|Thursday, January 13, 2000
of import curbs
POOR CRISIS HANDLING RECORD
course for bridegroom
Case for Net power
vaccine offers fresh hope
January 13, 1925
End of import curbs
BOWING to the inevitable, India has agreed to allow unhindered import of all American goods from April next year. This is not a grand concession this country is offering to speed up its efforts to nestle closer to the dollar kingdom; it is the result of vigorous armtwisting and a curt order by the World Trade Organisation. The Indo-US agreement, signed last week but released only in Washington on Tuesday, marks the dismantling of a five decades of tall and impenetrable protectionist wall, first in the name of self-reliance and then to conserve foreign exchange. The new and rewritten chapter of international trade will delete such long-used terms as banned or negative list of items, restricted list, special import licence, users-only list and canalising agencies. Until now India had negotiated trade protocols with individual countries and the SAARC nations. With this WTO-midwifed pact, India has to extend similar treatment to all countries without any exception. It does not mean that this country will have no power to choke off unwanted goods. Imports have to pass the anti-dumping and safeguard tests, that is to say, any underpriced item either because of subsidy or the producer giving up of profit and also when there is compulsion to keep out goods in order to safeguard vital national interests. The USA has invoked its anti-dumping law to stop Japan, South Korea and India from exporting steel to that country. Of course hefty import duty should do the trick, but it will invite a retaliatory tariff hike. At present India has either banned (the so-called quantitative restrictions) or severely restricted the import of as many as 1429 items. Out of these 685 are under special import licence which facility is open only to exporters. Under the agreement, India will throw open the import gate to 714 items by April this year and to the remaining 715 by the same time next year. This has given India 18 months to phase out the curbs, three months longer than the period the WTO had allowed in its order in September last.
Given the pressure a
nervous lot of industrialists are likely to mount on the
government, in the first free list will figure
agricultural goods and luxury items. The world market in
foodgrains and other farm products is highly volatile and
right now prices are low. For instance, coarse grains
from the USA are available at one-fourth of the Indian
price; import will thus benefit the rural poor whose
staple food they are. But import will also starve them
since the rain-fed and infertile land they work on and
live on can grow only coarse grain. They will get cheaper
grain but will have no money to buy it. India need not
import foodgrains for some more years and later a maximum
of 3 per cent of its production. Textiles too have come
under free import but it is not a big threat since the
price difference should filter out all but fancy brands
which are dear to the super rich. Unrestricted entry of
consumer goods and manufactured products are in a
separate class altogether. There are two opposite views
on this issue. One, priced in dollars most goods will be
prohibitively costly in India, thus taking it beyond the
middle class. Anyway Indian producers are no push-overs
as the experience of the past decade shows. If the price
is low compared to local products, there will be allround
rate cutting and lower inflation. The other opinion is
that attracted by the potential of the Indian market,
established leaders will design new items and pass on the
benefits of mass production to the consumer. Indian
industrialists are not that supple to innovate and
survive in a highly competitive environment. But the die
is cast and domestic products will have to learn to
jostle with imported, read American, ones.
A challenging task
DAILY reports of a virulent and continuous Pakistani propaganda blitzkrieg against India are not only creating an atmosphere of demeaning self-condemnation in society but also emboldening the bullies beyond our frontiers and their agents around us. We forget Kargil and concentrate on Kandahar where the Atal Behari Vajpayee government released three Pakistani terrorists to seek the release of a plane-load of passengers and members of the crew. The wisdom of the "humanitarian" official decision implemented by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, who accompanied three culpable fundamentalists and militants, would never be conclusively disproved. International opinion serves the limited interests of global preachers. The hostage-terrorist swap was done with American encouragement. Masood Azhar (let us not call him a maulana and denigrate an exalted religio-academic expression) was one of the released terrorists. The USA, after wilful ear-plugging, heard this criminal threatening it along with India. His old utterances, put in audio-cassette form, are again being circulated in large, duplicated numbers in various parts of the country. These were not made in Himachal Pradesh. "Jehad" and "Babri Masjid ki Pukar" were clandestinely played in UP, Bihar and various parts of Jammu and Kashmir before the shifting of this symbol of communal disharmony from prison to prison. After his freedom to spread violence, the old stuff is getting into the headlines.
Administration's functionaries have issued stern (and
obviously unmeant) warnings to Pakistan asking it to tame
Masood Azhar or else! Masood is challenging Indian
sovereignty and American security. He, along with the
hijackers and the freed fellow-terrorists, would organise
a five-lakh strong army of mujahideen. They would
"destroy hundreds of religious places in India and
grab Kashmir for Pakistan". Is Mr Clinton listening?
If he is, what does he plan to do to bring this
loud-mouthed version of a really tough but quiet
Osama-bin-Laden within the ambit of law? It should have
at least declared Pakistan a terrorist state by now.
Masood's audio-tapes are not more dangerous in this
country than tapeworms. It is possible for our security
men to travel beyond the Yol cantonment, perhaps with a
brief stop-over at Kairana near Muzaffarnagar, to
Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura. It is a pathetic sight to
find the Home Minister apologising for his government's
collective action in Kandahar. The Prime Minister's
"Vijay sangeet" is now mute in the foggy
Capital. The RSS chief is calling millions of Indians,
including himself, cowards. The bullies are defying the
rule of law and enacting bloody scenes in high security
areas. Why is it happening the way it is happening? This
nation is not made of cowards and bullies. Our sangathans
and parivars are not united enough. Society is losing its
multi-cultural character. We, and not the USA and
Pakistan, are responsible for the unrestricted rise of
the Masoods. We are hugging fear. Those showing abject
inefficiency or lack of foresight should be punished. The
system must work without the diktat of the politickers.
"Ekla chalo ray" (Let's walk alone) is the
"moola matra" of redemption.
THE photograph showing a beaming Ms Mayawati in conversation with Mr L. K. Advani at his residence would not have reached the editorial offices of Delhi-based newspapers had the two leaders decided against it. Yet, spokesmen of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party are not willing to be officially quoted on the likelihood of one more marriage of convenience between the two parties in Uttar Pradesh. However, given the Indian situation when the families of prospective alliance partners begin to meet each other more frequently than what is considered normal glad tidings are usually not too far behind. Even the usually articulate spokesman and General Secretary of the BJP, Mr Govindacharya, did not sound quite convincing when he told reporters in Lucknow the other day that there was no question of a tie-up between the BJP and the BSP. Of course, he is free not to read too much into the decision to revive the Ambedkar Park project in Lucknow. But he cannot stop others from reading the writing on the walls of a park meant to symbolise the coming of age of the Bahujan Samaj. The project was virtually killed when Mr Kalyan Singh became Chief Minister in place of Ms Mayawati under an earlier power-sharing arrangement between the two parties. The Ambedkar Park project was shelved by him to spite Ms Mayawati for having broken the alliance following differences over issues which the BSP leader rightly thought were crucial for the survival of her party in UP. But the political equations after the ouster of Mr Kalyan Singh from the BJP have changed beyond recognition in the state. Mr Kalyan Singh was held responsible, and shown the door for the partys relatively poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP leadership is
not so naive as not to realise that installing Mr Ram
Prakash Gupta as Chief Minister is not the answer to
their political worries in UP. The party would like to
dine again with the BSP, as it were, for meeting its
short term objective of keeping the backward classes in
good humour after the departure of Mr Kalyan Singh.
Although Ms Mayawati herself is responding like a shy
bride to the question of alliance with the BJP, the fact
that even senior BJP leaders are now courting her cannot
hide the fact that political wedding bells
may be heard sooner than later in Lucknow. To the astute
observer they would merely herald yet another happy
beginning to a story which at least on two earlier
occasions has resulted in the honeymoon ending even
before it had formally begun. For the success of the
latest (yet to be officially confirmed) initiative the
BJP leadership would have to be prepared to play second
fiddle to the usually politically more domineering Ms
Mayawati. The coming together of the BSP and the BJP as
part of advance planning for meeting the likelihood of
early assembly elections in UP would, of course, force
both the Congress and the Samajwadi Party, the principal
contenders for power, to revise their strategies for
gaining control of the state. For putting the political
rivals on the backfoot all that the BJP has to do is to
decide whether it is prepared to do business with the BSP
on terms which would most certainly be dictated by the
one and only Ms Mayawati.
A POOR CRISIS HANDLING RECORD
BLAME for the past must now be tempered by lessons for the future. What one can now do from the tortuous line of events during the recent hijack operation is to make proper preparations for what is to come. The ISI has tasted blood and will not give up. There have been no winners in the Indian side. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee first expressed his instincts when he said that there will be no compromise with terrorism but later gave up. Perhaps he was not prepared for any more loss of passengers.
There have, of course, been winners in the Taliban in the sense that it has shown a deep diplomatic sophistry in conducting an unplanned international episode from its territory. Even the unnamed ATC spokesman in the Kandahar airport surprised everyone by showing that he had been trained in the intricacies of hardened diplomacy carried on with a country like India with which the Taliban had no relations. There have been definite winners in Pakistan in bringing back some of the hardened terrorists who had created havoc in Kashmir. In contrast, India was daunting, irresolute and unmindful of how to go about this admittedly difficult undertaking. Its achievement has been to bring back the passengers to India after showing its ineptitude in dealing with an unfavourable situation in Nepal and a golden but difficult opportunity in Amritsar. Of course, one must concede that Indias options were not easy. But an alert administration might have fared better.
In discussing the situation one must have the humility to feel that everything has not been in black and white. For instance, it is not possible to say whether the three jailed terrorists should have been exchanged for the over 150 passengers. Would it have been easy for the government to risk the lives of the passengers at the hands of the hijackers who showed no mercy in slitting the throat of a hostage and let him bleed to death? Was it proper not to let the three hardcore militants go scot-free because they had been arrested after a lifetime of murder and let down the security forces who had given their all to arrest them in the interests of the state.
Even in managing the relatives who were clamouring for the passengers in Delhi the government showed that it had no plan to keep them informed, give them comfort and spread a word of cheer. Was it impossible to detail officials to inform the relatives every half an hour of the latest position? They could have been asked to collect at a more convenient place, like the hall of the New Delhi Municipal Committee, given tea and eats and have people in authority to talk to them after every fixed interval. By letting them go wild on their own, pushing themselves into the Prime Ministers house and rushing to the airport, the government allowed pressures to grow on it which could come in the way of taking cool decisions.
Even with hind sight it is difficult to give proper answers. Maybe the released hijackers and terrorists would now do more damage to the security of the state. Maybe the government should be condemned; maybe it should be given the benefit of the doubt. But one thing is certain: it can no more laugh at the V.P. Singh government having let off a number of militants in exchange for Rubayya Sayeed in 1989. If that was bad, this was worse. We should have been better prepared this time.
India not having paid heed to the hot-bed of terrorist intrigue and planning, Nepal had been turned by the ISI as one of the great failures of our security agencies. It is surprising that the government did not take seriously whatever had been happening in Nepal for months. In such cases just sending a few notes to the Nepalese government, drawing attention to the anti-Indian activities of the ISI, was not enough. It may have satisfied some bureaucrats and diplomats but this was not enough. The blame must fall on the government, particularly the security system.
Why did New Delhi not take adequate measures to make Nepal safe for India? This is a prime question.
It was as big a failure as to leave Indira Gandhis would-be assassins free to be indoctrinated without a thought being given to who was working on their minds and in what way. It was as big a failure as in planning for Mr Atal Behari Vajpayees trip to Lahore without any groundwork having been done into whether Pakistans politicians and military were willing to grasp the hand of friendship that the Indian Prime Minister was extending. The security agencies should explain how come Pakistani soldiers were marching to occupy Kargil and cut off the Leh road as the Indian Prime Minister was travelling in a bus to Lahore. There was total lack of homework in preparing for such an important visit.
For many years Nepal has been the focal point of Pakistani agents and Kashmiri separatists, many of whom went there as exporters of carpets and returned as importers of RDX. This has little to do with our relations with Nepal. That country could not have allowed this to happen deliberately. It is just that Nepal did not care as also India, which had a great deal to lose, also did not. In these circumstances why were Indian Airlines planes allowed to come in or take off without any concern for their security? If the Nepalese measures were inefficient and lax, India should have shown greater awareness. It should have seen to it that all the passengers who got into the Indian planes were properly searched. This called for simple vigilance and would have perhaps prevented a tragedy like the last one. The hijackers had even taken a boxful of arms which was in the luggage hold. How could this have been allowed to happen in Kathmandu?
The ISI activity in Nepal was not a secret to anyone. Is Bangladesh being looked at carefully? Here again this has nothing to do with Indias relations with Bangladesh. What we should know is that the ISI is constantly looking for easy passages to subvert Indian security. If this is not appreciated by the Indian security agencies, what else can?
After the plane was hijacked after Lucknow the Prime Minister was travelling almost along the same route to Delhi from Calcutta but he was not told about it. How could this have happened? What kind of a security planning do we have if in such a case the Prime Minister is not kept properly informed. The crisis management group should have got together immediately after the pilot had notified the ground control that he had been hijacked. Unfortunately, much valuable time was lost, particularly in Amritsar, which should have been the most favourable place for Indian commandos to act.
How long does it take for the crisis management group to come together? How fast does it operate in a changing crisis situation? Does it have to take orders from politicians? The group should not have waited till the plane got off to the India-Pakistan border and hovered between Lahore and Amritsar. Can an Indian aircraft follow the plane and watch its movement? Would it help if the commandos are immediately airlifted and reach a site near where the hijacked aircraft has landed for quicker action? The commandos should not start operating after the hijacked plane has landed somewhere. They should immediately be airborne and be able to land somewhere near. How well and how secretly can this be done? Was it, for instance, possible for the commandos to land in Amritsar, of course without being detected by the hijackers? This would have enabled them to storm the hijacked aircraft in the early moments of the 40 minutes it was at the Rajasansi airport.
India got a golden opportunity in the plane being refused to land in Lahore and its coming to Amritsar. Whether it was deliberate or not, Pakistan was doing a good turn to India in sending the plane to Amritsar. But this became a wasted opportunity. Did it not dawn on the crisis management group that such an opportunity would not come again? How this was handled demands a thorough enquiry. The conclusions may point to risks as well as opportunities. The plane could have been stormed. But it would have been less difficult, with all the risks involved, had India taken action on Indian soil. Such an opportunity would not come again in the course of a single hijacking. Maybe we were put off thinking that the hijackers would start killing people. This could have happened. But here at last was an opportunity that we should not easily have let go. That would have put the fear of God in the hearts of future hijackers. That would have shown them that India was well prepared for daring tasks.
If we have commandos, we have to make them effective and daring. The Israelis tried it and succeeded. The Americans tried it and failed in Iran. It is no use to have commandos and not make them give their best. Kargil has just showed us that we have to dare and act.
Mr Vajpayee did well to
have Mr Jaswant Singh direct the operations. He is sober
and does not promise empty results. Mr Jaswant Singh
conducted himself well if we take away the unnecessary
praise he showered on the Taliban. But the worst phase
was that he gave himself the unsavoury distinction of
accompanying the dreaded militants to Kandahar. That is
something in his distinguished life story that he will
not easily get over.
Need for fiscal stabilisation
THE year 2000 has opened with a mix of optimism and misgivings not so much about the course of the economy, which is on a recovery track, as to how far the government will address the structural problems which jeopardise higher growth on a sustained basis.
The Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, has begun pre-budget exercises with a series of consultations with all interest groups industrialists, trade unions, economists and other sections like farmers and small businesses. The advice he would get is predictable, but the Finance Minister would keep his own counsel.
Unlike last year when he was still dealing with an economy in recession, Mr Sinhas third budget will be set against the backdrop of favourable trends with the marked rise in industrial output (around 7 per cent in the first seven months of 1999-2000), an impressive recovery in exports of 10 to 12 per cent in dollar terms, and a continued low level of inflation below 3 per cent.
The Reserve Bank of India, in its report on currency and finance for the year, has noted a strong credit growth and a rise in capacity utilisation in key sectors of industry. While growth is spread over basic, capital and intermediate goods, it is the consumer durables that are leading the recovery.
There is no doubt a shift in the pattern of growth with information technology, automobiles, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals emerging as major elements. Thanks to the incentives for housing in the current years budget, construction industries like cement and steel have fared well.
The industrial scene is undergoing transformation, not as rapidly as one had hoped in the immediate years after the Narasimha Rao government launched liberalisation with a big bang approach, but slowly the logic of competition has compelled industry to undertake restructuring and consolidation and secure productivity gains through greater infusion of technology.
The cry of domestic industry being in danger from industrialists like Mr Rahul Bajaj is no longer shrill. India has to reckon with globalisation whatever the pace of adjustment it chooses to adopt for itself. Nevertheless, the government is under pressure to use the duty mechanism to afford protection, as has been done recently in the case of steel, sugar and edible oils.
But the corporate sector would certainly expect the government not to tamper with the rates of income and company taxes and instead proceed with rationalisation of the indirect tax structure, in continuation of the process outlined in the 1999-2000 budget. Tax reforms will, however, remain central to fiscal stabilisation along with expenditure management while the third dimension is disinvestment which is seen as the quickest way of reducing budget deficits.
After his first roll back budget of 1998-99, Mr Sinha turned wiser last year, but his third budget for 2000-01 the fourth year of the truncated Ninth Five-Year Plan will be no less challenging for him. Already, his medium-term vision of lowering fiscal deficit to 2 per cent of the GDP has taken a beating after the Kargil war and the unprecedented demands for assistance from the states in deep financial troubles.
Defence allocation will rise significantly in the new budget, and Mr Sinha will have to keep up the pretence of raising the Plan outlay though public undertakings invariably fail to come up with the estimated internal and extra-budgetary resources. Nor is there any effective mechanism to ensure that Plan allocations are utilised and give results.
Not only the Centres targeted deficit of 4 per cent of the GDP would be exceeded to a level of perhaps 6 per cent, but also the states deficits would get worse to take the national fiscal deficit to 10 per cent of the GDP. Such a deficit, leading to higher borrowings, affects investment climate, puts pressure on interest rates and threatens the stability of the financial system. This is the warning underlined in the RBIs latest report as also by the World Bank, which says economic growth is restrained by the unsustainable fiscal deficits and the deteriorating state of infrastructure.
Mr Sinha would have to keep in view both growth dynamics as well as the expectations of investors abroad at a time when business confidence is looking up and a bi-partisan (BJP and Congress) backing for a broad range of economic reforms is taken for granted.
On the fiscal side, Mr Sinha might prefer the easy option of setting up an expenditure commission and await its labours. With assembly elections in Bihar, Orissa and Haryana, the Finance Minister cannot easily apply the axe on subsidies or welfare schemes. Taxing agriculture must await better times. Nor does Mr Sinha seem bold enough to downsize government machinery, despite the constant refrain of hard decisions from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
National security can be a ploy to propose temporary surcharges. While the tax base has widened to cover nearly 20 million persons, Mr Sinha will look for tapping the Services sector increasingly, given its growing share in the GDP which is now about 47 per cent.
The RBI has called for a
reduction of the debt-GDP ratio, expenditure reform and
public sector restructuring to improve the Central
Governments finances to facilitate a shift to
increased capital and social sector spending. The World
Bank points out that faster growth (7 to 8 per cent per
annum) would require increased fixed capital formation
and saving. India should be able to attract increased
foreign direct investment for financing growth if
macro-economic stabilisation gets the needed thrust in
the forthcoming budget. IPA
Crash course for bridegroom
A VERY shy maternal uncle of mine was getting too late for his marriage because he suffered from various kinds of phobias. He was almost of my age since in those days it wasnt very unusual for uncles and nephews to be born immediately after each other.
This man, having been a couple of year older than the prescribed celibacy phase in Hindu mythology and way of life, was a bundle of obsessions and misplaced apprehensions, with a cumulative phobic disposition and state of mind.
The family members pestered him, day in and day out, even threatening that no one would marry his daughter to him since his advancing age was becoming too obvious on his face with the hair turning grey, the eyes developing crowfeet, the radiance on the forehead receding day by day and the cheeks giving sunken looks.
Having been goaded a little too much by all of us, he agreed to marry on certain conditions that he will not mount a mare! that he will not wear a suit and tie! that he will not wear the sehra! that he will not wear a ring! that he will not have henna on the hands! that he will not bathe with a turmeric annointing! that he will not carry a sword in his hands! that he will not carry a towel with him to be kept on his cross-legged receptacle of gifts from the brides side! that he will not play the game of Kangna organised by the females in the household after the marriage, as is the custom in Haryana! that.....; so on and so forth. Thank God, he did not say he would not sleep with the bride.
Preparations for the marriage began in the house since there was already a proposal at hand. But what worried us all were the conditions put by the prospective bridegroom. He was a fit case to be referred to a psychiatrist. And instead of taking my maternal uncle to the psychiatrist, since it would prove counter-productive, we deliberated that a consultation should set things in order. We approached an expert and picked up some tips and the marriage-date being a month ahead, we launched operation conditioning.
I, along with a couple of friends and the uncle, set out to my village. We convinced him that certain simple tricks would drive away the fears from his mind. Very demurely he agreed, on yet another condition that we too will have to be by his side, always, during the operation.
Now began our crash-course. We applied shampoo on uncles head, worked up rich foam and made him sit in a makeshift bathroom for half-an-hour in one go as treatment to ward off his seemingly claustrophobic anxieties. We then took him to the village pond making him ride a donkey and dragged him in deep waters. We washed his hair and returned to the shore to give him a feeling of lightness. He was made to lie embalmed in mud pasted all over his body.
This was our daily routine and uncle cooperated everytime since we reminded him frequently that after all, he was going to enjoy the marital bliss, in due course. He would grin as if the proverbial laddoos broke in his stomach.
We spent about a fortnight thus and returned to the mofussil town of my maternal uncle. Lo and behold, uncle was a totally different person. He started taking keen interest in his sartorial vignettes drapings and embellishments. Very enthusiastically he offered his finger to the goldsmith for its size for the bridal ring. He also said he would like to wear a gold-bracelet on his wrist. Very indulgently he selected his suit and tie. He stood before the lifesize mirror trying this turban or that, for hours. Everybody in the family was amazed at our treatment of the bridegroom.
The marriage was solemnised without any hassles. All the time we were literally glued to the uncle, holding his hands and giving him the much needed moral courage. The bride joined him in his household. We were still with the newly weds.
All this while, I had
been noticing some kind of restlessness and frustration
in uncles behaviour and ultimately, thinking that
the entire exercise might prove futile, asked him if
there was anything wrong with him then. Can you
please leave me (or us!) alone now! shouted my
new-look uncle and we had no option than to excuse us.
Uncle now is a happily married man with a family of six
to prove that he has overcome his phobias of various
kinds. But when did he even say he had phobias related to
Case for Net power
CALL it the revenge of the nerds, or that of the 41-year-old billionaire Stephen M. Case. From small beginnings 15 years ago, he has taken his small Internet service provider, America Online (AOL), to dizzy heights today by accomplishing the merger with Time Warner. The merger has created a company that has been valued at what the GDP of a good-sized nation, like Mexico, would be.
Just a few years ago it was said that a media company would buy AOL. But it has proved to be the other way round. AOL has bought the worlds largest media company. The merger of the two has created a mammoth with a market value of $342 billion. This would make it the fourth most valuable company in the USA. The top three are Microsoft, General Electric and Cisco Systems.
Time Warner was itself created 10 years ago following a merger of Time Inc. and Warner Communications. The company bought Turner Broadcasting in 1996.
To put things in perspective, Time Warner has a stable of 33 magazines, including Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Life. These magazines had 120 million readers last year. Besides, it sells books ($1.1 billion worth last year) and has HBO, the second largest cable television system in the USA, with 13 million customers. It also owns Warner Brothers movies and television, and a lot more.
AOL is considered the leading provider of Internet services with 22 million customers. It has been a market-savvy pioneer that has managed to keep its dominant position largely because of its ability to maintain an easy Net interface and its marketing skills. In 1998 AOL bought the company that pioneered the browser on the Internet Netscape. Incidentally, it was the same year that the company became profitable, an objective that has eluded most of the Internet companies.
More than other aspects, this deal underlines the importance of the Internet in shaping the destinies of consumers, corporations, and even countries. The Internet is where the future is, and it is because of this vision that there is a massive consolidation that is going on between companies that have traditional strengths, but lack Net savvyness.
In fact, Times Warner spent millions of dollars for years in trying to create a presence on the Internet, through its company Pathfinder. It eventually gave up. A company that has such respected names as Time and Sports Illustrated could not generate profits on its Internet sites.
AOL did, though it has taken it 15 years to reach where it has. Thats a long time by todays cyber standards, though a short one if we compare it with a Time Warner component, Time Inc., which was started 70 years ago
While the merger would give Time Warner access to AOLs subscribers who would get various services, including movies, music and news, AOL would get the cable bandwidth, something that it has been denied so far.
It is generally considered that the next thrust of Internet services will be through cable and satellite connections, as the existing telephone networks lack the bandwidth required to transmit sound and video images. Thus for AOL, the vast resources of the conventional media company would be available, and along with these bandwidth.
It is expected that this merger will trigger more mergers between traditional media companies that have the content and the Internet companies that have the wherewithal.
What does this deal mean to the general public? Well, it signals, rather forcefully that the media will make tremendous inroads into the Internet, providing the Internet users with credible information. This could well mean a sort of loss of innocence for the freewheeling Internet since AOL has been, in its own way, imposing order on the Net. As expected, this has evoked a negative reaction from various Internet groups.
At the Slashdot website, Managing Editor Robin Miller set the Orwellian tone of the deliberations by stating: Now youll be able to get all your Internet needs, from connectivity to content to shopping, delivered by a single experienced company. No more need to deal with websites that stray from the party line, take risks...or any of that other messy old-fashioned Internet as anarchy stuff.
To get online in the future, all youll need to do is plug in your computer, turn off your brain, and enjoy!
While this may be overstating the case, the merger does raise concerns about the over-consolidation of the media, or its concentration in a few hands. This merger will further push the infotainment juggernaught of CNN, the magazine stable of Warner and its movie business.
As expected, the French have been quick to react with concern to what they see as an American chariot being run by eight or nine very powerful horses. Once it starts moving, no one can stop it. A French analyst saw parallels between this new entity and Hollywoods domination over the entertainment world.
For most of the Internet users, the Net has been a friendly sort of a place, insulated from the pulls and pressures of the marketplace. In the past few years, it has become more user-friendly and more accessible.
At the same time it is becoming more market driven, with commercial imperatives driving out the old Wild West character it has acquired one in which any entrepreneur could make a mark. The chances of some one, even a Case, taking on the AOL Time Warner combine in cyberspace are now infinitesimal.
AIDS vaccine offers fresh
A RADICALLY new AIDS vaccine which could be the only hope for millions in Africa is to be tested in a British Government-backed research unit in Oxford. The approach is the latest in a score of attempts to find a vaccine for a virus which is infecting 16,000 people a day. One or two are still in trials, but most have been disappointments.
But Andrew McMichael, head of the new medical research council unit, believes the latest vaccine has a better than 50-50 chance higher than any other so far.
The councils human immunology unit at Oxford University is about to try the new HIV vaccine on volunteers in Britain. The team will then work with scientists in Nairobi on larger trials in groups most at risk later this year.
Most vaccines work by promoting antibodies which recognise an invading virus and summon up the resources of the immune system to destroy it. But the HIV virus has for two decades proved a bewildering enemy. It changes its coat with astonishing rapidity, disguising itself from antibody recognition. And it targets the immune system, invading the killer T-lymphocytes, or white blood cells, that normally destroy viruses, and using them to replicate itself. The Oxford group has been working, with partners in Kenya, on a vaccine that kicks the T-cells into action at the first sign of the virus.
The hope is that the immune system will get in ahead of the virus so that it never really gets established, said Professor McMichael. The immune system is very big, it involves billions of cells, so you can afford to have a few thousand or even a few million infected and if they can be dealt with, you wont damage the immune system.
Since its first identification, the HIV virus has infected 50 million people, and so far killed 16 million. Although infection in Britain and the USA has been concentrated among drug-users and the gay community, most of the infection in the developing world has been among heterosexuals. There is no cure but recently a cocktail of specially developed drugs has, in the West, restored health to many who had expected to die. But the treatment costs up to $ 16,000 a year per patient far beyond the reach of most people in Africa or Asia.
The new approach was inspired by a study of a number of prostitutes in Kenya who have puzzlingly resisted infection, even though they have been most at risk as if they were equipped with natural resistance to a virus which in parts of Africa infects more than one in five adults.
The new vaccine is made from the tiny segment of DNA from the HIV virus that stimulates a response in the T-cells, delivered with the oldest weapon in the vaccine arsenal, the vaccinia virus that 200 years ago opened the scientific war against smallpox. It is proved safe, but the first safety trials will, in any case, be on UK volunteers.
There is always this accusation just under the surface that we are using Africans as guinea pigs, said Prof McMichael. We are using our volunteers here as guinea pigs.
The three-phase trials will take years and involve more than 10,000 people. Even if the results are encouraging, it could take a decade to produce an effective vaccine that could be used widely. But the Oxford unit has high hopes: it is working on a similar vaccine strategy for melanoma. There is common ground in all these things, said Prof McMichael. The cancer is presenting a challenge to the immune system as an altered cell.
MR Vithalbhoy Patel, M.L.A., who presided over the Railway Passengers Conference held at Belgaum during the National Week, laid stress on the necessity of Congressmen and Councillors bringing the railway passengers grievances to the notice of the public more frequently and persistently than before with a view to inducing the authorities to adopt necessary improvements.
The authorities are supposed to be gradually improving the conditions of the passengers, but no tangible effect is yet visible, especially in the case of the lower class passengers. The reduction of railway fares is the first step to be taken and it is to be hoped that the question will be pressed at the next session of the Assembly when the Railway Budget is considered.
When the price of steel
and other railway materials has fallen and when fares
have been reduced in other countries, the continued
exploitation by Railway companies in India of lower class
passengers is utterly unjustifiable and deserves to be
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