steered black and Hispanic borrowers into high cost subprime loans to earn higher points and fees.  The bank did not admit wrong-doing, but faced with the prospect of going to court against the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, the bank agreed to pay the settlement.  The next day, they announced the closure of their wholesale division which had allowed mortgage brokers to wholesale loans to the bank.

The DOJ's Civil Rights Division, led by assistant attorney general Thomas Perez, did not prove that Wells Fargo had intentionally discriminated against minority borrowers.  However, they did not have to prove such discrimination because they based their case on a legal theory called disparate impact. As opposed to policies that are designed to discriminate against minorities, policies that unintentionally discriminate or that have the unintentional effect of causing minorities to receive less favorable terms that non-minorities are covered under disparate impact rules.  In the Wells Fargo case, the government never proved that the bank had any policies in place which openly discriminated against minority borrowers or which encouraged others to so.  They didn't have to prove that.  All they had to do was take a random sampling of broker loans in high-minority population cities and determine that these loans--on the whole--featured higher interest rates and fees than non-minority loans in the same area, and then determine that Wells Fargo's policies overall had a disparate impact on minority borrowers, even though only 5% of Wells Fargo's loans were brokered so the sampling was far from representative of their overall portfolio. No other factors--for instance, borrower credit history--were considered in the disparate impact decision.  For an excellent description of the DOJ's philosophy of discrimination overall as well as their specific handling of this case read this National Legal and Policy Center paper on how the Civil Rights Division interprets discrimination.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has also announced that it will be looking for examples of discrimination and taking action against cases of disparate impact. Further the agency will apply disparate impact standards to student loans and credit cards as well as mortgage loans. For more on this see

Those of us in mortgage lending are still feeling the fallout from the disparate impact settlement.  The primary issue in this case was whether brokers in certain areas were steering borrowers into subprime loans.  Since subprime no longer exists, this can no longer be an issue--right?  Wrong.  In an industry where more and more the federal government is dictating income, lenders are now having to look at their contracts with individual brokers to make sure that those contracts are indeed fair to the borrowers.  And in light of the disparate impact settlement, the only way to make the contracts fair is to make them uniform. 

In April of 2011, the Federal Reserve implemented a new loan originator compensation system which dictated that loan originators could be paid either by the borrower or by the lender but not by both. Further, in the interests of making sure that borrowers were not being steered into higher interest rate loans, the government mandated that each originator had to sign a contract with the lenders with whom he works establishing a pre-determined percentage of compensation for each loan he brokers for a set period of time. For example, if I want to broker loans to Lender X, I must have a contract which is usually in place for 90-120 days, stating that on each transaction on which I am paid by the lender, the percentage of payment I will receive will be X%.  That percentage cannot vary based on the terms of the loan--credit score, debt to income, etc.  Virtually all lenders have a cap which does not allow brokers to exceed 3% at most--in many cases compensation is limited to 2.5%, but many brokers have chosen smaller percentages so that they can remain competitive in their marketplaces.  Brokers are encouraged to set the same percentage of compensation with each lender they represent so that they cannot be accused of steering borrowers to higher interest rate loans.  Therefore, the theory goes, if you apply for a mortgage loan with me, and I am being paid exactly the same rate by each lender I represent, I do not personally benefit from sending you to one lender vs. another; and I must therefore be making my choices based on what is in your best interests.

The anti-steering provisions were designed to be "fair"--to make sure that all borrowers applying for a loan are treated equally.  The problem is, of course, that treating everyone equally only applies to each individual business where the borrowers have applied.  So if I see 10 prospective borrowers in a week, I will treat them all exactly equally since I am compensated at exactly the same rate for each loan that I close, and for each loan that I do not close I am not compensated at all.  However, if a borrower comes to me and gets a good faith estimate and then goes down the street to ABC mortgage and gets a good faith estimate with a different rate and different fees, even though ABC mortgage just happens to sell to the same lender I sell to, then according to the theory of disparate impact, the borrower has not been treated fairly.  I may treat each borrower who comes through my door exactly the same as every other borrower and ABC may treat each borrower who comes through their door exactly the same as every other borrower, but unless ABC and I treat each borrower exactly the same as each other, we and the lender we represent are guilty of "unintentional discrimination."

To address this problem, lenders are now changing compensation models so that rather than brokers determining the level of compensation they want or need to make in order to remain competitive in their markets, the lender sets the level of compensation it is willing to pay based on regions of the country.  For example, one of the lenders with whom I work is setting up regional compensation for brokers in the region covering Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.  This way all brokers working in this region will receive exactly the same pre-determined compensation from the lender.  Other lenders have announced that they will no longer permit borrowers to pay the broker directly--all pay must come only from the lender at the pre-set rate to insure that there is no disparate impact.

There are some obvious problems with this approach, however.  One of the most obvious is that the government can carry this issue of "fairness" and "unfairness" to whatever degree they choose.  For instance, who is to say that if lenders pay brokers in the New York/New Jersey region on a differing scale than those in the Texas/Louisiana/Oklahoma region that this differing pay has not had a disparate impact on the people in one of those regions? Further, why should borrowers be subjected to differing interest rates by different brokers representing competing lenders?  Isn't the job of the broker now to make sure that the borrower gets the best deal possible?  The borrower does not see the end lender until closing, so they are dealing only with the broker.  Why should some brokers be allowed to earn more more money than others just because they have relationships with lenders who are willing to pay them more?  Isn't that unfair? 

Because of the nature of disparate impact, the government never has to prove real discrimination; they have only to show through statistical data that actions produced differing outcomes for different groups of people, and this is a dangerous road to go down.  First, in order to correct these inequities, we can put the federal government in the position of setting and regulating private business agreements and private compensation.  This is particularly important at a time when Obama administration insiders have indicated that in his second term he wants to regulate private market compensation for people working in private industry based on the value of a job rather than what the market will bear. Using these standards, the government can set and cap compensation based on arbitrary standards of fairness.  Arguably, the janitor of a Fortune 500 company has a physically more difficult job than the CEO--certainly a more unpleasant job.  So why should the CEO be paid more and the janitor less?  Might it not be discriminatory to give higher compensation to people with more education, training and experience and less compensation to those who perhaps work very hard but have not had as many opportunities as their better-paid colleagues?  Why not pay everybody the same no matter where they work?

Ridiculous?  Yes, but it may not be that far from becoming reality.  The mortgage industry has been a proving grounds for some of the most radical invasions into private enterprise that our country has ever seen.  If the federal government can dictate how much we earn based on arbitrary standards of fairness, than ultimately it can apply those same standards to any industry and any employer.  The government can dictate the terms of private employment contracts, the costs of good and services, and even how much profit retail stores are allowed to earn.  In short, when "fairness" becomes the standard, there are no limits to the intrusions by the feds that are possible and even probable.

Life is not fair--outcomes are certainly not fair.  Attempting to guarantee that everyone experiences an equal outcome merely guarantees that no one has anything.  That is not the American system.  In a free enterprise system we believe in equality of opportunity but never equality of outcomes.  That takes away freedom of choice and freedom to make decisions--both of which are at the heart of a free society.

We have an election coming up in about 70 days.  That election is going to determine whether we restore the free enterprise system or we become more and more deeply enmeshed in a system where the federal government, in the name of fairness, dictates everything we are allowed to have, to earn and to keep.  Personally, I am counting the days until I go down to my local polling station and cast my vote for the Romney/Ryan ticket and against socialism.  I hope that at least 51% of my fellow Americans are willing to do the same.  Otherwise, we are going to wake up on November 7 in a country where capitalism and free enterprise are just distant memories and all of our decisions are subject to question by the arbitrary standards of Washington bureaucrats.

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.

Break the Chains

Yesterday Vice President Joe Biden again made headlines over his controversial remarks to a crowd in Virginia when he told his audience that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will put people "in chains," while unchaining Wall Street.  The remarks drew a lot of attention partially because they were made to a largely African-American audience and because they highlighted Joe Biden's general disconnect with reality--he apparently believed that he was giving the speech to a crowd in North Carolina although he was actually speaking in Virginia.

Romney's campaign has demanded an apology, and I agree with him. Insinuating that Romney/Ryan and their supporters want to enslave people is a horrendous lie.  But I think that perhaps the more significant part of Biden's remarks have been overlooked in all of the furor--the part where Biden claims that the GOP pair want to "unchain" the banks and Wall Street.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am completely and fully against Dodd Frank.  In fact, I started this blog just prior to the passage of Dodd Frank--my first post was April 29, 2010 and Dodd Frank was signed in July of 2010--in an attempt to spread the word about how dangerous and destructive this piece of legislation would be to the financial health of our country.  Now, two years later, Biden is sneering that Romney wants to "unchain" the banks by repealing the legislation.

So much is wrong with Biden's statement.  The mere fact that he is applauding business being "chained" is symptomatic of what is wrong with this country.  Unemployment is over 8% officially and is much higher if we count the people who no longer look for work. Thousands of small businesses like mine are now closed.  Once successful companies that sold products to the real estate market have locked their doors.  Community banks have closed their mortgage departments because they do not want to have to deal with the rigorous restrictions that Dodd Frank is imposing on entities that sell mortgages.  We have created a huge new bureaucracy with unprecedented powers.  And Biden is celebrating the fact that businesses operating in what is supposed to be a free country are now "in chains." 

No one who does not work in real estate will ever understand the real human cost of what has happened in the mortgage and real estate markets over the last four years.  Nine years ago, I was invited to attend an open house for a very successful local builder.  He had constructed a custom, multi-million dollar home for a prominent local businessman.  Because the home was unique, he had asked his customer to allow him to put the home on display for one weekend. The open house was a ticketed event so that the community could see the home; all of the proceeds were donated to benefit a children's charity.

I lost touch with the builder--he was never a client of mine although I did know both him and his wife socially through organizations of which we were both members.  But this spring I was talking to a long-time acquaintance/client when the builder's name came up in the conversation.  "It's terrible what happened to him.  So sad," my client said.  I had surmised from some things I had seen in the community that the builder had been suffering from financial problems, so I assumed the client was referring to a bankruptcy, but I asked him what he meant.  "You didn't hear? He committed suicide two weeks ago," my client said, adding that the builder couldn't see a way out of his financial problems.  I was stunned, but as I contemplated his suicide I realized that there probably was no way for this man to come out of his financial problems.  Like many of the rest of us, he probably came to a place where he finally had no hope at all and for him, suicide appeared to be the best option.

That's partly what makes Biden's latest comments so infuriating.  By implying that Romney will "unchain banks and Wall Street and put y'all in chains," he is also implying that Obama has set us free.  So exactly how do regulations that destroy small business and cut off access to capital make us free?  During the same four years that I have watched Dodd Frank strangle the life out of legitimate sources of credit, I have watched title loan companies and cash for gold businesses proliferate in our community.  Are the people who can no longer get a credit card but who can easily find a place to sell their gold jewelry better off than they were four years ago?  The truth is that Americans are going to borrow money--either from habit or necessity.  The only question is from whom. 

Yesterday I got a phone call from a doctor who had gotten a construction loan for his dream home.  The home is now about two weeks away from completion, and he can't get permanent financing to take out the construction mortgage because his credit score is 679.  Because he owes more than $417,000 on the construction note, he needs either a jumbo loan or a second lien to pay his obligation to the bank and at 679 he does not qualify for either even though he has a good credit history and plenty of income to cover his obligation.  At the end of our conversation he told me that he wanted to look into private "hard money" to see if a private lender would loan him what he needs for a second lien.  Four years ago, a man in his position would have never considered going to a private lender for a second lien on his residence because he could have gotten a fairly inexpensive second lien or a jumbo mortgage.  Now, expensive private money is his only option.  I wonder whether he would agree that he is more "free" under Obama.

I am hoping very much that the Romney/Ryan ticket will prevail in November, and I also hope that if they do win the election that Romney and Ryan will make a sincere commitment to repeal Dodd Frank in its entirety.  If they are able to do that, they won't just be taking the chains off of the banks--they will be breaking the chains that the Obama Administration has used to bind all of us. That would be something to celebrate. 

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.

Water, Water Everywhere...

About 10 days ago, my mother told me that she had received a census from the federal government.  The survey, which she believed was sent to her from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stated in its instructions that compliance was mandatory and that failure to return this data subjected residents to fines and penalties. But aside from the nuisance factor involved in completing yet another census document, the invasive, personal nature of the questions bothered my mother a great deal. 

For example, she said that the form asked how large the house was, how many rooms it contained, how many bathrooms it contained, whether it was site built, and how much land it sits on.  The questionnaire demanded to know how much the last utility bills were for the property and whether the utilities were public or private.  Further, the census required detailed information on each occupant of the home including age, annual income, the source of that income, whether any of the residents was receiving any sort of public assistance including Medicaid, and on and on.  The form demanded information about whether the house had a mortgage on it and ordered the homeowner to estimate its value "if you had to sell it today."

My parents bought their home in 1978 and paid it off several years ago.  It sits on a half acre in a rural community in New Mexico.  Other than being located on a state highway, it has no distinguishing characteristics that might be of interest to any government agency.  That made the intrusive nature of the questions to homeowners even more odd.  When Mother told me about it, she suggested the questions might be connected in some way to the new push for sustainable housing and urban living--after all why else would the federal government require such detailed information about not only the structure of the house and the cost to maintain it, but also the make-up of the occupants and whether the property is mortgaged or paid off.  Always the optimist, I responded that perhaps the information was needed by the USDA to refine the lending guidelines for the Guaranteed Rural Housing loan program.  After all, many of areas within close proximity to my parents' home are eligible under the Guaranteed Rural Housing program, and information about the incomes and occupations of the residents as well as type of housing available could be useful in updating guidelines for a loan program that qualifies both the borrower and the property based on a set of pre-determined, area specific guidelines.

I had almost forgotten about the entire incident, when last week, I saw a tweet linked to an article from the Las Cruces Sun News about a law suit that the federal government had filed against the state of New Mexico to seize control of the state's groundwater. I was shocked--partly because I watch local news covering events in El Paso and Las Cruces every morning, and I had never seen even a mention of this.  (The next day the local ABC affiliate did briefly mention that the state and the federal government were going to court in a battle over the water rights.)  I wondered how a legal conflict so crucial to our state could go unnoticed and unreported.

Many people who have not been to New Mexico tend to think of the state only in terms of the arid scenes from old Westerns, but large parts of our state are thriving agriculture regions.  In addition to producing green chile and onions, New Mexico is also home to beautiful orchards, including Stahmann Farms--a pecan orchard spanning several thousand acres. The state sits atop the Deming Water Basin, which produces delicious water.  The combination of bright sunshine and good water makes Southern New Mexico an ideal location for farms of all sizes, while Northern New Mexico boasts some stunning forests.

Of course, without our water, none of this would be possible, and now the federal government has apparently determined that they have a legal claim to this lifeline.  Much of the irrigation our region depends on originates in the Rio Grande through Elephant Butte irrigation district.  Through an agreement with Texas, New Mexico and the nation of Mexico, the water from the Rio Grande is divided among these three entities. The state of New Mexico is responsible for managing ground water pumping.  The Feds argued that they have ownership over the state's groundwater because the flow of the Rio Grande, and the surface water, over which they already have authority, is closely tied to the groundwater.  Currently the Elephant Butte Irrigation District covers about 90,000 acres.  In the spring, water that has been stored at Elephant Butte lake is released by the federal government from the dam into the river and then delivered through the EBID canals to farmers in Southern New Mexico, El Paso, Texas and Mexico.  Once farmland has been irrigated, the water can be recaptured in the drain systems and sent on to other farmers downstream.  That re-use of the water was one of the factors that the Feds sought to regulate.  The Fed also want to be able to prevent the "overpumping" of ground water by residents of New Mexico.

During a year of drought such as the one that we are currently experiencing, very little water has been released from Elephant Butte to the farmers.  As a result, the local residents have had to pump groundwater from their wells in order to irrigate their orchards and farms and keep their crops alive.  And that practice apparently does not sit well with Uncle Sam.

The Federal government is also apparently alleging that they have a right to claims for damages to groundwater in a damage case involving Chevron.  The Feds claim that the damages owed to them should be awarded in the form of the management of the water rights.

The state argued that the federal government's claim to the water was "unprecedented" and apparently a state judge agreed. On Wednesday, August 1, state judge James Wechsler determined that the federal government has rights only to the surface water.  That does include management of the river water and may include water reused by farmers downstream, although that area appears a little gray right now following his ruling.  But the Feds do not have the right to regulate how much water New Mexicans pump.

While we have won this first round, the fact that the Feds would even attempt to take over management of the groundwater is very troubling. There are so many implications for the state--for the cities, for the farmers, and for the rest of us.  When asked about the case, Las Cruces city utilities director Jorge Garcia told The Las Cruces Sun News, "If the feds end up owning the groundwater, it would negatively affect any future water planning the city would want to do."  In fact, it would negatively affect any future growth of any of the cities.  How can cities attract new industries or residents without control of their own water? And doesn't ownership of the water give the federal government the right to dictate exactly where residents can live and work?

Although the Feds claimed that they do not actually want to control all of the groundwater usage, state rep Brian Egolf told The Albuquerque Journal that "There's not necessarily a limit to what the feds are claiming," adding that if the Feds won the suit they could set up pumps, pump out the ground water and ship it to other states.  That could leave our state with insufficient water not only for the farmers but for the residents.

The Feds' claim that they should have the legal rights to the groundwater go the heart not only of states' rights, but also private property rights.  When the federal government asserts the right to take the water and send it wherever they wish, they have the ability to render properties worthless. 

That takes me back to my mother's census form.  Did this questionnaire go out because the Feds plan to own the water, and they want to find out exactly to whom it is being supplied?  If they eventually do win, will they assess a limit on how much water each household can use?  Will there be a "water tax" for those property owners with wells who are already paying the cost of electricity to pump water?  Or might they just decide that certain property owners in some parts of the state are using up too many resources and are not allowed to pump anymore water at all, forcing them to abandon their properties or have them seized by eminent domain. In an era when governments increasingly believe that they should have final say over every aspect of our lives, the possibilities are almost endless--and very frightening.

What is for sure is that the water battle is not over--it is just getting started. According to an article posted at kunm.org., public information officers of the New Mexico State Engineer's office say that the federal government is pursuing three legal theories that they hope will ultimately change ownership of the New Mexico's groundwater--clean up of a mine in northern New Mexico, protection of an endangered species in the Middle Rio Grande, and tribal water rights claims.  The state appears to be in for a long legal battle to hold on to what has always been theirs.

Maybe the battle is part of a larger plan to exert ever-increasing control over the lives of citizens. Then again, maybe it is just a little federal retribution against the state which allowed Tea Party Conservatives to elect the first female Hispanic governor in the history of the United States. We may never know the true answer to that last question.  And it may be many years and court battles from now before we can know with any certainty whether we get to keep our water.

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.

Recruitment opportunity at Govan Law Centre

The Govan Law Centre Trust is seeking a Qualified Solicitor with good civil court and preferably employment tribunal experience. Experience in social security, housing, employment, equalities and administrative law would be an advantage.

The successful candidate will work within our Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC) office. GhLC is a branch office of Govan Law Centre based in Glasgow's Govanhill and serves the unmet legal needs of the wider local community, 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.

Please send CV and covering letter to: Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor at Govan Law Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Glasgow, G51 2BX or m @ govanlc.com. Closing date 4pm, Friday 24 August 2012. No recruitment agencies necessary thank-you. Govan Law Centre is a Registered Scottish Charity SC030193. http://www.govanlc.com/

Dream Small

In Leo Tolstoy's short story, "How Much Land Does a Man Really Need?" the peasant Pahom determines that his main problem in life is that he does not have enough land.  In his quest to get more and more property, he meets the Chief of the Bashkirs, who own 13,000 acres of the finest, most beautiful land Pahom has ever seen which they are eager to sell.  The price, the Chief informs Pahom, is "one thousand rubles a day"--prospective buyers pay 1000 rubles and then begin a journey around whatever parcel of the land they want.  They can have anything they mark off as theirs as long as they return to their starting point by sunset.  If, however, he cannot reach his starting point by sunset, Pahom will forfeit his thousand rubles to the Chief and leave empty-handed.

Pahom begins early in the morning, and because he is so entranced by the beauty of the land in front of him, he journeys further and further from his starting point as he marks off more desirable tracts of land.  By afternoon it is very hot and he is exhausted and thirsty from traveling all day, but he now realizes that he is a long way from the place where he started and he begins to run back to his destination.  The Bashkirs cheer him on as he desperately runs trying to get back to the designated finish line, where the Chief of the Baskirs awaits him, by sunset.  Just as the last rays of sunlight leave the sky, Pahom's reaches his destination, but as he does so he collapses and dies and the Chief of the Baskirs rolls with laughter as he pockets Pahom's rubles and orders a servant to bury him next to the bodies of all of the others who have fallen before him.  Taking a shovel, the servant digs a grave and buries Pahom in the amount of the land he really needs--six feet to cover him from head to foot. 

I was reminded of this story a couple of weeks ago as I read of Michael Bloomberg's newest plans for New York City--to move New Yorkers into tiny "Micro" Apartments of 275-300 square feet.  To accomplish this, Bloomberg is getting the zoning laws in New York changed which currently set minimum apartment square footage at 450 square feet. The original laws were passed to prevent over crowded tenements, but now Bloomberg says that they need to be changed because many New Yorkers live alone (approximately half of the people in Manhattan live by themselves) and they need cheaper, smaller housing.  Bloomberg is even promoting a contest for designers to compete for the best design of a 275-300 square foot space to include a kitchen and bathroom.

Bloomberg has made a lot of national news this year with his draconian restrictions on what New Yorkers are allowed to eat and drink and specifically his ban on soft drinks over 16 ounces.  He claims that it is his government's job to keep people healthy--and hey if you are going to fit in a tiny apartment you probably need to keep your weight under control.  Most recently, in the wake of the Colorado shootings he was pressuring both Obama and Romney to support gun control legislation.

What many people do not understand is that Bloomberg's initiatives, including his intense desire to control what people in his city can eat and drink and where they can live, come straight out of the playbook of the current elites who use "green" agendas to justify stripping wealth and opportunity away from everyone else and promote pushing people into tiny apartments and controlling their food intake.  Virtually all the United Nations initiatives, including Agenda 21 push for tight control over  Americans and all other residents of developed nations, including where we live, how we travel, what we eat, and what we are allowed to have.  Bloomberg governs a major U.S. city, so the fact that he is implementing these standards as part of his Administration is no small thing.  In fact, we can look for more and more U.S. cities to copy what New York is doing even as they implement their own versions of Agenda 21 through Smart Growth, Smart Code and sustainable living initiatives.  (My sister in Dallas Texas recently visited an IKEA furniture store which featured micro housing displays.  My sister commented that it was cute but had room enough for only one person and even with that, "You would not even have room for a pet."  Sounds delightful.

All of this brings me back to Tolstoy's story and the question in its title, "How Much Land Does A Man Really Need?"  According to Bloomberg, New Yorkers NEED only 275-300 square feet of space.  Yet, according to Forbes Magazine,  Bloomberg himself has an estimated net worth of $22 billion.  Forbes lists Bloomberg as #11 on the list of U.S. billionaires (number 22 worldwide) number 17 on the list of most powerful people and number 12 in the Forbes 400.  According to a May 25, 2012 article in the New York Times, Bloomberg currently owns 11 homes,  including 33 acre estate in North Salem which he purchased for 4.55 million dollars in 2011 for his daughter who is an accomplished equestrian.  His residence in New York City is a Park Avenue condominium which we can be quite certain is great deal larger than 300 square feet.  He owns a 35 acre estate in the Hamptons, also purchased in 2011.  His other real estate holdings include homes in London, Bermuda, Southampton, New York, Vail Colorado and Wellington, Florida.

Forbes lists Bloomberg as a self-made man, and I applaud his success; after all, America offers innovative people opportunities to succeed through their own efforts (in spite of Obama's recent, "You didn't build that" comments, everyone knows that success basically comes through individual achievement.)  But Mayor Bloomberg exemplifies the worst of what is wrong with our country today--wealthy powerful elites stepping on the fingers of those trying to work their way up the ladder to enjoy success of their own.  Bloomberg made his money in a country which allowed opportunity, but now he is determined to micro manage every aspect of every life he can control by determining for us how much we need and are allowed to have, while increasingly fattening his own already luxurious lifestyle.

The American dream used to be to buy a home of our own. Americans aspired to find a good job, or perhaps start a business, marry a person we loved and raise a family.  For most Americans success like Bloombergs has always been out of reach, but tens of millions have achieved their own version of the American Dream.  By saying that New Yorkers live alone and therefore only require 300 square feet of living space, Bloomberg is eliminating the possibility of  sharing a  life and certainly of raising a family.  By telling New Yorkers that they are not intelligent enough to determine how much salt and sugar they should consume he is conditioning them to the nanny state which dictates every part of their lives.

Bloomberg's dictatorship may be confined to New York City, but his ideas are spreading across the country and the message is very clear.  If you have any dreams for your own future, be prepared to dream small. 

 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