2009 - %3, June

Shocking News: Subprime Lenders Took Advantage of Poor People and Minorities

| Mon Jun. 8, 2009 9:25 AM EDT

Remember when conservatives tried to blame the subprime mortgage crisis on poor people and minorities? According to the conservatives' narrative, a 1977 law called the Community Reinvestment Act caused all of our problems by encouraging the extension of credit to poor people and minorities. The problem with that argument was that the vast majority of subprime loans were made by institutions that were not subject to the CRA, and studies have shown that the act has actually increased the amount of responsible lending to poor families. Even the Federal Reserve has posted research explaining that the CRA argument is bogus.

So why, then, do we keep hearing about poor people and minorities defaulting on subprime loans? Because, as it turns out, subprime lenders didn't need any encouragement to make predatory loans to people they thought they could easily exploit. The New York Times reports:

As she describes it, Beth Jacobson and her fellow loan officers at Wells Fargo Bank “rode the stagecoach from hell” for a decade, systematically singling out blacks in Baltimore and suburban Maryland for high-interest subprime mortgages... Wells Fargo, Ms. Jacobson said in an interview, saw the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation’s home-owning mania. Loan officers, she said, pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages. Another loan officer stated in an affidavit filed last week that employees had referred to blacks as "mud people" and to subprime lending as "ghetto loans."

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Gays in the Military

| Mon Jun. 8, 2009 1:09 AM EDT

Here's some good, if unsurprising, news: support for allowing gays to serve openly in the military is up considerably since 2004.  For the past few decades public opinion on all kinds of gay issues has trended more tolerant by about 1% per year, and Gallup's latest poll confirms this: in the past five years support for allowing gays and lesbians to serve has increased from 63% to 69%.

Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest shift comes from conservatives, who have become more supportive by 12 percentage points, moving from 46% in favor to 58% in favor.  Regular churchgoers and the young have also made bigger-than-average jumps.

There's a rule of thumb that says social policies are resistant to change until they garner two-thirds support from the public.  Allowing gays to serve openly in the military has now officially passed that point.  That means it's safe to keep your campaign promise and act, Mr. President.

Lessons on Being a Prick

| Sun Jun. 7, 2009 2:58 PM EDT

I see that the conservative movement is continuing its long descent into juvenile thuggery and intellectual gutlessness as a substitute for actual ideas.  It's like being back in seventh grade.  Nice work, NRO.

Could the Clemson Scandal Kill USNWR?

| Sun Jun. 7, 2009 2:41 PM EDT

Last week, Clemson University admitted to manipulating U.S. News and World Report's college ranking system. The scandal was embarrassing for Clemson, but it also put the magazine on the defense. Not a great place for a publication to be these days. So what does this mean for the future of USNWR?

By some measures, the magazine is not doing particularly well. In the beginning of 2008, it had  lower sales than the other two leading newsweeklies. In June of 2008, the magazine's publishing schedule went from weekly to biweekly; by November it was down to monthly. 

Death knells for USNWR? Probably not, for one simple reason:

Nonboiling Frog Update

| Sat Jun. 6, 2009 6:12 PM EDT

Frog blogging?  Seriously?  I say: bring it on, guys.  Inkblot and Domino are snoozing in terror at the competition.

On the other hand, we all heartily approve of catblogging spontaneously becoming a topic of conversation over twelve packs of Red Stripe and stale Tostitos.  And I have to admit that MoJo's interns have found themselves a handsome looking little amphibian.  Click on the link if you want to help them name their new little critter.

D-Day, the Queen, and a Wartime Childhood

| Sat Jun. 6, 2009 3:27 PM EDT

By now we’ve all heard about how Queen Elizabeth was snubbed by Nicholas Sarkozy, who was apparently so dazzled by the prospect of Barack Obama’s visit that he neglected to invite the queen to any of the events commemorating the 65th anniversary of D-Day. (In a last-minute face-saver, Prince Charles agreed to attend instead.) Some people are blaming Gordon Brown, who was too busy trying to save his political skin to make sure the queen got her due. But the British press, which is having a field day over this royal faux pas, has directed most of its rage at Sarko, and at the ungrateful French in general.

The Daily Mail declared the snub “an insult to the memory of the 17,556 British and 5,316 Canadian troops who died to free France and are buried there.” Commentators in the same paper took things a step further, declaring Sarzkozy a “diminutive egomaniac,” and denouncing the French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys whose “widespread collaboration with  the Nazi occupiers” made it all the more difficult for the British to “save” them from tyranny.  

I don't go in for France-bashing, and under normal circumstances, I couldn’t care less about anyone in the British royal family, or any of the pomp and protocol that surround them. I think it’s great that Michelle Obama dared to touch the queen--she could have given her a fist bump for all I care. In fact, I wonder why the Brits don’t just do away with the monarchy altogether, and save themselves a lot of money. (Although they’d still have to deal with MPs cleaning their moats at the public’s expense.) But when it comes to anything having to do with the Second World War, I’ve got a soft spot for the British in general, and in particular for HRH--who lives in my earliest memories as Princess Elizabeth. 

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LA's Retailers Get Religion

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 9:00 PM EDT

Woody Allen's lawsuit against American Apparel figurehead Dov Charney may have settled for a cool $5 million last month, but Charney is far from the only LA-based retailer proselytizing to the masses. Allen's bizarre episode with Charney left us with more questions than answers. Not the least of which is: what does דער הייליכער רבי actually mean?
 
According to my Yiddish-speaking friend Menachem Yankl, the phrase printed on the billboard of Mr. Allen (see left) is actually a reference to the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, erstwhile leader of the ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch movement. For those of you who don't live in Brooklyn, Schneerson's likeness is plastered across buildings and hung over baby carriages from Crown Heights to Jerusalem and his millions of followers believe he's the messiah. Charney explains:

"Along the top of the billboard were the words "Der Haileker Rebbe," written in Hebrew letters. This is Yiddish for "the highest level, extra-holy Rabbi," of which there is only one in the worldwide Hasidic Jewish Lubavitcher community."

Huh? Is Charney some kind of closet Hasid? Is American Apparel planning a new line of frumi ankle-length black skirts to go with that Too-Short Metallic Micro-Mini? Maybe the Tel Aviv store has the inside skinny. 
 
At Forever 21, Jesus Hearts You Too:
Chatting with the Changs, the super-private, devoutly Christian, South Korean couple behind discount clothier and mega-mall staple Forever 21 (headquartered in LA's Garment District) is so tricky that not even the New York Times can do it. Fortunately, you don't have to look far to find out exactly how the Changs feel about Christ: Printed on the bottom of every neon-yellow shopping bag is John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Gee, thanks. Can I have my $2 tank-top now? Honestly, if they loved the world, they'd use biodegradable bags.
 
In-N-Out Burger—Serving Christ (With That) for 60 years: 
John 3:16 also appears prominently at the popular West Coast hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger, whose diner-style decor and Animal-Style fries have delighted generations of high school students since it first opened east of downtown LA in 1948. The verse is printed along the bottom of your Coke—but the Bible references don't end there. 
 
Milkshakes feature Proverbs 3:5 and Double-Doubles (two patties with two slices of cheese) are swaddled in Nahum 1:7. Perhaps oddest of all, all your hamburgers and cheeseburgers reference Revelation 3:20, which reads: "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."
 
Hungry for more? Although LA is ahead of the pack, the home of sun, smog, and religious zealotry isn't the only place where faith and fast-food cross paths.  We've also heard tell of Bible versus on Alaska Airlines dinner trays, VeggieTale Happy Meals at Georgia-based Chick-fil-A, and Christian coffee cups at New England donut purveyor Bess Eaton. Know any more retailers with a small-script faith agenda? Tell us about it in the comments. 
 

This Week in Frog (Take That Domino and Inkblot)

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 6:34 PM EDT

It all started at happy hour. Most wise decisions do. With a bunch of us gathered around a twelve pack of Red Stripe and bag of stale Tostitos, Kevin Drum's cat blogging became the topic of conversation. Earlier in the day, I'd bragged that we, the latest crop of MoJo interns, could overtake Kevin's traffic, and after consuming a single screwdriver the brilliance hit me for real. What's the only thing better than a cat blog? The only thing better than the Obama dog blog? A frog blog.
 
Within an hour, we found ourselves at the 6th Avenue Aquarium in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond district. When we asked the clerk if there were any frogs available, he nonchalantly pointed to an empty, unmarked tank and said, "Sold out." Despair. We'd come all this way for a frog and didn't want to wait a week for another shipment to arrive. As my colleagues pondered purchasing an amphibian of a less-rhymophile friendly genus, I took one final look at the "empty" frog tank. Inside, I noticed a pair of eyes slightly protruding from below the water's surface. It was no mistake; one frog remained who’d been left for dead. When I explained the situation to the employee, he said, "Grab a net." After first removing some bettas (Siamese fighting fish) from their perch atop the frog tank, we successfully extracted the frisky little fellow from his lonely home and immediately treated him to a feast of three crickets.
 
After spending the night in my apartment and enjoying amenities such as my roommate's singing, man's new best friend found his way into MoJo's offices this morning after a 40 minute bus ride. (You know how guys who walk their dogs get tons of attention from women? It doesn’t apply to guys with frogs.)

So welcome to our inaugural post of Friday frog blogging. We hope that readers will pitch in to choose a name for our new friend. Balloting will close in one week, on Friday at 6am Pacific Time.  Thereafter, look for This Week In Frog.

The Alleged Cuban Spies' Sweet-Looking Boat

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 5:27 PM EDT

The Justice Department just announced a major espionage bust, indicting a former State Department intelligence official and his wife on charges of spying for the Cuban government for nearly 30 years. After launching a sting on the couple in April, the feds swooped in yesterday afternoon and arrested 72-year-old Walter Kendall Myers (a.k.a. "Agent 202") and his 71-year-old wife, Gwendolyn ( a.k.a. "Agent 123" and "Agent E-634").

Beginning his career with State in 1977 at the department's Foreign Service Institute, Kendall, whose top secret clearance allowed him to view sensitive compartmentalized information (SCI), eventually worked his way to become a senior analyst, focusing on Europe, in the agency's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Fatty Foods Make Us Hungry—And Fat

| Fri Jun. 5, 2009 5:10 PM EDT

Here's a clue to the virulence of the obesity epidemic. New research suggests the hunger hormone ghrelin is activated by fats from the foods we eat, not those made in the body.

This natural process was designed to optimize metabolism and promote the storage of body fat. And this was useful when food was hard to come by and we had to work physically hard to get it.

Now it backfires on us in the form of fat.

Ghrelin—the hunger hormone—is believed to accumulate during periods of fasting and is found in the body in high concentrations just before meals. It's activated by a fatty acid added by an enzyme called GOAT. Originally it was assumed that the fatty acids attached to ghrelin by GOAT were produced by the body during fasting.

But the new data published in Nature Medicine suggest the fatty acids needed for ghrelin activation come directly from ingested dietary fats.

Exposed to fatty foods, mice with more GOAT gain more fat. Mice without GOAT gain less fat since their brain never receives the signal to store the fat.

Why am I worried that this will lead to a pharmaceutical fix that will allow us to continue overeating without getting fat?