2008: Spitzer, Chillicothe, Zion And Pierre

Heartland Cash Advance sign

hide captionThe Heartland Cash Advance is a payday lender that people turn to when they need money.

Art Silverman/NPR
Pierre the penguin i i

hide captionPierre the penguin, who is now 25, struts his stuff in his neoprene "suit."

California Academy of Sciences
Pierre the penguin

Pierre the penguin, who is now 25, struts his stuff in his neoprene "suit."

California Academy of Sciences

As 2008 comes to a close, Melissa Block talks to some of our reporters, and they revisit a few of the major news stories we reported on and the people we met to find out what's happening now.

Opponents Still Banging Against The Border Wall

The U.S. government faced obstacles earlier this year from local governments and environmental groups trying to stop construction of the nearly 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

There's been good progress on the wall, reporter Ted Robbins tells Block, but the opposition to it continues.

"The government says that it has built about 600 miles of barriers. ... The goal was 670 miles, so that's about 90 percent," Robbins says. "What has not been built is in environmentally or culturally sensitive places, all in Texas."

Recently, the Department of Homeland Security sued The Nature Conservancy to condemn land in a South Texas nature preserve so it could build the fence.

"In places, we're talking about an 18-foot-high barrier. And it comes between neighbors, goes across private property, cuts through wildlife corridors," Robbins explains.

But people hoping a new administration will tear down the fence may be disappointed, he says. "As a senator, Barack Obama voted for the fence. The newly designated homeland security secretary is Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, and she knows border issues well. And she has called for increased security."

Robbins also notes that the number of illegal crossers caught in 2008 was the lowest since the mid-1970s.

"So, no doubt that fewer jobs in the U.S. have kept people from crossing, but the wall and increased number of Border Patrol agents probably did, too," he says. "So most people I've talked with think it's really unlikely that the government is going to tear down a $2 billion project that it just built."


What Happened To Eliot Spitzer?

In March, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer admitted involvement with a prostitution ring and then resigned his office.

But Spitzer was never prosecuted, reporter Mike Pesca tells Block, because the U.S. attorney looked at the facts of the case, compared it with other people who were prosecuted under the Mann Act, a 1910 law enacted to combat prostitution, and decided not to press charges.

"What he said was, we in the U.S. federal government do not bring those kinds of prosecutions against the customers unless there are some extenuating circumstances, like a juvenile was involved," Pesca explains.

Today, Spitzer works in his family's real estate development business and writes a column for Slate magazine.


Christmas In Chillicothe, Ohio

Mary Meyers runs the Heartland Cash Advance office at the corner of Bridge and Main in Chillicothe, Ohio, a position that makes her intimately aware of her friends' and neighbors' financial hardships.

Though her family was also hit hard by the sagging economy in her town, Meyers and the Heartland employees adopted three families for the holidays.

It's not so much about the presents; it's the spirit of Christmas," she tells Block.

Their collection efforts enabled them to help seven families in the end, including nine children.

One good Samaritan who saw Meyers' efforts on behalf of the town's families — despite her personal financial troubles — anonymously bought gifts for her kids, says Meyers, who called the presents "a blessing."

"It ended up being a great Christmas. They only had a few presents, which they are not used to, but they seemed to be happy with everything and understood it's just how it was this year," she says.


The Children Of The Yearning For Zion Ranch

On April 3, more than 450 children were removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas, and taken into protective custody after an allegation of child abuse at the ranch. The ranch was home to a polygamist group.

Almost two months later, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the children be returned to their parents because welfare officials overstepped their authority.

Today, most of the children are home with their parents, reporter Wade Goodwyn tells Block. But many of the parents are afraid to return to the ranch, Goodwyn says.

"That's where the state seized the children. It's gone from being a sanctuary to a target," he says. "Some have gone back to Utah and others are scattered around Texas where they are trying to live their deeply religious lifestyle alone."


Pierre's Penguin Suit

After Pierre the penguin started losing his feathers in 2006, scientists at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, where he lived, studied his problem and eventually outfitted him with a neoprene vest.

Six weeks after donning his new clothes, Pierre's feathers began to regrow and he reclaimed his place as the patriarch of his colony.

Now Pierre, 25, has all his feathers and lives in a million-dollar home in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. He also has a new girlfriend. She's 17.

"I've not seen him looking as good in a very long time," says Pam Schaller, a senior aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences.

Though there is no medical diagnosis for why Pierre lost his feathers, Schaller says he is due to replace his feathers in April and they will follow his molt closely.


NOAA's Last Wooden Hull Ship

In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration retired its last wooden research ship. The John N. Cobb was decommissioned after 58 years of service. Bill Lamoureux served as the ship's chief steward and was teary when the boat left service.

Lamoureux moved on to another NOAA vessel that does research in Alaska.

"This coming season in March, we'll be heading down the coast of Oregon, Washington and California," he tells Block.

When they decommissioned the Cobb, Lamoureux was given the ship's bell, and now he has it mounted on a frame in his home, he says.

"I ring it every now and again," Lamoureux says. "It kinda gets the neighbors' attention a little bit."

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