National News

To Save Threatened Owl, Another Species Is Shot

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:11

The rare northern spotted owl species faces habitat loss and, now, intruding barred owls. A biologist, and the federal government, have made a difficult decision — killing one owl to ward off the extinction of another.

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To Save Threatened Owl, Another Species Is Shot

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:11

The rare northern spotted owl species faces habitat loss and, now, intruding barred owls. A biologist, and the federal government, have made a difficult decision — killing one owl to ward off the extinction of another.

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Meet the modern guidance counselor

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:08

When Tyler Lattimore was applying to college, he had to wait days to meet with the one counselor assigned to his high school in Gainesville, Fla. When he finally did, she didn’t seem to know much about the elite, out-of-state schools he was interested in.

Lattimore, now a sophomore at Emory University in Atlanta, is a first-generation college student.

“I was actually fortunate to have a teacher who sat down with me after class and talked to me about my options," he says. "But the guidance counselor – I could not even imagine getting a hold of her long enough to do these kinds of things,” he says.

Meet the modern guidance counselor. Average caseload: 471 students. Today’s counselors juggle course advising, behavior problems – even coordinate standardized tests. When they do grab a few minutes to talk to students about college, they don’t have much training to fall back on.

The issue is on the forefront of the minds of educators, dozens of whom met with President and First Lady Obama today in Washington for a day-long summit. The focus is to help more low-income students get into – and finish – college. 

After Michelle Obama launched her campaign to encourage more low-income students to get degrees, counselor Patrick O’Connor wrote her an open letter, published by the Washington Post.

“It’s clear that the No. 1 need of school counselors, to help realize the goals Mrs. Obama was talking about, was to get better training in college admission counseling, college advising,” O’Connor says.

O’Connor works at a private school in Michigan, where he’s responsible for just 46 students. He also teaches counselors. In most states school counselors need a master’s degree, but O’Connor says only a handful of programs even offer a course on college advising.

“So by and large, most counselors are leaving their master's degree programs with no formal training at any level of depth about how to help students,” he says.

That means they’re often unprepared to advise students on things like financial aid, or finding the right fit.

Alexandria Walton Radford interviewed high school valedictorians for the book “Top Student, Top School?” She looked at why so few valedictorians from low-income backgrounds ended up in the most selective colleges.

“What they encountered were counselors who often gave college information to students en masse,” she says.

The counselors tended to focus on schools they knew about – schools where middle-of-the road students were likely to get in.

“For those high achieving high school students, those colleges did not tend to match their academic accomplishments,” Radford says.

That’s known as under-matching, and it can hurt low-income and first-generation college students, who tend to do better at more selective schools. Radford says those are the students who need the most guidance.

“What I found was that college counseling was pretty poor across the board, even in more affluent communities,” she says. “But the difference was, in those affluent families, the families could make up for the lack of guidance being received through the schools.”

That’s because the parents went to college themselves, or could afford to pay for private counseling.

Public school counselors are aware of the bad reviews they get. A few years ago the nonprofit research group Public Agenda surveyed hundreds of high school graduates. Most of them gave their counselors fair to poor marks.

“It made me angry, because here I'm working my tail off,” says Jeremy Goldman, a counselor at Pikesville High School outside Baltimore, Md.

Goldman has tried to learn on the job – sneaking in visits to college campuses on his vacation time.

At nearby Woodlawn High School, Ashley Gallant tries to meet with each of her 10th graders at least a few times a year to start the college conversation. In one of these meetings in her office, she asks 15-year-old India Griffin what she plans to do after high school.

“I want to go to a performing arts school to become a singer and a musician,” Griffin says.

Together, they search a software program on Gallant’s computer for colleges that might appeal to Griffin.

These one-on-one meetings are getting harder to fit in. Gallant used to be one of five counselors at the school. They’re down to four this year due to budget cuts, so she does more group meetings.

“We definitely have to be a little bit more creative and resourceful with our time,” Gallant says. “We’re having to do more with less, but that is pretty much how it is with most schools now.”

Without a big boost in funding, it’s not likely to get much better. The American School Counselor Association says there should be one counselor for every 250 students. Try selling that in cash-strapped districts like Philadelphia and in communities across California, where many counselors have more than 1,000 students on their to-do lists.

[<a href="//" target="_blank">View the story "The best -- and worst -- advice from guidance counselor" on Storify</a>]

3 Arrested In Southern California Fire

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:06

The fire, apparently started at a camp site, has swept through more than 1,500 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles.

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GOP's Gillespie Injects Intrigue Into Virginia Senate Race

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

Republican hopes of picking up the six seats needed to capture the U.S. Senate include a suddenly interesting race. Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a top White House aide to President George W. Bush, announced that he'll challenge popular Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.

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Republican Strategist Enters The Senate Race In Virginia

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

Republican Party strategist Ed Gillespie announced on Thursday that he's running for the Senate. He is taking on Mark R. Warner, the freshman Democratic senator and former governor of Virginia.

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On Eve Of Obama's Recommendations, Intel Panel Member Talks NSA

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

Audie talks with Richard Clarke, a former U.S. cybersecurity adviser and member of President Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies. On the day before the president is set to announce reforms to the government's surveillance activities, Clarke drops by to discuss the group's recommendations.

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The Obamas Hope To Ease Path For Low-Income Students

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a meeting with college presidents and organizations involved in raising the number of low-income students who pursue a college degree. No more than half of low income high school graduates apply to college right after graduation, compared to 82 percent for high-income students. The administration says it's intent on closing that gap.

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When It Comes To Cuts, Pentagon Claims An Eye On The Future

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

The Pentagon responds to backlash about the veterans pension cuts included in the proposed congressional budget deal. The cuts, which extend to survivors' benefits and special compensation for combat, have riled veterans groups and several lawmakers.

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Veterans Groups Speak Out Against Pension Cuts

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

Veterans groups are upset about the cut to military pensions in the proposed budget deal. They see it as a broken promise and a sign that veterans are considered politically expendable.

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An Unusual Twist In Recent West Bank Clash

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 13:00

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near-daily incidents between Jewish settlers and Palestinians keep tensions at a constant simmer. Olive trees are destroyed, tires are slashed, mosques are defaced. But Palestinians defused further violence in a confrontation last week when they protected Jewish settlers.

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No watering your lawn ... except for those who can afford their own private well

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-16 12:52

Driving to Brandi Gruis’s place in Austin, Texas, you pass block after block of little houses on brown, postage-stamp lawns. Then there’s her cul-de-sac: Big houses, acre-plus lots, and greener grass.

Brandi and her husband, Brian, moved here from Sioux City, South Dakota, last spring.  "We realized shortly after we moved in," she recalls, "we were one of the few in the neighborhood not to have a well."

Like much of Texas, the city of Austin has had drought for the last few years. In response, the city has imposed restrictions on watering lawns -- and utility rates that make watering expensive. But homeowners in greener -- and wealthier -- parts of town have found a work-around: Digging their own wells.

The practice is controversial. Local news outlets have run stories on wealthy homeowners -- including the state’s attorney general -- who seem, some say, to be thumbing their noses at the need for water conservation and shared sacrifice.

In Sioux City, Brandi and Brian Gruis let their grass go brown to conserve water. But in this cul-de-sac, letting the front yard go brown would be like walking the dog in your underwear. Brandi Gruis jokes -- or half-jokes -- about getting kicked out.

"I guess there’s still peer pressure when you’re adults, too," she says.

So on this December afternoon, there’s an 800-horsepower drilling rig in her backyard.

For anyone committed to watering a lawn this size in Austin, a $15,000 well pays itself back pretty quickly.

"Our watering bill would probably run about $700 to $1,000 a month if we watered just to keep the grass barely alive," says Ms. Gruis.

The drilling rig’s owner, Jim Blair, of Bee Cave Drilling, arrives just before work starts in earnest.

"It’ll get loud, all of a sudden," he promises.

Blair says he’s been digging 200 wells a year or more, and other drilling companies are getting work, too.

"People are always wanting to use their own water," he says. "They own the groundwater here in Texas."

Texas law supports the “right of capture,” meaning that property owners are entitled to take any water under their land -- even if it means pumping a neighbor’s well dry.

However, a mechanism exists for regulating groundwater that could curtail well-digging. Blair expects local authorities to try using it.

"There’s a big fight coming," he says. "That’s for sure."

Meanwhile, he says the prospect of that fight is good for business. It’s a reason for customers to dig wells now, while they can.

Also good for his business: The public shaming of homeowners who use too much city water on their lawns. For years, a local paper published an annual list of the city’s biggest water users.

"I look forward to that list coming out every year," says Blair with a laugh. "I always get the phone calls the next day."


Lawmakers Roll Out Voting Rights Act Fix

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 12:52

A bipartisan group of lawmakers took the first step Thursday to patch a gaping hole in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In June, the Supreme Court eviscerated a key part of the law that allowed for federal oversight of states with a history of discrimination at the ballot box.

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ln A Global Economy, Why's It So Expensive To Transfer My Money?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 12:48

NPR's Ari Shapiro, who recently arrived in London, reports that all the wonders of modern technology have somehow not managed to reduce the time or the maddeningly high costs of transferring money across national borders.

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Good News: Americans Are Eating 78 Fewer Calories Every Day

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 12:46

Americans' eating habits are changing — and so are our attitudes about food, a new USDA report finds. We're dining out less, eating at home more, cutting back on the saturated fat and consuming more fiber.

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State Health Coverage Sign-Ups Paint A Complex Obamacare Picture

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 12:30

Health insurance markets vary across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each one is implementing the health law with varying degrees of failure, success, enthusiasm and hostility. The differences in sign-ups tell the tale.

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Oscar Nods Go To 'American Hustle,' 'Gravity,' '12 Years A Slave'

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 12:07

Nominations for the 86th annual Academy Awards were announced Thursday. American Hustle and Gravity got 10 nominations each, including nods for best picture, best director and best actress.

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In London, The Case Of The Purloined Water Lily

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 11:44

An exceptionally rare flower that is virtually extinct has been stolen from London's Kew Gardens, in a crime experts say could be the work of an obsessed collector. aA British newspaper says that stealing the precious water lily "is like an old master theft."

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5 facts you'd never guess about Chuck E. Cheese

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-01-16 11:38

At first glance, $1.3 billion seems like a lot to pay for a kiddie-birthday-party giant that has seen better days. So what will private-equity firm Apollo Global Management, which announced the merger this morning, do to recoup that kind of investment?

Here’s a possible answer: Send Chuck to Russia. And other former Soviet-block countries. At least, that's one scenario that occurs to Chris Christopher, who follows consumer behavior for IHS Global Insight.

"Those countries didn’t have very good restaurants, until the Berlin Wall fell down," he says. "And now that things are very open, and people have a little more spending money, they do dine out."

A private equity company could have the deep pockets and the flexibility to let Chuck try his luck abroad. And to anyone shopping for a U.S. restaurant brand to export, Chuck E. Cheese is a relative bargain.

Back at home, the company has seen its same-store sales fall in the last few years, even as the company has tried various updates. The trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News keeps a “top 100” list. In its most-recent rankings, Chuck E. Cheese fell from 91 to 99.

Editor Ron Ruggles, who has been reporting on the chain for 20 years, points out that the entertainment side of the enterprise— the giant mouse, the video games, that kind of stuff— has seen the competition get much tougher in recent years.

"So much entertainment is coming into the home now," he says. "It is difficult to offer something that’s different from what people can get."

So what distinguishes this pizza-slinging mouse from his competition? If nothing else, a storied past. What we learned about Chuck E. Cheese today:

1. He was buddies with Steve Jobs. Before venturing into the pizza-theater business, CEO Nolan Bushnell founded the video game company Atari. There, he was Steve Jobs' boss when Jobs worked for Atari as a technician. In Bushnell's latest book, "Finding The Next Steve Jobs," he advises entrepreneurs to think outside of the box when hiring, with interview questions such as: "What is the opposite of a table?" (Correct answer: "Nothing, as far as I know. Certainly not a chair.")   

2. Perhaps "a kid can be a kid," but a rat can't be a rat. In his early days, Chuck E. Cheese was a New Jersey rat who smoked cigars. According to the New York Daily News, executives considered naming him "Rick the Rat," but changed course when a PR firm suggested customers might be put off from their pizza. In 2012, Chuck E. was officially made over into mouse...

3. ...a pop-punk mouse. He was most recently voiced by Jaret Reddick, lead singer of the band Bowling for Soup.

4. He's spinning off into store-bought shredded cheese. For customers who really like the pizza. 

5. He hasn't always had run of the anthropomorphic-animal-with-a-pizza-arcade market. From the July 1982 edition of Fortune Magazine: Billy Bob Brockali, a "quizzical" bear, headlined at competing ShowBiz Pizza Place through the early 1980s. But Billy Bob and his parent company couldn't keep up. They declared bankruptcy in 1984, and merged with the mice in 1989.

New Drug Combination Takes 24 Minutes To Execute Ohio Killer

NPR News - Thu, 2014-01-16 11:29

The state has run out of the drug used in past executions. The drugs administered to killer and rapist Dennis McGuire had not been used in Ohio before. He was treated "far more humanely" than the woman he killed, her family said Thursday.

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