National News

Zero-Tolerance Policing Is Not Racism, Say St. Louis-Area Cops

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:35

The protests following Michael Brown's death have rekindled long-standing complaints about racist policing in the St. Louis area. Cops there are now becoming more outspoken in their own defense.

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Who let the cats out? Russia did.

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:18

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.

Immigrants closing gap on homeownership

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:18

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.

Twitter offers free classes for would-be advertisers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:18

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."

What can ISIS do with oil wells it captures?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:18

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.

New Amazon Series Pilots Fall Short Of A TV Revolution

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:03

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.

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When Zero Doesn't Mean Zero: Trans Fats Linger In Food

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 13:03

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.

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Michel Martin Goes #BeyondFerguson

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:58

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.

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Tom Frieden's Ebola Assessment: The Risk Is Increasing

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:54

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.

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Foley's Mother: We Didn't Want Him To Go Back To Syria

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:45

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."

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Texas Law Could Lead To Closure Of Clinics That Offer Abortions

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:39

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.

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Scentless: Losing Your Sense Of Smell May Make Life Riskier

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:16

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.

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With Drones In Flight Over Syria, Questions Of Airstrikes Rise With Them

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

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.

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Momentum Gathers For The West's Response To Russia

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

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.

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Rebels Storm Key Border Crossing Between Syria And Israel

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

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.

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Security Vs. Free Speech: India Blocks Film On Assassination

NPR News - Thu, 2014-08-28 12:11

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.

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An auction where you can buy a $1 million oil lease

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 10:53

It happens twice a year at the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but it has nothing to do with football. We're talking about a much bigger game, one that's only growing: Offshore oil and gas.

Twice a year "landmen" from energy companies file into the Superdome for an auction. They bid for the right to drill for oil and natural gas under the sea. And who's selling that right? You and me, by way of the federal government.

The first thing you see at the Western Planning Area Lease Sale 238 is the map of what's for sale. There's the familiar curve of Texas along the Gulf: Corpus Christi, Galveston.  A grid overlays 21.6 million acres of the waters off the coast.

"These blocks are generally 3-by-3 miles, " says Caryl Fagot, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. "The companies are bidding on the right to drill in that particular block. Actually these are, um—"

We're interrupted by an extensive mike check. This is a public auction, after all. Bids must be heard loud and clear.  The feeling in the room is dry-as-a-bone serious. But there's a sign posted that hints at drama. "No masks, costumes with head coverings, props or posters."

"Well, we have had protesters," Fagot says. "We've had someone in a polar bear costume, we've had people come with dollar bills attached to themselves, they want to bring in large signs, and we're conducting business here, so we really can't allow that type of thing in the bidding room."

This is big government business. There are thousands of these 3-by-3-mile blocks to manage. All blocks look the same on paper, blue squares of water, but names of certain areas hint at what's underneath: Alaminos Canyon, East Breaks.

The so-called landmen here, who are from BP, Shell, Chevron and others, know what's under the sea floor, or they hope they do, at least.

"It's somewhat of a gamble," says Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. "They do it by looking at seismic data, by looking at other blocks nearby that have been producing, so you use your best expertise to guess which areas might contain important geological formations that might contain oil and gas, and then you take a guess at how much that might be worth."

This year marks the return of BP to this auction. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the company from bidding on new blocks as part of the fallout of the 2010 oil spill. BP had been the biggest producer in the Gulf, so there's some suspense around its plans, which aren't known until the auction starts.

"The bids are sealed until they're opened up later today, so it's a little like the Academy Awards," Luthi says. "You open the envelope and see who's bid and how much."

Now, without further ado… "Welcome, and I thank you for attending today's sale…"  No long acceptance speeches. Auctioneer John Rodi with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management moves pretty quick.

"Alaminos Canyon block … a bid by BHP Billiton…3,106,250…a bid by BP Exploration and Production Inc…$2,327,027…"

The oil company landmen are tight-lipped. Most hold up a hand when they see a reporter's microphone, indicating no interviews. But they carefully mark down each bid, and whisper to each other as the prices go public. Each bid is whisked off in a briefcase.

The relatively small sale is all over in half an hour.

The government's own geologists and other experts will make sure the company has paid a fair price for what they think is under the water. If not, the bid gets rejected. Tallied up, this sale brought in about $110 million.

Ben Waring sells data systems to oil companies for offshore exploration. He points to the map and says the sale held surprises. "BP bought everything that wasn't nailed down in this area right here…"

It's an area called Port Isabel. If there's oil worth tapping, it'll take years of development and many millions of investment to get it out. The auction bids are a drop in the bucket of the lucrative universe that is Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling.

This 20-year-old covers Apple like a pro

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-08-28 09:37

Mark Gurman began seriously covering Apple as a journalist when he was just 15.

At 17, he broke news about Siri. At 19, Business Insider named Gurman the "World's Best Apple Reporter."

Gurman says it was a natural progression.

"I've always been interested in Apple and technology," Gurman says. "So, I thought it was a natural intersection to start digging around Apple. And here I am."

Gurman, now 20, is a senior editor at 9to5mac.com — hustling day in and day out to break the next big story on one of the biggest companies in the world.

Oh, and he's also a junior pursuing his bachelor's from the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

"The way I look at it... is that lots of students have jobs," Gurman says. "Some work in restaurants, others work in other places. People make music, they do what they love, and this is just what I like doing."

Despite all he's achieved, Apple does not consider Gurman one of the best reporters on the beat and, as such, excludes him from Apple events and reviewing new products. He says it used to get under his skin, "but then I realized being able to do this all on my own without the intervention of Apple PR has allowed me to do things that otherwise I wouldn't be able to do being under the constant spotlight of not wanting to upset a company."

It's more challenging to find stories, he says, but the outcome is more rewarding.

His paycheck is dependent on page views. But with an exceptional source list and a record of breaking stories, Gurman says he could see as many as hundreds of thousands of clicks a day. Though he would not confirm, some reports have put his salary at six figures.

So, what's next for the superstar reporter who is expected to graduate in two years?

"That is the golden question... To be honest, I'd like to move into something mostly different than what I do now," Gurman says. "Instead of being the person who covers the companies, I'd like there to be someone like me, covering my company."

 

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