"I have a jaded view of these transactions." -- Andersen partner Carl Bass, in e-mail last year to a superior in Chicago, protesting Enron's off-balance-sheet partnerships When inventor Dean Kamen unveiled his new human-transport machine in December, he predicted it would change the world. Well, change is on the way. Most states had laws banning motorized devices from sidewalks. But now, thanks to some high-powered arm-twisting by Kamen's company, Segway, state legislators are rushing to loosen sidewalk laws across the country.
The top-down lobbying campaign is extraordinary: Segway has already persuaded 13 states to rewrite sidewalk laws to permit "self-balancing" devices with "two non-tandem wheels" to zip along at up to 12 mph. New Jersey, New Mexico, and North Carolina were among the first. Five more governors are poised to sign Segway-friendly bills into law, and similar measures are gliding effortlessly so far through 18 other statehouses. That's 36 down; 14 to go.
Matt Dailida, government affairs manager at Segway's headquarters in Manchester, N.H., says he recruited top lobbyists in each state but the device is selling itself. "It's unique, and it deserves its own regulatory framework," he says. Without the law change, the scooters would have little public appeal when they hit the market later this year. Pedestrian advocate groups say they've been able to do little to resist. What's with the red shoes? NBA players sport them on the courts. Sarah Jessica Parker wore them to the recent VH1 Music Awards. Jeremy Irons showed up in them on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Annika S?renstam won the first major LPGA tournament of the season in them. And, heck, we're spotting half a dozen people a day walking around Manhattan with red shoes on. The question, though, is: Why?
Well, for one, there seems to be a desire to brighten our wardrobes in grim economic times. Nike is using red to accentuate the heel of its new Shox athletic shoe, and Prada's casuals have a red stripe running up the heel. It's not just shoes: Purses by Coach, Kate Spade, and some London designers this spring also sport red patterns.
"There's a lot of black and white and classic simplicity" in the spring fashion template, says Tom Julian, trend analyst for Fallon Worldwide, "so the red plays off very well in that." Last year, Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai relocated to Taiwan to escape the increasing political heat since the Chinese government took over Hong Kong in 1997.
But as it turns out, he ended up jumping from one roiling cauldron into another. Taiwan authorities recently raided Lai's offices in Taipei, confiscated 160,000 copies of his magazine, Taiwan Next, arrested a reporter, and charged him with treason, which carries the death penalty. The reporter had written about an alleged $100 million political slush fund used to promote Taiwan's diplomatic image abroad. Authorities said the article threatened national security.
When Lai moved to Taipei, he had proclaimed that the future of Chinese democracy was in Taiwan. Now, the unflappable Lai shrugs off the events as a mere "transitional adjustment" on the bumpy road to democracy. Indeed, Lai quickly turned to another printer and cranked up the print run to 320,000 copies--an all-time high--which he says nearly sold out, after authorities failed to get an injunction to prohibit the magazine's sale. "The fact that we were able to distribute and sell a record number of copies proves that the system works," he says. And he's pushing ahead with plans for a daily Taiwan newspaper at the end of this year. After all, says Lai, "this is the democratization process." Smokers have been banned from lighting up on airplanes, at work, and in restaurants. Now, a nicotine habit could cost a smoker a job. As of Mar. 25, St. Cloud, Fla., (pop. 19,000), requires applicants for city jobs to swear they've been tobacco-free for a year. New hires can't smoke or dip and can be tested to make sure they're not cheating. (Current employees are exempt.)
Other Florida cities have similar laws, but none go as far: North Miami bans smokers from applying for city jobs, too, but relents after they're hired; Coral Gables won't let smokers be cops.
Boosters say the restrictions mean fewer lost workdays, higher productivity, and lower health-insurance costs. Eric Nieves, St. Cloud's human-resources director, says 6% to 12% of the $1.3 million the city spends on health insurance is tobacco-related.
But civil-rights advocates say saving money is not worth the loss of privacy. Smoking is a health risk, "but so is high blood pressure and cholesterol," says Angie Brooks of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is considering whether to file suit. "It's a very slippery slope."
And some say the law will make hiring harder. Says public works director Bob MacKichan: "I could have the most qualified person there is, but now I don't even get to see the application." Ever eat a thin mint, peanut butter Do-si-do, or a shortbread Trefoil and wonder where Girl Scout cookies come from? The answer: From three giant bakeries that keep cookie sales going year-round in the U.S. Combined, they make 2.4 billion cookies annually, or 200 million boxes.
ABC Bakers, part of Interbake Foods in Richmond, Va., is the biggest of the trio, baking about 40% of last year's batch. Consolidated Biscuit in Michigan City, Ind., and Little Brownie Bakers in Louisville--a Keebler subsidiary--made the rest.
The job goes beyond just stirring the batter. The bakers test new recipes and keep baking what sells well. A dozen variations are available, but year in, year out, Thin Mints top the popularity list.
The bakeries, which work on contract, keep up to a third of the $2.50 to $3.50 price of a box. The rest--some $300 million a year--goes to local troops. Good money, yet cookie sales typically meet less than half a troop's annual needs, points out Marsha Johnson Evans, national executive director of the 2.7 million member Girl Scouts of the USA. For the rest of the dough, she says, the troops look to corporate and individual donations. Italians are famous for their mobile-phone addiction: More than 80% of them own at least one. But an aversion to e-mail may be just as profound, much to the chagrin of Lucio Stanca, the former head of IBM's European operations. As Italy's new technology minister, Stanca must automate as many government procedures as possible. Yet he's having trouble just getting his colleagues to log on. His first report recommends the government adopt across-the-board Internet communication by the end of 2003. But it was sent to government offices only by snail mail because Stanca says that, from what he can tell, "no one opens their e-mail" in Italy.
Maybe Stanca could learn a few tricks from Telecom Italia Chief Executive Marco Tronchetti Provera, who was looking to gather his telecom managers for a Mar. 6 meeting. Rather than bother with e-mail, Provera sent 2,000 short text messages to their cell phones. The result: record turnout. Perhaps Stanca should learn to make his reports shorter.