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Vladimir Putin has a good reform record and deserves continued Western support ("Putin's Russia," Cover Story, Nov. 12). One of the biggest challenges remaining before him, however, is reform of the legal system. Commercial laws designed to hold business partners to their promises are essential to sustained foreign investment. Putin has repeatedly pledged sweeping reform of Russia's corrupt and complex judicial system but has not delivered.
Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, whose office is often accused of stalling, recently recommended against speedy reform of the legal system. Regional leaders still take advantage of the courts' irregular budgeting to "buy" particular judges or courts.
Companies having tax disputes with local authorities may take some comfort in the fact that, under the new criminal-procedure code, a court order is needed to arrest foreign executives. Up until now, prosecutors could decide the fate of the unsuspecting business traveler. Let us hope Putin can deliver more than that.
A caption accompanying the photograph of graduate student Andrei Isserov reads: "Student Isserov doesn't want Russia to become a U.S. clone." I would like to remind the young Isserov that Slovakia (a part of the former Czechoslovakia) was "liberated" by the Red Army in 1945 and was later occupied by the same army in 1968, suppressing our effort to become a free and democratic country. Should Russia not help us to recover from this suppression, which lasted for 43 years?
Student Isserov should read a lot of history books: He will see that it is better to be a U.S. clone than a Russian (Soviet) one. The biggest problem is that Russia expects help from everyone outside Russia and doesn't see that change must come from within.
I am surprised that neither the Bush Administration nor BusinessWeek has suggested cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in developing a missile defense system. Russia has relevant capabilities and technologies, and we share a common threat.
What's the problem--politics?
Grass Valley, Calif. I'm sick of hearing fears of what might be lost with new surveillance proposals--when we know what already has been lost without them ("Privacy in an age of terror," Cover Story, Nov. 5). The American system is resilient enough to adapt to and prevent any costs we may face. Put down your doomsaying sci-fi books, and stick to what we know. Implement these measures now.
Lorraine Woellert and Paul Magnusson base their commentaries on a basic fallacy: the assumption that the ID card needs to contain any information at all ("National IDs won't work" and "Yes, they certainly will," Cover Story, Nov. 5). Let us assume a card that contains only the person's ID number, with a secret code consisting of n-digits for positive identification of the individual. In the ID card reader is a microchip that describes the information accessible to this reader. The information itself is carried in a central database. The card is inserted into the card reader. The ID number and the reader identification are transmitted to the central database, and the legally accessible information is transmitted back to the reader. Simple. Practical. Low-cost.
Harry Y. Snyder
Redlands, Calif. The war against terrorism can be compared to the cold war: competing ideologies, not easily defined; enemies within and outside the U.S.; domino theory; and containment strategy ("A burst of friendly fire," News: Analysis & Commentary, Nov. 12). Considering it took nearly 50 years for the postwar world to get rid of the communist ideological appeal and expansion threat, we must do all we can to speed up the process of restoring a stable order for the Islamic world and eliminate its terrorist component and threat.
The war against terrorism, however, cannot be won on military terms only.
The mind and soul of the Islamic world must be won over. We managed to sell the world on Coca-Cola and Marlboro. Surely we can sell them on the value of freedom, democracy, human rights (especially for women), and education. Instead of funneling billions of dollars toward the weapons industry, we could take a portion of that money to Madison Avenue for a worldwide promotion of all the values we stand for.
Paris While trial lawyers hide behind consumers and talk about how the airlines and the federal government should be sued so victims can be compensated, they're also making sure their own interests are being looked after ("September 11: Here come the trial lawyers," Government, Nov. 12). Why else would they work so hard to make sure a provision was eliminated from the airline-bailout bill--that would have limited their fees to 25% of any award?
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse
I was disgusted by the comment of New York lawyer Lee S. Kreindler, Why wouldn't we sue? he asks. "This is our livelihood." Following the attacks, for the first time in my 33 years, I felt as though the U.S. were truly "one nation, under God"--regardless of people's race, gender, or religious belief. Yet now there are people who want to profit from this tragedy. Litigation will not bring back the victims, but it could further weaken our economy and cause more negative repercussions throughout the nation, which is exactly what the terrorists wanted in the first place.
How ludicrous that a terrorist event would bring out the scavengers. The lawyers would have us believe they are the only ones who can bring "fair" settlements into play. Let us hope that reforms occur before the lives so horribly lost on September 11 are diminished by the petty words of attorneys.
Avila Beach, Calif. As a former employee of American Express Co., I would say this of Kenneth I. Chenault: As a leader, he is without parallel. He can inspire the ranks to do their best ("Tough times for a new CEO," Cover Story, Oct. 29). Nevertheless, some AmEx shortcomings stand out: slow product development, plain-vanilla offerings, a card-centric mindset, and less-than-optimal customer service. Anyway, we all hope Ken Chenault can turn AmEx around.
Princeton, N.J. Based upon nonsensical media coverage of a few hedge funds that made high-risk/high-reward investments and came out behind (although BusinessWeek has been more evenhanded than most), those of us in the industry have had to take on a bunker mentality, using little or no leverage and sticking to vanilla stocks and bonds ("Why those hedge funds are getting trimmed," Finance, Oct. 29). While we will no doubt continue to crush mutual funds (after all fees), a return to mind-boggling returns will require a wholesale attitude adjustment by many in the media.
Benjamin W. Shoval
New York City