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"I have grave concerns about our state's shameful record of convicting innocent people." -- Governor George Ryan of Illinois, saying why he favors a temporary halt to executionsEdited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Are There Second Acts on the Web?

It was a much-ballyhooed team. In 1996, Microsoft united with BET Holdings Chairman Robert Johnson to christen MSBET.com, a site meant to be the No. 1 spot for African Americans. But what started out to be a wide-ranging portal ended up little more than an ad vehicle for Black Entertainment Television's cable shows.

Now, Johnson is out to fix that, relaunching the site in February as BET.com. Buoyed by a $10 million ad campaign and $35 million in venture capital from USA Networks, News Corp., and Liberty Media, as well as Microsoft, BET hopes fresher content and design will reel in viewers. It hopes to record up to 1 million hits monthly to compete with rivals NetNoir.com and BlackVoices.com.

The relaunch has been put off for months, say insiders, as BET.com tinkered with its design and developed health, financial, entertainment, and general news areas.

"There probably are 200 articles a day related to African American issues, and they frequently don't make the first 10 pages of the general-market newspapers," says Stacie Turner, marketing veep. Are people ready for BET.com's new voice? It has spoken before. This time, it hopes people will listen.By Lorraine Woellert; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Korea, Here We Come

American auto makers, who have long railed against closed markets in South Korea, have now joined with their European counterparts to pressure Korea to drop trade barriers. Although Koreans bought 914,707 cars in 1999, only 2,401 of them were European or American. General Motors, for example, sold a mere 68 cars in Korea; Volks-wagen, only 2.

"When we saw these figures, we decided we no longer could be quiet," says Stephen Collins of the U.S. Automotive Trade Policy Council. So the carmakers got together in Brussels in January, warning Korea to open up or they would press the U.S. and the European Union to impose import tariffs on Korean cars.

With a recovering Korean economy growing 10% annually, GM, Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen all want to sell in Korea. A reform-minded government has started to remove some trade barriers, say Korean officials. But the auto companies say Seoul still doesn't actively encourage imports the way the Japanese do. Ultimately, the surest way into the market may be to buy in. Both Ford and GM have been negotiating to purchase the bankrupt Daewoo Motor.By William Echikson; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Online Filing, Absolutely Free

Holy IRS! If everybody eligible takes Intuit up on its offer, more than 55 million taxpayers could get their taxes done for free this year.

In a move to ameliorate computer illiteracy among poor Americans, the maker of personal-finance software is rolling out its Quicken Tax Freedom project, an expansion of a similar program it undertook last year under Chairman William Campbell. Anyone earning less than $20,000 or using the 1040EZ form can file a free online return. Low-income filers have not been a lucrative market for Intuit. Still, since Intuit would normally charge $9.95 to file with Quicken software, it is potentially forfeiting $547 million.

Some poor states are eagerly promoting the freebie. West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood, for instance, will visit poor areas of the state in a "mobile office," promoting Net use and tax filing via Quicken's Web site.

Intuit's plan is the latest in a series of grand philanthropic gestures from techies such as the AOL Foundation, Bill Gates, and Jim Barksdale. Says Campbell: "This is our opportunity to be able to give to people that are less fortunate than ourselves." Intuit, of course, also hopes to earn some goodwill--and some new customers as well.By Roger O. Crockett; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top


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