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National / International News
The biggest bank in Russia, Sberbank, has started lending out cats.
Actual live cats.
Basically, if you take out a mortgage, they'll lend you a cat because apparently Russian lore says letting a cat walk through your house before you move in is good luck.
You've even got your choice of ten breeds including tabbies, Siamese, and, reports Bloomberg Businessweek, an exotic hairless cat resembling a sphinx.
Regrettably, Hello Kitty was not on the list.
The U.S. homeownership rate fell in the Great Recession and its aftermath — from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004, to 64.7 percent in the most recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
It turns out immigrant households bucked that trend, according to a recent report.
The analysis, published by economist Azanaw Mengistu at Fannie Mae, says that from 2000 to 2010, immigrant homeownership rose more than 2.5 percent, to 52.4 percent, while native-born homeownership fell more than 1 percent over the same period. Research by economists Kusum Mundra at Rutgers University and Ruth Uwaifo Oyelere at Georgia Tech, comes to similar conclusions.
Immigrant homeownership is likely to remain lower than native-born homeownership for the foreseeable future — that's a simple reflection of assets and income, as well as the high-priced metro areas they tend to immigrate to first when arriving in the U.S.
The gap between immigrants and those born in the U.S. appear to be narrowing significantly, though.
A possible explanation for the better homeownership outcome of immigrants in the past decade is that the documented and undocumented immigrants who arrived in droves during the 1980s and 1990s, are now well-established in communities, and in the workforce.
“The immigrants today are more educated, they have more time in the United States, and they’re more likely to be citizens, things that boost home-ownership rates,” says Rakesh Kochhar at the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.
He also points out that recent immigrants are more heavily Asian and Middle Eastern; compared to Latinos. They tend to come to the U.S. with higher levels of education and wealth to begin with.
Mundra and Oyelere speculate in their paper that so-called ‘birth networks’ might help explain why some immigrant groups do better at homeownership. A large concentration of other immigrants from the same country or region might help people get and keep jobs, and pool the financial resources to buy and hold onto their homes in bad economic times.
Jose Quinonez, CEO of the nonprofit Mission Asset Fund in San Francisco, believes immigrant families may have social characteristics that make holding onto their homes more likely.
“Their home means much more than just a mere investment that they can flip,” he says. “It’s really their realization of the American dream, of establishing themselves in the community and in the economy.”
Quinonez says immigrant families have a long history of pool financial resources across generations, and also tend to live together in multi-generational households. So if one adult loses a job, another may be available in the household to keep up the mortgage and hold off foreclosure.
Angela D'Amario, president of Firebee, a small PR firm in Atlanta, Georgia, says she constantly promotes clients on Facebook and LinkedIn, but she has yet to figure out Twitter.
“It just seemed like no one was getting good results," she says. "Everything that was out about Twitter advertising was very confusing."
D’Amario says she really wants to know how to target specific groups of consumers the same way she says is possible on Facebook and LinkedIn.
"So, you’re not having your message seen by all these people who could care less," she says. "Where on Twitter – I really don’t get how it’s possible to do that – to say I want moms who are between the ages of 25-35, in Minnesota who like sports."
Enter flight school, the multimedia training plan that includes what Twitter calls “Story Problems.”
"They’re designed to be like real life client situations," says Kevin Lange, senior vice president, social media director at Starcom MediaVest Group. His agency helped Twitter develop the new training.
"The question might give you the objective of a hypothetical client, their advertising budget and then you have to pick from the choices which strategy on Twitter or which tweet is going to be most appropriate,” he says.
But, notes John Greening, a professor of brand management at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, figuring out what works on Twitter can be harder than it sounds.
“Everybody’s talking about it and they think they need it, but they don’t know why and they don’t know how," he says.
Some agencies said they couldn't even figure out how to sign up for the new training. (The signup link is here, just in case any of them are reading.)
One problem, says Greening, is simple lack of understanding of the new.
"With any of these new tools – people aren’t sure how to use them. What you find is that they put the old way of doing things against the new tool," he says. "So, if it’s video they might treat it like a TV commercial. Well... that might not be the most effective way that Twitter works."
Greening says just because consumers are using a platform doesn’t mean it’s valuable for advertisers.
"Just because it's out there and popular," he says, "doesn't mean it's an effective marketing tool."
By some estimates, the extremist group ISIS controls 60 percent of oil production in Syria, as well as six oil wells in Iraq.
Much of this oil ends up in the black market, and given that, the "purchase" and sale of this oil is far from typical.
In addition to its holdings, the group is also assumed to pilfer from pipelines and storage facilities, said Valerie Marcel, oil and Middle East analyst at the Chatham House think tank in London.
Marcel says ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, takes some of its crude and refines it. “They have an open pit, they burn the oil very crudely,” Marcel says. “And then they have some gasoline which they can provide to local residents, and to their own Humvees.”
The rest of the oil goes to market, largely in Turkey, through a murky set of intermediaries.
“Some of them are Iraqi middlemen, and they take the crude to the border,” Marcel says. “Others are Turkish middlemen. And they’re able to actually sometimes get the oil sold directly to a refinery in Turkey. So that involves a quite well-informed organization.”
Middlemen take a big cut of the money on the way to the black market. So instead of earning the world market price of $100 a barrel, ISIS pockets half or a quarter of that.
Still, assuming intelligence estimates that the group sells 40,000 to 60,000 barrels each day, daily revenue comes out to $1 million to $3 million.
This is enough oil that intelligence may be able to spot its movement.
“We are talking about at least 200 trucks,” says Luay al-Khateeb, an advisor to the Iraqi parliament and head of the Iraq Energy Institute. “And these fleets should be legitimate targets of U.S. and Iraqi air forces.”
Convoys may be a key point of interception. Once the crude gets to market, it can be untraceable.
“Once oil is integrated, it’s very hard to know, literally impossible to know, if a drop comes from here or from there,” says Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department intelligence official now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “What we are going to need is intelligence identifying those middlemen, and then deciding how to target their ability to continue functioning in that manner.”
As important as oil revenue is to ISIS, Levitt thinks it’s a small piece of the group’s overall finances.
The extremist group is also assumed to raid banks, and tax farmers and commerce in the territory it controls.
NPR TV critic Eric Deggans ranks Amazon's new batch of five series pilots, asking why none of them seem break the rules of TV quite enough to draw attention.
One in 10 packaged foods still contains trans fats, according to a new study. The problematic oils give foods a rich taste and texture and extend shelf life, but have been linked to heart disease.
NPR and St. Louis Public Radio are in Ferguson, Mo., today for a community conversation about race and law enforcement. Follow here or join us on Twitter at 7 p.m. ET to discuss #BeyondFerguson.
In an exclusive interview with NPR, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares his impressions from a visit to West Africa.
Diane Foley tells NPR that her son, slain journalist James Foley, "could have done so many other things. But he, I think, was drawn to some of the drama, some of the rawness of the conflict zones."
A Texas law would require doctors' offices and clinics that perform abortions to comply with regulations that apply to ambulatory surgical centers. The change could lead to a loss of services.
Everybody worries about losing eyesight or hearing, but the sense of smell may help people stay safe. People with impaired odor detection are more likely to eat spoiled food or let pans catch on fire.
U.S. surveillance drones have begun to maintain a presence over Syria, preparing for possible airstrikes against the extremist group that calls itself the Islamic State. A mission to expand airstrikes inside Syria raises new questions, though, and critics on both sides ends of the policy spectrum are weighing in.
Lithuania has called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Russia's new incursions into Ukraine. The issue's also likely to dominate an upcoming NATO summit. Since sanctions seem to have failed to change Russia's calculations, the U.S. and its European partners are still trying to find a way to effectively protect Ukraine's sovereignty.
The Syrian civil war has flared up in the south of the country, near the Israeli border. A group of Islamist fighters have now captured a border crossing between Syria and Israel on the Golan Heights.
The 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was followed by a wave of sectarian killings. The government has now stepped in to stop the release of a film about the traumatic episode.