National News

GE nears deal for Alstom

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 13:28

General Electric has won a bidding war for a French company called Alstom.

GE mostly wants the company’s turbine business. But other issues had to be taken into account.

“The country of France is really concerned with jobs. And also technology security,” says Daniel Holland, an equity analyst at Morningstar.

GE has agreed to a 50-50 partnership on the nuclear business. Plus other joint ventures. And it promises thousands of new jobs in France.

But that may not be enough. Government officials have asked GE to revise its bid.

“The French government is completely capable of screwing up this transaction,” says Cliff Ransom, an independent equity analyst with Ransom Research.

But French politicians could be more than gate-keepers. More like business partners. The government intends to buy 20 percent of Alstom.

Who sues police departments the most? Police officers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 13:24

Cassandra Smith worked for the Camden police department for 20 years. Smith is African-American, and she was the first woman on the force to be promoted to Captain. The same day she was promoted, Smith was assigned an unmarked car. She was excited, she says, so she got the keys and went outside to take a look. Inside the car, tucked in a door pocket, Smith found three bags of crack cocaine.

“This is big league. It’s hardball. Possession of cocaine is a criminal offense, I could have very well, not just ended up being terminated, but could have virtually ended up in jail,” she says.

“Either you leave police services, or you take a stand. And I took a stand," says Smith, who notes that she loved her job.

In New Jersey, millions of dollars are spent each year on legal fees and settlements for lawsuits involving police. And, while you might imagine that a small handful of bad-apple cops are behind the cases, a strange pattern starts to emerge when digging through the legal paperwork. While there are cases -- lots of them -- where civilians sue the police, there are more lawsuits where police are the plaintiffs. There are cases like Cassandra Smith’s, of discrimination and retaliation, as well as harassment cases against whistle blowers. Between 2009-2012, it cost New Jersey taxpayers $29 million for cases where police sued other officers, their police departments and the towns they work for. 

 

For Cassandra Smith, the cocaine in her car was just the beginning. After a series of similar incidents, conflicts and changes in command at the top, Smith ended up suing for sexual harassment and discrimination. Her case was eventually settled for $165,000. People involved with the case say there's a whole other side to the story, but sometimes it’s just easier and cheaper for all parties to settle. We found cases like Smith’s across the entire state. Cops accusing cops of harassment, retaliation, discrimination. But no one is trying to fix the problems that cause them.

The costs from these lawsuits are typically covered by insurance. Dave Grubb, executive director of the Municipal Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund, part of the government entity that insures New Jersey towns, says many of the cases are petty.

“There was at least one case that we traced back to two individuals who couldn’t get along because of some school yard fights that they’d had probably in the third or fourth grade,” he says.

These cases, said Grubb, are wasting millions of dollars.

For Cassandra Smith, the only alternative would have been to go through internal affairs. But it turns out internal affairs answers to the chief of police. And, Smith says her problem was with the chief. 

“Chiefs gone wild” is how Antonio Hernandez, president of the National Coalition of Latino Officers, refers to the situation. He says he hears about cases like Smith’s all the time – not just in New Jersey, but also in New York and Pennsylsvania.

Hernandez says internal affairs should be monitored by the county or state, but it’s not. He notes that officers who commit real infractions and excessive abuses should be punished, and severely. But he says often times it’s the internal affairs system that’s abused, and as a result, innocent officers can be treated more like criminals than actual criminals.

“When we’re talking about an officer who misplaces a piece of equipment, getting suspended for 30 days, it’s a little excessive. Especially when the piece of equipment is an $8 slim jim,” he says.

A partial cause, notes Hernandez, is a lack of management training, which leads to deplorable treatment of police officers, combined with little or no oversight.

“I once had a lieutenant joke with me and said, 'You know, if internal affairs walks in here right now, tells you to dress in a pink tutu and to put on a dance, you’d better put it on, because if not, you’ll be fired,'” he says.

The number one reason for these lawsuits, says Lou Reiter, an ex-cop turned consultant and insurance auditor for police departments, is sloppily run internal affairs investigations.

"That's what gets you into trouble - when you don't do it right," he says.

“And so when they want to go after an officer who may have made a mistake or who may have engaged in misconduct they do it in a hasty manner and they forget to dot every i and cross every t. And when you do that you're opening yourself up to be challenged in some sort of a post agency appeal, whether it's arbitration or a grievance, or in a lawsuit,” he says. 

Reiter notes internal affairs investigators have to know the rules. Especially if they’re in a union department where knowing every nuance of collective bargaining is a requirement. He says often times the difference between a good department with no problems and ones with internal disputes comes down to the chief.

"At the end of three days we know who the thumpers are, the people who like to use force against people. We know who the skirt chasers are, the ones who are trying to use their positions of authority to work up dates. We know the people who are avoiding calls. If I know that, in three days of being on scene, everybody in that department should know the same thing," he says.

But look behind departments plagued by lawsuits, notes Reiter, and often times you'll find unions, likely to support officers in their cases. So, he says, states where officers are organized, like New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and California tend have more lawsuits. 

John Shane, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former Captain in the Newark, New Jersey Police Department, says another part of the problem has its roots deeply embedded in the way police are hired and promoted. Shane says bad police departments can be run like kingdoms where officer’s loyalty to superiors is valued over ability. He says that plus an out of date, draconian rule book causes problems.

“In the hands of an autocratic manager that rulebook can become oppressive and I can use it anyway I see fit," says Shane. "Because there’s a rule for everything and I know that I’m going to be supported on the inside by my bosses. So I just then open up the page and find you without your hat, your shoes aren’t shined, you’re three feet out of your sector and I’ll charge you for it and so goes the wheel of internal justice in the police department.”

In the wrong hands, internal affairs, says Shane, can be used as a weapon.

“The executive level of the organization wields the power over who gets investigated and who doesn't and how the investigation is going to play itself out. And, many times, when an investigation doesn't find what someone wanted it to find, then the investigator's punished for not finding in favor of the organization.”

Joanna Schwartz, a professor at UCLA who studies lawsuits involving police, says another reason for the spate of cop-on-cop lawsuits is that most police departments don’t pay settlements costs out of their own budgets.

“There is no financial pressure on those departments to take proactive measure to reduce the numbers of settlements and judgments,” she says.

In the business world, these lawsuits would be a huge problem, but no one in New Jersey’s government even seems to be tracking the cost. When something goes wrong in the state, police departments answer to their county prosecutors. The county prosecutor offices are overseen by the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, which writes the internal affairs guidelines for the state. The attorney general’s office says it is concerned about the issue, but only focuses on police conduct that leads to lawsuits from the public, and that lawsuits brought by police should be bumped back to the municipalities.

Schwartz says police departments should be tracking them. If an officer has a problem with a colleague, or a civilian, departments could use the data as an early warning system. But she says most police departments don’t even know how many lawsuits are opened against an officer.

“The next incident, or the next interaction that that officer has with someone, could become that high profile case," says Schwartz. "So if you’re interested in resolving little problems, before they become big problems, it’s very important to assess that information in a proactive way instead of waiting for the next catastrophe.”

Produced with help from Damiano Marchetti.

This story also ran on WNYC under the headline: "Good Cop, Bad Cop: How Infighting is Costing New Jersey Taxpayers".

How Monet ends up on a mousepad for $10.95

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 13:23

When one of Monet’s iconic “water lilies” paintings goes up for auction at Soetheby’s on Monday, bids will start at $33 million. But a nice cocktail shaker can be had for just under $26.  

This would never happen to Matisse.Anyone wanting to put one of his famed paper cut-outs on a coffee mug— or an Andy Warhol, or a Jackson Pollock— will have to have to talk with Ted Feder, or one of his employees.

“We’re going to say no, but you have to talk with us,” he says. Asked why the answer will be no, he answers succinctly: “Because of the schlock factor.”

Feder runs the Artist Rights Society, which represents the estates of many of 20th-Century art’s greatest hit-makers, including Picasso, Rene Magritte, and Georgia O’Keefe.

But not Monet. Copyright in the U.S. expires 70 years after the artist dies. Monet died in 1926, so his work has been public domain since 1996. Since then, says Feder, “People are free to commit mayhem on his work and do whatever they want.”

Much of that mayhem is done by Art Plates.  “We do switch plates, mousepads, coffee mugs,” says the company’s sales director, Mike Mason. “And our travel mug, which is our famous Mugzie.”

In any museum gift shop, Mason says, the set of Monet drink coasters on offer was probably made in his company’s California factory. The shop’s twenty workers and their 14 machines can turn out up to 5,000 pieces a day.

Van Gogh has been the hottest seller for the last year, he says, but some things are evergreen. “Monet does very, very well. The brighter and more vivid the color, the more it shows up on different items.”  

At the online gift shop operated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a search for “Monet” yields 72 results. Mason says some are his, but this slim-fit t-shirt isn’t one of them. “That we don’t do,” he says. “No clothing.”

Staff from the Metropolitan could not be reached for comment on the shop’s Monet-themed items.

GOP Lawmakers Confront IRS Chief Over Lost Emails

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 13:23

Commissioner John Koskinen got a frosty reception from Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, who accused him of lying about computer crashes that he says account for the missing data.

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The first microchip goes on auction, no one buys it

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 13:14

A major auction house had a big ticket item up for sale earlier this week. It was not a painting by the father of French Impressionism. It was however, a work of art in its own right: The prototype for the world's first integrated circuit. The first microchip, mounted on a piece of glass.

Christie's tried to sell it yesterday; Auctioneers called it, "virtually the birth certificate of the modern computing era." They estimated it would sell for more than a million dollars.

In the end, no one wanted it -- or no one was willing to pay enough for it.

It didn't sell.

U.S.-Foreign Mergers Raise Calls For Tax Reforms

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:57

Medical device company Medtronic is merging with another firm and moving its legal headquarters to Ireland. The move is a tax-saving strategy called "inversion," and it's growing more common.

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Introducing: "Brought to you by..."

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:49

Did you know Doritos were born in a Disneyland dumpster? Or that the Slinky was the happy accident of a naval engineer?

At Marketplace, we’re always curious about the brains behind the products that have become synonymous with American life, so we’re starting a new series called “Brought to you by…”

We’ll track down the innovators and inspirations behind the stuff you use every day and tell those stories on the radio and our website.

Since the solstice is on the horizon, we’re starting with stuff that Americans buy up and bring out every summer, from sunscreen to pool noodles to popsicles.

So what do you want to know about?

Tell us your favorite summer products in the comments below, and we’ll track them back down to their start.

From A Stream To A Flood: Migrant Kids Overwhelm U.S. Border Agents

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:49

Of the hundreds of migrants that U.S. border agents catch daily in the Rio Grande Valley, 20 percent are unaccompanied minors. Instead of catching lawbreakers, the agents say, they're baby-sitting.

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Syrian War Sparks A Spike In Worldwide Level Of Displaced People

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:36

On World Refugee Day, the United Nations' refugee agency is reporting that the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes grew to more than 50 million — a level unseen since World War II.

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Twisty Miss. Primary May Mean End Of Road For Longtime Senator

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

GOP Sen. Thad Cochran faces a tough runoff election against challenger Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed state senator. Mississippi voters will decide whether Cochran gets a chance at a seventh term.

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IRS Chief Tangles With Lawmakers Over Missing Emails

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

IRS commissioner John Koskinen appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee. He tells lawmakers how emails that possibly reveal scrutiny given to Tea Party groups vanished from IRS computers.

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VA Bill Was An Easy Sell, But Some Senators Still Feel Sticker Shock

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

A preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office says that a Veterans Affairs bill recently passed by the Senate could cost $50 billion per year. No lawmaker wants to vote against veterans, but the price tag has a lot of lawmakers nervous.

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The Mystery Tweeter Inside ISIS

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

Jacob Siegel of The Daily Beast wrote about an insider with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who is documenting the militant group's squabbles online. Siegel speaks with host Robert Siegel about what he learned of life inside ISIS.

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In Trafficking Report, A Stark Warning About Thai Fishing Industry

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

The U.S. state department has issued its annual report on human trafficking. And the report includes a warning to American seafood importers: Clean up supply chains that include Thailand.

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Brimming With Extras, Palestinian Government Feels Unity Pains

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

After a deal between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian Authority faces a puzzle: What do you do with an extra 40,000 employees? Thousands of Fatah workers want their posts back, which poses a problem for the government workers who have kept things running since the groups' split seven years ago.

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Down From The Mountains, Pakistanis Flee Military Offensive

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

In Pakistan, people continue to flood out of the mountains bordering Afghanistan. An estimated 200,000 people have abandoned their homes and livestock to escape a new phase of war underway in the North Waziristan tribal area.

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In Obama's Iraq Plan, An Answer That Breeds More Questions

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:20

President Obama says U.S. military personnel will advise Iraqi forces, not to serve in combat. But the proposal raises more questions: What are the rules of engagement? And how long will they stay?

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From Organic Pioneers, Son Inherits Passion, Just Not For Farming

NPR News - Fri, 2014-06-20 12:17

Arlo Crawford's parents started the kind of small, organic farm that's now trendy, back before it was trendy. But it was his parents' dream, not his. He's now written a book about the experience.

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For-profit schools, loan defaults and the federal ATM

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 11:24

The type of school you attend can determine how likely it is you will default on your loans. The graphic below looks at students who began repaying their loans in 2010.  It compares the percentage of students with loans at a given type of school, with the three-year default rate for that type of school.

 

The second chart looks at 2,057 for-profit schools grouped by the percentage of revenue they get from federal grants and loans:

You can check out individual for-profit schools at the full federal report here.

Hold up on aid threatens for-profit college

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-06-20 11:20

The U.S. Department of Education is tightening the screws on Corinthian Colleges Inc., the parent company of Everest, Heald and WyoTech for-profit colleges.

The federal body charges that Corinthian is evading questions about improper marketing to prospective students and allegations that some schools changed students' grades and altered attendance reports.

Corinthian will be prohibited from accessing any federal financial aid funds for 21 days, a sharp blow to a company that relies on those funds for the majority of its income. In a report filed with the S.E.C, Corinthian said "...the company's cash flows will not be sufficient to meet its obligations as they become due, which would cause the company to be unable to continue as a going concern."

If the company shutters schools, Corinthian's approximately 72,000 students, who are enrolled in everything from degree programs to trade schools, will need backup plans. It's not clear just yet what their options will be.

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