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Getting a Home Loan Is Expensive—Especially for Black Women

| Tue Jul. 28, 2015 6:09 AM EDT

A recent study in the Journal of Real Estate and Finance Economics finds that black home loan borrowers are charged higher interest rates than their white counterparts—and that black women pay the highest rates of all.  

The three finance professors who authored the study analyzed the mortgages and demographic characteristics of more than 3,500 households during the height of the housing boom—2001, 2004, and 2007—using the Federal Reserve's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances. They found that on average, black borrowers were charged between 0.29 and 0.31 percentage points more in interest than whites, even after controlling for their debt and credit history.

The racial disparity was most pronounced for subprime borrowers who couldn't qualify for low-interest mortgages (the left side of the chart above), with black borrowers paying interest rates that were at least 0.4 percentage points higher than whites in the same group.

Within this group paying the highest interest rates, black women paid the highest rates of all, at an average rate of 7.9 percent. But a statistically significant disparity persisted even among those who paid lower interest rates (the right side of the chart), the study notes. In this group, black borrowers paid interest rates between 0.1 percent and 0.4 percentage points higher than their white counterparts.

Over at Quartz, Melvin Backman explains how these disparities translate into dollars: According to Freddie Mac's mortgage cost calculator, a $200,000, 30-year mortgage would cost a black man about $3,000 more than a white man over the course of the loan. A black woman getting the same loan would pay nearly $9,000 more than a white woman.

 

The study adds to a body of research showing that black mortgage applicants are more likely to be denied credit than white applicants, and are more likely to be charged higher interest rates than whites. It also appears to confirm the racial disparities identified in lawsuits against several of America's top mortgage lenders, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America's Countrywide, which faced hefty payouts in a slew of discrimination lawsuits following the housing-market crash. The lawsuits had even prompted the Obama administration to set up a new unit in the Department of Justice's civil rights division to deal with the caseload.

But the new study also suggests more granular disparities between black and white borrowers. Among black borrowers, for example, younger homeowners without a college education paid some of the highest interest rates. And among those paying higher interest rates, black women, who already face stiff obstacles to economic mobility, were likely to be charged interest rate premiums two to three times that of what black men were charged. While they do not speculate about the causes of these racial and gender gaps between borrowers, the authors conclude, "it is the more financially vulnerable black women who suffer the most."

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Donald Trump's Lawyer: Marital Rape Cannot Be Rape

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 10:12 PM EDT
Donald Trump and his ex-wife, Ivana Trump at a 1991 gala in New York City.

So Donald Trump used to be married to Ivana Trump. According to an account resurfaced by Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny at the Daily Beast, the former Mrs. Trump once used the word "rape" during legal proceedings in connection with an event between her and her ex-husband, the current GOP front-runner:

Ivana Trump's assertion of "rape" came in a deposition—part of the early '90s divorce case between the Trumps, and revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump.

The book, by former Texas Monthly and Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III, described a harrowing scene.

The Daily Beast has the entire "violent assault." It's indeed harrowing. Trump has denied the allegations.

"It's obviously false," Donald Trump said of the accusation in 1993, according to Newsday. "It's incorrect and done by a guy without much talent… He is a guy that is an unattractive guy who is a vindictive and jealous person."

It’s important to note that this never went to court, Trump never faced any charges, and Ivana Trump herself walked back the allegations before the book in question was published:

"As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a 'rape,' but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense."

This brings us now to Donald Trump's lawyer who The Daily Beast reached out to for comment. He went on a tirade that would make Trump blush:

Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, "You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can't rape your spouse."

"It is true," Cohen added. "You cannot rape your spouse. And there's very clear case law."

Realizing perhaps that denying the undeniable criminality of spousal rape was not the best way to kill the story, Cohen switches gears, making things worse:

"You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up…for as long as you're on this frickin' planet…you're going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it," he added.

Trump's lawyer continued to threaten the reporter by saying, "Tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting."

One thing is clear: Trump's lawyer has the same rhetorical style as Trump.

Shout out to my friend Nina Strochlic and former deputy Asawin Suebsaeng for helping report the story.

Obamacare Rates In California Will Rise Only 4% in 2016

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 8:28 PM EDT

Obamacare's moment of truth is coming. By now we've heard all the scare stories about a few health insurers in a few states requesting gigantic rate hikes for next year. But over the next few weeks, states are going to start publishing the actual average rate increases that consumers will see in 2016. California released its report today. It's still marked preliminary, but you can expect that the final numbers will be very close to these:

I've highlighted two numbers. First, the overall average rate increase is 4.0 percent. That's way lower than you've seen in the scary headlines. And this is for a state that makes up more than a tenth of the country all by itself.

Second, the price of the second-lowest-price silver plan has gone up 1.8 percent. This is the figure used to calculate subsidy levels, so it's an important one. In fact, here's an interesting consequence of that number: because subsidies will be going up roughly 1.8 percent, and the cost of the lowest-price silver plan is going up only 1.5 percent, the net cost (including subsidies) of buying the cheapest silver plan is actually going down. As you can see in the bottom row, if you shop for the lowest-priced plan, your premiums are likely to decrease about 4.5 percent.

I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News.

Now, California isn't necessarily a bellwether for all the other states. Because it's the biggest state in the union, it has lots of competition that helps drive down prices. A big population also means less variability from year to year. Also: California's program is pretty well run, and the California insurance market is fairly tightly regulated. All this adds up to a good deal for consumers.

In any case, the headline number here is a very reasonable 4 percent increase in overall premiums, and a 4.5 percent decrease for consumers shopping for the cheapest plans. These are real statewide numbers, not cherry-picked bits and pieces designed to encourage hysteria. Once again, it looks like Obamacare is working pretty well.

This all comes via Andrew Sprung, who has much more detail here.

Boy Scouts End Age-Old Ban on Gay Leadership

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 7:31 PM EDT
Boy Scouts and their families deliver 1.4 million signatures protesting the ban on gay Scouts and scoutmasters in 2013.

The Boy Scouts of America voted today to scrap a blanket ban on gay leaders, marking the end of a policy as old as the group itself. The change will also bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in all Boy Scouts of America official facilities and paying jobs.

Robert Gates, president of the Boy Scouts of America (and former US defense secretary), called for an end to the ban in May, saying the organization should "deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be."

The end of the ban does not, however, mark complete acceptance of gay leaders: Some scout groups, particularly those with close religious affiliations, will be able to limit leadership positions to heterosexuals.

Here are some stories that demarcate turning points in the controversy:

  • An alternative group called the Navigators gained traction with families fed up with BSA policies against gay scouts, atheists, and families who wanted their daughters and sons to be in the same scouting troop. Navigators USA publicized itself as an organization that "welcomes all people...no matter what gender, race, lifestyle, ability, religious or lack of religious belief."
  • This timeline shows just how long anti-gay discrimination has been going on in the BSA. 
  • In 2013, the BSA ended its ban on kids in the program who identify as gay, but kept its ban on adults—meaning, in effect, that once a scout turned 18, he could be kicked out.
  • The Boy Scouts council threatened to kick out a Maryland pack for posting an inclusive statement on its website promising not to discriminate against gay scouts.
  • BSA funders such as UPS, United Way, the Merck Company Foundation, and the Intel Foundation fled for the hills as a direct result of the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policies.

 

Sorry Donald, Most Republicans Don't Actually Care That Much About Illegal Immigration

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 5:32 PM EDT

Greg Sargent has an item today noting that by a 63-34 percent margin in a new CNN poll, Republicans believe the main focus of immigration policy should be stopping the flow of illegal immigration and deporting the illegal immigrants who are already here. No big surprise there. But when I clicked over to the poll itself I found a couple of things related to immigration that were kind of interesting.

First, CNN asked "Just your best guess, do you think the number of immigrants coming to the United States illegally has increased or decreased in the last few years?" Among Republicans, 83 percent thought it had increased. Granted, asking about the "last few years" is a little ambiguous, but if you assume at a minimum that it means less than a decade, then 83 percent of Republicans are woefully misinformed. As you can see from the Pew data on the right, the illegal immigrant population dropped considerably in 2008 and 2009 and has been basically flat ever since.

(By the way, among Democrats 61 percent think immigration has increased. That's a little better, but still not exactly a proud moment in voter awareness. It isn't just Fox News that's keeping us all misinformed.)

The second interesting question was one that asked about which issues were most important. This kind of thing always has to be taken with a grain of salt, but even so it's a little surprising how little Republicans actually care about immigration. For all the attention it's gotten from Donald Trump, only 9 percent said it was their most important issue, the lowest showing of any of the issues CNN asked about. The economy and terrorism/foreign policy were far and away the biggest worries among Republicans. Also surprisingly, health care didn't register very high either. The tea party may be yelling endlessly about the need to repeal the worst law since the Fugitive Slave Act, but among all Republicans, only a few rate it as a critical issue.

So....immigration and Obamacare probably aren't going to be gigantic issues this year among Republicans—or in the general election. As usual, the economy will be #1, and #2 will probably be terrorism and foreign policy in general.

Want to Meet a 9/11 Truther? Go to a Donald Trump Event

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 5:03 PM EDT

Despite all the outrageous stunts and patently racist quotes from Donald Trump's current campaign for president, the real estate mogul continues to lead as the front-runner for the GOP nomination.

The Washington Post's David Weigel recently visited a Trump "family picnic" to take a look at the pandemonium surrounding the campaign. It's also where 9/11 Truth Activist Rick Shaddock happened to be before meandering into the press room to ask the following question:

Trump rejected the question, asking the reporters in the room, "Is this guy some kind of conspiracy guy?" But he shouldn't have been all too surprised by Shaddock's presence. After all, if you're going to peddle outrageous conspiracy theories, you're going to attract outrageous conspiracy theorists.

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Hillary Clinton Refuses to Take a Position on the Keystone Pipeline

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 1:45 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton took a strong stance on clean energy Monday, telling a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa, that her efforts to tackle climate change would parallel President John F. Kennedy's call to action during the space race in the 1960s.

"I want to get the country back to setting big ambitious goals," Clinton said. "I want us to get back into the future business, and one of the best ways we can do that is to be absolutely ready to address the challenge of climate change and make it work to our advantage economically."

Her remarks tracked closely with an ambitious plan her campaign released Sunday night, which set a target of producing enough renewable energy to power all the nation's homes and businesses by 2027.

"America's ability to lead the world on this issue hinges on our ability to act ourselves," she said. "I refuse to turn my back on what is one of the greatest threats and greatest opportunities America faces."

"I think it's bogus," said Bill McKibben. "The more she tries to duck the question, the more the whole thing smells."

Still, the Democractic front-runner refused—as she has several times before—to say whether or not she supports construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That project, which would carry crude oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries and ports in the United States, is seen by many environmentalists as a blemish on President Barack Obama's climate record. It has been stalled for years in a lengthy State Department review that began when Clinton was still Secretary of State. The Obama administration has resisted several recent attempts by Congress to force Keystone's approval, but it has yet to make a final decision on the project—although one is expected sometime this year.

"I will refrain from commenting [on Keystone XL], because I had a leading role in getting that process started, and we have to let it run its course," Clinton said, in response to a question from an audience member.

Her non-position on Keystone earned derision from environmentalist Bill McKibben, whose organization 350.org has been at the forefront of opposition to the pipeline.

"I think it's bogus," he said in an email. "Look, the notion that she can't talk about it because the State Dept. is still working on it makes no sense. By that test, she shouldn't be talking about Benghazi or Iran or anything else either. The more she tries to duck the question, the more the whole thing smells."

Clinton also punted on an audience request to reveal further details of how exactly she would finance the renewable energy targets she announced yesterday, which aim even higher than those already put in place by Obama. She reiterated that one key step would be to ensure the extension of federal tax credits for wind and solar energy that have expired or are set to expire over the next few years. And she said that she would continue Obama's practice of pursuing aggressive climate policies from within the White House, saying that "we still have a lot we can do" without waiting for a recalcitrant Congress to act.

Clinton acknowledged that the clean energy boom would come at a cost for the US coal industry, which is already in steep decline. She said she would "guarantee that coal miners and their families get the benefits they've earned," but didn't elaborate on what she meant or how specifically she would achieve that.   

Environmental groups offered a generally positive reaction to Clinton's policy announcement Sunday. In a statement, League of Conservation Voters vice president Tiernan Sittenfield commended her for "calling out climate change deniers and effectively illustrating the urgent need to act on a defining issue of our time." She also earned praise from billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who has set a high bar on climate action for any candidate who wants to tap his millions.

"I refuse to let those who are deniers to rip away all the progress we've made and leave our country exposed to climate change," Clinton said.

Added Sugar Is Your Enemy, Not Aspartame

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 12:51 PM EDT
Viktorija Reuta/Shutterstock; M. Unal Ozmen / Shutterstock

Why does anyone still choose sugared sodas over artificially-sweetened sodas? One reason is taste. If you don't like the taste of aspartame or saccharin, then that's that. Another reason might be a rare medical condition that makes you allergic (or worse) to certain artificial sweeteners.

But that probably accounts for only a small fraction of the people who continue to drink sugared sodas. The rest are most likely convinced that artificial sweeteners are bad for you. But they're wrong. It's sugar that's bad for you. Aaron Carroll brings the research:

One of the oldest artificial sweeteners is saccharin. Starting in the 1980s, Congress mandated that any product containing it be accompanied by the following: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”....There was a problem, though. This link has never been confirmed in humans....Based on these newer studies, saccharin was removed from the carcinogen list in 2000. But by that time, opinions were set. It did little to make anyone feel safe.

....Aspartame was introduced in the United States around the time that saccharin began taking a beating....But in 1996, a study was published in The Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology titled “Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link to Aspartame?” Most people ignored the question mark....There were any number of problems with this logic....Because aspartame was approved in 1981, blaming it for a rise in tumors in the 1970s seems impossible. Finally, much more comprehensive studies couldn’t find links....A safety review from 2007, published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, found that aspartame had been studied extensively and that the evidence showed that it was safe.

....But what about sugar?....Epidemiologic studies have found that even after controlling for other factors, one’s intake of added sugars is associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, with a 1.1 percent increase in prevalence for each can of sugar-sweetened soda. A study following people for an average of more than 14 years published last year in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those in the highest quintile of added sugar consumption had more than twice the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those in the lowest quintile, even after controlling for many other factors.

Anyway, that's what science says. Unfortunately, science also says that presenting facts to people almost never changes their minds. In fact, it can do just the opposite as people respond defensively to the notion that they've been wrong for a long time. So I suppose no one reading this is actually going to switch to diet sodas. Instead they'll cherry-pick studies that support their previous point of view. Or claim that all the studies exonerating artificial sweeteners are funded by big business and not to be trusted. Or perhaps make an outré claim about how aspartame interacts with gluten and animal fat to produce....something or other.

That's life, I guess. However, I suggest that you swamp Professor Carroll's inbox with all these insights instead of bothering me with them. He's the expert after all. Or, just switch to water. Then you won't have to worry about it.

Anti-Abortion Hackers Claim to Have Stolen Data That Could Take Down Planned Parenthood

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 12:48 PM EDT

Update, July 27, 4:45 p.m. EST: Planned Parenthood released a statement confirming it has notified the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate the cyber attack. "Today Planned Parenthood has notified the Department of Justice and separately the FBI that extremists who oppose Planned Parenthood's mission and services have launched an attack on our information systems, and have called on the world's most sophisticated hackers to assist them in breaching our systems and threatening the privacy and safety of our staff members," Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said. "We are working with top leaders in this field to manage these attacks. We treat matters of safety and security with the utmost importance, and are taking every measure possible to mitigate these criminal efforts to undermine our mission and services."

A hacker group calling itself 3301 is claiming to have penetrated Planned Parenthood's databases and is threatening to release the personal information of employees working for the non-profit organization, along with other sensitive data. The Daily Dot spoke to one of the alleged hackers, who denounced Planned Parenthood as an "atrocious monstrosity." A senior Planned Parenthood executive tells Mother Jones that the group is investigating the alleged hack.

"Obviously what [Planned Parenthood] does is a very ominous practice," the alleged hacker, going by the identity "E," said. "It'll be interesting to see what surfaces when [Planned Parenthood] is stripped naked and exposed to the public."

The group—whose name, according to The Daily Dot, appears to be a nod to "a famous group of secretive cryptographers known as Cicada 3301"—claims it will release the names and addresses of employees "soon."

The potential breach comes amid intense controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood after an anti-abortion group released hidden-camera footage appearing to show top Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. Though the footage was heavily edited, pro-choice groups fear the ramifications that could potentially follow from the sting operation. A slew of anti-abortion politicians, including Ben Carson and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have used the videos to denounce the organization and justify defunding it.

"We've seen the claims around attempts to access our systems," Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement to Mother Jones. "We take security very seriously and are investigating. It's unsurprising that those opposed to safe and legal abortion are participating in this campaign of harassment against us and our patients, and claiming to stoop to this new low."

Wait? The Robots Aren't Coming After All?

| Mon Jul. 27, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias laments that, contrary to scare stories in the media, robots aren't taking away our jobs. In fact, productivity has dropped steadily over the past few decades. That wouldn't be true if automation were taking away work while producing more goods and services.

True enough. But what about the future?

Of course, all this might change. The power of Moore's Law — which states that the power of computer chips doubles roughly every two years — is such that the next five years' worth of digital progress will involve bigger leaps in raw processor power than the previous five years. It's at least possible that we really will have a massive leap forward in productivity someday soon that starts substantially reducing the amount of human labor needed to drive the economy forward.

But robots are never going to take all the jobs.

I have one question: Why not?

There are a couple of possible answers to that question. The first is that we'll never manage to invent true AI, which will prevent robots from ever being able to perform a wide range of tasks that humans perform easily. The second is that we will invent AI, but....something something something. I don't really understand the second answer. I'll grant that humans might continue to be CEOs and legislators and a few other things just to make sure that we're still ultimately in charge of the world ourselves. And who knows? We might even decide that we prefer human art even if we can't tell the difference, the same way an original Rembrandt is worth a lot more than even a perfect copy.

But that would still mean robots taking over 99 percent of the jobs. If you don't believe AI is coming anytime soon, then I understand why you think this will never happen. But if you do accept that AI is coming in the medium-term future, then why won't robots take essentially all the jobs? What exactly is it that they won't be able to do?