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ASubscribe Monday December 5th 2005 = requires subscription LOG IN: E-mail address Password Remember megfedc ONLINE FEATURES PRINT EDITION Full contents Enlarge current cover Past issues/regional covers GLOBAL AGENDA POLITICS THIS WEEK BUSINESS THIS WEEK OPINION Leaders Letters WORLD United States The Americas Asia Middle East & Africa Europe Britain Country Briefings Cities Guide SURVEYS BUSINESS Management Reading Business Education Executive Dialogue FINANCE & ECONOMICS Economics Focus Economics A-Z SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY Technology Quarterly PEOPLE Obituary BOOKS & ARTS Catch if you can Style Guide MARKETS & DATA Weekly Indicators Currencies Big Mac Index DIVERSIONS RESEARCH TOOLS CLASSIFIEDS DELIVERY OPTIONS E-mail Newsletters Mobile Edition RSS Feeds Economist Intelligence Unit Economist Conferences The World In Intelligent Life CFO Roll Call Cities Guide Country Briefings Audio interviews Classifieds Print Edition Politics this week Business this week Telecoms and the internet How the internet killed the phone business Japan's election A very Japanese revolution Poverty in Latin America Not always with us Hurricane Katrina Whoaaah Germany's election Time for a change On Germany's election, AIDS, Uzbekistan, China, Kentucky Fried Chicken, electronic homes Japan's election Koizumi gets his way Hurricane Katrina Now the rebuilding begins New Orleans On the mend, but changed forever California's precautions Getting ready for the Big One The Weekly Standard The neocon bible The Roberts hearings Perfect Peter Sex, drugs and the rural poor A Montanan parable United Nations reform Better than nothing Lexington The ice storm Correction: Hawaii Poverty in Latin America New thinking about an old problem Chile Democratic at last Peru's trade Ports in a storm Afghanistan A glass half full New Zealand Nose to nose How the internet killed the phone business Almost-free internet phone calls herald the slow death of traditional telephony … More on this week's lead article The world this week Leaders Letters Special Report United States The Americas Asia Inside this quarterly And now, the war forecast MONITOR Watch this space MONITOR Mashing the web MONITOR Sailing ships with a new twist MONITOR The doctor in your pocket MONITOR Summer camp for coders MONITOR Held aloft by hydrogen MONITOR A new way to stop digital decay MONITOR The policeman on your dashboard MONITOR Hear no evil MONITOR Building a better battery MONITOR No jam tomorrow? MONITOR Websites of mass description RATIONAL CONSUMER Gaming's next level REPORTS And now, the war forecast REPORTS The march of the robo-traders CASE HISTORY Better by design REPORTS Death to folders! REPORTS Just what the patient ordered BRAIN SCAN Medicine without frontiers America's airlines Flying on empty Hertz Changing gear Dow Jones Paper chase Oracle and Siebel The Godfather Turkey Flocking to the Bosporus Previous print editions Sep 10th 2005 Sep 3rd 2005 Aug 27th 2005 Aug 20th 2005 Aug 13th 2005 More print editions and covers Subscribe Subscribe to the p Or buy a Web sub full access online RSS feeds Receive this page Technology Quarterly Business European Voice Economist Diaries and Business Gifts Advertisement Taking the Mickey India and America For us, or against us? Angola The long road to recovery Iraq violence Butchery in Baghdad Iran On a roll Iran's heritage Cyrus the Disputed Palestinian politics No command and less control Germany's election The battle of the chancellorship Norway's election Back to the left Ukraine's political crisis And then they woke up Petrol prices Pumped up Italian politics Electoral games Spain's building boom Costa del concrete Charlemagne When to talk Turkey Electricity The power to change Pub design Return of the gin palace Bosses' pay Sink, or swim in champagne Riots in Northern Ireland Boiling over Monitoring health care Retail therapy Public-sector pensions Tackling the bloat Academics ponder celebrity Deconstructing Mr Beckham Bagehot Trying harder Articles flagged with this icon are printed only in the British edition of The Economist Middle East & Africa Europe Britain Pan-European companies Limited appeal Reality TV in China The sorcerer's apprentice Face value The resurrection of Steve Jobs Telecoms and the internet The meaning of free speech Insurers and Hurricane Katrina Assessing the damage Italian banks Capitulation The World Bank's “Doing Business” report Unblocking business The OECD on China's economy A model of reform Property derivatives Fear of flying Economics focus Asian squirrels Hurricanes Storm surge Ecosystem services Greening the books Abolishing addiction Brainwashing Electroconvulsive therapy Shocking treatment Art from Russia The big haul America's legal system Divide and rule Google Big and bigger Fiction in France Bleak chic Chinese books Lupine luck Obituary Eugenia Charles Overview Output, demand and jobs Prices and wages International education Money and interest rates The Economist commodity price index Stockmarkets Trade, exchange rates and budgets The Economist food index Overview Human Development Index Special Report Finance & Economics Science & Technology Books & Arts Obituary Economic and Financial Indicators Emerging-Market Indicators Politics this week Sep 15th 2005 From The Economist print edition Japan's election Japan's Liberal Democratic Party was returned to power with a sharply increased majority. Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister, had called a snap election and purged his party after his plans to privatise Japan Post were blocked by rebels. The leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan resigned. See article A fresh round of six-country talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons opened in Beijing. America's lead negotiator complained of little progress. In Afghanistan, the Taliban were blamed for the killing of seven people delivering voter registration papers in the central province of Uruzgan, just days ahead of parliamentary and provincial elections on September 18th. See article Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf, respectively the prime minister of India and the president of Pakistan, met in New York. Hopes of a breakthrough were dashed but Mr Singh did promise to visit Pakistan. Bailing out More than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the clear-up in New Orleans began in earnest. As authorities scaled back their estimate of the region's death toll, George Bush paid two visits to the deluged city (he had previously visited the Gulf coast region) to view the operations. Michael Brown resigned as head of the much criticised Federal Emergency Management Agency. See article The Senate held its confirmation hearings for John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court. Following the script, Democrats quizzed him on his attitude towards abortion and civil rights. See article The Massachusetts legislature voted against a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, which is legal in the state because of a court ruling. The measure now looks unlikely to be put to the electorate next year. AP Fernando Ferrer won the Democratic primary in New York's mayoral election, after the second- placed candidate withdrew to avoid a divisive run-off. Mr Ferrer could become the city's first Latino mayor if he beats Michael Bloomberg in November. World leaders meeting in New York were due to endorse a 35-page declaration on overhauling the United Nations and progress towards tackling world poverty. Although greatly watered down in comparison with earlier drafts, the final document was described by both Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, and Mr Bush as an important “first step” along the road to reform. Others were more dubious. See article Paying the bill In Brazil, opposition parties began proceedings to expel Severino Cavalcanti, the leader of the lower house of Congress. He is accused of extorting payments from a concessionaire who ran restaurants in the Congress building. An unrelated campaign-finance scandal involving the Workers' Party continues to erode the popularity of the government. Suez, a French utility, said it would withdraw from Argentina, where it held 46% of a large water company, after failing to reach agreement with the government over an increase in tariffs, which have been frozen since 2002. In Canada, Ontario's government said that it would not allow Muslims to use sharia law to settle family disputes; instead, it will move to outlaw religious tribunals used by Christians and Jews. Chile's Supreme Court ruled that General Augusto Pinochet can face a third set of human-rights charges, though he is likely to escape trial on health grounds. The Guardian, a British newspaper, claimed that BAE Systems paid the former dictator more than 1m ($1.6m) from 1997 to 2004. See article Up for grabs The opinion polls continued to narrow days ahead of Germany's election. Most now suggest that the opposition will not win an overall majority, making the likeliest outcome a “grand coalition” between the main centre-right and centre-left parties. See article Norway voted the centre-left into office in a general election. Jens Stoltenberg, leader of the Labour Party, will now form a government, ousting the centre-right government of Kjell Magne Bondevik. See article The European Court of Justice ruled that the European Commission could, in some circumstances, impose criminal penalties on those who flout European Union laws. The ruling was opposed by many national governments, which argued that the criminal law should never fall within EU powers. Northern Ireland witnessed its worse riots for years after a parade by the Orange Order was re- routed to avoid a Catholic neighbourhood. Around 80 police officers were hurt in the ensuing violence. The province's top policeman said the Order and loyalist paramilitaries had instigated the trouble; they blame the police. See article European finance ministers vowed to stand together against fuel-price protesters who are demanding cuts in petrol taxes. But several countries promptly offered subsidies and tax rebates to favoured pressure groups. See article The carnage continues In one of the deadliest days in Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003, at least 150 people were killed and hundreds more injured in a series of bomb attacks and shootings on September 14th. In the worst incident, a suicide bomber blew up his car in the midst of hundreds of labourers, killing at least 114. Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the mayhem. See article Hosni Mubarak won what was billed as Egypt's first competitive presidential election with 88.6% of the vote. His main rival in the race, Ayman Nour, won just 7.6% and cried foul. Even more strikingly, only 23% of the electorate bothered to vote. There were anarchic scenes in the Gaza strip as the last Israeli soldiers left. Former Israeli settlements were looted and a synagogue was burned to the ground. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned the “armed chaos”. See article In oil-rich Nigeria, thousands of people took to the streets in the city of Lagos to protest against a rise of 30% in fuel costs due to cuts in government subsidies. Somali gunmen who hijacked a UN ship off the coast of Somalia carrying relief food to tsunami victims released the ship and crew after holding them for 11 weeks. Getty Images Copyright 2005 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved. Business this week Sep 15th 2005 From The Economist print edition Flying on empty Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines filed for bankruptcy protection. Both companies, like other large American airlines, are contending with cut-throat competition from low-cost carriers, the burgeoning costs of workers' benefit schemes and a sharp rise in the cost of jet fuel. Delta has lost $10 billion since 2001 and Northwest's mechanics are currently on strike. See article Ford agreed to sell Hertz, its car-rental subsidiary, to a consortium of three private-equity firms for $5.6 billion (including debt, the transaction is worth $15 billion). Last June, the carmaker filed papers to float Hertz on the stockmarket, but a number of buy-out specialists expressed a strong interest in buying it directly instead. The sale provides some much needed liquidity for Ford—its credit rating was downgraded to “junk” status earlier this year. See article EBay confirmed that it was buying Skype, a leading provider of free phone-calls over the internet. The deal is initially worth $2.6 billion, but could rise to $4.1 billion by 2009 if performance targets are met. Luxembourg-based Skype has excited analysts, who think it will transform the telecoms industry. See article Oracle announced another large acquisition. It is buying Siebel Systems, a rival business software company, in a deal valued at $5.8 billion. Siebel is Oracle's biggest takeover since its recent contentious merger with PeopleSoft. See article A judge ruled that a former executive at Microsoft, Kai-Fu Lee, could do some, but not all, of the development work in China asked by his new employer Google. Microsoft says Mr Lee knows too much about its strategy in China, but urged Google to accept the decision. The case has highlighted the boundaries that firms can place on former employees. Not exactly a lazy summer Lehman Brothers said net income for the three months ending August 31st had risen by 74%, compared with a year earlier, to $879m. Other big Wall Street investment banks are expected to follow Lehman's lead and post equally startling quarterly results. Wachovia agreed to pay $3.9 billion for Westcorp, a financial-services holding company (the deal includes the 16% stake in WFS Financial, a car-loan company, that Westcorp does not already own). America's fourth-largest bank will double its car-financing business, and also gain a toehold in southern California's retail-banking market—another Westcorp subsidiary is Western Financial Bank. Deutsche Börse asked Reto Francioni, chairman of SWX Group, which runs the Swiss stock exchange, to be its new chief executive. The German financial-exchange group has been seeking a new boss since May, when Werner Seifert was ousted by shareholders dissatisfied with a bid for the London Stock Exchange. Banca Popolare Italiana said that it had approved the sale of its 29.5% stake in Banca Antonveneta to ABN Amro, of the Netherlands. The sale would seal the first significant foreign takeover of an Italian bank, and end a controversial battle that has lasted several months. See article I think Icahn Carl Icahn put more pressure on Time Warner. The investor, who last month revealed that he and three partners had built a 2.6% stake in the company, said he would mount a proxy fight to win seats on Time Warner's board. Mr Icahn's group wants the media giant to spin off its cable TV unit and buy back $20 billion-worth of shares in order to boost its share price. Vivendi Universal reported a 49% rise in net income, to 1.26 billion ($1.62 billion), for the first half of the year compared with a year earlier. In 2002, the media group posted France's biggest- ever annual corporate loss—23.3 billion. Australia's government overcame strong opposition to pass legislation enabling the sale of its remaining 51.8% stake in Telstra, the country's largest telecom firm. Worth A$28 billion ($22 billion) and expected next year, it is the country's biggest privatisation. EnCana, a Canadian oil-and-gas producer, said it was selling its assets in Ecuador to Andes Petroleum, a consortium of Chinese energy firms that includes China National Petroleum Corporation, for $1.42 billion. The deal is further disappointment for India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, which was also in the running for EnCana. Last month, CNPC pipped it to buy PetroKazakhstan. Put it in perspective Following Junichiro Koizumi's election win, Japan's Nikkei 225 stockmarket index reached a four-year high (though this is still a long way from its peak in late 1989). Markets were also buoyed by an upward revision to Japan's second-quarter GDP growth, which stands at an annualised rate of 3.3%. See article Telecoms and the internet How the internet killed the phone business Sep 15th 2005 From The Economist print edition Almost-free internet phone calls herald the slow death of traditional telephony THE term “disruptive technology” is popular, but is widely misused. It refers not simply to a clever new technology, but to one that undermines an existing technology—and which therefore makes life very difficult for the many businesses which depend on the existing way of doing things. Twenty years ago, the personal computer was a classic example. It swept aside an older mainframe-based style of computing, and eventually brought IBM, one of the world's mightiest firms at the time, to its knees. This week has been a coming-out party of sorts for another disruptive technology, “voice over internet protocol” (VOIP), which promises to be even more disruptive, and of even greater benefit to consumers, than personal computers (see article). VOIP's leading proponent is Skype, a small firm whose software allows people to make free calls to other Skype users over the internet, and very cheap calls to traditional telephones—all of which spells trouble for incumbent telecoms operators. On September 12th, eBay, the leading online auction-house, announced that it was buying Skype for $2.6 billion, plus an additional $1.5 billion if Skype hits certain performance targets in coming years. This seems a vast sum to pay for a company that has only $60m in revenues and has yet to turn a profit. Yet eBay was not the only company interested in buying Skype. Microsoft, Yahoo!, News Corporation and Google were all said to have also considered the idea. Perhaps eBay, rather like some over-excited bidder in one of its own auctions, has paid too much. The company says it plans to use Skype's technology to make it easier for buyers and sellers to communicate, and to offer new “click to call” advertisements, but many analysts are sceptical that eBay is the best owner of Skype. Whatever the merits of the deal, however, the fuss over Skype in recent weeks has highlighted the significance of VOIP, and the enormous threat it poses to incumbent telecoms operators. For the rise of Skype and other VOIP services means nothing less than the death of the traditional telephone business, established over a century ago. Skype is merely the most visible manifestation of a dramatic shift in the telecoms industry, as voice calling becomes just another data service delivered via high-speed internet connections. Skype, which has over 54m users, has received the most attention, but other firms routing calls partially or entirely over the internet have also signed up millions of customers. A price of zero The ability to make free or almost-fre


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