London In "Iran: The reformers are showing signs of life" (International Outlook, Mar. 25), you wrote that the reform movement in Iran is a struggle between religious mullahs and secular forces. This is not correct. While there are many dissidents who would like to have a secular and liberal democracy in Iran, the aim of most of the reformers is to reform the Islamic system to become better functioning.
Tehran The Clinton years were the best eight years of the 20th century for the U.S. ("A squandered Presidency?" Books, Mar. 25). Reagan presided over eight years of disasters conceived in the White House. Reagan was the only President of the past century who deserved impeachment (over Iran-contras).
As a longtime subscriber, I am not interested in right-wing polemics masquerading as book reviews. Richard Dunham's review of Joe Klein's The Natural was far less informative about the book or the Clinton Presidency than it was about Dunham's (and your?) agenda to trash Clinton.
How can any responsible reviewer in a business publication possibly render a summary of this Presidency without mentioning that it included the longest sustained economic expansion in modern American history? That Clinton stood against every Republican in Congress to raise taxes in 1993, in the process reversing 12 years of Republican deficits? That the Dow Jones industrial average more than tripled during the eight years of this Presidency? Or that Clinton defied his own party to produce a significant reform of welfare?
Palo Alto, Calif. "The reluctant reformer" (People, Mar. 25) focused on punishing corporate executives by forcing them to return ill-gotten gains and by preventing them from serving as company officers or directors.
If we truly want to get executives' attention and prevent financial reporting abuses, the Securities & Exchange Commission must work more closely with federal prosecutors. Our research on approximately 200 financial-statement frauds from 1987 to 1997 indicated that criminal charges were filed in only 15% of the cases, and we found evidence of only 27 individuals serving jail time. Even if SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt's "CEO misbehavior" plan is implemented, it seems that the penalties for fraud still pale in comparison to the enormous damage inflicted on investors, employees, and other stakeholders.
Dana R. Hermanson
Director of Research
Corporate Governance Center
Kennesaw State University
It seems to me that the simplest and most effective way [to strengthen accounting standards] is to empower the SEC to select the firms that will audit and certify the financial records of any company that is allowed to sell stock to the American public.
Under this regulatory scheme, any company that wanted to sell stock could hire any accounting firm to help set up record-keeping systems, prepare actual and pro forma financial statements, and obtain whatever other consulting services were desired.
All of the financial statements prepared by the public corporation and its accounting firm, however, would be subject to review and certification by an independent auditing firm appointed by the SEC. A public corporation would simply have to accept this as the price of admission to the stock market.
Oak Brook, Ill.
The risk that an accounting firm takes on each time it signs off on an audit report is enormous--and it includes the possibility of financial collapse and ruin for the firm. One would think with that sort of risk, the reward must be enormous. Nevertheless, auditing has become a tough way to make a buck if you are a CPA in public practice. If audit fees were commensurate to the risks undertaken by auditors, the audit function would likely be taken much more seriously than it is today.
Michael S. Winslow, CPA
Harvey Pitt is, beyond any doubt, a walking, talking, breathing, genuine off-the-shelf conflict-of-interest example if there ever was one. We know from where he came, and he knows where he is going to return when his stint is over. If his past is any predictor, shareholders had better run for cover.
I found your editorial ("Don't kill Andersen. Reform it," Mar. 25) hollow and meaningless--coming from a beacon in the business community. Andersen, like any other business enterprise, must justify its survival by providing a needed function, and it cannot do this by serving that portion of the business community we want to eliminate. How can you argue for preserving Andersen and not Enron?
Bert E. William
What Arthur Andersen is alleged to have done is far more serious and damaging than the transgressions of Enron.