A boost for refinancing mortgages

The following is a piece I wrote for the News and Observer and that it where it was originally posted.

Since January 2009, decision-makers in Washington have been hit or miss when it comes to solving the housing crisis. Perhaps a more accurate portrayal is that there have been a lot more misses than hits.

During this political season it is common for both parties to talk about what they will do after the election for jobs, the economy and the housing market. What they seem to forget during the election season is that work can still be done.

In the coming weeks, North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan will have a chance to do that work and assist struggling homeowners in this state by helping them to lower their interest rates.

Nationally, almost a third of homeowners are “underwater” on their mortgages, meaning they owe more than the house is worth. Despite historically low-interest rates right now, these homeowners are often saddled with higher interest rates because they cannot refinance while underwater. Many other families cannot refinance either, because the closing costs and fees are too high.

Burr and Hagan will have a chance to act on a package of three bills in the Senate – Sens. Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez’s Responsible Homeowners Act, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Expanding Refinancing Opportunities Act and Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Rebuild Equity Act – that would impact the economy and the housing market.

This package would allow all homeowners to refinance into today’s low rates, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans, by expanding the Home Affordable Refinance Program to remove restrictions on who is eligible. Homeowners would also be allowed to refinance to a 20-year mortgage and keep the same payment; this allows underwater homeowners to get “above water” faster with more money going to principal.

Finally, the high closing costs that prevent many from refinancing would be eliminated because the federal government would cover them. All homeowners who are current and have a 580 FICO score would qualify.

In North Carolina alone, 368,962 families would qualify and save on average $2,900 a year, according to a recent report by the Center for Responsible Lending. That is a savings of over $1 billion in lower mortgage payments that can affect our state’s economy. Across the nation, over 4 million homeowners would be able to save over $10 billion; this not only saves homes from potential foreclosures and abandonment but also puts millions of families on more stable financial ground.

The mortgage crisis isn’t over yet, and the decision-makers in Washington need some hits to make up for all their misses. This is work that can be done now, and is more important than empty campaign promises. Homeowners can’t wait until after the election, while the housing market drags down our state’s economy.

This is not an end-all solution, but a first step in the right direction. If we want to truly address the housing crisis, we can’t just help those behind on their mortgage; we must also help those who make their payments despite higher rates and being underwater. Burr and Hagan need to take a stand for our state’s homeowners and economy and support this package of bills.


July 4th: Continued healing

I hope that everyone had a chance to enjoy some level of July 4th festivities.  July 4th was a day of continued healing for me.  BBQ is a big part of my life and how I both express myself and release stress.  To me there is no release like smoking a pork shoulder for 14 hours or spending 4 hours to get the perfect ribs(which I never eat) or smoking anything else. While going through the ordeal with Aaron, I had not really had a proper release with some good Que.  The only time over the last few months that I really was able to get down the way I normally do was for Aaron’s post funeral gathering.  I spent the night before the funeral doing several racks of baby backs and pork shoulders.  It helped me get mentally ready for the next day.

Outside of that, I had not done anything and so I needed the fourth to be the next step in my healing.  So naturally, I had a few friends over and went to work and made a fresh batch of sauce and dry rub.  I ended up doing a shoulder and for the first time a beer can chicken.  I also slow cooked my burgers for the first time.  Instead of the usual high heat, I cooked them for an hour over a lower temperature.  I experimented on my guests and they seemed to enjoy it.  There was only one burger left that evening.

It was also the first time I had gathered with most of these friends since the funeral.  It was great to be around all my best friends in this area on a more positive note.  They all have helped me in the healing process and did so yet again.  Thanks to Dustin Chicurel-Bayard, Miriam Chicurel-Bayard, Ian Mance, Nicole Foster, and Cara Williams for being that kind of friend to me and my family. You all helped to make the 4th another step in the healing process.


Enjoy the pictures!

The power of media

I will preface this by saying that I am not a Miami Heat fan, I do not have a favorite NBA team just love watching it and following certain athletes. Two players I rather enjoy watching are Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. I don’t care about their lives off the court as so many do, but they are two of the best players in the world. Most people, even avid basketball fans, have an opinion of these two based on how the media talks about them. I avoid reading or watching any basketball analysis after a Heat game, because the media covers it in such extremes.  When they win, everyone loves them and talks about when they both are at the top of their game, they should never lose.  When they lose, their off the court habits get discussed, their perceived lack of commitment gets discussed, and you would think they are the two worst people in the world on and off the court.

This media dance has made these two of the most hated athletes in the world.  The fact that the greatest player ever only won 6 championships despite playing 15 seasons in the NBA.  I know six is a lot, but if the greatest player ever could not win every year, neither can Lebron and Wade.  I am not defending either of them, but want to make a larger point about the media and how it dictates our thinking.

The same concept translates to politics and the news media.  The lack of unbiased reporting has contributed mightily to the political divide of this country.  We have the extremes like Fox News for the right and MSNBC for the left. CNN has extremes within its own host.  What none of these stations offer is an unbiased viewpoint on any issue.  Everything is to the extreme one way or the other and there is no middle ground.  When our media is that extreme, the truth often gets shaded to make their viewpoint more appealing to their audience which gets them bigger ratings.  The end result is a divided country whose views are to the extremes with no middle ground, and yet we wonder why our politicians can’t get anything done.

I think the biggest way to have an informed country is for more unbiased media.  We need to have the issues discussed with no bias, and then let the people make the decisions for themselves.  As of now, the extremes in our media already dictate where people stand.  Let’s remove the bias from both sides and let people make their own conclusions.

Are career politicians the problem?

One think I enjoy doing in debating.  Politics, sports, food, anything really is fair game for a debate in my book.  This weekend as I had another “discussion” on Facebook, whose views are often at the other end of the spectrum, we had a rare moment of having something in common. Term Limits.  As we went back and forth about over two days and a range of topics from size of government, racist history of political parties, government programs versus private sector programs we had nothing in common.  Which is not unusual.  That all changed though when we got on the topic of politicians representing this country correctly.

One of my big issues with politicians, is that today’s political leaders seemed to have forgotten the most important piece about governing the country.  That they represent the people who voted them in and not their own self interests. Nothing seems to happen in Washington these days, because a line has been drawn in the sand and neither party is willing to cross that line to get anything done.  They seem to have forgotten history, where people could reach across the aisle and do what is right for the country. Republicans like to tout Ronald Reagan, but seem to forget that he publicly admitted the need to compromise for the good of the country.

Why has this become a problem? There could be many reasons, but to me a glaring issue is career politicians. Without term limits, elected officials with standing virtually have a career locked down.  So much about election success is name recognition and fundraising. Current Congressperson and Senators have the name recognition when it comes to ballot days.  Also, because they have already worked with the various industries on a many different pieces of legislation, they also will have the inside track on fundraising.  This makes it nearly impossible for challengers to be successful at the polls.  Career politicians have become comfortable, the position is no longer about representing the people, instead it has become about their own self interests.

To me the solution to this is term limits.  We need people in office who will always represent the interest of the people, and eliminating career politicians is a clear solution to me.  Surprisingly enough, it was also a solution of my conservative friend. Will politicians ever go for it, no.  But if enough of us from all political view points can begin pushing this, at some point they will have to listen. However, if we continue to be afraid to speak up, because we fear debate or open discussion about real solutions to our problems nothing will change.

When we open ourselves up to debate and discussion, we will be surprised at how much we can agree on ways to change the system for the better.

Lessons learned from my son

I learned a lot from my son in the 6 months that he was here with us.  I wanted to share with everyone the message I shared at his ceremony.  I know there are a lot of people out there who are supporting us and could not be at the service and so I wanted to share what I shared with those who did attend. Below is the opening message I shared.


I would like to thank all of you for being here today. We have been touched by all the overwhelming support we have received from all of you. Your support has been a vital part of our healing this week.

As we gather today, I know there will be tears shed; but we want them to be tears of joy and not sorrow. We want to celebrate the life of Aaron, by focusing on all the happy memories and the lessons he taught us.

Aaron is one of the strongest people I know despite only being here for six months. He valiantly fought through countless surgeries and procedures, and defied the odds on several occasions with his will to live, and he fought til his last breath.

But I don’t want to focus on his suffering, because he is no longer suffering.  I want to focus on all the happy memories. Like why we referred to him as baby hulk. Despite the nurses best efforts, he had an uncanny ability to work his arms free and try to pull out his cords and ventilation tubes.

Or how when watching the super bowl with him, he couldn’t make it past halftime as this grandmother looking person, I mean Madonna, sang him to sleep. Or how during the few weeks he was home, he would look at his sisters like they were the weirdest people in the world.

My two favorite memories involve sports and politics. His first taste of politics was watching one of the countless Republican debates. Whenever Rick Perry would talk he would cry, whenever Mitt Romney spoke he looked confused, but whenever Ron Paul spoke he would smile and laugh. I guess he was ready for the Ron Paul revolution.

If you know me well then you know I am a die-hard Kentucky basketball fan, despite living in dUKe country. I still have a very strong dislike for Christian Laettner and Duke Basketball, and it was with great pride that Aaron and I sported our Kentucky basketball gear at Duke University Hospital. I watched all but two games with Aaron this season, those were the games we lost. Aaron watched every Kentucky tournament game with me. Even when he was sleep, he would always wake up for game time. The only game he slept through was the National Championship game. I took that as his way of saying he need not leave his slumber because Big Blue Nation would be celebrating that night, and we did.

But the big things were the lessons I learned from him. His strength and will were uncanny for a baby. Through everything he never quit because he had a passion for life. We should all learn from this, I know I did. All he went through makes what I complain about seem like nothing. If he didn’t quit, then I shouldn’t either.  No more sorry excuses about exercise and getting in shape. All the books I say I will write, need to get written.

Most importantly though, my passion and desire to work for equal rights, justice, and opportunity for everyone has been enhanced. I want to fight with the same strength and will that Aaron used every day.

I hope you all will join me in celebrating the life and strength of Aaron, and make a commitment to living your life with the same strength, will, and passion for life as he did. That is the best way to honor him and keep him in our hearts forever.

Once again, thank you for being here and for the overwhelming support you have shown us.

Thank You.



My Fallen Hero

As people fire up their grills and smokers to cook meats and have family and friends over, not only to kick off the unofficial start to summer, but to also celebrate our fallen service men and woman.  To me this has always been an undervalued holiday on our calendars.  The freedoms and lifestyle we enjoy in America came at a price and we should take seriously this day to honor those soldiers.

This year, this day has new meaning for me.  Despite having family members who have served, I never have one die in the line of duty.  I had also never had someone close to me I considered my hero to die either.  So while this day of memorial for our fallen heroes has always meant a lot to me, it never truly hit home. That all changed at 8:45 am on May 14th, when my son and hero’s heart beat for the last time.  His fight for survival in the 6 months he lived taught me so much about strength and courage. So for me, Memorial Day has a new meaning.  Now I have a fallen hero, that I can celebrate not just on Memorial Day, but every day.

Maybe if those of us who don’t personally know of a service member who has fallen, also think about our own personal heroes who have fallen this day will be more than a day of cookouts and the unofficial summer kick off, but truly be a day of honoring all of our fallen heroes.

Family Update: Continued Challenges and Blessings

Now that I am trying to get back to writing more consistently, I wanted to pause from the politics of the last few days and give an update on the ups and downs going on with my family right now.  I wrote a few months back about the condition my son was born with and the complications he faced and will continue to face.

We were grateful that at the beginning of the year, we were finally able to bring Aaron home.  It was great having him home from the hospital and not having to visit the ICU every night.  There were still going to be lots of doctor visits, as going home after the first surgery is a very risky proposition.  About 50% of the babies in this situation need to go back in before their next procedure. Things were going well, and the doctor visits were going great.  They were about to switch from weekly visits to every 2 weeks.  Then things changed. Aaron had some blood in his stool and so we had to take him back into the hospital.

We thought it would be for a few days, but we were wrong.  They thought it could be a flesh-eating bacteria or something as simple as pushing to hard to poop.  With his condition, they have to start at worst case scenario and work their way down. Good news was that it was not a flesh-eating bacteria. Things progressed from there, to where we thought we could bring him home soon.  But he started having issues with his lungs and breathing which is a sign that it was time for his second surgery.

It was a little sooner than they would like, but his symptoms were worsening and it was time. Heart surgery is always tough no matter if you have gone through it before. The surgery went well, but Aaron developed some complications after the surgery, where a little over a week later they needed to do another surgery on the same area.  Things were pretty bleak after that.  He had to be on an ecmo machine that did the work of his heart and lungs, and he was heavily sedated and on a paralytic drug for a while.  They knew they needed to do that follow-up operation, because when they tried to close his chest a few days after the heart surgery, he almost died. The next few days were rough, but we were glad he was able to get off of that machine. He started to make some progress after that, but still needed to be on the vent for support.  The length of time he was going to be on there was getting long and that can cause issues, especially if you already have weak lungs like Aaron does.

A few weeks ago, we were called into the hospital with some grim news.  Aaron’s lungs were failing and his was about 24 hours from no longer being with us.  It was important for him to turn around on his own without support, because they docs had done all they could.  It was at this point that I finally broke down.  The thought of him being that closed to death hit me pretty hard. Aaron fought hard and pulled through and really began making progress.

Not to long after that, he was able to come off of the vent and breathe on his own.  He did this for 2 weeks, and did well.  His heart rate was high during that time and I thought he was working to hard to breathe.  He was stable and the docs thought the high heart rate was tied to the fevers he was having and maybe the result of the infection.  The end result was two weeks after coming off the vent, Aaron almost died again as his heart rate plummeted to the dangerously low levels.

What happened is that he had been working too hard to breathe over those 2 weeks, and he finally got tired and stopped.  The docs indicated in all their years they had never seen that happen. Usually, if a baby needed the vent they would have their episode a few days later.  He went 2 weeks and seemed stable.

That brings us where we are today.  Aaron needs a tracheotomy to help relieve some of the pressure from his lungs and enable him to come home.  It will be challenging as he won’t be able to make any sounds and will be breathing through a tube in his neck.  We will need lots of home health nurses, but the important thing is that he will be able to come back home.

My lil man will be 6 months old next week, and has been in the hospital all but 3 weeks of his life and is about to have his 6th different operation.  He is a fighter and keeps fighting.  My family is thankful for all the support, thoughts, and prayers we have gotten from all our friends and family.