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AMERICAN MOSAIC - Rangers at Saguaro National Park Work to Outsmart Cactus Robbers

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HOST:

Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.

(MUSIC)

I'm Doug Johnson. This week:

We listen to music nominated for Country Music Awards ...

Answer a listener question about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ...

And report about efforts to protect a huge rare desert plant in the Southwest.

(MUSIC)

Saguaros and Microchips

HOST:

A saguaro is a giant cactus found only in the Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States and Mexico. A saguaro can live about two hundred years and grow to a height of fifteen meters. More than one million of these cacti are in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona. Chief Ranger Bob Love says the purpose of the park is to protect these rare plants. Faith Lapidus has more.

FAITH LAPIDUS:

It is illegal to remove any plants from a national park in the United States. Arizona law bans removing saguaros from any public or private land without government permission.

Rangers at Saguaro National Park say many people in the Southwest want a saguaro in their yard. And they are willing to pay more than one thousand dollars for one. So people have been stealing these plants to sell to homeowners. The thieves usually take young plants that are only about one or two meters tall and can fit into a truck. They dig up the plant and take it away at night. Last year, seventeen saguaros were taken at one time.

Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona
Saguaro National Park near Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park recently decided to take action to stop this theft. It is planning to place microchips in some of its saguaros. A microchip is an extremely small electronic marker placed in a plant, animal or object. Each chip in the park will contain the saguaro's location, elevation, height, weight and general health. Waving a special stick near the chip permits it to show this information.

Officials say the microchips could help them discover if a saguaro found outside the park has been stolen. But Chief Ranger Bob Love says the real purpose of the project is to stop anyone from stealing the plants. He also says the chips will help officials follow the health changes and learn more about the growth of each saguaro.

Microchips are already protecting cacti in another national park, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada. Officials there began placing the chips in barrel cacti in nineteen ninety-nine. Public Affairs Officer Andrew Munoz says the electronic chips have reduced the number of cactus thefts and have made it easier for officials to study the life changes of the cacti in the park.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The Fannie Mae building in Washington, D.C.
The Fannie Mae building in Washington, D.C.

HOST:

Our listener question this week comes from China. Peggy Guan wants to know the difference between Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The short answer is that there is not much difference between the two so-called government sponsored enterprises. Fannie Mae is a nickname for the Federal National Mortgage Association. It was created as a federal agency in nineteen thirty-eight. At the time, the economic depression had greatly weakened the nation's housing market. Banks were not lending much money to people so they could buy houses. Fannie Mae was designed to provide banks with federal money so they could make home loans. Home ownership slowly increased.

In nineteen sixty-eight, Congress re-established Fannie Mae as a private company owned by shareholders. Two years later, Congress established the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or Freddie Mac.

Both companies buy home loans, or mortgages, from banks. Then they either keep them as investments or resell them as securities to investors.

No law requires that the federal government guarantee either company's financial activities. However, their positions as government sponsored enterprises strongly suggest such support. They also were given permission to operate under easier rules than other financial companies. In the past several years, lawmakers, officials and activists have pushed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help more Americans buy homes. These include people with low or moderate incomes.

Until recently, the federal government provided no financial support to Fannie and Freddie. However, in September, the United States Federal Housing Finance Agency seized control of both companies as a result of the collapse of the nation's housing market. The Treasury Department also promised to provide billions of dollars to the companies as part of a rescue plan.

At the time of the collapse, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac owned or guaranteed almost half of all home loans in the United States. They held almost five and one-half trillion dollars worth of guaranteed mortgage backed securities and debt at the time. Fannie and Freddie's market share was falling. American officials decided the companies could no longer operate safely on their own. So the government took control of them to protect the larger American economy.

Country Music Awards

HOST:

On Wednesday, country music performers, producers and fans will gather in Nashville, Tennessee for "country music's biggest night." The Country Music Association will give Country Music Awards to some of the brightest, biggest and newest stars in the industry. Barbara Klein plays some of the nominated music.

(MUSIC)

Sugarland
Sugarland

BARBARA KLEIN:

That was "Don't Blink " by Kenny Chesney. It is competing for Single of the Year. Chesney has the most nominations this year. His seven nominations include Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year. Close behind him, with six nominations, is Jennifer Nettles, half of the singing group Sugarland. Here the group performs "Stay." It is nominated for both Song and Single of the Year.

(MUSIC)

Alison Krauss was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year along with four other singers. Krauss released an album with British rock and roller Robert Plant late last year called "Raising Sand." The Country Music Association honored the two artists with a Musical Event of the Year nomination for one of the album's songs. We leave you with "Gone, Gone, Gone."

(MUSIC)

HOST:

I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver, who was also our producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site, www.unsv.com.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.

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