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Readers Report

Voices on the Net: It's Not Just Talk

I hope every telecom executive in America reads ''The talking Internet'' (Special Report, May 1). This is an important article that explains why voice over Internet is now a business reality. As an early adopter of this technology--my wife has used PC-to-PC voice-over-Net to talk with her parents in Europe for two years--I know the bandwidth exists.

My company added Net2Phone Inc.'s ''Click2Talk'' tool to our e-health Web site last year, without one change to our call-center hardware. Although it takes greater sophistication than just dialing our 800 number, our users can now view online health-care information while talking with a doctor over a single dial-up home Internet connection. As John T. Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems Inc., says: ''It's not the big that beat the small, but the fast that beat the slow.''

John Walker
Boulder, Colo.

Manufacturers Are Not Dinosaurs

While we appreciate being highlighted as ''an established player,'' the National Association of Manufacturers rejects the notion that we represent what you term ''the Industrial Age'' (Tech: The virtual third party,'' Government, Apr. 24). On the contrary, today's manufacturers are on the leading edge of the high-tech revolution and are responsible for nearly 60% of the research and development in the U.S.

Manufacturers are implementing the fruits of this commitment each day on the factory floor. According to a recent survey, 84% of manufacturers use computer-aided design in the development of their products; three out of five are using just-in-time inventory controls.

The result is substantially higher, noninflationary productivity. From 1996 through 1999, manufacturing productivity growth was double productivity growth in the business sector in general, reaching an astonishing 6% last year. Put simply, technology is creating a new economy, and manufacturing is driving the technology boom.

Jerry J. Jasinowski
National Association of Manufacturers

Don't Make Craig Winn the Fall Man for Value America

''The fall of a dot-com'' (Cover Story, May. 1) tries to place the blame for the imminent demise of Internet retailer Value America Inc. squarely on the shoulders of its founder, Craig Winn, portraying him alternately as a silver-tongued super salesman, a meddling and avaricious flim-flam man, and a financial loose cannon. This characterization may make a nice story line. Too bad it's so far from the truth.

I am in a position to know. I was there four years ago when Craig Winn dusted off a business plan he had written some 20 years earlier describing the future of retailing--a world where better information, not merely lower price, drove sales; a world where the inherent inefficiencies of brick-and-mortar stores could be reduced or eliminated, making it possible to sell better products for less money; a world where a significant percentage of every sale could be donated to a worthy charity of the shopper's choice. It was a stunning concept, and I felt privileged to design the original logo, graphics, and marketing materials.

If there was any man on earth capable of pulling off this difficult feat, it was Craig Winn. He knew sales. He knew manufacturing. And for a nontechnologist, he had a remarkably good handle on how the emerging technology worked. Over the next three years, I watched us grow from three people to more than 600. But by the time there were 150 or 200 of us, something had changed. More and more employees neither shared nor cared about Craig Winn's vision. Executives and managers were hired who had their own agendas and methods. Quantity became more important than quality; speed more important than effectiveness. We started bringing in product lines that didn't make sense for our business model.

But was it Craig Winn's fault? Without his vision, enthusiasm, and hard work, there would have been no Value America. I still think Value America was a wonderful concept. It should have worked. But don't blame Craig Winn for its failure. It's not his fault. It's mine--along with 600 or so of my Value America co-workers. He did not fail us; we failed him, in failing to execute his grand and worthy vision. Sorry, Craig.

Kenneth R. Power
Former Creative Director
Value America Inc.
Charlottesville, Va.

Don't Ask the Rich What Poor Nations Want

''What developing countries want'' (Editorials, May 1) points out that the delegates of the Group of 24 developing nations are strong supporters of market access and increases in International Monetary Fund and World Bank lending. But you mistakenly assume that the delegates of the G24--who are all part of the wealthy elite in oppressive nondemocratic nations--speak for the working poor in their countries.

During the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, I met with a trade minister from an ''Asian tiger'' nation. He told me that his government would never accept international labor standards. When I asked him if he knew the opinion of his nation's trade unions (which are repressed in his and most other developing nations), he replied testily: ''They would probably want labor standards.''

In democratic nations like ours, few corporate leaders support labor standards. In many of the developing nations, corporate and government leaders are one and the same. How does it make sense to interpret the opinions of the G24 delegates as the will of the people, when they are in line with the governments that allow labor abuses to continue?

Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
International Relations Committee
House of Representatives

Can't Stop the Globalization

While the protesters seem well organized in terms of tactics, there doesn't appear to be much cohesion in what they're trying to say--or even what they're protesting against (''Backlash: Behind the anxiety over globalization,'' Cover Story, Apr. 24). To rant against globalization, as a whole, seems irrational. That genie is out of the bottle, and there's no more chance of putting it back than there was of stopping the Industrial Revolution. To fight against the expansion of the global economy is to deny such obvious advancements as peace through interdependent trade and the rise in the global standard of living.

As we move forward into our new global economy, the IMF and World Bank will carry more responsibility and power. I applaud the protesters for their efforts to focus attention on the urgent need for scrutiny and reform among these organizations. It is now the job of these groups, the public, and the media to bring to light the issues involved.

Gerard M. Leo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Suppose I move at the next meeting of condominium owners that we ''globalize'' our building by knocking out the walls between apartments and hire an outside firm to set and enforce rules for the free movement of money, goods, and people throughout the building. I am sure I could not find a majority to pass it. The loss of privacy would far outweigh any economic advantages.

The same principle applies to nations: Breaking down too many trade barriers and empowering multilateral organizations like the WTO vitiates sovereignty, the national equivalent of household privacy. It seems that those multilateral institutions are turning inclusiveness into intrusiveness in the name of global free trade. If total protectionism is one extreme in the economic spectrum, global free trade is surely the other. The comfort zone for most nations is somewhere in between. It should be up to elected national governments to decide exactly where.

Joseph Z. Bako

The Fine Points of Online Voting

''Click and be counted'' (Technology & You, Apr. 24) highlights the importance of ensuring security and equal access in online elections. The right of every citizen in this country to cast a secure vote lies at the heart of our democracy and must be protected at all costs. Unfortunately, author Stephen H. Wildstrom neglected a number of points:

-- Every online voter in Arizona was required to answer some random personal authentication questions to prevent the misuse of lost or stolen cards.

-- To ensure anonymity, each vote was encrypted multiple times in the voter's browser prior to being transmitted. The encryption keys were held by a trusted third party and decoded only after the polls closed and each vote had been stripped of the voter's identity.

-- To guarantee security, the election was hosted on redundant, multiple servers at confidential locations and supported by intrusion-detection systems and advanced firewall technology.

-- To ensure that online voting made the election process more inclusive, the Arizona Democratic Party and increased the number of polling stations, identified early remote Internet polling locations in minority communities, provided multilingual on-site instructional boards, and distributed a ''vote by mail'' application to all voters.

While Arizona as a whole had a 600% increase in voter participation, turnout in a number of largely Hispanic communities increased by even more.

Joe Mohen
Chief Executive Officer Inc.
Garden City, N.Y.

To Fill the High-Tech Gap, Retrain U.S. Workers

The Information Technology Assn. of America has said there will be a shortfall of 850,000 skilled workers in the next 12 months (''Keeping the hive humming,'' News: Analysis & Commentary, Apr. 24). The article also said that H-1B visas for high-tech workers would be necessary to fill some of those positions.

There are thousands of info-tech professionals who have been out of a job for a long time because their skills are outdated and companies aren't willing to train them in new technology. Training experienced professionals would result in greater productivity and a better return on investment than importing foreign workers.

Robert Gonzalez

A Stock Grant Is Not a Gift

In ''As long as you're up, get me a restricted-stock grant'' (News: Analysis & Commentary, Apr. 3) you twice use the word ''gift'' to describe the award of restricted shares to executives. A board of directors may or may not be exercising good judgment in making such an award to an executive, but in no event does the award amount to a gift--that is, a disinterested act of generosity such as the donation of money to a public charity. Any board that transfers corporate property to an executive without expecting to receive commensurate value (in the services to be performed) would be in breach of its fiduciary duty.

Kenneth R. Schmeichel

''April Is the Cruellest Month, Breeding Lilacs...''

Business Week has to be the only business magazine in the world with writers (Jeffrey M. Laderman and Marcia Vickers) who quote T.S. Eliot (''What's the best way to hang on?'' News: Analysis & Commentary, May 1).


Richard N. Morgan

''Breaks for high tech: Pork is pork'' (Government, Apr. 24, 2000)

''Breaks for high tech: Pork is pork'' (Government, Apr. 24) should have said that President Clinton proposes tax breaks that would cost taxpayers $2 billion, not $10 billion, over 10 years.

''Loosening Palm's grip'' (Technology & You, May 1, 2000)

''Loosening Palm's grip'' (Technology & You, May 1) incorrectly stated that the Microsoft Windows Media Player in the new Pocket PCs does not play MP3 music. It can play both MP3 and Windows Media formats.

''What guards a smoker's lungs'' (Developments to Watch, Apr. 17, 2000)

In ''What guards a smoker's lungs'' (Developments to Watch, Apr. 17), a name was misstated. Philip Lazarus of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa led the research team.

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Voices on the Net: It's Not Just Talk

Manufacturers Are Not Dinosaurs

Don't Make Craig Winn the Fall Man for Value America

Don't Ask the Rich What Poor Nations Want

Can't Stop the Globalization

The Fine Points of Online Voting

To Fill the High-Tech Gap, Retrain U.S. Workers

A Stock Grant Is Not a Gift

''April Is the Cruellest Month, Breeding Lilacs...''

''Breaks for high tech: Pork is pork'' (Government, Apr. 24, 2000)

''Loosening Palm's grip'' (Technology & You, May 1, 2000)

''What guards a smoker's lungs'' (Developments to Watch, Apr. 17, 2000)

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