Japan-US alliance has come a long way

Regarding Alexandra Starr's Oct. 30 Opinion "Beware a more muscular Japan": Rather than view Washington's relationship with Tokyo as a competition full of dire threats to US interests, Ms. Starr should consider the enduring strength of a security alliance that has existed for more than half a century. Japan's commitment on Iraq - not to mention Tokyo's heavy lifting on North Korea, which Starr fails to mention - are the results of a strong partnership and a pragmatic approach to political and economic security by the Koizumi government.

Leadership from Japan is a welcome development in a region challenged by a rapidly growing China and facing the real threats of a nuclear Pyongyang. On the economic front, events on the ground would seem to dictate patience over fear. In the past six weeks alone, the yen has appreciated by 7 percent against the dollar.

More important, at Washington's behest, Japan has engaged in a broad market reform that promises to gradually open sectors such as telecommunications and financial services to competitive US firms and stabilizing investment flows. The US private sector clearly thinks Japan is headed in the right direction: In the past two months, US equity firms have acquired more than $3 billion in Japanese assets, and are pushing reform from the inside. Starr would do better not to draw upon fearsome historical images of a militant Japan, and give credit instead both to the patient gains of US diplomacy and to Japan's current leaders.
Eric Shimp

Director accountability at corporations

Your Oct. 31 editorial "Shareholder Power" does not go to the heart of the issue. The proposed rule implies that public confidence in the securities markets can be restored only by trusting institutional investors to be watchdogs of boards of directors. Public confidence will be restored, however, only when individual shareholders can use the shareholder-proposal procedure to nominate director candidates, and thus function as their own watchdogs by acting, when necessary, to seek accountability at the more than 9,000 corporations that have publicly traded securities.

Mutual funds are so severely conflicted that they will not avail themselves of the alleged benefits of the proposed rule. Pension funds do not need the alleged benefits of the proposed rule to engage in low-cost proxy contests. Corporate ownership is concentrated with institutional investors. Filing a bare-bones proxy statement with the SEC and securing the votes of, at most, 30 institutional investors does not present a large financial burden. The Committee of Concerned Shareholders engaged in an effective proxy contest, with an out-of-pocket expenditure of less than $15,000. (The committee is the first grass-roots shareholder group to conduct a formal proxy fight.)

If the past is prologue, institutional investors alone will not have the interest to nominate candidates at many corporations. Director accountability should be promoted at more than a few corporations. Individual shareholders should be able to act as their own watchdogs in protecting their investments.
Les Greenberg
Culver City, Calif.Chairman, Committee of Concerned Shareholders

Modern-day Stepford spouses

Your Oct. 29 article "When 'just friends' is wrong" gave me nightmares of the 1950s and "togetherness." The implications of requiring spouses to cut themselves off from any kind of outside intimacy is a creepy idea. It lends ammunition to spouses who try to control their partners' every thought.

Why don't we look instead at the insecurities of a spouse threatened by friendships?
Manya Marshall
Ozone, Tenn.

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