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CB Richard Ellis' Downtown Development Group
Business Law Info | 2007/04/02 17:54

Is downtown Los Angeles finally headed towards the likes of New York or Chicago's bustling and vibrant urban environments?  With the recent boom of construction and real estate development going on, it appears that downtown LA will once again be a popular destination for Angelinos.

The real hints that the neighborhood is changing come in more subtle forms — such as the tours Derrick Moore has been giving around downtown recently. Moore, a senior associate in CB Richard Ellis' Urban Development Group, has been helping representatives from national chain stores such as Walgreen's and the Outback Steakhouse group — who have long shied away from downtown — search for properties in the area. He has wined and dined potential retailers at local hotspots — and found their reaction a distinct shift from even a few months ago, when most took a wait-and-see attitude toward the neighborhood.

Residents have moved in, with the population now at 30,000. Some of downtown's long-anticipated, large-scale projects — including a supermarket and a movie theater — are only months from opening. Questions about downtown's future have heightened with the recent cooling of Southern California's real estate market. But downtown so far doesn't appear to be suffering much, and there are growing signs that retail is actually strengthening.

"First and foremost," Moore said, "we have to figure out the parking issue in downtown. We have to make parking easy for all the folks we are expecting to attract … for a reasonable amount of money."

One key test for downtown will be the role that parking plays in its evolution. Several observers said it is hard to find inexpensive, easy parking in the district — and that could harm the push for an active street life in downtown.

One thing that the area is lacking is a grocery store.  People don't want to live somewhere where they have to drive for 30 minutes to the closest supermarket. After over 30 years without one, the arrival of Ralphs — which started downtown at 6th and Spring in the late 1800s but abandoned the district in 1950 — is seen by many as a sign that the district's fortunes have returned.

"I think that the Ralphs opening is going to be the adhesive to hold it all together," Moore said of the retail renaissance. "That's what's missing."



Apple unveils DRM free music on Itunes
Business Law Info | 2007/04/02 15:50

CUPERTINO, California--Apple® today announced that EMI Music’s entire digital catalog of music will be available for purchase DRM-free (without digital rights management) from the iTunes® Store (www.itunes.com) worldwide in May. DRM-free tracks from EMI will be offered at higher quality 256 kbps AAC encoding, resulting in audio quality indistinguishable from the original recording, for just $1.29 per song. In addition, iTunes customers will be able to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free versions for just 30 cents a song. iTunes will continue to offer its entire catalog, currently over five million songs, in the same versions as today--128 kbps AAC encoding with DRM--at the same price of 99 cents per song, alongside DRM-free higher quality versions when available.

“We are going to give iTunes customers a choice--the current versions of our songs for the same 99 cent price, or new DRM-free versions of the same songs with even higher audio quality and the security of interoperability for just 30 cents more,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We think our customers are going to love this, and we expect to offer more than half of the songs on iTunes in DRM-free versions by the end of this year.”

“EMI and iTunes are once again teaming up to move the digital music industry forward by giving music fans higher quality audio that is virtually indistinguishable from the original recordings, with no usage restrictions on the music they love from their favorite artists,” said Eric Nicoli, CEO of EMI Group.

With DRM-free music from the EMI catalog, iTunes customers will have the ability to download tracks from their favorite EMI artists without any usage restrictions that limit the types of devices or number of computers that purchased songs can be played on. DRM-free songs purchased from the iTunes Store will be encoded in AAC at 256 kbps, twice the current bit rate of 128 kbps, and will play on all iPods, Mac® or Windows computers, Apple TVs and soon iPhones, as well as many other digital music players.

iTunes will also offer customers a simple, one-click option to easily upgrade their entire library of all previously purchased EMI content to the higher quality DRM-free format for 30 cents a song. All EMI music videos will also be available in DRM-free format with no change in price.

The iTunes Store features the world’s largest catalog with over five million songs, 350 television shows and over 400 movies. The iTunes Store has sold over two billion songs, 50 million TV shows and over 1.3 million movies, making it the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store.

With Apple’s legendary ease of use, pioneering features such as integrated podcasting support, iMix playlist sharing, seamless integration with iPod® and the ability to turn previously purchased songs into completed albums at a reduced price, the iTunes Store is the best way for PC and Mac users to legally discover, purchase and download music and video online.

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and will enter the mobile phone market this year with its revolutionary iPhone.



AT&T, Verizon win government telecom contract
Business Law Info | 2007/03/29 20:57

The U.S. General Services Administration cast Sprint Nextel Corp. <S.N> aside and picked AT&T Inc. <T.N>, Qwest Communications International Inc. <Q.N> and Verizon Communications <VZ.N> on Thursday for the largest-ever federal telecommunications contract.

Government agencies are expected to spend at least $20 billion on the contract over 10 years, the GSA estimates -- a move that will overhaul the government's telecommunications services.

Under terms of the GSA contract, called Networx Universal, agency spending could be increased to as much as $48 billion.

The announcement comes after weeks of anticipation and years of preparation. The four companies have spent millions of dollars preparing bids and called on thousands of their employees to develop proposals and hammer out the details.

The failure to include Sprint is seen as a huge upset as it has provided telecommunication services to U.S. government agencies for 18 years.

"Sprint is disappointed not to receive a portion of the Networx Universal contract," it said in a statement. "The Sprint team spent significant time and energy on the program and has made large investments to meet the diverse requirements of the agencies."

The company said it will request a meeting with GSA next week and will decide whether to "protest or not" after that.

JOCKEYING FOR CONTRACTS MOVES TO SECOND STAGE

Even though Sprint is out of the picture, the three winning companies will still have to compete for individual contracts within the government agencies.

The companies agreement with the GSA would allow them to sell phone and Internet services to as many as 135 federal agencies, such as the treasury and defense departments.

"It's a big win for Qwest," said the company's senior vice president Diana Gowen, while AT&T senior vice president Don Herring said his company could not be happier that it won.

Both said it was too early to say how the contract would impact overall revenue and earnings except to acknowledge that Networx Universal is a very large contract.

"We will get our fair share of the 20 billion, or 40 billion, it's all about your creativity," Gowen said.

It is not mandatory for the agencies to use a company the GSA has chosen, but there are benefits to be had, such as a common billing platform.

The Networx Universal contract is one of two that comprise the Networx program. Companies bidding on Networx Universal had to demonstrate that they could provide 36 mandatory services, such as private phone lines and secure e-mail.

The second, called Networx Enterprise, is expected to be awarded in May 2007 and required companies to show they could provide nine mandatory services. Projected spending on Enterprise is estimated at $20.1 billion.

The complete Networx contract is the third in a series of telecommunications procurement programs developed by GSA that are designed to leverage the buying power of the federal government and save U.S. taxpayers money.



Data Theft Believed to Be Biggest Hack
Business Law Info | 2007/03/29 19:10

A hacker or hackers stole data from at least 45.7 million credit and debit cards of shoppers at off-price retailers including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls in a case believed to be the largest such breach of consumer information.

For the first time since disclosing the theft more than two months ago, the parent company of nearly 2,500 discount stores put a number on how much card data was compromised _ and it's a number TJX Cos. acknowledges could go still higher.

Experts say TJX's disclosures in a regulatory filing late Wednesday revealed security holes that persist at many firms entrusted with consumer data: failure to promptly delete data on customer transactions, and to guard secrets about how such data is protected through encryption.

"It's not clear when information was deleted, it's not clear who had access to what, and it's not clear whether the data kept in all these files was encrypted, so it's very hard to know how big this was," said Deepak Taneja, chief executive of Aveksa, a Waltham, Mass.-based firm that advises companies on information security.

The case has led banks to reissue cards to customers as a precaution against further fraud beyond cases detected as far away as Sweden and Hong Kong, according to the Massachussets Bankers Association, which is tracking fraud reports linked to Framingham, Mass.-based TJX, parent company of stores across North America and the United Kingdom.

The only arrests believed tied to the case involve a gift card scam in which 10 people are suspected of buying data from the TJX hackers to purchase Wal-Mart gift cards in northern Florida. The group _ who aren't believed to have committed the TJX hack _ then used the cards to buy $1 million worth of electronics and jewelry at Wal-Mart's Sam's Club stores, according to Gainesville, Fla., police.

Information from 45.7 million cards was stolen from transactions beginning in January 2003 and ending Nov. 23 of that year, TJX said in the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission after business hours Wednesday. TJX did not estimate the number of cards from which information was stolen for transactions occurring from Nov. 24, 2003, to June 28, 2004.

TJX said about three-quarters of the 45.7 million cards had either expired at the time of the theft, or the stolen information didn't include security code data from the cards' magnetic stripes. Starting in September 2003, TJX began masking the codes by storing them in computers as asterisks rather than numbers, the company said.

The filing also said another 455,000 customers who returned merchandise without receipts had their data stolen, including driver's license numbers.

With at least 46 million consumer records accessed, the TJX case outranks the previous largest case tracked by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: a June 2005 disclosure by credit card processor CardSystems that hackers accessed accounts of 40 million card holders.



Investors Continue to Challenge Dean Food
Business Law Info | 2007/03/26 17:18

Socially concerned investors for the second year in a row have filed a shareholder proposal asking Dean Foods Co. (NYSE: DF) to report to shareholders how it is responding to widespread concern that industrial-scale organic dairies, supplying milk for its Horizon Organic brand, violate consumer trust, seriously jeopardizing share value.

The shareholder proposal is a by-product of a seven-year debate in the organic industry over the introduction of large-scale factory-farms, milking as many as 2,000-10,000 cows each. It is the contention of a growing number of public interest, environmental, and farming groups that some of these farms are violating current USDA regulations by labeling their products as organic.

In 2005 and 2006, The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy group, filed formal complaints with the USDA against a number of industrial dairies, including allegations that these mega-farms, mostly in the arid West, were violating the law by confining their cattle to feedlots and sheds rather than grazing as the federal organic regulations require. The dairy farms in question include two owned by Dean Foods in Idaho and Maryland and another California farm shipping milk for distribution under Dean’s Horizon Organic label. Because of inaction by the USDA the Institute is now preparing to seek court intervention in order to compel the agency to investigate the alleged improprieties.

“When consumers pay a premium for organic milk, they generally have the expectation that cows have access to pasture and gain a sizable percentage of their nutrients from grass,” said Steven Heim, director of social research with Boston Common Asset Management, lead investor-sponsor of the resolution representing institutional shareholders in the resolution process. “Besides complying with the law itself, we question whether Dean’s procurement of milk from factory-farms violates consumer trust and jeopardizes the value of its organic brands,” Heim added. Dean Foods, the nation’s largest milk processor, also became the largest U.S. marketer of organic dairy products when it acquired the Horizon Organic, Alta Dena, and Organic Cow of Vermont brands.

In June 2006 Heim and Mark Kastel, The Cornucopia Institute’s senior farm policy analyst, toured Dean’s Idaho farm at Dean’s invitation. “Although the company is making a $10 million investment in additional facilities in the desert-like conditions, and is attempting to paint their facility ‘green’, serious questions remain as to the legitimacy of milking thousands of cows in these conditions,” Kastel said.

The shareholder proposal asks an independent committee of Dean’s board to review Dean’s policies and procedures for its organic dairy products, and report to shareholders on their adequacy to protect Dean’s organic dairy brands and its reputation with organic food consumers. The investor groups also want to know how the company intends to respond to increasing consumer and media criticism.

“Even though the proposal is only asking the company, currently engaged in a nationwide advertising campaign touting the greenness of their organic milk business, to report to shareholders concerning this controversy, Dean has opted to ‘lawyer-up’ and aggressively fight the proposal at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission” (SEC), added Sister Linda Hayes of the Springfield Dominicans, an investor-sponsor of the resolution. “This is not the kind of transparency that consumers have expected in the organic food industry.”

Unfortunately, it appears that their PR campaign has so far backfired. An active boycott by the 700,000-member Organic Consumers Association has resulted in scores of natural foods retailers around the country dropping all or part of the Horizon Organic product line.

The negative press has already led to a growing legion of loyal organic consumers looking for alternative brands. “It is very unfortunate that instead of addressing the central concerns articulated in this shareholder proposal, that the company has instead decided to invest its resources in legal maneuvers to prevent its investors from voting on this resolution,” said Daniel Stranahan of the Needmor Fund, another investor-sponsor of the proposal.

Stranahan likewise mentioned the issue of transparency. “We are concerned that Dean Foods’ lack of transparency to its shareholders betrays a similar attitude toward its core consumers.” He added, “Factory farms are antithetical to the concept of organic farming, which supports family-scale production with sound environmental policies.”

Dean Foods appeal to the SEC for the authority to prevent its shareholders from voting on the proposal may prove successful. It appears that government regulators are likely to side with the $10 billion corporation.

Dean Foods’ primary business has been somewhat stagnant in recent years, so it has been touting its investments in the organic milk labels and the country’s leading soy milk brand, Silk, as vehicles to make its stock more attractive on Wall Street.



Recall of pet food hits close to home
Business Law Info | 2007/03/19 09:10

More than 60 million cans of dog and cat food sold under dozens of brand names were recalled on Saturday after being linked to the deaths of 10 animals.

The food was manufactured by Menu Foods, of Streetsville, Ontario, which makes wet food sold as store brands for companies like Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway.

The company also makes food on behalf of many brand-name pet food makers. Menu Foods said it had recalled some food made for the Iams unit of Procter & Gamble. Two other pet food companies — Nestle Purina PetCare and Hills Pet Nutrition, the unit of Colgate-Palmolive that makes the Science Diet brand — recalled some of their products that were made by Menu Foods.

Menu Foods is recalling only certain gravy-style pet food in cans and pouches it made from Dec. 3 to March 6.

The company said in a statement that tests of its food had “failed to identify any issues with the products in question.” But it did associate the timing of the reported deaths with its use of a new supplier for wheat gluten, a source of protein. Sarah Tuite, a spokeswoman for Menu Foods, declined to name the supplier.



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