National News

Ferguson operates police department as a profit center

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 05:55

In addition to documenting stark racial disparities and shocking incidents in Ferguson, Missouri's law-enforcement system, the Justice Department's report finds that Ferguson operates its police department primarily as a money-making enterprise. But Ferguson is not the only place where law-enforcement practices may be more about money than public safety. 

In Ferguson, the idea that the police department operates as a revenue-maximizing business is the basic thesis of the Justice Department report. The city finance director emails the police chief asking for more ticket revenue. Cops say they get evaluated — and promoted — based on “productivity,” meaning the number of citations they issue. All this comes on page two. 

The report points to documents that show the revenue strategy at work.  In one email, the finance director pushes a traffic-enforcement initiative to, quote, “fill the revenue pipeline.” The clerk of the municipal court also gets emails about revenue targets. In an official report, the finance director boasts to the city council about how much higher fines are in Ferguson than in neighboring towns.

These tactics paid off. The city budgeted for— and realized— huge increases in revenue from tickets and fines. Those revenues more than doubled in the last five years, and in the latest budget they account for almost a quarter of the general fund revenue.

The phenomenon is not limited to Ferguson, although the strategies under which law enforcement collects revenue are not always the same. 

There’s been a lot of reporting on civil forfeiture cases— a mechanism under which cops can seize money and other assets from people who aren’t charged with crimes — and keep the money. The New Yorker and the Washington Post have both done extensive reports — as has HBO's John Oliver.

"There’s no question that civil forfeiture falls most heavily on minorities and low-income folks," says Scott Bullock, an attorney at the Institute for Justice. "And those folks are not only having their property taken, but they don’t have the resources to go about challenging it in court."  

The Washington Post documented billions of dollars seized and spent by police nationwide. Los Angeles police bought a $5 million helicopter. The sheriff’s department in Amarillo, Texas bought a $637 coffee pot.

Other strategies abound, says Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s criminal law reform project— and a lot of money gets collected, even if the public doesn't always see "smoking-gun" documents like the ones in the Ferguson report.

"I think you’d have lots of smoking guns if the Department of Justice went around the country doing this," he says.

Winter's Final Punch? Forecasters Say Maybe

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 05:34

Up to 10 inches of snowfall is possible in some areas of the mid-Atlantic and a slippery "wintry mix" causes the closing of federal government offices.

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'Grand Bargain' In Workers' Comp Unravels, Harming Injured Workers Further

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 05:19

Changes to workers' compensation laws mean families and government bear more of the costs that result from injuries on the job.

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Singapore Court Sentences Two Germans To Caning And Jail Over Graffiti

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 05:16

The pair were tracked down and arrested in Malaysia last November. For spray-painting graffiti on a commuter train car, they are sentenced to nine months in prison and three strokes from a cane.

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North Korea: Attack On U.S. Ambassador Is 'Deserved Punishment'

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 04:22

Pyongyang said it welcomed the attack on Mark Lippert, who was assaulted in Seoul by a knife-wielding political activist who said he opposed joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

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In Israel, A Vote To Choose A Leader And An Identity

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 03:51

Israel is a small country with an extremely diverse population. NPR's Emily Harris spoke to five very different Israelis about their hopes for the election and the kind of country they want to see.

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Hillary Clinton Asks State Dept. To Release Her Emails To The Public

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 03:08

The State Department says it will review thousands of messages for possible release. Clinton announced her intentions Wednesday, after a House panel issued a subpoena for some of the emails.

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The Legacy Of Booker T. Washington Revisited

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 03:03

In the centennial year of Booker T. Washington's death, for our 50 Great Teachers project NPR Ed decided to look back at his leadership.

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PODCAST: ECB bond buying

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 03:00

The European Central Bank begins another round of bond buying. More on that. Plus, we'll talk about the Department of Justice's report on the Ferguson Police Department, and how the city has been maximizing profit from ticket revenue. And with U.S. fourth quarter productivity numbers out tomorrow, an explainer on the relationship between an improving labor market and productivity – when jobs are the uptick, productivity can go down.  

A fight over how quickly workers can unionize

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 02:00

There’s tons of emotional rhetoric on a new rule from the National Labor Relations Board to govern unionization votes.

The rule addresses a seemingly simple issue: How much time should there be between a union’s request to represent workers, and the workers’ vote on unionization?

Under the new rule, elections could be held as soon as 11 days after the union request. Employers say that’s too quick. 

“It simply ambushes the employer and doesn’t give them the amount of time that we need for a rational discussion,” says Jason Brewer, a spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

Brewer says employers need more time to discuss the impact of unionization on things like worker training, and flexibility on what roles workers can fill. But unions say employers drag out the process for months, with what they call frivolous lawsuits. 

“This frivolous litigation is brought by employers in the hope that workers in the meantime will give up and actually never get to vote on whether or not they want a union,” says Nicole Berner, deputy general counsel of the Service Employees International Union.  

The rule is set to go into effect April 14. The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to rescind it, and that measure is now in the House's hands; President Obama has promised a veto.

Building a private email server

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 02:00

The questions about why Hillary Clinton used a home email server system instead of her government account while she was Secretary of State have multiplied. But here's a different kind of question: How easy is it to build an at-home email server?

Meet Lee Hutchinson, Senior Reviews Editor for Ars Technica, who did just that

He says the question of even attempting to create a server is a complicated one. “Stop and reassess if you want to really go down this road because it’s not easy,” he says. Disheartening as that sounds, he’s right.

For one, it’s a long process. Hutchinson says he researched for months to set up his own server. Then there’s the logistics. First you need a computer if you want to host it on your house.

“Not the best option,” says Hutchinson. “It’s so easy for people ‘s home computers to get co-opted into malware and turned into spam spewing.” In fact, because of this problem, most big companies try to prevent users from doing just that.

“Generally, it’s a terms of service violation, and they try to make it as technically difficult as possible,” says Hutchinson.

Most of all, the process takes a lot of time, not just to set it up, but also to maintain it. “If gmail goes down at 3 AM, it’s not your problem, says Hutchinson. But if it’s your email server that goes down at 3 AM? Then it is your problem, especially if you're working on something important and or you’re on a deadline.

But if difficulty is no barrier, Hutchinson says the main advantage to setting up a private email server would be “to skirt discoverability requirements that would be placed on actual government emails sent through actual government systems."

House of Drones

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-05 01:30
$1.93 billion

Etsy's gross merchandise sales last year, as reported by Venture Beat. The online marketplace for crafty, artisan goods has yet to make a profit, but it filed paperwork to go public Wednesday.

14,000 restaurants

That's approximately how many McDonald's restaurants will phase out purchasing chickens injected with human antibiotics, as reported by Reuters. That number represents all of the franchise's U.S. locations, but not its international stores. Some are concerned that using antibiotics to treat chickens decreases their effectiveness in humans by eliminating weaker strains of bacteria while allowing the strong to survive.

25

That's how many people work at Berkshire Hathaway HQ in Omaha, Nebraska, largely leaving the companies in the empire to govern themselves. That decentralization and lean management, the Upshot notes, are part of the reason Warren Buffet's conglomerate has flown in the face of conventional wisdom and become the fourth most-valuable company in the U.S.

1 rule

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mark Zuckerberg said he has just one rule for hiring employees to work for him: “I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person." The Telegraph has more on the Facebook founder's remarks, including his praise of Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer.

100 percent

The portion of 2013 film executives who were male, and 94 percent of them were white that year, according to new data published by the Hollywood Reporter, which has a great breakdown of how deep the industry's representation problem is.

150,000 jobs

The House of Lords EU Committee has issued a report recommending a registry for drones used by businesses and professionals, as reported by the BBC. They also said, however, that placing too many rules on drone expansion would hinder the estimated 150,000 jobs the industry would create across Europe by the year 2050.

Federal Regulators Link Workers' Comp Failures To Income Inequality

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-05 00:03

Changes to workers' compensation laws mean families and government bear more of the costs that result from injuries on the job.

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In Berlin, Grassroots Efforts Work To Integrate Inner-City Schools

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 23:57

In parts of the city, racial segregation in schools is often a reality. But small parent-led initiatives — one immigrant-led, one native-led — have been working to change perceptions and enrollment.

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Jaw Fossil In Ethiopia Likely Oldest Ever Found In Human Line

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 23:45

The 2.8 million-year-old bone may mark the first human branch in the primate family tree. It wasn't just a bigger brain that marked the shift, scientists say. It was also big changes in the mouth.

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Boris Nemtsov: 'He Directed His Words Against Putin Himself'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 23:44

Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats, who followed Boris Nemtsov's career for 27 years, says he was one of the few Russian political figures willing to directly criticize President Vladimir Putin.

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Toronto Infertility Clinic Offers Controversial Treatment

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 23:43

The technique claims to "recharge the batteries" in a woman's eggs using mitochondria from other cells extracted from her ovaries. The clinic's first births are due soon, though other doctors worry.

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House Approves Amtrak Funding, Rewrites Rules To Allow Furry Riders

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 19:08

The bill freezes funding at current levels for four years, and lets some pets ride the rails with their owners. It also separates the high-ridership Northeast Corridor from the rest of the system.

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Justices Roberts and Kennedy The Key Votes In Health Law Case

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 15:40

No telling yet which side will win. But did Justice Kennedy's mixed signals Wednesday hint that he was leaning toward the administration's view of federal subsidies for health insurance?

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For Many French Muslims, A Life Of Integration, Not Separation

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-04 15:37

Despite a minority suspected of holding extremist views, the vast majority of French Muslims say they feel fully integrated into society. France has the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe.

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