Homeowners Again Using Their Houses as Cash Registers – Christina Rexrode May 27, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET


More are pocketing some money when they refinance mortgages

Nearly half of borrowers who refinanced their homes in the first quarter chose the cash-out option, according to Freddie Mac.

Nearly half of borrowers who refinanced their homes in the first quarter chose the cash-out option, according to Freddie Mac. Photo: Associated Press

Americans refinancing their mortgages are taking cash out in the process at levels not seen since the financial crisis.

Nearly half of borrowers who refinanced their homes in the first quarter chose the cash-out option, according to data released this week by Freddie Mac. That is the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2008.

The cash-out level is still well below the almost 90% peak hit in the run-up to the housing meltdown. But it is up sharply from the post-crisis nadir of 12% in the second quarter of 2012.

In a cash-out refi, a borrower refinances an existing mortgage with a new one, typically at a lower borrowing cost, that has a higher principal balance than the existing one. This allows the homeowner to pay off the old mortgage and still have cash left over for other uses.

The growing popularity of cash-out refis has helped buoy refinance activity. After booming for several years, demand for refinance mortgages had begun to slow as the Federal Reserve began increasing short-term interest rates and longer-term bond yields moved higher.

Ka-ChingPercentage share of mortgage refinances that involve a borrower taking cash out of thehome, quarterlyTHE WALL STREET JOURNALSource: Freddie Mac

%1996’982000’02’04’06’08’10’12’14’160102030405060708090100

Mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, though. The average rate for a fixed, 30-year mortgage was 3.95%, Freddie Mac reported this week.

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Why The Russia Investigation Matters And Why You Should Care : NPR


Some people have FOMO that they might miss an Orlando Bloom waitress update.

Others have a fear of missing out when it comes to the latest on whether Michael Flynn is going to turn over documents that have been requested by Congress — and what’s going to happen next in the Russia investigation.

Your author is in the latter category — and doesn’t really know how much people care about Orlando Bloom and his waitryst (see what we did there?), but it was a trending Google search.

There is a divide in this country — and it’s not the one between Democrats and Republicans. It’s the one between people who are deeply captivated by politics and those more engaged with other priorities and “real” lives.

At NPR, it’s our goal to try and bridge that divide the best we can — to make the complicated understandable and relatable, and especially to tell you why something in politics matters.

That’s why a question asked at Tuesday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing about the Russia investigation with former Obama CIA Director John Brennan caught our attention:

“Please tell my constituents, my neighbors, why they should care — and not just in Washington, D.C., but in Washington state and Texas and Connecticut and points in between — and why should they care, and why do you care, sir?”

The question was posed by Washington Democrat Denny Heck, and it provoked a high-minded response.

Source: Why The Russia Investigation Matters And Why You Should Care : NPR

 

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Jared Kushner discussed creating secret communications channel with Moscow – reports – Rory Carroll First published on Friday 26 May 2017 21.12 EDT


Russia’s ambassador told his superiors that he and Kushner discussed ways to shield White House transition team discussions from monitoring, sources said

Trump’s son-in-law made the proposal at a meeting in early December at Trump Tower in New York, the Washington Post said. Photograph: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington allegedly discussed setting up a secret communications channel to cloak contacts between Moscow and Donald Trump’s White House transition team, it was reported on Friday.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that he and Kushner discussed ways to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, the Washington Post said, citing US officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Trump’s son-in-law made the proposal at a meeting in early December at Trump Tower in New York, weeks before Trump was sworn in, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by the US officials, the paper said.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, also allegedly attended the meeting.

The report is likely to put Kushner, who is now a senior White House adviser, under heightened scrutiny in the investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Earlier this week it was reported that the FBI was investigating his contacts with Russian officials.

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Meet the Nerds Coding Their Way Through the Afghanistan War – Issie Lapowsky 7:00 am


Defense Digital Service Team members from left, Hunter Pitelka, Brandon Bouier, Eduardo Ortiz, Chris Lynch, Erin Delaney and Nick at the Pentagon.Jared Soares for WIRED
A disembodied voice sounded over a loudspeaker. “Incoming. Take cover,” it warned to anyone within earshot. Then, the sirens began to wail.

Erin Delaney assumed it was a drill. She peeked down the hallway to see how other people were responding. Then she hit the deck. It was not a drill. The NATO base in Kabul where Delaney had been working for weeks was being attacked.

Delaney, 24, had never had any military training. She grew up in San Diego, traveled up the coast for college at UC Berkeley, and spent the next two years nestled in the safe, Tesla-filled San Francisco bubble, working in the compliance department at Dropbox. Now, with her nose to the ground, she was getting a taste—however brief—of life in a war zone.

She flipped over the visitor’s badge she’d received when she first arrived at the base. In case of attack, it said, she should stay on the ground for two minutes. Assuming nothing dire happened, she was to shelter in place until the shelling stopped. So, for about an hour, that’s what she did. “Then when things were normal, we went back to work,” Delaney says with a shrug. “And that was that.”

The petite brunette doesn’t like to play up the drama of her time in Afghanistan. She spent only a matter of weeks on the base, and she’s wary of comparing her brush with danger to the risks that soldiers in Afghanistan face every day. Unlike them, she hadn’t traveled to Kabul to track terrorists or spend time in the countryside rebuilding the bullet-riddled nation. She’d come on a more mundane mission: to make the tech tools that NATO uses in Afghanistan suck a little less.Delaney is part of a 27-person unit that comprises the Defense Digital Service, a sort of tech SWAT team within the Department of Defense. Engineers and data experts from across the country leave their jobs at companies like Netflix, IDEO, Palantir, and, yes, Dropbox and join DDS for tours of duty that typically last about two years. They spend that time revamping and often completely reinventing the “tools and practices that lag far behind private sector standards,” as the Pentagon itself puts it. This past winter, that work brought the team to Kabul, where NATO troops have spent years advising Afghans on how to make their country self-sustaining.

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More Than One in Three Black Students in the South Attend an Intensely Segregated School – EDWIN RIOS MAY 26, 2017 10:56 AM


And the Trump administration’s school-choice policies will only make the problem worse.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visits a school in Miami, Florida.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the progress made toward dismantling segregated schools in the South, once the most integrated region in the country, seems to be steadily falling apart.

A report released this week by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project and Penn State University’s Center for Education and Civil Rights finds that in 2014, more than one in three black students attended a school in the South that was intensely racially segregated, meaning a school where 90 percent of students were racial minorities—a 56 percent rise from 1980. The report also finds that the number of Latino students enrolled in public schools in the South surpassed black enrollment for the first time ever, making up 27 percent of the student body. That’s significant, as the percentage of Latino students in the South attending an intensely racially segregated school is also on the rise—42 percent in 2014, up from 37 percent in 1980.

The result, the report notes, is that the typical student faces decreasing exposure to a race other than his or her own. The average black public-school student in the South in the 2014-2015 school year went to a school that was 27 percent white, while the average white public-school student attended a school where black students made up 15 percent of those enrolled. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, segregation doesn’t get any better when poverty is taken into account: Black, Latino, and low-income students saw a rapid increase in exposure to poverty in the last decade as compared to their white and Asian peers.

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Germany Strengthens Its Cyber Defense – By Tyson Barker May 26, 2017


How It’s Meeting the Russian Threat

This year was different. Germany’s most senior federal intelligence officials presented a united front about the potential threat of Russian cyber-influence in their country’s September elections. Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV)—Germany’s domestic intelligence service—did not mince words: “We expect further attacks,” he said, adding that they recognized the threat as “a campaign being directed from Russia.” Maassen was referring to the Russia-attributed 2015 hack that hoovered up massive amounts of e-mails, correspondence, and sensitive information from well-placed members of the German Bundestag. The decision of whether to release the tranches of data “will be made in the Kremlin,” Maassen said, implicating President Vladimir Putin personally in any decision to use doxxed material, disinformation, or other cyber-actions to disrupt the integrity of the German elections. In turn, Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s international intelligence arm, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), called for more money to boost cyber offensive and defensive capabilities.

The two were expressing concern that recent cyberattacks against Germany match the pattern of earlier attacks elsewhere in the West—first against Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in the United States, and more recently against then presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, in France. The pattern is simple: a series of hacks and information exfiltration, followed by leaks strategically timed to impact the election’s outcome. In the case of the United States, the leak phase of the DNC operation began on July 22, 2016, three days ahead of the party’s convention in Philadelphia; in France, it was on May 5, 2017, just prior to the 44-hour blackout period before the second-round vote. Both incidents have been linked primarily to APT28, or Fancy Bear, a cyber-espionage group associated with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.

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