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Japan's Small Businesses Are Struggling

Re "Is Japan back?" (International Cover Story, June 14): I'm a director at a local business group for small and midsize companies. Some of our members are indeed benefiting from the growing economy, but most have no -- or little at most -- feel for current business growth. As you correctly point out, only a few industries are contributing to Japan Inc.

Unless our members are in one of those industries, we are still in trouble. We are struggling to maintain our volume or even to stay in business. I'm in a rather good position in the group, but it's still difficult for me to maintain sales. Moreover, the strong industries don't contribute equally in terms of regions. For instance, Toyota Motor Corp. contributes to automobile-related businesses in Nagoya. But it doesn't contribute at all to a retail curtain shop in Osaka.

I believe there has been a change in how large corporations share their profits. In the past, they shared a part of them with smaller businesses. To reduce costs and improve efficiency, they aren't as willing to share any more. As a result, their strong sales don't create positive repercussions as in the past. In summary, we small and midsize companies are still going through restructuring.

Yungho Pok

Osaka, Japan

While the June 7 issue of BusinessWeek ("Stars of Europe," European Edition Cover Story) paid rich tribute to Europe's no-nonsense achievers in various fields, the issue totally ignored the Scandinavian and Greek shipping industries, which together lead the ownership of the world's shipping, bringing remarkable economic benefits to the Continent in an upbeat global-shipping market.

Frontline, Torm, and others brought quality to an industry that otherwise creates headlines only when a vessel sinks and marine pollution results. The European shipping industry has spearheaded the movement to reduce marine pollution and improve safety at sea, and the vessel owners of Europe have responded positively. The average age of vessels in Europe is one of the lowest in the world.

One of the major concerns faced by the shipping industry today is an acute shortage of seafarers. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) predicts a shortage of 46,000 officers by 2010. Blatant nonrecognition of shipping achievements in international business can only aggravate situations like this. One or two vessel owners or top-ranking managers from Europe could easily have made the list.

Shehariyar Backer

Chartering Manager

Bakri Navigation Company

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

In "Democracy in America: Does a vote really matter?" (Special Report, June 14), I fail to understand the authors' optimism about fixing the U.S.'s outrageously undemocratic political system (gerrymandering, balkanization, campaign finance, etc.). As they point out, those in a position to do something (Congress) would never fix a system they have so carefully crafted to protect themselves against opponents. The national interest doesn't matter. Since we cannot vote them out, what are we supposed to do?

Michael Cornelison

Freising, Germany

The methodology of assigning electoral votes for each state during the Presidential election seems to be subjective. I think the election process would be a lot fairer if each vote counted as just one vote. A case in point is the Parliamentary system of government, such as India's, which does just that. A small change in the electoral vote-assignment process can be made wherein the number of electoral votes in each state is proportional to the population count for the individual states. It appears that the process, as it exists today, could be manipulated to either party's advantage.

Sudhakar Kuppuraju

New Cumberland, Pa.

I take strong issue with reader Hannah Rose ("Iraq: America has more at stake than moral authority," Readers Report, June 14, re "Iraq: How to restore America's moral authority," Editorials, Mar. 24). America has chosen to support Israel over the years because of the commitment of both nations to democracy and common cultural values. This has taken place despite the fact that Israel possesses no substantial oil or gas reserves to mollify American business interests by recycling petrodollars for weapons and luxury cars. In this situation, America has displayed moral authority to the utmost degree.

Israel is located in a neighborhood of 22 despotic regimes (23 counting the Palestinian Authority) that share nothing with the fabric of American or Israeli society and values, let alone the welfare of their own populations. With these regimes, concessions by a rival are seen as weakness, not a genuine desire to compromise. Peace will indeed come one day to the region, but not before there is substantial improvement in human rights, education, freedom of speech, and diminution of corruption in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Until then, Israel will continue to serve as the convenient punching bag for these regimes and their overseas apologists.

As they say here, "nothing new under the sun."

Kenneth Jassby

Herzliya, Israel

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