"Capitalism needs to check itself into the Betty Ford Center for a bit of sobering up, and I think investors need to do the same thing." -- Paul McCulley, PIMCO managing director, on CNBC's Morning Call Picture hooded twenty-somethings scanning city blocks for hot spots and clandestinely chalking symbols on sidewalks and buildings. Modern revolutionaries? Kind of. They're "warchalkers," letting wireless laptop users know where they can find free connections to the Internet using Wi-Fi (wireless) technology. Two half-moons scrawled on a wall, for example, means there's access within 1,000 feet.
The symbols are the creation of Londoner Matt Jones, who posted them, along with a photo of a friend in the act, on his Web site on June 24. "Warchalking reminded me of when I was a Boy Scout and we laid twigs in a configuration on the path to direct people to water," the friend, Ben Hammersley, explains. It quickly spread across the Net. Within a week, Jones's site was a top link on popular geek site Slashdot.org, and he was getting e-mails from Baltimore, Seattle, Copenhagen, even Utah, with photo evidence of imitators.
Critics scoff that particularly in rainy cities like Seattle, chalk won't last. And those who discover interlopers can close off their networks. Plus, some Internet service providers, including Time Warner Cable and AT&T (T), are trying to crack down on users who share their connections with the unpaying masses.
Despite such hurdles, there may well be enough people committed to Wi-Fi sharing that more warchalking troops will enlist. A clash between global economists is getting ugly. For years, the International Monetary Fund has listened to former World Bank chief economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz blast its policies in emerging markets.
Now, it's taking the gloves off and landing its own blows. At a June 28 panel in Washington to discuss Stiglitz' new book, Globalization and Its Discontents, a senior IMF official stunned Stiglitz with a caustic counterattack. Calling Stiglitz' own economic prescriptions "at best highly controversial, at worst snake oil," IMF Research Director Kenneth Rogoff asserted Stiglitz made the 1997 Asia crisis worse by publicly challenging IMF policies. Rogoff called slanderous and "outrageous" Stiglitz' remark in the book that former IMF Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer may have landed a plum job at Citigroup as a reward for his handling of debt negotiations.
The IMF posted the attack on its Web site, along with another tongue-lashing by External Relations Director Thomas Dawson. Both are being widely circulated via e-mail.
Stiglitz says he feels ambushed, that he didn't affect the Asia crisis, and that his comments are fair. "It's clear they are trying to get personal and vindictive against me," he says. The IMF says that it has no further comment. The British Open, beginning on July 18, is almost guaranteed to be a TV-ratings smash, thanks to Tiger Woods's pursuit of golf's Grand Slam. "I suspect this will become the biggest story in American sports this summer," says former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson.
Too bad ABC, which is televising it, can't take full advantage and jack up ad rates. Most of the network's ad time was sold months ago at prices lower than it could get now that Woods has gone two-for-two at the Masters and the U.S. Open.
But ABC has found a way to leverage Tigermania. For advertisers seeking what little British Open ad time is left, it's giving priority to those who also buy time on a made-for-TV golf exhibition, the Battle at Bighorn, starring Woods on July 29. Some media buyers aren't keen on the contrived format or the $150,000 price for a 30-second spot on a show that critics panned last year. Still, three weeks in advance, it's nearly sold out. Watch for a food fight between fast-food chains and shareholders over charges of using lettuce and tomatoes picked by underpaid workers.
The shareholders are drafting resolutions to force suppliers to pay higher wages and improve working conditions. "Burger King is first," says Ruth Rosenbaum, a Roman Catholic nun leading the charge, along with Trillium Asset Management and the United Church of Christ (which have a combined $3.6 billion under management). Rosenbaum cites Burger King as one of the largest buyers of produce picked by poorly paid workers. "Issues like this are not going away," she says. A spokesman for Burger King says its suppliers are required to adhere to labor laws and pay minimum wage.
The campaign follows a similar one last fall against Taco Bell's parent, Yum! Brands, formerly Tricon. For the past year, activists have protested against Taco Bell for buying tomatoes picked in Immokalee, Fla. Workers endure rough treatment and are paid as little as 40 cents per 32-pound tomato bucket, says Student-Farmworker Alliance activist Julia Perkins. That's below the minimum wage, the group says. At least six companies employ Immo-kalee pickers. The largest, Six L's Packing, declined comment.
Three universities have banned Taco Bell products over the tomato issue. But Yum says it's not responsible for its suppliers' actions--a claim once made by Nike and other apparel makers in the '90s before being forced to be more accountable by consumer boycotts. "We are not now or ever going to get involved in a labor dispute between third parties," says Yum exec Jonathan Blum.
Yet until pickers' wages improve, worker advocates advise, hold the pickle, hold the lettuce. E-Tailers have long battled the problem of online buyers suddenly turning skittish and abandoning their purchases before clicking through to checkout. Jupiter Media Metrix says that two-thirds of Web shoppers do it.
So a segment of e-tailers has a solution. Online florists, including FlowersUSA.com and JustFlowers.com, entice customers who try to leave before completing purchases with a pop-up discount window. It offers an average of $5 off if they complete their orders immediately. 1-800-Flowers.com (FLWS) recently tested pop-ups and is evaluating the results.
It started two years ago at Flowers USA when CEO Dave Adams noticed 4,000 started-but-not-completed Mother's Day orders. Flowers USA now keeps 15% more customers, and Adams credits pop-ups with adding $660,000 to last year's $13.5 million in sales.
So far, other sites have not copied the move. "This idea is really clever, but I'm not expecting an Amazon or eBay to try it," says Ken Cassar, a senior analyst at Jupiter. Most sites' profit margins are too thin to offer last-minute deals, he says. They're already discounting as much as they can.