Backtalk

MICROSOFT’S WORDS

I was disappointed to read Rachel Burstein’s “Overseas Invasion” (January, February) regarding the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Microsoft, and other software companies. For a more complete analysis of that story, please visit www.microsoft.com/corpinfo/myths.htm.

The BSA has brought anti-piracy lawsuits on behalf of its member companies, including Novell, Lotus, Adobe, Autodesk, and Microsoft. Settlements are not finalized until they are approved by all of the companies that are plaintiffs in a case. All of the financial proceeds from litigation go back to the BSA; no money goes to Microsoft or any other BSA member company. All settlement agreements state that defendants are free to acquire whatever product they want from whatever company they want. There is no requirement that they purchase from any particular software company.

Burstein writes that the BSA “abruptly dropped [its] suit” against Antel, the Uruguayan national telephone company, in the fall of 1997 after Antel agreed with Microsoft to replace all of its illegal software with Microsoft products. She implies that this agreement disadvantaged two other software companies, Novell and Symantec, whose software also was allegedly being illegally pirated by Antel. What she omits is that Novell dropped out of the lawsuit in 1995, and Antel resolved its illegal use of Symantec software with them well before it did with Microsoft. In 1997 Antel came to terms with Microsoft, thereby resolving all of Antel’s illegal software licensing issues. There was no longer any need to proceed with the lawsuit.

The depiction of the case involving Toll Holdings, an Australian shipping company, was also inaccurate. All three companies involved in the lawsuit—Lotus, Novell, and Microsoft—approved the settlement with Toll Holdings. The agreement did not require that Toll purchase any particular company’s software, nor did the damages paid go to any software company.

Lastly, your story is off-base in suggesting that there is some issue because the chair of the BSA organization in Slovenia is a Microsoft employee. The local BSA committee chair in each country is always an employee of a member company in that country. The chair rotates among the member companies. In any event, it is difficult to understand how the BSA organization as a whole could be manipulated by the local committee chair in Slovenia.

BRAD SMITH
Associate General Counsel, Microsoft
Redmond, Wash.

Rachel Burstein’s article, “Overseas Invasion,” is simply inaccurate. It is important that we set the record straight. The BSA is not aware of the “sweetheart” deals alleged to have taken place in Argentina. Burstein appears to spread unsubstantiated accusations without giving adequate information by which we could investigate the claim. In the Toll case in Australia, there were never suggestions of any commercial influence by Microsoft. Lotus, Microsoft, and Novell all approved the settlement, and proceeds were paid to the BSA to support its anti-piracy program. There was no requirement to standardize with any product. The case against Antel was dropped for two reasons: (1) Novell dropped out of the case two years prior to settlement, and (2) Antel resolved its illegal use of Symantec and Microsoft products with both remaining companies.

MARCIA STERLING
Chairman, BSA
Vice President and General Counsel
Autodesk
San Rafael, Calif.

COLLEEN POULIOT
Vice Chariman, BSA
Vice President and General Counsel
Adobe Systems
San Jose, Calif.

Rachel Burstein responds: The BSA and Microsoft both rely on the same omissions to obscure the main points made in my article. In particular, they both try mightily to discredit the fact that Antel, the national phone company of Uruguay, signed an exclusive contract with Microsoft in order to have the BSA’s piracy charges dropped. However, neither letter addresses the fact that the main source for the Antel story was none other than Antel.

Microsoft and the BSA suggest that the suit against Antel was dropped because Symantec and Microsoft had each resolved the issue with Antel on their own. That’s not what Symantec says. Tatiyana Khachiyan, of Symantec’s legal department, confirmed—before the article was published and again recently, after Microsoft and the BSA submitted their letters to Mother Jones—that Symantec has no record of an agreement brokered with Antel over the piracy charges. And when interviewed for the story, the BSA’s own lawyer in Uruguay, Eduardo DeFreitas, said he had no knowledge of any deal cut between Symantec and Antel. Novell, meanwhile, told us that it opted out of the suit against Antel early on. Mario Tucci, Novell’s country manager for Argentina, mentioned the Antel case as an example of why Novell was concerned that Microsoft was exercising undue influence over the BSA. Once the case was dropped, it lost Antel as a client.

Sterling and Pouliot say all proceeds from the piracy suit against Toll Holdings were paid to the BSA. My story never suggested otherwise. I reported the example of Toll Holdings because it fit the overall pattern of Microsoft signing exclusive agreements with companies that have come under fire by the BSA. It is that pattern, along with stories of Microsoft’s arm-twisting, that I encountered repeatedly during a dozen interviews with officials at various BSA member companies, and it is that pattern that Felipe Yungman, Novell’s security manager in Argentina, says he is actively investigating.

Smith writes that he finds it “difficult to understand how the BSA organization as a whole could be manipulated by the local committee chair in Slovenia.” As I reported, Aaron Marko, who is Microsoft’s Slovenia country manager as well as the local BSA chair, says that when the BSA catches pirates, he gives them a chance to come clean by offering them discounted Microsoft programs. In Slovenia, where an estimated 96 percent of the software is pirated, the BSA becomes the perfect marketing tool for Microsoft. Maybe that’s why Microsoft sees no problem with it.

OH NO, MR. BILL

Why is it in vogue to attack Microsoft? And what is wrong with the BSA settling a matter involving software piracy on the condition that the pirates use only Microsoft products? If they were good enough to steal, they must be good enough to pay for. It’s time to stop bashing Microsoft and start thanking Mr. Gates et al. for marketing one of the greatest ideas since the wheel.

RANDOLPH FRANK IANNACONE
Brooklyn, N.Y.

I read with interest your articles on Microsoft. One point that you failed to touch on was prison labor. Not everybody who toils for Microsoft can hope to become a millionaire. Many of its products have been packaged and shrink-wrapped by prisoners at the Twin Rivers Corrections Center in Washington state. No wonder Microsoft is thriving. Captive labor makes for some good profits.

DAVID RICHARDS
California State Prison-Solano
Vacaville, Calif.

Regarding your choice, in your package of articles on Microsoft, to use quirky, Wired-style graphics, a “faux ad” look, and the retro green info band: The voice of your arguments comes from too deep in the brambles of irony to be of use to people who want to empower themselves. If you want something to look “cool,” at least make it legible; if you want it to sound “cool,” use the heartfelt, clear-minded, and compassionate journalism that Mother Jones was founded on.

MICHAEL RICHARDSON
Florence, Mass.

THE CHEMICAL INDUSTRY’S GUARDIAN ANGELL

Michael Castleman correctly identified Dr. Marcia Angell, the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, as the pre-eminent apologist for silicone breast implant manufacturers (“Implanted Evidence,” January/February. However, he did not go far enough in illuminating the extent to which Angell has used the prestige of the NEJM to lend credibility to the “junk science” agenda. Her book about the silicone breast implant controversy, Science on Trial, reads like a manifesto for industry-funded groups such as The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) and the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), as well as conservative think tanks like the anti-feminist Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which have promoted the junk science argument as a successful legal strategy for manufacturers of faulty products or industries that pollute the environment. It is not surprising that TASSC has made bulk purchases of the book.

Angell gave the keynote address at an IWF symposium on junk science and has presented a lecture to the “free market” Cato Institute. The NEJM recently published a highly critical book review by Jerry Berke, chief medical director at the chemical giant W.R. Grace, of Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, without revealing Berke’s conflict of interest. Stephen Safe, a scientist who has received funding from the chemical industry and is an unofficial spokesman for the industry, wrote an NEJM editorial that dismissed the cancer risks of environmental pollutants. Safe’s industrial association was not revealed. The NEJM has also published an opinion piece by Bert Black, a CMA lawyer. Is it possible that the NEJM has compromised its standards to accommodate industrial interests? Castleman and Mother Jones could have done more to reveal the irregular company kept by the executive editor of America’s most widely read medical journal.

ROBERT F. GARRY
Tulane University School of Medicine
New Orleans, La.

SCOTT A. TENENBAUM
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, N.C.

STAND BY YOUR STATE

Most people living in the Rocky Mountain states would laugh at Michael Lind’s notion that Westerners somehow enjoy special status as the “semicolonial” overlords of people living in California or New York (“75 Stars, January/February”).

Anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of the land in many Western states is owned by the federal government. Hundreds of communities—many of them surrounded by federal land—find themselves subject to regulations drawn up by people whose experience with the West extends no further than sipping cappuccino on a terrace at Aspen.

The way power is structured in Washington, of course, only makes matters worse. Influence in the House is heavily weighted in favor of large urban centers.

Add to that mix a national media that tells its stories almost exclusively from the perspective of East Coast and California urban dwellers, and you can see why many in the West see the Senate as the only place where they have any sort of equal shot at shaping public policy.

The dismissive comments of the “distinguished New York senator” quoted in Lind’s article probably reflect the view of a lot of people who don’t have a clue as to what’s going on west of Secaucus or east of Sacramento. But while urban liberals may not like it, the rest of the country stands to benefit from the ideas and approaches emerging from the West. For the past decade, Rocky Mountain states have enjoyed the country’s most vibrant economies and have led the nation in job growth. Our cities are growing at unprecedented rates.

Rather than further muzzling the West, as Lind suggests, the rest of the country ought to be paying closer attention to what we have to say.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-IDAHO)
Washington, D.C.

As a senator representing a “microstate”—Montana—it was with great interest that I read Michael Lind’s article.

Lind argues for balkanizing the country, thereby (he thinks) making the Senate more representative of America. But he fails to recognize that our current system essentially works. Our legislative system was designed so that the House is more responsive to the electorate, while the Senate is insulated from short-term political and ideological trends. The natural tension between the two houses tends to produce the kind of government Americans want. If it doesn’t, we have two other tools: the executive branch and the judicial branch, which, one way or the other, respond to the will of Americans. These three branches work together to produce a civil and just society.

I, for one, believe it would not be easy for us to drastically alter what is, for the most part, a system that works. The deliberative nature of the Senate ensures that Congress is less likely to make spur-of-the-moment decisions that peremptorily alter our way of life without thorough consideration.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MONT.)
Washington, D.C.

Michael Lind’s concept of increasing the number of states is very interesting. Another idea, promoted by former Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) 15 years ago, also deserves consideration by progressives. Proxmire advocated reducing the number of senators from two per state to one per state. This reform would not only increase accountability to the public and the press, but would also appeal to taxpayers. We use one person for all other offices—from mayor to House members. Why should the Senate be any different?

STATE REP. MIKE BOLAND (D-EAST MOLINE)
East Moline, Ill.

Mother Jones does yet another service in detailing how equal representation among states in the Senate, regardless of population, distorts democracy. Yet the remedy proposed by Michael Lind would entail sticky boundary disputes and greatly exacerbate the messy mix of divergent state laws and regulations. A simpler solution would be to amend the Constitution as follows: “The Senate shall consist of one senator from each state and one additional senator for each 4 million people or fraction thereof beyond the first 4 million people.”

ALLAN MATTHEWS
Reston, Va.

Michael Lind’s “75 Stars” fails to shine. The current system of two senators per state does not constitute minority rule. The states with large populations have always dominated the House—which, at last glance, was still in business. In the House, after the next census, California will out-vote Wyoming by 60 to 1. Without some counterbalance, the concerns of Americans in South Dakota, Montana, Delaware, etc., would be utterly ignored in the United States of Texas, Florida, New York et al. Lind’s solution—fragmenting the largest states—attacks mosquitoes with sledgehammers. Better to take what is the province of the Senate alone under our current system, such as confirming Supreme Court justices, and make it a function of the full Congress.

THOMAS E. BRAUN
Littlerock, Calif.

WAKE UP CLASS

Dale Maharidge rightly points out that the immigration issue has brought Latino voters to the fore (“The Sleeping Giant Awakes, January/February”). But the issue of class, which Maharidge also touched on, is more interesting.

In the recent fast-track debate in Congress, the Hispanic Caucus held many of the cards for the final vote. Having been burned by the White House’s false promises on the first round of NAFTA, the caucus stuck with organized labor—partly due to heavy grassroots lobbying from Latino trade union members in the home districts. The winning combination was one of old-fashioned pro-trade unionism at home and strong support for international worker solidarity among the global community. Indeed, international worker solidarity is one ingredient in building a strong Latino voice in the Democratic Party, one that will force a wedge between those who would please big business and the party’s critical grassroots constituency.

The social conservatism of much of the Latino community, on the other hand, will test the libertarianism of the left against a more class-based populist politics. Perhaps the left, in its quest to become multiracial, will finally embrace populism as the way to the future, rather than the more limiting—and limited—social revolution, which has failed to bring about a transformative politics that can loosen the grip of multinational corporations.

JO-ANN MORT
Member, Dissent editorial board
Brooklyn, N.Y.

THE GENTLEMAN FROM ILLINOIS YIELDS THE REMAINDER OF HIS TIME

It’s always gratifying to see representatives-cum-malefactors finally get theirs (“From the House to the Big House,” Outfront, January/February). However, you could have included actual prison time served in addition to listing the nominal sentences handed down. Sentences are usually just “sticker prices”—and in cases involving pampered white-collar criminals they often bear little relationship to the amount of time spent behind bars.

PETER J. HAVERHALS
Goffstown, N.H.

WE OF LITTLE FAITH

I happened to see a copy of your November/December issue with the article on Marianne Williamson (“Faith: Marianne Williamson Is Full of It“) the day after hearing her deliver a strongly feminist, anti-corporate, and activist speech at the State of the World Forum in San Francisco. The following day I had lunch with Williamson. Our discussion was all about activist strategizing. On neither occasion did I see anything in Williamson resembling the vacuous dolt you portrayed in your article.

You missed the story. The big news regarding Williamson is that a leading “New Age” author and lecturer has written a seriously political, anti-corporate book, The Healing of America, and is now on the lecture circuit urging her sizable audience to join political organizations and to form neighborhood groups for letter-writing campaigns to corporate CEOs and elected officials. One would expect an activist magazine to welcome such a development. Instead, her political focus gets only a brief mention at the end of your hit piece.

When you use your pages to demean a woman who is urging people to cultivate a spirituality that actively addresses the suffering in the world—which is intensified by the increasing concentration of wealth in this country, as she makes clear—I have to wonder why the right wing considers you subversive.

CHARLENE SPRETNAK
Author, The Resurgence of the Real
Half Moon Bay, Calif.

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