TODAY

– January 29, 2015

Dish to close rest of its Blockbuster stores in US 


(AP) — The final curtain is falling on the remaining Blockbuster video-rental stores that Dish Network Corp. runs in the U.S.

The closures announced Wednesday will affect about 300 Blockbuster locations scattered around the country. As part of Dish Network's retreat, Blockbuster's DVD-by-mail service is also shutting down next month.

About 2,800 people who work in Blockbuster's stores and DVD distribution centers will lose their jobs, according to Dish Network.

The cost-cutting measures culminate a Blockbuster downfall that began a decade ago with the rise of Netflix's DVD-by-mail service, followed by the introduction of a subscription service that streams video over high-speed Internet connections.

"This is not an easy decision, yet consumer demand is clearly moving to digital distribution of video entertainment," Dish Network CEO Joseph Clayton said in a statement.

The shift has been a boon for Netflix Inc., which now boasts 31 million subscribers to its Internet video service and another 7.1 million DVD-by-mail customers. The company's success has minted Netflix with a market value of $20 billion.

But Blockbuster absorbed huge losses. It closed thousands of its stores before landing in bankruptcy court three years ago. Dish Network bought Blockbuster's remnants for about $234 million in 2011 and then tried to mount a challenge to Netflix.

But Dish Network couldn't wring a profit from Blockbuster either, prompting even more store closures.

The Englewood, Colo., satellite-TV provider had already closed about 500 Blockbuster stores this year. The latest closures, scheduled to be completed by early January, will leave the U.S. with just 50 Blockbuster stores operating under franchise agreements.

The chain's near extinction serves as another stark reminder of how quickly technology can reshape industries. Just a decade ago, Blockbuster reigned as one of the country's most ubiquitous retailers with 9,100 stores in the U.S.

Dish Network is trying to keep the Blockbuster brand alive through an Internet video-streaming service that rents movies and TV shows by title, for a set viewing time.

Blockbuster suffered an operating loss of $35 million on revenue of $1.1 billion last year and posted an operating loss of $4 million during the first half of this year, according to regulatory filings.

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Written on 01/29/2015, 1:39 pm by 
ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated press
(AP) — A Colorado man accused of operating a "revenge porn" website has settled with federal regulators who said he broke the law by posting nude pictures...
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:37 pm by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — McDonald's new boss must feel like a freshly crowned king under siege. The world's biggest hamburger chain is facing an onslaught of competition, from better-burger chains like Five Guys to brands like Chipotle that tout the superior quality of their ingredients. Supermarkets and convenience stores are selling more on-the-go food, too. Last year, visits to convenience stores for prepared foods rose 3 percent, while visits to supermarkets were up 1 percent, representing millions of visits, according to The NPD Group. After seeing its own customer visits decline at established U.S. locations for two straight years, McDonald's Corp. said Wednesday it was replacing CEO Don Thompson with its chief brand officer, Steve Easterbrook. It was the latest in a string of changes the company has announced in hopes of appeasing investors and winning back customers. In addition to plans to simplify its menu and improve service, McDonald's recently launched a marketing campaign intended to associate its brand with the positive emotion of loving. And in early March, it's planning a "Turnaround Summit" for franchisees in Las Vegas. But even if McDonald's gets its house in order, its rivals aren't going away. Here's a look at what it's up against in its flagship U.S. market: PROBLEM? BURGER BOOMLETMcDonald's is facing new burger competition. Shake Shack, which is expected to make its much anticipated debut on the New York Stock Exchange, promotes its use of hormone- and antibiotic-free beef and is emblematic of the "better burger" trend. The company has grown to 63 locations around the world, including 36 in the U.S. Over time, it sees potential for at least 450 U.S. locations. That's tiny when compared with McDonald's, which has more than 36,000 locations around the world, including more than 14,000 in the U.S. But Shake Shack isn't the only one rushing into the burger market. Five Guys, for instance, has more than 1,000 U.S. locations and more than 1,500 in development, according to its website. BurgerFi, which was founded in 2011 and has 63 locations, says it plans to add up to another 50 this year. Traditional rivals also are pressuring McDonald's. Burger King in 2012 rolled out a new menu and marketing in hopes of revitalizing its brand. It has since introduced items that compete more directly with McDonald's, including a "Big King" sandwich that resembles a Big Mac. Wendy's, meanwhile, is trying to position itself as a more premium fast-food chain with burgers and sandwiches made with specialty bread and remodeled stores with more inviting decor. MCDONALD'S ANSWER: To step up its own game, McDonald's plans to roll out an option that lets people build their own burgers at 2,000 stores by later this year. PROBLEM? CHIPOTLE FACTORThe gravitation toward places that promise better ingredients doesn't end with burger rivals. Chipotle, for instance, is often cited as the successful contrast whenever McDonald's troubles are mentioned. A big part of Chipotle's draw is that people can walk down a line and watch their food being assembled quickly, exactly as dictated. Since McDonald's sold its stake in the chain in 2006, Chipotle has grown to more than 1,700 locations. In the latest quarter, sales surged 19.8 percent at established locations. It's not just the format that attracts people, however. Chipotle also burnishes its image with its "Food with Integrity" slogan. That ethos around good ingredients is turning up throughout the industry. Subway this month rolled out new chicken strips that it says doesn't have artificial flavors or preservatives, and says it's working on improving other ingredients. MCDONALD'S ANSWER: McDonald's is taking note. Mike Andres, president of McDonald's USA, said last month the company is also looking at shrinking the ingredients it uses. PROBLEM? COFFEE AND BREAKFAST COMPETITIONFor established coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, a key way of driving sales is becoming more of a destination for food. Already, Starbucks says about a third of its transactions include a food item, and the company is pushing hard to increase that figure. It's introducing new salads and sandwiches that can be heated up in an oven. And to attract customers in the evenings, it's rolling out wine, beer and "small bites" like chicken skewers to thousands of locations in coming years. Dunkin' Donuts is trying to boost food sales as well, and has expanded sandwich offerings for the breakfast and lunch hours. Like Starbucks, it's trying to make more use of its stores in the afternoons, when the morning rush dies down. Meanwhile, Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum Brands, last year launched a national breakfast menu in hopes of stealing some McDonald's customers. The Mexican-style food chain targeted the breakfast leader by featuring real-life people named Ronald McDonald professing their love for items like the waffle taco. ANSWER: McDonald's has said it plans to play up its coffee offerings, which can be a draw for people who end up spending more on food. It's also playing up the fresh eggs it uses for its popular Egg McMuffin.
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:35 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. stock market is closing sharply higher after investors received encouraging news on corporate earnings and the jobs market. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 225 points, or 1.3 percent, to close at 17,416 Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 19 points, or 1 percent, to 2,021. The government reported Thursday that weekly claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a 15-year low. Ford, Harley-Davidson, Coach and Ally Financial were among the companies that reported quarterly results that exceeded Wall Street's expectations The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 1.76 percent from 1.72 late Wednesday.
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:32 pm by MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press
(AP) — Widely regarded overseas as places only for children of the rich and powerful, top American universities like Yale and Harvard are increasing efforts to attract the best international students, regardless of their financial backgrounds. With more undergraduates coming from abroad than ever, the Ivy League universities that have worked to overcome reputations for serving only children of the elite in the U.S. are trying to do the same the world over with travel, novel recruiting strategies and some help from the U.S. State Department. Yale sophomore Yupei Guo, for one, does not fit the mold of the traditional Ivy Leaguer from China: Her journalist parents are neither wealthy nor members of the governing elite. Although university grants cover much of her tuition, many people she meets around New Haven assume she came from a much different background to reach the campus of Gothic buildings. "I did get asked if I were some sort of distant royal family member, which I'm not," she said. No country is receiving more attention than China, which sends far more students to the U.S. than any other country. Nearly 275,000 students came from China last year, 31 percent of all international students, according to the Institute of International Education. As China has grown more prosperous, many U.S. colleges have stepped up recruiting there, seeking revenue-generating students who can pay their full way. A small number of schools pledge, like Yale, to meet the full financial need of admitted international students, and for them it is a matter of making that known around the country of 1.3 billion people. A student-run organization at Harvard University holds college-style seminars annually for dozens of Chinese high school students, offering financial aid to help draw from all the country's provinces. At Yale, which in 1854 graduated the first Chinese person to earn a degree from a U.S. college, international students are deputized as "ambassadors" to talk with students while home on break. Admissions officers from both schools regularly travel to China. Yale extended its need-blind admissions policy to international students in 2001, and Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the makeup of students from China and other countries has since changed dramatically. International students have gone from representing 3 percent of the student body, mostly from high-income families, to 11 percent, with greater diversity. "The diversity of our international student body has really exploded, frankly to a greater extent than our U.S. socio-economic diversity has over time," Quinlan said. He said most of the dozens of Chinese undergrads receive financial aid at Yale, where tuition, room and board cost nearly $60,000 a year. Guo attended a selective public high school in Beijing and learned from upperclassmen the names of U.S. schools with need-blind admissions — Yale, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Dartmouth and Amherst. She visited Yale during high school — on a U.S. visit for model United Nations — and felt energized by the posters advertising campus activities. At home, her departure was met with a mix of admiration and scorn. Yale is a celebrated name in China, where her acceptance prompted calls from reporters. But Guo said there is also a stigma that comes with attending college in the U.S., as though those leaving failed to fit into the Chinese system. And there is bitterness: Financial concerns prevent many of her friends from going to college at all. Two Chinese real estate moguls, Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, are prodding American universities to do more by giving them money to support low-income students from China. Through their SOHO China Foundation, they so far have awarded $15 million to Harvard and $10 million to Yale. The admissions directors at Yale and Harvard say the gifts align with their goals of encouraging more Chinese students to apply. The universities say it's about promoting empathy and creating the diversity sought by students and faculty. "We want to make sure that we get the most talented students from every corner of the world, and it's just that simple," Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons said. Finding candidates outside China's elite circles is not easy. The affluent have access to the best schools — even more than in the United States — and admissions officers say many students assume they must have political connections. There are also language and logistical hurdles: The SAT has limited availability in China and applicants must be fluent in English. Guo learned English as a child when her parents were posted in the United Kingdom by their Chinese newspaper for three years. For the SAT, she had to travel to Hong Kong. To help address such difficulties, the State Department's EducationUSA program created a $1 million fund to provide aid for costs like application fees, said Evan Ryan, an assistant secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. "The State Department thought, 'Wait, we're really losing a whole population of the students that are important to the U.S. higher education system and important to our relationships around the world,'" Ryan said. EducationUSA has eight advisers in Beijing and is sending four more — to Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang — to reach students beyond the capital. The agency has been important to recruiting, Yale officials say, because it makes referrals knowing the school has the resources to cover students' need. Guo said Yale did not cover her airfare to the U.S., but she has taken advantage of a hotel made available for international students unable to return home during breaks. With so many Chinese students traveling, she said flights are particularly expensive. Despite some uncomfortable questions about her background, Guo said she does not feel out of place at Yale, where the Chinese students are increasingly diverse with several freshmen coming from inland cities. "This place," she said, "is amazing."
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:29 pm by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
(AP) — The American public and U.S. scientists are light-years apart on science issues. And 98 percent of surveyed scientists say it's a problem that we don't know what they're talking about. Scientists are far less worried about genetically modified food, pesticide use, and nuclear power than is the general public, according to matching polls of both the general public and the country's largest general science organization. Scientists were more certain that global warming is caused by man, evolution is real, overpopulation is a danger and mandatory vaccination against childhood diseases is needed. In eight of 13 science-oriented issues, there was a 20 percentage point or higher gap separating the opinions of the public and members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to survey work by the Pew Research Center. The gaps didn't correlate to any liberal-conservative split; the scientists at times take more traditionally conservative views and at times more liberal. "These are big and notable gaps," said Lee Rainie, director of Pew's internet, science and technology research. He said they are "pretty powerful indicators of the public and the scientific community seeing the world differently." In the most dramatic split, 88 percent of the scientists surveyed said it is safe to eat genetically modified foods, while only 37 percent of the public say it is safe and 57 percent say it is unsafe. And 68 percent of scientists said it is safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, compared with only 28 percent of the general public. Ninety-eight percent of scientists say humans evolved over time, compared with 65 percent of the public. The gap wasn't quite as large for vaccines, with 86 percent of the scientists favoring mandatory childhood shots while 68 percent of the public did. Eighty-seven percent of scientists said global warming is mostly due to human activity, while only half of the public did. The figures for scientists are slightly different than past academic studies because of wording of the question and the fact that AAAS members include many specialties, but they tell the same essential story, said Pew associate director Cary Funk. What to do about climate change is another issue. Nearly two-thirds of scientists favored building more nuclear power plants, but only 45 percent of the public did. But more of the public favored offshore drilling for oil and fracking than scientists did. More than four out of five scientists thought the growing world population will be a major problem, but just less than three out of five members of the public did. Pew polled 2,002 adults in August and did an online survey of 3,748 AAAS members in the fall. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the public and 1.7 percentage points for the scientists. In 2009, Pew has asked only a handful of questions like these to both scientists and the public and the gap hasn't changed much since, Funk said. "On the whole, as compared to most members of the public, scientists are likely drawing from a larger scientific knowledge base — and thinking more scientifically — about each of these issues," George Mason University communications professor Edward Maibach said in an email. "Therefore, their views appear to be more in line with a completely dispassionate reading of the risks versus the benefits." Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS, said the gap between the way the public and scientists look at issue is a cause for concern. "Science is about facts; science is not about values," Leshner said. "Policies are made on facts and values and we want to make sure that the accurate, non-distorted facts are brought in to any kind of discussion." The trouble is that scientists don't think the public knows the facts. The survey said that 84 percent of the scientists said it is a major problem that "the public does not know very much about science" and another 14 percent said it is a minor problem. And 97 percent of the scientists criticized the educational system. Three-quarters of the scientists said not enough science and math education is a major problem and another 22 percent said it was a minor one. "It's not about being smart or dumb," Leshner said. "It's about whether, in fact, you understand the source of the fact and what the facts are." ___Online:Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/American Association for the Advancement of Science: http://www.aaas.org/Journal Science: http://www.sciencemag.org
Written on 01/29/2015, 12:46 pm by JOSH LEDERMAN, Associated Press
(AP) — President Barack Obama will ask Congress to boost government spending by roughly 7 percent above current limits, the White House said Thursday, setting up a certain clash with Republicans who insist that federal spending must be held in check. Obama's budget, to be formally released Monday, will call for $74 billion more than the levels frozen in place by across-the-board cuts agreed to by both Democrats and Republicans and signed by Obama into law. The White House said his new budget proposals will "fully reverse" the so-called sequestration on the domestic side, while raising military spending. Under Obama's proposal, national security programs would see an increase of $38 billion over current spending limits, raising the defense budget to $561 billion. On the domestic side, Obama is calling for $530 billion in spending — an increase of $37 billion. "If Congress rejects my plan and refuses to undo these arbitrary cuts, it will threaten our economy and our military," Obama warned in an op-ed article Thursday in The Huffington Post. The proposal from the president, two months after voters booted his party from control of the Senate, reflects the White House's newfound confidence in the economy. Obama's aides believe that improving conditions give Obama credibility to push his spending priorities unabashedly — despite the fact that Republicans still believe government spends far too much. Federal deficits, gas prices and unemployment are all falling, while Obama's poll numbers have crept upward. The president has been newly combative as he argues it's time to ease the harsh measures that were taken to help pull the economy out of recession. Obama was to promote his proposed spending levels to House Democrats at their annual retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday evening. The White House said his budget will be "fully paid for with cuts to inefficient spending programs and closing tax loopholes," but taxpayers will have to wait until the budget is made public to find out exactly how. While the proposal to spend more on things like education, sick leave and health care was sure to delight many members of Obama's own party, the Republicans now fully control Congress. "This is not a surprise," said Don Stewart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's deputy chief of staff. "Previous budgets submitted by the president have purported to reverse the bipartisan spending limits through tax increases that the Congress — even under Democrats — could never accept." Yet Obama's move also puts Republicans in a precarious position. Many in the GOP want to spend more on defense, especially in light of threats from terrorism and extremist groups. But Republicans are divided about how to pay. While some have argued for ignoring the spending limits, others want to offset the hikes with cuts to either domestic programs or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare. By proposing to raise defense spending by about the same amount as domestic programs, Obama is putting the GOP on notice that he won't accept cuts to his own priorities just to make way for more spending on national security programs that both parties are in the mood to support. The Pentagon's base budget is currently $496 billion, plus another $64 billion for overseas missions. Obama's increases would allow for next-generation F-35 fighter jets, for ships and submarines and for long-range Air Force tankers. Military leaders have also said the earlier cuts forced reductions in pilots' flying hours, training and equipment maintenance. On the domestic side, Obama has proposed two free years of community college and creating new or expanded tax credits for child care and spouses who both work. He's called for raising the top capital gains rate on some wealthy couples and consolidating education tax breaks, although some of those ideas have already faced intense opposition. "Until he gets serious about solving our long-term spending problem, it's hard to take him seriously," said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. The president's budget proposal is just that — a proposal— and will not become law. The budget frames Obama's opening offer as Democrats and Republicans head toward an inevitable clash. It's an agenda that Obama started selling in the run-up to his State of the Union address this month, and that House Democrats have sought to echo as they regroup after losing more members in the midterms. In his meeting Thursday with House Democrats, Obama was also to insist that House Republicans not use a funding bill for the Homeland Security Department to try to quash the executive actions he took late last year on immigration and deportations. The White House called that a "dangerous view" by the GOP that would risk the country's national security.
Written on 01/29/2015, 12:42 pm by SETH BORENSTEIN, 
JACK GILLUM, Associated Press
(AP) — Credit card data isn't quite as anonymous as promised, a new study says. Scientists showed they can identify you with more than 90 percent accuracy by looking at just four purchases, three if the price is included — and this is after companies "anonymized" the transaction records, saying they wiped away names and other personal details. The study out of MIT, published Thursday in the journal Science, examined three months of credit card records for 1.1 million people. "We are showing that the privacy we are told that we have isn't real," study co-author Alex "Sandy" Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an email. Companies routinely strip away personal identifiers from credit card data when they share information with outsiders, saying the data is now safe because it is "anonymized." But the MIT researchers showed that anonymized isn't quite the same as anonymous. Drawing upon a sea of data in an unnamed developed country, the researchers pieced together available information to see how easily they could identify somebody. They looked at information from 10,000 shops, with each data piece time-stamped to calculate how many pieces of data it would take on average to find somebody, said study lead author Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, also of MIT. In this case the experts needed only four pieces, three if price is involved. As an example, the researchers wrote about looking at data from September 23 and 24 and who went to a bakery one day and a restaurant the other. Searching through the data set, they found there could be only person who fits the bill — they called him Scott. The study said, "and we now know all of his other transactions, such as the fact that he went shopping for shoes and groceries on 23 September, and how much he spent." It's easier to identify women, but the research couldn't explain why, de Montjoye said. The study shows that when we think we have privacy when our data is collected, it's really just an "illusion," said Eugene Spafford, director of Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. Spafford, who wasn't part of the study, said it makes "one wonder what our expectation of privacy should be anymore." "It is not surprising to those of us who spend our time doing privacy research," said outside expert Lorrie Faith Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University. "But I expect it would be surprising to most people, including companies who may be routinely releasing de-identified transaction data, thinking it is safe to do so." Credit card companies and industry officials either declined comment or did not respond to requests for comment. The once-obscure concept of metadata — or basic transactional information — grew mainstream in recent years following revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Those disclosures from once-top secret U.S. government documents revealed that the NSA was collecting the records of digital communications from millions of Americans not suspected of a crime. The use of so-called "big data" has been a lucrative prospect for private companies aiming to cash in on the trove of personal information about their consumers. Retail purchases, online web browsing activity and a host of other digital breadcrumbs can provide firms with a wealth of data about you — which is then used in sophisticated advertising and marketing campaigns. And big data-mining was used extensively in the 2012 president election to win over voters or seek out prospective donors. "While government surveillance has been getting a lot of press, and certainly the revelations warrant such scrutiny, a large number of corporations have been quietly expanding their use of data," said privacy consultant and author Rebecca Herold. Studies like this show "how metadata can be used to pinpoint specific individuals. This also raises the question of how such data would be used within insurance actuarial calculations, insurance claims and adjustments, loan and mortgage application considerations, divorce proceedings." ___Online:Journal Science: http://www.sciencemag.org
Written on 01/29/2015, 12:38 pm by HOLLY RAMER, Associated Press
(AP) — Dartmouth College banned hard liquor on campus Thursday and said all students will have to take part in a sexual violence prevention program all four years they're enrolled at the Ivy League school. Dartmouth has long tried to move past its hard-partying reputation, but the latest steps come amid a national furor over sexual assault on college campuses and the role drinking plays in the violence. "Colleges and universities across the country face the issues I've detailed today," President Philip Hanlon said. "We are not alone in facing them, but we will take the lead in saying, 'No more.'" Other colleges, including Colby, Bates and Bowdoin in Maine, have banned hard liquor on campus. Dartmouth officials said the school will be the first in the Ivy League to take such a step, and the first college or university aside from military academies to require four-year sexual violence prevention education. Many colleges require students to take part in one-time programs, almost always during their freshman year. Dartmouth, which partly inspired the 1978 comedy "Animal House," received nationwide attention for allegations of fraternity hazing several years ago, and it's one of 95 schools under federal investigation for its handling of sexual harassment and violence. Students protested at Hanlon's office last spring with a long list of demands aimed at creating a more inclusive, diverse campus. The plan Hanlon presented Thursday was the product of the "Moving Dartmouth Forward" steering committee created in April to study problems the president said were "hijacking" the school's promise: high-risk drinking, sexual assault and a lack of inclusion. In addition to banning hard liquor starting with the new term at the end of March and implementing the sexual violence prevention program, the plan ends pledge or probationary periods for all student groups and creates new residential communities. "Our aspirations will never be realized if we fail to address a vital component: the environment in which our students live and learn," he said in a speech to students, faculty and staff. "We must recognize a moment in time when change is necessary in order to reach our potential, and now is such a moment." Sexual assault on college campuses has been in the spotlight as students and the federal government demand stricter policies and stronger enforcement. Dartmouth recently overhauled its policies to include harsher sanctions and a trained external expert to investigate allegations. It will expand on that work with the new mandatory program, an online consent manual to reduce ambiguity about acceptable behavior and a smartphone app to allow students to seek help if they feel threatened, Hanlon said. On the alcohol front, Hanlon said education programs launched in the past few years have started to pay off, but the practice of pregaming — loading up on hard alcohol before heading out for the night — remains a problem. In addition to prohibiting the possession or consumption of hard alcohol — 30 proof or higher — by students, the new policy includes increased penalties for violators, and hard alcohol will no longer be served at public events, including alumni gatherings and fraternity parties. Sophomore Isaac Green said he largely agreed with Hanlon's plans, including the ban on hard alcohol. "I don't think Dartmouth's problems are any worse than anyone else's, but I don't think that absolves us from addressing them," he said. "In a lot of ways, our problems are less severe than in a lot of other places, but we're in Hanover, we're an Ivy League institution and we have the microscope upon us." Although some have suggested eliminating fraternities and sororities, the steering committee's comparison of other schools found that levels of extreme behavior don't correlate with the intensity of the Greek scene. But Hanlon said Greek organizations at Dartmouth will be held to much higher standards going forward. The Greek organizations and all student organizations will undergo annual reviews to ensure they're being inclusive and diversifying their membership. No student organization will be allowed to engage in pledging or putting new members on probationary status — a move fraternities and sororities made this fall. "Hazing is already outlawed on our campus ... so what's being eliminated is the pledge term. Once you join, you're a full member," Hanlon said. Hanlon believes the most transformational change will be the creation of new housing communities designed to give students more options for both social interaction and learning outside the classroom. Starting with the class of 2019, incoming students will be placed into one of six communities that will include a cluster of residence halls that will serve as a home base even for those who live elsewhere. Each community will have a faculty adviser and graduate students in residence and will host social and academic programs. Allison Moskow, a 1985 Dartmouth graduate whose son graduated last year, was optimistic about Hanlon's plans, particularly the overhaul of the residential system. "To really look at residential life and offer alternatives to walking through Greek doors is nothing new but essential," she said. "There are campuses around the world that encourage learning and fun, and there's no reason why Dartmouth can't do that."
Written on 01/29/2015, 12:35 pm by PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press
(AP) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott began dismantling a flagship initiative of his predecessor Thursday, saying he will abolish Rick Perry's pet program that gave $200 million in taxpayer dollars to Texas startups and was beset by bankruptcies and questionable claims of success. The decision was not surprising. Abbott signaled throughout his campaign that the Texas Emerging Technology Fund troubled him ideologically, but problems with the decade-old program ran deeper than new Republican distaste for governments "picking winners and losers" in the private sector. Texas lost tens of millions of dollars investing in failed high-risk startups and the fund's inner workings were largely kept from public view. An Associated Press investigation last year revealed undisclosed troubles with state-funded companies that had stagnated, didn't file tax reports and made questionable job-creation claims. Perry hitched his 2012 presidential campaign to a booming Texas economy and bragged about how the tech fund and his other economic policies kept the state prosperous while the rest of the U.S. lurched from a recession. Now, as Perry gears up for a possible 2016 run, his conservative successor has scrapped the tech fund within his first 10 days in office. Abbott wants the money set aside for startups to be spent instead on recruiting top faculty talent to Texas universities. "Texas will continue to make meaningful and effective investments in job creation," Abbott said in a statement. "Now we must also harness our resources to elevate Texas' higher education institutions as integral participants in our economic advancement." Lawmakers must still OK abolishing the tech fund but Abbott is unlikely to face opposition. A spokesman for Perry did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Perry likely won't see his legacy on economic development undone entirely. A similar but separate program, the Texas Enterprise Fund, appears headed for survival but not without reforms. That was Perry's signature "deal-closing" fund used to lure companies to Texas, such as when Toyota received $40 million last year to relocate its California headquarters to suburban Dallas. Part of Abbott's announcement calls for taking half the unused money in the tech fund — which aides say is more than $100 million — and spending it on enterprise fund applicants instead. During his final months in office, Perry defended the economic impact of having given taxpayer dollars to more than 140 startups. But he also seemed to give lawmakers his blessing to do away with his signature programs, saying it was "their call." The tech fund worked by giving startups taxpayer dollars in exchange for giving the state an equity position. If the companies were successful, the state recouped its investment or even made a profit. If they went bankrupt or shut down — and at least 16 have so far — the dollars are lost. The timing of Abbott's announcement is likely not random: A required annual report on the financial health of tech fund is due to be made public Saturday.
Written on 01/29/2015, 10:40 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — The first confirmed sighting of a rare Sierra Nevada red fox in Yosemite National Park in nearly a century has been confirmed by park officials. Park wildlife biologists who were on a backcountry trip to the far northern part of the park documented two sightings since early December. The Sierra Nevada red fox of California is one of the rarest mammals in North America, with likely fewer than 50 left. The nearest verified occurrences of Sierra Nevada red foxes have been in the Sonora Pass area, north of the park, where biologists say a small population was first documented in 2010. Prior to that, the last verified sighting of a Sierra Nevada red fox in that area was two decades ago. The species hasn't been seen in the park in nearly 100 years.

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