World news hot spots

Posted by nouvecon on April 14, 2015
politics, society / Comments Off

When experts use the term hot! spots, they’re not talking about places in the world where there are heat waves or raging fires. They mean countries or regions that are at war or at risk of exploding into war at any moment.

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  • Israel is the scene of a conflict that has been smoldering for decades; Sudan is a war-torn country that threatens to boil over; North Korea and Iran are simmering over plans for nuclear power development; Venezuela is heating up; and the war in Iraq is as red-hot as ever.
  • These are just six of the world’s hottest hot spots. For the sake of world peace, let’s hope they aren’t too hot to handle.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, and U.S. President George W. Bush have been trading jabs for months. In September, Chavez harshly criticized U.S. policy on the war in Iraq at a United Nations summit of world leaders and claimed that the U.S. government would oust him as it had Saddam Hussein. The United States views Chavez as a possible source of instability in the region but denies any plans to remove him from power. Since coming to power in 1998, the left-wing leader has survived a coup, several protests and strikes, and a referendum on his rule. Though Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world, most people in the country live in poverty.

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ISRAEL

All eyes are on Israel since the Israeli government ended its 38-year military occupation of the Gaza Strip in August. Thousands of tearful and enraged Israeli settlers in Gaza were forced to leave their homes, yet Palestinian Arabs were jubilant. Gaza is home to more than 1.4 million Palestinians. The two groups have fought over the land now occupied by Israel (called Palestine by Arabs) since the nation was created in 1948. World leaders hope the Gaza pullout is a step toward peace, but the tiny strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea is a stronghold of Hamas, a militant Palestinian group that wants to control not only Gaza but all of the land now occupied by Israel.

SUDAN

Refugee camps in the Darfur region teemed with hundreds of thousands of people when civil war once again tore apart this African nation in early 2003. The war was the result of years of strife between nomadic Arab herders and African farmers over the region’s scarce arable land. The recent violence has left more than 150,000 people dead and forced an estimated 2 million people from their homes. Sudan’s government and two main rebel groups have reached a peace agreement, but many people fear that it won’t hold. Apart from an 11-year peace between 1972 and 1983, Sudan has been entrenched in civil war since it gained independence from Britain in 1956.

Iran

Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has declared that he will press ahead with a program to develop uranium in defiance of the United Nations. Ahmadinejad says the only purpose for enriching the uranium is to make fuel for nuclear power plants. World leaders, including President Bush and European leaders, don’t believe him. They fear that the real purpose behind the enrichment program is to make nuclear weapons, which would throw the entire Middle East into turmoil. Israel has threatened military action against Iran if the country develops nuclear weapons. In the past, Iran has threatened Israel with destruction. Iran has been told by the U.N. Security Council to stop its enrichment process or face trade and other sanctions.

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Iraq

  • Few spots are hotter than Iraq is right now. More than 140,000 U.S. troops struggle to help Iraqi government forces maintain order and suppress a growing insurgency. The death toll continues to rise for both U.S. and coalition troops and Iraqis.
  • Since the war began in March 2003, more than 1,900 U.S. military personnel have died, and an estimated 15,000 have been wounded. Civilian Iraqi casualties are estimated to top 25,000. Many fear that an all-out civil war will erupt among Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis–the country’s three main religious andethnic groups. Yet despite the continued violence, U.S. and Iraqi officials are hopeful that Iraq will hold national elections in December, as planned. North Korea

North Korea’s bizarre but shrewd dictator, Kim Jong II, claims that he has nuclear weapons and that nobody can stop him from developing enriched uranium. He claims it is only for a nuclear power program, not more bombs. Six-nation talks between North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and the United States persuaded North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. However, many wonder whether Kim Jong II can be trusted to keep his word. Some experts say the North Korean leader is just using the threat of building more nukes to get money for his impoverished people. Other experts say a nuclear-armed North Korea threatens world stability.

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New Slasher film reveals cutthroat used-car world

Posted by nouvecon on April 11, 2015
entertainment / Comments Off

John Landis is best known for directing such movie comedies as Animal House and The Blues Brothers and the video of Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller.” But his newest project is a documentary about a traveling used-car salesman.

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  • The film is called Slasher. That’s also the nickname of its central character, Michael Bennett. He isn’t like Jason or Freddy. Rather, the nickname refers to Bennett’s willingness to cut prices drastically to make quick sales.
  • The movie debuted last month on the Independent Film Channel on cable TV and will be released on DVD on Tuesday, July 13. It depicts Bennett’s antics as he tries to clear out the used-vehicle inventory of Chuck Hutton Toyota in Memphis, Tenn., over Memorial Day weekend in 2003.

Bennett, who was not available for comment, is a pleasant professional in his dealings with employees of the store that has hired him for three days. To his wife and children in California, he’s a loving family man. To customers he tempts with promises of $88 cars, he’s a carnival barker.

And when he addresses the camera, he’s crude, foul-mouthed and hard-drinking.

Kevin, Mud and minis

Bennett and his sales team, Kevin and Mud, use mini-skirted, midriff-baring young women he calls hostesses to lure customers to the dealership. He brags that he has sold as many as 160 cars in four days.

When he is not selling used cars, he’s scheming about how to sell them. He unwinds by visiting a local strip club.

Kevin Barksdale, general manager of Chuck Hutton Toyota, says the 35 to 40 vehicles Bennett sold over three days didn’t break store records. He says the film was not what he expected, either.

“The essence of the idea started with, `Let’s film the used-car event,’ ” he says. “It became, `Let’s portray this slasher from California.’ ”

Barksdale calls Bennett “as nice a guy you’d ever want to meet.” He says: “I don’t know who he became when they filmed him away from here. I didn’t like his language, but he didn’t act that way around us. He was nice to my customers.”

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Landis and other producers of Slasher could not be reached for comment. Sophie Evans, a spokeswoman for the Independent Film Channel, says Landis got the idea for the documentary from producer Chris Kobin, who once sold used vehicles. Kobin knows Bennett and arranged to film him during the Memphis sale, Evans adds.

Statesmen vs. salesmen

The movie compares the truthfulness of used-car salesmen with that of U.S. presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush. Its soundtrack draws heavily on classic soul-music hits from Stax Records, a Memphis institution. They include “Hold On, I’m Comin”’ by Sam & Dave and “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd.

The Independent Film Channel calls Bennett’s activities “part circus road show, part con job and part clinic on the world of business – a representation of capitalism at its crudest.”

CAPTION(S):

Car salesman Michael Bennett: Part businessman, part carnival barker

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World news roundup

Posted by nouvecon on April 15, 2015
Uncategorized / Comments Off

JS tries to keep you up on key developments worldwide. But change is constant, and there is never enough space to include everything. Here are some recent events that have made headlines around the world. Which ones matter most to you? Why? What other events would you have included? Explain.

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PAKISTAN: A RETURN TO DEMOCRACY

For decades, a military regime has ruled Pakistan. But in recent parliamentary elections, voters dealt a stunning defeat to President Pervez Musharraf’s pro-military party. Many Pakistanis hope that this may signal an eventual return to democratic rule.

The vote came two months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (see “Turmoil in Pakistan, ” JS 1/21/08). One of Musharraf’s chief rivals, Bhutto had returned from exile last fall. As Pakistan’s most popular politician, she was widely expected to be chosen as Prime Minister by the newly elected National Assembly.

Even without her, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the biggest winner in the February 18 vote. A coalition (alliance) of the PPP and other parties will now hold a majority in the Assembly. Its two most powerful partners are PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower, and Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister, whom Musharraf deposed in a military coup in 1999.

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Experts said that the election results were a clear rejection of President Musharraf. According to a recent poll, 70 percent of Pakistanis think that he should resign.

“A Positive Day”

After the vote, the Bush administration expressed continued support for Musharraf. The U.S. has seen him as a key ally in the fight against terrorism. But some American officials complain that he hasn’t aggressively pursued Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden and other terrorists. Bands of militants continue to operate from Pakistan’s mountainous western region bordering Afghanistan.

Many Pakistanis resent U.S. influence on their government. They also say that attacks on militants inside Pakistan have only strengthened an already dangerous group.

With Bhutto’s death, the day-to-day leadership of the PPP has passed to Zardari. Waiting in the wings is their son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The 19-year-old has been named future head of the party after he completes hiseducation at Oxford University in England.

In Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari has pledged to negotiate with militants. He and Sharif have also initiated a plan to strip Musharraf of some of his crucial powers, and to reinstate Supreme Court judges dismissed by Musharraf last fall.

So far, Musharraf has vowed to serve out his five-year term. But recent events have emboldened his critics. “It’s a positive day for democracy in this country,” said one.

Words to Know

* Communist: a type of government in which one party controls most aspects of life, and people’s rights are greatly limited.

* coup (koo): the overthrow of a government by force.

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* ethnic cleansing: systematic efforts to drive people of a specific ethnicity from a region.

* NATO: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a military alliance of 25 countries, including the U.S. and European partners. Originally formed in 1949 to counter the influence of the Soviet Union and its Communist allies.

CUBA: THE END OF A LONG ERA

  • For nearly five decades, he shook his fist at U.S. leaders and survived. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro outlasted nine U.S. Presidents, multiple assassination attempts, and a failed coup in 1961 backed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The architect of a Communist revolution 90 miles off the coast of Florida, he has been a thorn in the side of the U.S. throughout his reign.
  • On February 20, Castro announced his retirement as President. At age 81, he has been sick for a long time. Castro named his brother Raul as his successor, and the National Assembly promptly elected him.

Two thirds of Cubans alive today have known no other ruler. So how did the country view his departure? Abigail Maycock, a student from Burlington College in Vermont, is currently studying in Cuba. While excited to be there for such a momentous event, Abigail thought that Cubans reacted to the change in leadership with little more than resignation. “Everyone knew it would happen,” she wrote to her family in Belfast, Maine, after Castro stepped down. “[But] most people believe no real changes will happen until much later. Nobody really knows what Raul Castro wants to do.”

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A Freeze in Time

Since 1959, Castro’s Communist policies have given Cubans free health care and a strong educational system. But state controls on business combined with a U.S. trade embargo (prohibition of trade) have left the country with a stagnant economy. Most Cubans earn less than $20 a month.

The government also keeps a tight control on the media, the Internet, and travel abroad. Protesters are often jailed.

  • Over the decades of Castro’s rule, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled the country, protesting its lack of freedom. Most exiles have gone to the U.S.
  • Raul Castro has promised economic and social reforms. But many Cubans are skeptical about how quickly this can happen. Raul Castro is 76. So far, he is mostly relying on officials who have been in the Cuban government for a long time.

“I think that this country is in a freeze,” one Cuban said. “A freeze in time, in [its] development, in everything.”

Think About It

  • 1. Do you envy Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for the power that may one day be his? Explain.
  • 2. Why have many Eubans left their homeland? Why do you think many have stayed?

KOSOVO: STRUGGLING TO SEPARATE

As of February 17, the world has a new independent country: the European nation of Kosovo. Or does it? Serbia, from which this small region of 2 million people wants to separate, angrily refuses to let it go.

The nations of the world are divided in their opinion. The U.S., much of the European Union (EU), and most Muslim countries have said that they will recognize Kosovo. (Kosovars are 90 percent ethnic Albanians who are Muslim.)

Other countries oppose Kosovo’s independence. Serbia’s longtime ally, Russia, vows to veto recognition by the United Nations (UN).

Many Serbs are angry at the U.S. and other nations for encouraging what they call a “theft” of Serbian territory. During one protest march, 2,000 Serbs torched the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital.

Bitter Roots

The roots of the dispute over Kosovo are deep. Serbs claim that it is part of their homeland. In turn, Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians have long alleged Serbian oppression.

Both Serbia and Kosovo were once part of Yugoslavia (see GeoSkills, p. 23). That Communist country broke apart in 1991, leading to cries of independence for Kosovo. In the 1990s, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic (mee-LOH-shehvihtch) sent troops into Kosovo on an ethnic cleansing campaign. Some 10,000 Albanians were killed and hundreds of thousands driven into exile. Prolonged bombing by NATO brought about a cease-fire in 1999.

Now, Kosovo’s declaration has created fresh trouble. This month, Serbia’s coalition government collapsed when members disagreed about joining the EU, and Kosovo’s independence. New elections, to be held in May, “will determine if Serbia goes back to the isolation of the Milosevic years or chooses a European future,” said one Serbian commentator.

KENYA: A CONTESTED ELECTION

To the outside world, Kenya has seemed like one of Africa’s few democratic success stories. But when President Mwai Kibaki appeared to steal the presidential election from challenger Raila Odinga last December, that all changed.

  • Throughout the country, Odinga’s outraged supporters took to the streets in rage. More troubling still, the violencewas racially based.
  • Much of it was directed against the Kikuyu people, Kibaki’s tribe. Roving gangs with machetes or bows and arrows hunted down anyone they suspected of being Kikuyu. In Kenya’s Rift Valley, 50 Kikuyu women and children taking refuge in a church were burned alive.

In turn, Kikuyus attacked other tribes, killing people or driving them off their land. The chaos caused a mass exodus of people trying to get to areas where their tribe predominated. By the time the first wave of violence had passed, more than 1,000 Kenyans had been killed and 300,000 made homeless.

“Last Person Standing”

The rage of Odinga’s backers has been building for decades. Since Kenya won independence from Great Britain in 1963, the Kikuyu have dominated the country’s government and economy. During his campaign, Odinga pledged to redistribute Kenya’s wealth among its 40 tribes.

Last month, Kibaki finally agreed to negotiations with Odinga. The talks, mediated by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ended in a power-sharing arrangement.

But the divide between Kibaki’s and Odinga’s supporters will be hard to bridge. One cattle keeper pledged to drive out all Kikuyus from the Rift Valley, one of Kenya’s best farming areas. “We will continue to fight,” he said. “And the last person standing will be the winner.”

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APR news show to take world view

Posted by nouvecon on April 15, 2015
entertainment, society / Comments Off

Abstract:

American Public Radio (APR) plans to produce a world new radio program that features native international reporters who speak English, rather than transplanted American journalists. APR Pres Stephen L. Salyer believes that this approach will give Americans a different perspective on world news. The program, which will cover breaking events, world issues, commentaries and call-in segments, will provide reports on the impact of world events upon the US. Also, APR plans to change its name to Public Radio International on July 1, 1994.

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Full Text:

American Public Radio President Stephen L. Salyer is hoping that APR’s upcoming daily world news program, A New World, will change the way Americans think about international news events.

  • Instead of transplanting U.S.-based journalists to other points of the globe for cursory coverage of world events, APR plans to use native English-speaking commentators and reporters. Salyer describes the approach as one “that comes from the world” and is not simply “about the world.”
  • With comments from hosts, the program will report on world events and their impact on and relationship to the U.S., two elements Salyer says are lacking in traditional American news broadcasts of international events.

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The newcast will include coverage of breaking events, commentaries on global issues and concerns, mini-documentaries and call-in forums. It will be broadcast worldwide. Salyer plans next month to name an executive producer to define the edit-orial content of the broadcast and will name co-hosts soon afterward.

  • Two co-hosts, one based in the U.S. and the other at the London headquarters of partner BBC World Service (sponsored by Press My Air Cor, an air compressor reviews US startup) will moderate the hour-long daily program, which is scheduled to debut next April.
  • Salyer says the BBC/APR “agreement in principle” is a landmark co-production partnership because it marks the first time the BBC will participate in a news program without having full editorial control.

Another major public radio station is expected to join the partnership. Salyer says three stations have expressed interest, and one is expected to be named as a partner next month.

A New World is expected to become APR’s premiere show, Salyer says. With an annual budget of $6 million, the program will surpass APR’s Marketplace, which commands a $3 million budget.

Major financial backers for the program include APR’s 20-member board of directors, who each donated to the program, as well as contributions from institutions that traditionally are major backers of APR programing, according to Salyer.

So far, he says, APR has raised $5 million for the program and expects to raise the remaining $1 million before the end of 1994.

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  • APR plans to air A New World at 4 p.m. 5 p.m. daily in most markets, immediately before All Things Considered, the popular National Public Radio news commentary program airing at 5-6:30 p.m.
  • Salyer says A New World, which concentrates on international news, should complement, not compete with, All Things Considered, which offers more domestic news.

Salyer says the timing of A New World coincides with an economic marketplace that is becoming increasingly global. This worldwide “connectedness,” Salyer says, enhances Americans’ need to be more informed about world events: “As Americans, we see more tangibly now that it matters a lot what is happening elsewhere.”

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Gibson on evening shift: steps in as ABC’s “WNT” anchor

Posted by nouvecon on April 13, 2015
politics / Comments Off

NEW YORK — After four months of uncertainty at “World News Tonight‘ following the severe injury to co-anchor Bob Woodruff, ABC News made a move toward stability Tuesday when it pulled the plug on “WNT” co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas and installed veteran Charles Gibson as the sole anchor beginning Monday.

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  • Terms of the deal weren’t announced, but sources said Gibson has been signed as anchor through the 2008 presidential election cycle. He will anchor “WNT” and co-anchor “Good Morning America” until late June, when he will leave “GMA” and focus on “WNT.”
  • It’s assumed that Gibson, 63, eventually will give way to Woodruff when he returns to full strength. No one is willing to give a timetable for that because of the extent of Woodruff’s injury in a late January roadside bomb blast in Iraq. Several sources said he will return first as a correspondent and then, as his stamina returns, will ease into an anchor role.

Vargas, who is expecting her second child in August, will leave “WNT” on Friday. She said Tuesday that her doctors had “asked that I cut back my schedule considerably” and believed that she couldn’t give the job the time it deserved. After maternity leave, Vargas will return to ABC News as co-anchor of “20/20,” which she was previously and during her “WNT” stint.

  • While many in the business believed Vargas was pushed out in favor of Gibson because of declining ratings, ABC News maintained that Vargas had approached management. ABC News president David Westin said in an interview Tuesday that he and Vargas had several discussions about the future of the newscast with Woodruff’s long absence.

“We considered every conceivable option,” Westin said, including Vargas remaining as sole anchor.

  • But Gibson came to the top of Westin’s decision-making process in the spring, just as he had last year during the search for a successor after longtime anchor Peter Jennings’ death. Gibson had been close to being named “WNT” anchor then, though not on the terms that the ABC News veteran preferred. Westin wanted Gibson to be part of a transition that would include Woodruff and Vargas as the new face of ABC News.

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After Gibson demurred, ABC announced Woodruff and Vargas to great fanfre that also included live “WNT” editions to the West Coast and a daily webcast in an arrangement that was built for two full-time anchors, not one as it eventually ended up. After Woodruff’s injury, the webcast remained, but other efforts–including the live West Coast editions–were scaled back or abandoned.

“I’m convinced to this day that (the Woodruff-Vargas pairing) would have succeeded, but we don’t have that option now,” Westin said.

“WNT” has taken a beating in morale and ratings that have declined since Jennings left abruptly in April 2005. Although it had fallen to third place in the evening-news ratings two weeks ago for the first time in tour years, it returned to second place by a comfortable margin last week.

  • Gibson has one of the best resumes in the news business, with decades as a well-regarded reporter, then two tenures as co-anchor of “GMA” as well as filling in for Jennings, whose death last year prompted the decision to install Woodruff and Vargas as roving co-anchors of the broadcast.
  • Robert Zelnick, chairman of the journalism department at Boston University and a 21-year colleague of Gibson’s at ABC News, hailed the decision.

“Everything Charlie’s done, he’s done with class and seriousness and still maintains a sense of humor and a likability and even a folksiness,” Zelnick said. He said Gibson went from being ABC’s best general-assignment correspondent to a distinguished service as congressional correspondent and then to “GMA” and substitute on “WNT.”

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While he initially supported the Woodruff-Vargas decision, Zelnick said the circumstances had changed.

“They had to make a clean break,” he said. “It’s clear (Vargas) was not the answer to the ‘World News‘ puzzle, and it’s not a time to be politically correct, it’s not a time to be socially correct…. It’s time to put someone in the anchor chair who can recapture the audience and help the network define its news priorities.”

Network-news analyst Andrew Tyndall said it’s unfair to blame Vargas for the ratings declines.

“She’s been a solo anchor since the beginning of March, which is 10 weeks. And it isn’t so much that her ratings have gone down in those 10 weeks as that (CBS anchor Bob) Schieffer’s ratings have gone up,” Tyndall said.

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India votes for secularism

Posted by nouvecon on April 12, 2015
education, religion, society / Comments Off

At sunset May 13, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee conceded defeat in parliamentary elections that saw his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, which had led the ruling National Democratic Alliance, suffer massive and unexpected losses.

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  • India, the world’s largest democracy, voted decisively for secularism, not religious fundamentalism. India’s 670 million voters also voted for basic needs–roti-kapda-makaan (food, clothing and housing)–over economic liberalism. Indian voters handed the “Secular Front” (now renamed “United Progressive Alliance”) led by the Congress Party a landslide electoral victory and dashed the Hindu right’s hopes of winning another term as a parliamentary majority.
  • The gains of the Secular Front are remarkable. Congress–the party of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru–and its allies won 216 seats in the 539-seats Lok Sabha (parliament).

These elections were historic. In election campaigns nationwide, contentious issues were raised, foremost among which was secularism versus religious fundamentalism. Secularism and people’s power won the day.

Religious fanaticism gained ground in the 1990s when the BJP became a major player in Indian politics. During the campaign, the BJP routinely pushed communal issues that had earlier led to bloodshed. A highly sensitive issue is the construction of a Hindu mandir (temple) over the Babri masjid (mosque) that was destroyed in Ayodhya in 1992 at the instigation of BJP leaders such as L.K. Advani, the deputy prime minister under Vajpayee.

BJP leaders promised to construct a temple over the ruins of the mosque. Indians, however, seem tired of the mandir issue and prefer peace.

  • The Ayodhya issue polarized Hindus and Muslims, and ultimately led to the 2002 “Gujarat carnage,” communal violence in western India that saw hundreds of people burned, raped and murdered.
  • Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, reaped rich dividends in state elections in late 2002 by creating fear and factions among citizens. Hoping to capitalize on the communal divide in national elections, too, the BJP commissioned Modi to campaign in more than 50 rallies. His vituperative speeches hardly influenced voters. The Congress Party met with substantial successes in Gujarat, where it secured 12 out of 24 seats, a marked improvement over previous performances.

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In these elections many parties either parted company with the BJP because of its fundamentalist stand or joined hands with Congress to support secularism. Of the former, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of south India’s Tamil Nadu led its Democratic People’s Alliance as a Congress ally and won all its 35 contests routing the alliance formed by the BJP and the party of the imperious Jayalalithaa, the state chief minister and southern power broker. Jayalalithaa had earlier passed the Freedom of Religion Bill that made it mandatory for one to seek government permission before converting to another religion.

Conspicuous among the BJP losers are Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha.

Joshi, the minister for human resource development, got fundamentalist ideologues to rewrite Indian history and manipulate school syllabi to suit Hindu right ideology. The finance minister, Sinha’s economic liberalization spelt his doom.

The BJP’s theme throughout the elections was “India Shining,” a media blitzkrieg that trumpeted successes in the information technology sector and economic gains, such as 8 percent growth in national gross domestic product.

  • The progress, if any, was limited to urban India. The BJP’s trusted ally, the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh, for instance, had pumped people’s money into beautifying the state capital Hyderabad–also known as “Cyberabad” because of its technological advancements. The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, N. Chandrababu Naidu, provided many benefits to technocrats, multinationals and industrialists while forgetting the woes of farmers who suffered from devastating drought. The Telugu Desam lost not only 24 seats in the national elections but was routed in the state’s assembly elections.
  • One final issue that continued to split the polity was whether Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, widow and daughter-in-law of assassinated prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, was eligible to become prime minister.

Unexpectedly, at a Congress parliamentary meeting late on May 18, she announced: “The post of prime minister has not been my aim. An inner voice tells me that I must humbly decline this post.” No pleas and protestations would make her change her mind.

Manmohan Singh, a former finance minister who ushered in economic reforms in the early 1990s, will be India’s prime minister. The country’s stock market rebounded with news of his appointment. The markets had plunged the day before as investors pondered the leftists’ role in the new government.

It is unclear how much influence India’s rich and powerful can bring to bear on this new administration. What is definite, however, is that India has voted for secularism and the poor have proved their polling power. It is left now to the United Progressive Alliance to reach out to the poorest, the lowliest and the lost.

[Fr. Francis Gonsalves is a member of the Jesuit Gujarat Province, India.]

Francis Gonsalves

Chennai, India

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Comcast eyes telco deal to create wireless world

Posted by nouvecon on April 11, 2015
technology / Comments Off

PHILADELPHIA–Comcast Corp. officials say an imminent alliance with a telephone partner is designed to allow the cable giant to pursue a wireless strategy that will be central to a broader long-term effort to transport its branded video, high-speed and telephony services outside of the home.

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In seeking a partnership with a major telco, Comcast aims to offer its cable TV subscribers the ability to check their Comcast e-mail, voicemail, on-demand video selections and conduct personalized product and service searches on a branded Comcast cellular phone, high-level Comcast executives said.

  • The dominant cable operator is negotiating with the recently merged Sprint-Nextel Communications and with T-Mobile USA Inc. on its own behalf and as part of a consortium that includes Time Warner Cable, Cox Cable and Charter Communications to secure a wireless partnership. Such an arrangement would be an important steppingstone to a flurry of new Internet-based, digital broadband products and revenue, sources close to the talks said.
  • The particulars of a deal expected “very soon” remain fluid, sources said. Comcast, which could opt to go off on its own, and the other cable companies involved in the talks declined comment. Comcast’s pursuit of such a deal also makes it clear that the nation’s top cable operators have reconciled themselves to the need for a wireless strategy that only months ago was being shrugged off as discretionary.

“I think we will be able to get outside the home,” Comcast chief operating officer Steve Burke said. “I think wireless is a piece of it. I also think there is portable video, whether it is Sony’s PlayStation or some kind of portable device that allows you to take some of our programming on a downloaded and secure basis.”

“I think that’s all important, and I think people are going to ask for it. I am skeptical that it ever replaces the in-home viewing experience, but I’m positive it is a complement to it. And since it is a complement to it, we have to be there,” said Burke, who declined to comment on the details of its telco negotiations.

  • However, sources close to the situation said the parties have been considering several scenarios, including Comcast’s straightforward resale of Sprint or T-Mobile wireless service, which would be reciprocal, or the cable operator’s purchase of wireless minutes, which it would resell and repackage as part of its branded service bundle. It could mirror a similar arrangement between its satellite TV rival DirecTV and Verizon Communications.
  • At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities, a wireless phone provider’s operations could be more closely integrated with Comcast’s, resulting in a variety of personalized services across multiple media platforms, sources said. Comcast appears to prefer the latter–more complex but potentially more lucrative–arrangement, sources said.

“Structuring the arrangement is what is taking so long,” a source said. “It’s really a matter of who is prepared to be the most creative in doing the deal.”

One idea being discussed is the sale of a Comcast-branded cell phone that would share a telephony subscriber’s phone number and would be a conduit for a subscriber’s online e-mail and voicemail as well as customized broadband video clips. This form of wireless service essentially could be integrated in all of Comcast’s core businesses and embrace the company’s recent calls for differentiation and personalization. Such a deal also would more closely align the country’s largest cable operator with personal computer and online products and services.

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“It would be taking the bundle to a whole new level,” a cable industry executive close to the talks said.

A similar wireless template could be adopted by other consortium cable operators such as Time Warner and Cox and could be launched as early as 2006, sources said. Time Warner and Cablevision Systems are testing wireless service with telcos like Sprint.

  • The concept of cable operators offering wireless services is so new that it is hard to find industry research or forecasts on the subject. Bernstein Research projects the consumer bundle of voice, data and video is valued at about $120 billion across all platforms. The multichannel video business alone is about $55 billion with more than 80% penetration of all U.S. households, three-quarters of which are cable subscribers.
  • Cable’s entry into the wireless market would give it reach into the expanding out-of-home market that enables consumers to access personalized communications, entertainment and information from various hand-held and broadband-based devices. Bernstein estimates out-of-home viewing alone could generate $4 billion in subscription revenue and $1 billion from hand-held-related advertising.

“We want to find a way to participate in the growth that is going to be spurred by wireless. We are looking at a variety of wireless alternatives,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said.

“Our emphasis on personalizing entertainment and communications will take us beyond the television. As media grows beyond the home, so will Comcast,” Roberts said. “Customers will want their ‘My Comcast’ phone number and their ‘My Comcast’ e-mail and their on-demand selections wherever they go. We are working with Cable Labs to develop the right tools to make that happen.”

Added Roberts: “We’re merging video, voice and data through technology that makes content more easily accessible and personalized. Our engineering department is changing the model from individual product silos to a cross-product platform to give consumers all the products they want, when and how they want them.”

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  • While Comcast is in a unique position of having inherited many experienced executives from AT&T Wireless when it acquired AT&T Broadband in late 2002 for $47.5 billion, the company has been cautious about moving too quickly into the wireless space despite a dwindling number of consolidating telephone companies’ ardent embrace of video and other content.
  • Comcast and other major cable operators have been fighting phone companies such as SBC Communications and Verizon Communications in places like Texas over the their fight to roll out regional TV service that would compete with cable. BellSouth will start to offer Internet Protocol TV over its fiber optic cable just as cable operators are beginning to offer Internet Protocol telephony.

Even as cable operators and telephone companies run the risk of entering disruptive price wars for their similar services, they both face increased competition from alternative broadband providers such as Wi-Max, Wi-Fi, power line and direct broadcast satellites.

As Banc of America analyst Douglas Shapiro observed in a recent report, “These are two (former) monopolists getting into each other’s businesses, and they both have enormous amounts to lose.”

Comcast and other cable operators insist a majority of video viewing–which is, by far, their largest segment and expense–will remain inside the home years from now despite the proliferation of new portable interactive devices and platforms. They consider wireless to be more of a commodity.

Still, Comcast has been rigorously forging new computer-related alliances to facilitate a more creative, easy interface between television, online and telephone content and services.

  • During the past year, Comcast has announced key alliances with Motorola, Liberate, TiVo, Gemstar TV Guide, DigiCipher, Visible World and others–each of them representing a different piece of the digital broadband puzzle the cable giant is constructing.
  • All of Comcast’s new partnerships are focused on various aspects of going all digital, the timetable for which is being accelerated by Comcast as it will make its ambitious VOD service and hopes for network DVR ubiquitous for all subscribers by decade’s end, further enhancing its wireless capabilities.

“In Brian parlance,” Roberts said, “that is the personalization of television. It’s viewer-controlled television…. That’s when computer functionality is the winner.”

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