"The probability of an unwelcome, substantial fall in inflation, though minor, exceeds that of a pickup in inflation." -- Statement from the Federal Reserve You can't send out the repo man to seize a building for back taxes when the property is a foreign consulate. But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying the next best thing. The city is suing Turkey, the Philippines, India, and Mongolia for a total of $100 million in back taxes. The claim: These countries used diplomatic property for purposes that were nondiplomatic, and therefore taxable.
Nobody has ever tried a suit quite like it, says city lawyer Judson Vickers. But then again, few nations have run a commercial restaurant in their consulate -- as did the Philippines, which owes $17.7 million. Filipinos say the eatery was tax-exempt, it closed long ago, and they want to settle.
With some of the taxes going back 25 years, why the rush to collect? Try the New York budget crunch. Says Vickers: "We need to collect as much revenue as possible." And going after back taxes on Manhattan real estate seems more lucrative than leaning on scofflaw diplomats for moldy parking tickets. Just when the Linux operating system is gaining fans in Corporate America, along comes a potential ding to its credibility. On May 2 and again on May 5, someone launched attacks on the Web site of Utah software company SCO Group (SCOX) shutting it down for hours.
Web-site attacks are common. What was different this time was that SCO, owner of patents for the Unix operating system, had sued IBM (IBM) in March, accusing it of sneaking SCO's intellectual property into IBM's Linux. The Linux software is gaining popularity over Unix, though the suit could slow Linux adoption.
The attacks hit hours after IBM filed its response. SCO CEO Darl McBride suspects grudge-bearing Linux devotees were behind the attacks.
Whodunit? The FBI is investigating, but authorities rarely crack such cases. Linux advocates doubt their programmers are behind the attacks. "If it was anybody in the Linux community, it was probably a fringe element," says Jon "Mad Dog" Hall, director of Linux International, a trade group. Still, if there's a rogue band of fanatics out there, that could be a major turnoff to corporate techies who have risked their reputations to back Linux. Some parts of Iraq may still be without power and water, but there's one shortage Iraqis won't have to worry about: lawyers. At least a half-dozen law firms are gearing up to do business in Iraq as the rebuilding gets under way. In recent weeks, top-tier outfits such as Hogan & Hartson and Dorsey & Whitney have established Iraq practices to advise corporate clients on how to navigate the postwar landscape.
Absent a real government and with no rule of law to speak of, early corporate entrants to Iraq will need all the help they can get. Richard Powers, managing partner of Dorsey & Whitney, calls the potential market "sizable." His firm has marshaled some 25 lawyers to advise clients on how to win Iraq-rebuilding contracts, set up shop in Iraq, and in the case of one client, reconnect old ties cut after the first Gulf War. "We want to participate when opportunities present themselves," says Powers.
With rebuilding estimated to cost as much as $20 billion a year for the next 10 years, there should be plenty of opportunity. Even the American Bar Assn. is getting into the act. The association has dispatched a team of lawyers to Baghdad to help the nation establish a court structure and legal system. The bar also will counsel Iraqis on how best to "utilize the expertise of American lawyers," says ABA President Alfred Carlton Jr. The ABA's assistance, at least, is pro bono. Think you've seen every twist in the licensing game? Just wait. With Americans expected to spend a record $31 billion this year indulging pets, powerhouses such as 20th Century Fox (FOX) and Walt Disney (DIS) are racing into an untapped market.
Fox is betting that pet lovers will thrill to see Fido gnawing on a set of hard-rubber false teeth like those of Abe "Grampa" Simpson, the garrulous geezer on The Simpsons. Also available are canvas toys in the shapes of Bart, Homer, Marge, and Krusty the Clown. The items are just hitting Target (TGT), which has a six-month exclusive, and will then roll out to other stores. "We thought it would be a fun area to develop," says Jennifer Robinson, licensing chief at Fox.
Not to be left out, Disney is planning a spring 2004 launch of its first pet line, including items such as personalized-tag makers, leashes, toys, and bowls. A few items are trickling into Target now, based on Mickey Mouse and characters from Winnie the Pooh and The Lion King. What kitty would not want to play with Mickey Mouse? Bob Marley introduced reggae to the world in the 1970s. But in the three decades since, the music genre has never quite caught fire commercially. Until now -- sort of. Dance-hall reggae, a hybrid of reggae and hip-hop, is creating some of the industry's fastest-rising stars and could overshadow the $3 billion hip-hop business as music's Next Big Thing. A Sean Paul single, Get Busy, just bumped out hip-hop newcomer 50 Cent's In Da Club for the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100. Paul, 29, a native of Jamaica, is scheduled to appear on NBC (GE) Saturday Night Live on May 10 along with another dance-hall artist, Wayne Wonder. Paul's album Dutty Rock was released in November and already has sold more than 1 million copies.
In another sign that dance hall is ready to explode, last fall Atlantic Records (AOL) part of AOL Time Warner (AOL) cut a distribution deal with Queens (N.Y.)-based VP Records, the largest reggae label and home to Paul. "We see a lot of crossover star power with these Jamaican artists," says Craig Kallman, Atlantic co-president. Meanwhile, radio is picking up the beat: A quarter of the songs played on Miami's Power 96 are dance hall, compared with zip two years ago. "It's the new sound," says Kid Curry, program director. Howard Hughes built his Spruce Goose airplane there. Steven Spielberg once considered its 1,087 acres for a DreamWorks SKG studio. But for nearly 20 years, Playa Vista has been a battleground for environmentalists out to stop construction on one of the last wetlands in Southern California.
Now, at half its original size and with twice the open space, the Playa Vista development could become a landmark example of new urbanism, a planning philosophy emphasizing eco-friendly design. Playa Vista has townhouses rather than houses with yards. Parking is underground, and bike trails are plentiful. Residents can even tool around in $5,000 electric carts, with the cost included in their mortgages. The first 100 homeowners moved in last month. "It's a high-density development with a lot of attention to the environment," says University of Southern California professor Stuart Gabriel.
Demand for the 5,800 planned homes is strong. Of the first 305 available, all but 43 are spoken for, with prices reaching $900,000. If Angelenos will give up yards and driveways for a more eco-friendly lifestyle, can the rest of the country be far behind?