ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. As the year winds down, we're going to revisit some news stories from 2008 that, frankly, we've lost track of. And we'll check in with a couple of the many people we've talked with this year to find out what's happened since we last heard from them. First, to the U.S.-Mexico border, earlier this year, the U.S. government faced obstacles from local governments and environmental groups trying to stop construction of the nearly 700 mile border fence. And for an update, we're joined by NPR's Ted Robbins who is in Tucson, and Ted, what's the latest on the border project?
TED ROBBINS: Well, hi, Melissa, the government says that it has built about 600 miles of barriers. Those are people, pedestrian barriers and vehicle barriers. The goal was 670 miles, so that's about 90 percent. What has not been built is in environmentally or culturally sensitive places, all in Texas, at this point.
BLOCK: And those are the areas that are in dispute.
ROBBINS: Right. So, the rest of the fence in west and south Texas, residents, local governments and environmental groups, as you say, they've gone to court to stop it, and then the latest is that the Department of Homeland Security has gone and sued The Nature Conservancy to condemn land in south Texas in the nature preserve so it could the border fence. That just happened.
BLOCK: Now with the new administration coming in in January, many groups see an opportunity maybe for the fence to be what - torn down? Hard to imagine how that could happen at this point.
ROBBINS: There are people who are hoping for that, but let's remind listeners of three things. As a senator, Barack Obama voted for the fence. That was in 2006. The newly designated Homeland Security Secretary is Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona, and she knows border issues well, and she has called for increased security. And finally, 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 control agents probably did, too. So most people I've talked with thinks it's really unlikely that the government is going to tear down a $2 billion project that it just built. I mean, they want to see sort of over the long term whether this drop in crossings continues.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ted Robbins in Tucson. Ted, thanks so much.
ROBBINS: My pleasure.
BLOCK: This was a year that percolated with political scandal from Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, to New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer.
Former Governor ELIOT SPITZER (Democrat, New York): From those to whom much is given, much is expected. I have been given much, the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York and the chance to lead this state. I'm deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me.
BLOCK: That was Governor Spitzer as he resigned from office in March after a sex scandal involving a prostitute. So what's happened to Mr. Spitzer since then? We're joined by NPR's Mike Pesca from New York for some answers, and Mike, first of all, Governor Spitzer never prosecuted for his actions.
MIKE PESCA: Right. Going to a prostitute, that's a crime. It's not just something that drives you from office and that you have to apologize for. He could have been prosecuted. But what happened was, the U.S. attorney who was in office at the time, Michael Garcia, looked at the facts of the case. But 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. It would be unfair to bring it against Eliot Spitzer. For the record, the prostitution ring itself was busted, and over the last couple of months, four of those charged in the ring have pleaded guilty, and they are working with prosecutors.
BLOCK: And what has Eliot Spitzer been up since he left office? He's a man of means from a very wealthy family.
PESCA: He works in his family's business. His father is a major New York real estate developer. And he also writes a column for the online magazine Slate, where he talks about business issues and government issues. And in his capacity as a Slate columnist, he showed up to the Slate holiday party, and I also happened to have been there, and he offered his opinions on everything under the sun, saying things like, I'm no longer governor of the state so I can say this, and then he would name specific towns in New York that he considered corrupt. So for a time, he was the life of the party, then he bid everyone adieu, saying my daughter's home from college, and he was off.
BLOCK: NPR's Mike Pesca in New York. Mike, thanks so much.
PESCA: Oh, you're welcome.
BLOCK: Now to someone we heard on the program in October, Mary Meyers of Chillicothe, Ohio, and Robert, you met Mary Meyers there in Chilicothe when you went to do a story on the economic downturn there.
SIEGEL: Yeah. She is the manager of a pay day lender in Chilicothe. I met her there, and she told me that her husband had just lost his job. They and their two children, I believe aged ten and 15, were living just on her income, and she explained to me that losing the second income, from her husband, was going to be especially painful during the holidays.
(Soundbite of interview)
Ms. MARY MEYERS (Manager, Heartland Cash Advance Office): We've explained to our children that Christmas will not be the same this year. And they seemed to say they've got it, but kids don't get it, you know. So...
SIEGEL: How different will it be in dollar terms?
Ms. MEYERS: (Crying) Christmas is huge for our family. And it won't be this year.
BLOCK: Well, Mary Meyers, welcome back to the program.
Ms. MEYERS: (Crying) Yeah.
BLOCK: And that's hard for you to hear...
Ms. MEYERS: It is.
BLOCK:..I can hear it in your voice.
Ms. MEYERS: It is.
BLOCK: How did Christmas turn out for you?
Ms. MEYERS: It was wonderful. I mean, it's not so much about the presents. It's the spirit of Christmas and here where I work, we always take up donations for a needy family.
BLOCK: Mm hmm.
Ms. MEYERS: We ended up, overall, helping seven families. Someone that had come in to work here had asked, when I was gone one day, if my husband had found a job, and the other girl said, no, she hadn't, and she said, well, she's taking all this money and trying to help all these families, she needs help herself. So they went and had bought some stuff for my kids. So 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.
BLOCK: You mentioned your husband hasn't found a new job, how do things look going into the new year, can you tell?
Ms. MEYERS: Really bad. I mean, the bills are just piling up and piling up. You can only talk to the electric company so long before they really don't care what the situation is anymore. So basically, at this point, when the bills come in, we're figuring out which one is going to be shut off, and that's the one that has to get paid. And there's a new store coming here and it's - I don't know where they're at, but it's called Menard's(ph) and the community has really been excited about that coming because it's going to bring jobs here. So they had like an open-interview type thing, and my husband's stood on line for over five hours. There were thousands of people from this area in line for that job. He went through the first interview that day after five hours and then, a couple of days later, they called him for a second interview, and he did have the second interview. So, we're just holding onto that hope at this point.
BLOCK: Well, Mary Meyers, we wish you and your family all the best. Thanks for talking with us, again.
Ms. MEYERS: All right. Thank you.
BLOCK: Next to Texas and the Yearning for Zion Ranch. They're Warren Jeffs' polygamist followers in West Texas. Hundreds of their children were taken by authorities in April after investigators accused the group of underage marriage and child abuse. Then the Texas Supreme Court ruled that child welfare officials had gone too far and had to give the children back. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported that story, and Wade, what's happened to those kids? Are they back at the ranch?
WADE GOODWYN: Well, most of the children have been returned to their parents after child protective services said that they either found no evidence of abuse or the parents took the steps the state wanted them to protect the children, which was mainly keeping them away from certain men. There are 15 children in cases that are still before the court, and there was one 14-year-old girl who was returned to foster care after the Judge, Barbara Walter, ruled that her parents allowed her to marry Warren Jeffs when she was 12.
BLOCK: How many of these families are back at that ranch? The Yearning for Zion Ranch?
GOODWYN: That's hard to tell. I would say, maybe half - lots of them are afraid, they're afraid to go back to the ranch now because that's where the state seized the children. It's gone from being a sanctuary to a target. Some have gone back to Utah, and others are scattered around Texas where they're trying to live their deeply religious lifestyle alone, which is difficult. Even if you don't have a TV, it is not easy to shield the children or themselves, for that matter, from the many aspects of the culture they consider destructive.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's Wade Goodwyn, thanks very much.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
BLOCK: Now to California's Academy of Sciences in San Francisco which is home of Pierre the Penguin. As some of you may remember, Pierre mysteriously lost most of his feathers. It's a dangerous problem for a penguin. Pam Schaller, a senior aquatic biologist at CAL Academy and her colleagues, came up with a solution for Pierre, a wet suit. Pierre was fitted with a neoprene wet suit that kept him warm and alive in the frigid water where his colony lived. Pam Schaller joined the program back in April to tell the story of Pierre the Penguin and she's with us now for an update. And Pam how's Pierre doing?
Ms. PAM SCHALLER (Senior Aquatic Biologist, California Academy of Sciences): Pierre looks fantastic. His tuxedo is now in fine form.
BLOCK: Well, what's new with Pierre since we last checked in?
Ms. SCHALLER: Well, he moved to a new million dollar home in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
BLOCK: Very nice.
Ms. SCHALLER: Yeah, it's beautiful. He has a 17-year-old girlfriend name Homie(ph).
BLOCK: Oh, he's going for the younger set. Pierre, I think, is what, 25?
Ms. SCHALLER: He is 25. Yeah. His preference seems to be for the younger women.
BLOCK: A trophy girlfriend.
Ms. SCHALLER: Yeah, exactly. And he's doing really - it's fantastic. I've not seen him looking as good in a very long time.
BLOCK: And still no idea why he lost his feathers in the first place?
Ms. SCHALLER: We have no medical diagnosis for that, no.
BLOCK: And no recurrence?
Ms. SCHALLER: No, not so far. But, you know, he is due to replace his feathers in April. So we will follow his molt, and obviously, we have now an option, an alternative, if the feathers don't grow in.
BLOCK: You've got that wet suit standing by.
Ms. SCHALLER: We do, I still have it around.
BLOCK: Well, Pam Schaller, thanks for updating us on the status of Pierre the Penguin. Give him our best.
Ms. SCHALLER: I will.
BLOCK: Pam Schaller is senior aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. And you can watch Pierre the Penguin for yourself. He's on the Penguin Cam at calacademy.org.
One of my favorite conversations this year was with a man who is the cook, the chief steward on a research ship for about 20 years, mostly in Alaska. Bill Lamoureux worked on the John N. Cobb, it was the last wooden haul ship in the fleet of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That ship was decommissioned in August, and Bill Lamoureux talked with me the next day from the John N. Cobb.
Mr. BILL LAMOUREUX (Chief Steward, John N. Cobb): It's - lots of memories and very good memories. Boy, getting tears in my eyes just looking at it here. I'm standing on the deck and man...
BLOCK: Well, Bill Lamoureux joins me to round out this year. Mr. Lamoureux, I'm glad to talk to you, again.
Mr. LAMOUREUX: Yes, it's a real pleasure to accept this phone call.
BLOCK: What have you been doing since we talked?
Mr. LAMOUREUX: Well, let me put it this way, after I left the Cobb, I had an opportunity to finish out my less than a year with NOAA. And I'll have 30 years of federal service in less than a year, so I moved on to another NOAA vessel that does research in Alaska and mostly fisheries work. And this coming season, starting, let's see, like in March, we'll be heading down the coast of Oregon, Washington, and California.
BLOCK: You know, I've been wondering since we talked back in August, you said that when they decommissioned the John N. Cobb, they gave you the ship's bell. And I've been wondering what you did with the bell?
Mr. LAMOUREUX: Well, we had some fellows that did a lot of wood-working on the vessel. And I had one of the fellows, he offered to build me a little frame, not a little frame, quite a large frame because the bell weighs about 45 pounds or so. Anyway, he built me a frame, and I have it mounted on the frame here in my home. It's standing there with a lot of my other things that I have collected over the years from going to sea.
BLOCK: Do you ever ring it?
Mr. LAMOUREUX: Oh, I ring it every now and then. Yes, right. Yeah, it kind of gets the neighbors' attention a little bit.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LAMOUREUX: Yeah, I don't think many of them heard a ship's bell like that before in their lives.
BLOCK: Well, Happy New Year, and enjoy your retirement.
Mr. LAMOUREUX: I will certainly do that. And thank you very much, again.
BLOCK: Bill Lamoureux, the former chief steward on the John N. Cobb. One of the thousands of people we're happy to have had on our program over the past year.
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