Nick Fountain

Note: This episode originally ran in 2016.

Note: This episode originally aired in 2015.

The most valuable thing about a yellow taxicab in New York isn't the car. It's actually this little metal shield bolted to the hood. It's called a taxi medallion. There are only about 13,000 taxi medallions in existence. And Gene Freidman owns over a thousand of them.

Not too long ago, these medallions were selling for $1.2 million each. Gene Freidman liked to boast about how much he paid for them, often with borrowed money.

Class actions have been around for centuries. But the modern version was created in the 1960s — in part by a young lawyer working on a manual typewriter in the back seat of a car. At the time, class actions were seen as a way to advance the civil rights movement.

Today, thousands of class actions are filed every year. Some of them are still about civil rights. But they're also about things questions like: Is there enough pepper in this tin of pepper?

On today's show, we find out how we got here, and ask whether this is a good way to do things.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

People across the country are finding packages they haven't ordered inside their mailboxes. Nick Fountain from our Planet Money podcast investigates.

NICK FOUNTAIN, BYLINE: When did you first get a weird package?

A few years ago, a strange package arrived at the house of Celina Salas. Inside was a plastic watch, painted gold. It only kind of worked. Over many months, more and more oddball surprises arrived: a piggy bank, a friendship bracelet, a fuzzy keychain. And she never learned why. Celina, as they say, is not alone. Odd packages like this have been reported arriving all over the country.

So we tried to figure out what was going on, and the answer led us across the globe, and into some players gaming some of the largest companies in the world.

In 1872, Congress passed The Mining Act, a law designed to make mining on U.S. land easy and cheap. The government wanted to encourage westward expansion. They wanted people to head out, find minerals, get rich, and settle down.

The Mining Act of 1872 is still in place, and getting the rights to dig up gold in the US today isn't all that different than it was during the Gold Rush.

Today on the show: How has this system stayed the same for almost 150 years? And why is this country giving away its gold on public land. And its silver, and platinum, and copper....

The New York Produce Show and Conference looks like a grocery store the size of the Javits Center, one of the biggest convention centers in the country. But it's a grocery store that's nothing but produce aisle. Fruits are carefully displayed, often accompanied by slick videos or Christmas trees. Salespeople wait at booths to extol the virtues of their pumpkins and avocados. They're eager to give away t-shirts, pens, lip balm, even bags of sweet potatoes. Their goal isn't just to network, it's to woo the power players of produce, who make decisions about the fate of fruits.

The Fox News Channel is under investigation by federal prosecutors to determine whether it broke securities law in making payments in the sexual harassment scandal that ultimately cost former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes his job, according to a lawyer currently suing the network.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been a hot summer, and with summer comes crime and ice cream. From NPR's Planet Money podcast, Nick Fountain has a story about where the two meet.