Contact Me By Email

Atlanta, GA Weather from Weather Underground

Friday, December 23, 2005

From Back-Channel Contacts, Blueprint for a Deal - New York Times

From Back-Channel Contacts, Blueprint for a Deal - New York TimesDecember 23, 2005
From Back-Channel Contacts, Blueprint for a Deal
By SEWELL CHAN and STEVEN GREENHOUSE

On Wednesday morning, Roger Toussaint's closest advisers encouraged him to face his difficult circumstances. The workers in Mr. Toussaint's union, who had brought the city's transit system to a halt, were incurring fines and public scorn with each day of the union's strike.

What's your endgame? the advisers asked him gently.

Already, Mr. Toussaint had sent intermediaries to seek Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's aid in ending the deadlock with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to several people involved in the discussions.

But by noon, other labor leaders had become more blunt in counseling Mr. Toussaint, suggesting that his union was in real peril.

In an early afternoon telephone conference call with 40 union leaders, according to people who participated, Mr. Toussaint showed his frustration as he sought a public showing of support.

"I don't need anyone standing on the sidelines holding my coat," one person recalled his saying. "I need someone to take off their coats."

Eventually, Mr. Toussaint's back-channel communication to Mr. Bloomberg paid off, and the groundwork for a return to work was laid.

Mr. Toussaint signaled that if the transportation authority relaxed its demands involving pensions - the issue at the heart of the contract dispute - he would be willing to bargain over workers' making payments toward their health benefits. Mr. Bloomberg, after initial skepticism, indicated it might be a formula for success.

It was. Less than 24 hours after Mr. Toussaint's moments of hard reckoning, mediators announced that the union leadership felt sufficiently encouraged about progress to announce that the union was ready to call off the strike.

The story of what happened over those 24 hours - the role of the state mediators, the background role of the Bloomberg administration, the contrasting realities of heated public exchanges and behind-the-scenes headway - was pieced together through interviews with government officials, labor leaders and people close to the union and the authority. The principals themselves, Mr. Toussaint and top officials of the authority, have agreed to conduct the remaining negotiations toward a final contract in secret.

The beginning of the end of the transit strike of 2005 started innocuously, with the arrival around 3 p.m. on Tuesday of a middle-aged man with a dimpled chin and a dark gray mustache. He slipped into a Midtown hotel unnoticed, 12 hours after the city's subway and bus workers walked off the job for the first time in 25 years.

The man, a mediator from the state's Public Employment Relations Board who had traveled from Albany to enter what for New Yorkers was the World Series of conflict resolution, would help establish enough of a negotiating peace that millions of people who had been all but stranded in their own city could resume their normal lives.

The mediator, Richard A. Curreri, and two other veteran mediators practiced shuttle diplomacy inside the Grand Hyatt hotel near Grand Central Terminal. But their main accomplishment may not have been performing feats of persuasion so much as providing public cover for each side to resume negotiations, even as a war of rhetoric continued to rage at news conferences and on picket lines.

Mr. Curreri, a lawyer who has worked for the board since 1990 and is its director of conciliation, invited two other mediators to join him on Tuesday: Martin F. Scheinman, a lawyer and veteran arbitrator and mediator who has helped settle thousands of labor contracts, and Alan R. Viani, who was the chief negotiator for District Council 37, the city's largest union of municipal workers, from 1973 to 1985. They would work through the night on Wednesday before emerging early yesterday to say an end to the strike was at hand.

Even though Gov. George E. Pataki opposed negotiations unless the strike ended, and Mr. Toussaint opposed negotiations unless pensions were dropped from the table, all day Wednesday top negotiators for the two sides met repeatedly with the mediators - in effect, negotiating through a third party.

On Wednesday, Mr. Toussaint had clearly begun to appreciate the depth of the problems faced by Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union. Those who were advising him said he seriously contemplated the prospect of being jailed and the economic harm to his workers.

Around 10 a.m., Mr. Toussaint called two other labor leaders: Bruce S. Raynor, the general president of Unite Here, the union representing apparel, hotel and restaurant workers, and Mike Fishman, president of the city's giant union of building service workers, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union. Mr. Toussaint asked the two men, who had both supported Mr. Bloomberg's re-election, to call the mayor to urge him to pressure Peter S. Kalikow, chairman of the authority, to drop his demands on pensions, according to Mr. Raynor.

In its final offer, the authority demanded that future workers pay 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, compared with 2 percent from current workers. Mr. Toussaint condemned that proposal as onerously high and as treating tomorrow's workers worse than today's.

Mr. Raynor said he had tried to gauge the mayor's response to the idea of having the authority back off on its pension demands and instead consider higher health care contributions from workers as a way of achieving long-term savings. The mayor at first rejected the notion, but "eventually he came around to believing that was a good idea," Mr. Raynor said.

Mr. Raynor said he and Mr. Fishman had tried to serve as informal mediators. "We both believe that you have to find a solution, the quicker the better, and we both had credibility with the mayor and with Roger," Mr. Raynor said.

The resolution of the strike picked up speed Wednesday afternoon, even after harsh public performances by the mayor and by Mr. Toussaint, as well as by Mr. Pataki, who demanded that the workers return to their jobs before negotiations could resume. When David Catalfamo, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki, was asked on Wednesday whether the authority was free to bargain, he replied in an e-mail message, "The M.T.A. can speak for themselves."

Mr. Toussaint went before television cameras on Wednesday afternoon and tried to claim the moral high ground in the dispute. He tried to place the strike in the context of social justice and likened the illegal walkout to Rosa Parks's civil disobedience. He also tried to raise the ante, by offering to resume talks immediately if the authority agreed to drop its pension demands.

Two hours later, more than a dozen union leaders - representing teachers, CUNY professors, police detectives and municipal workers, among other groups - stood before the same cameras and vigorously asserted that Mr. Toussaint's demand to have pensions dropped from the talks was fair and reasonable. What they did not do was declare support for the strike.

Privately, in the conference call on Wednesday afternoon, they had warned Mr. Toussaint that the fines, public anger and contempt citations from the strike could be disastrous.

"All day long there were a couple of us, that kept on trying to figure out what can settle this, what can solve this," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. "We were very concerned that management was going to bear down and go after the union."

She and Assemblyman Brian M. McLaughlin, a Queens Democrat who is the president of the New York City Central Labor Council, spoke to both Mr. Toussaint and Mr. Kalikow. Mr. McLaughlin said yesterday he was aware that the union's position was delicate but credited Mr. Toussaint for being willing to return to the table. "Nobody really knew where Roger was willing, or not willing, to go," he said. "He said if this issue was removed from the table, we could within hours reach an agreement."

Mr. McLaughlin said the strike had been a major obstacle in getting the authority to make concessions. "You have to work past things," he said. "Once there's a strike, attitudes change. Politicians go more for blood than conflict resolution, and place the blame squarely on one side."

Bill Lynch, a former deputy mayor who has advised Mr. Toussaint, said the unions' stance and the communications with Mr. Bloomberg had been critical in persuading the transportation authority to bend. "I think that they were hearing all that static out there and I think, with the municipal unions coming as strongly as they did, the momentum toward saving the pensions was starting to build," Mr. Lynch said. The transportation authority, he said, was "losing ground on that issue."

Enter the mediators. Their proposal - having the union agree to return to work with the transportation authority essentially acknowledging that pensions were all but off the table - ultimately allowed each side to swallow something.

Barry L. Feinstein, a former Teamsters leader who has served on the authority's board since 1989 and is close to Mr. Pataki and Mr. Kalikow, said Mr. Kalikow deserved credit for showing resolve without foreclosing the possibility of reopening talks. He said many people had expected Mr. Kalikow to give in under the threat of a strike.

"Many people thought that he wouldn't be able to take the pressure, that he would fold, that he would do whatever had to be done to prevent a strike, that the M.T.A. would avoid a strike at any cost," Mr. Feinstein said. "That didn't happen."

Jerome Lefkowitz, a labor lawyer who helped draft a state law that provides for mediation and arbitration in contract disputes involving police, firefighters and transit workers, said he felt the law had helped people find a path of reason.

"Mediators must have the facility to listen to what the negotiators are saying and to hear priorities and demands that may not be articulated explicitly," he said. "When they start making progress, more tradeoffs follow pretty quickly, once you can break the ice."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

New York Transit Strike Ends After 3 Days - New York Times


New York Transit Strike Ends After 3 Days - New York Times

December 22, 2005
State Mediators Set Up Plan That Leads to End of 60-Hour Ordeal
By STEVE GREENHOUSE
and SEWELL CHAN

New York City transit employees will return to work today and limited subway and bus service could resume within hours, officials from Transit Workers Union, Local 100, said at midafternoon.

The order to return to work came after the union's executive board voted 38 to 5, with two abstentions, to accept a preliminary framework of a settlement plan as a basis to end the walkout.

The framework had already been agreed to by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

State mediators devised the framework for a settlement after all-night negotiations with the union and the M.T.A.

"I'm pleased to announce that the Local 100 executive board just voted overwhelmingly to direct transit workers to return to work immediately and to resume bus and subway service throughout the five boroughs of New York City, and we thank riders for their patience and forbearance," President Roger Touissant said outside union headquarters this afternoon. "We will be providing various details regarding the outcome of this strike in the next several days."

A few minutes earlier, one of the executive board members, George Perlstein, who said he had voted against the settlement plan, angrily told reporters that the union had not achieved its goals.

"We got nothing. Absolutely nothing," he said.

It remains unclear when all subways and buses will start running again, but it could take up to 18 hours to fully restore service.

The resumption of bus and subway service would end a 60-hour ordeal for New Yorkers, in which residents - who are heavily dependent upon public transportation - resorted to walking, bicycling, hitchhiking and enduring traffic jams as early as 3:30 a.m. to get into Manhattan for work.

Word of a possible end to the strike began filtering out earlier in the day.

"Over the last 48 hours we have met separately with both T.W.U. and the M.T.A.," mediator Richard A. Curreri said at a news conference this morning.. "While these discussions have been fruitful, an agreement remains out of the parties' reach at this time. It is clear to us, however, that both parties have a genuine desire to resolve their differences."

Mr. Curreri added: "In the best interests of the public, which both parties serve, we have suggested, and they have agreed, to resume negotiations while the T.W.U. takes steps toward returning its membership to work."

The agreement, said several people close to the negotiations who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive stage of the talks, would give every side some of what it asked for.

It would allow Gov. George E. Pataki to save face because the final negotiations would not take place until the strikers return to work, the people said, and it would apparently allow the union's president, Roger Toussaint, to save face because, they believe, the authority's pension demands - which are at the crux of the deadlock - have been significantly scaled back.

In light of the progress in negotiations, State Supreme Court Justice Theodore T. Jones delayed a hearing scheduled for this morning on possible fines and jail terms for union leaders under the Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes by public employees. The hearing was rescheduled for 4 p.m. today

In Albany, Governor Pataki hailed the progress, and credited the Taylor Law, which requires mediation once an impasse is declared.

"I just am pleased the Taylor Law, that sets up this process, was in this case followed by both sides and moved things forward in a positive way," Mr. Pataki said in a televised news conference.

Commuters, who have had to make it to work and home any way possible, also saw hope in the mediator's words.

"It's a small victory for sanity, which is a good thing in the holiday season," said Guy Molinari, 44, who commutes to Manhattan from Bergen County, New Jersey each day.

Mr. Curreri and two other mediators were appointed by the state's Public Employment Relations Board on Tuesday afternoon after the union declared a strike at 3 a.m. that day and the authority said the talks had reached an impasse.

Mr. Curreri, the board's director of conciliation, met with lawyers for the union that afternoon. Mr. Curreri also invited two veteran mediators - Martin F. Scheinman, a longtime arbitrator who has negotiated many labor agreements, and Alan R. Viani, the former chief negotiator at D.C. 37, the city's largest municipal workers union - to join him.

All three met with both sides for hours at a time on Wednesday and into the night. The authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, and Mr. Toussaint both participated in the talks on Wednesday and early this morning.

Most of the system's 6,300 subway cars have been placed in underground tunnels or in train yards, one next to another, since the strike began. Supervisors have been running empty trains over the rails to keep the rails polished and prevent rust. The 4,600 buses have been stored and guarded at 18 depots.

Employees would have to return to their shifts, tracks and signals would have to be inspected, and subway cars and buses examined before the subways and buses could run.

If all employees promptly returned at the start of their next shift, some subways could begin to run eight hours after managers and supervisors get word that the strikers are returning, officials said.

The news is an abrupt change from Wednesday's developments, when a war of rhetoric surrounding the strike entered a louder and more contentious phase, with Mr. Toussaint demanding that thorny pension issues be removed from the table before the strikers returned to work. But Governor Pataki joined Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in saying that the transit workers must end the strike before negotiations could resume, contradicting the M.T.A.'s earlier position that it would talk anytime.

In addition to disagreements over pensions, the union and the M.T.A. have also had a difficult time on health care benefits. The transportation authority had originally demanded that future transit workers contribute 2 percent of their pay toward health premiums. It reduced that demand to 1 percent several days before the strike deadline, then dropped that demand altogether, just hours before the strike deadline. Current workers do not pay premiums for the union's basic health plan.

Mr. Toussaint's union has repeatedly said he would not agree to a contract that treated future workers worse than current workers - on pension or health insurance.

Several people close to the negotiations said they expected the two sides to discuss proposals to have the union agree to have all workers, current and future, pay health premiums

Repeatedly saying that he wants to beat back the wave of concessions demanded by managements across the country, Mr. Toussaint has also insisted that he would not agree to a contract that required all workers to pay health premiums.

On Wednesday, the authority took the highly unusual step of running television advertisements urging individual workers to return to their jobs.

Even so, there was evidence of a willingness to compromise, at least behind the scenes, as both sides met separately with state mediators the first possible step toward taking the dispute to arbitration. Mr. Toussaint attacked the mayor and the governor Wednesday for what he called the use of "insulting and offensive language," apparently referring to the mayor's characterization of the strike by the city's 33,700 subway and bus workers as "thuggish" and "selfish."

In a speech that belied the union's tenuous position - it is already being fined $1 million a day - Mr. Toussaint seemed to cast the conflict in a social-justice context. In describing the struggle of his largely minority union, he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, saying: "There is a higher calling than the law. That is justice and equality."

Despite Mr. Toussaint's vow not to return to the table until the pension demand was dropped, he and his top lawyers met with state mediators for hours at a time. State mediation could have either led to a solution to the differences, or forced the two sides to binding arbitration. While Mr. Toussaint reiterated his opposition to binding arbitration, he did not rule it out.

Mayor Bloomberg on Wednesday recited a litany of misery brought on by the strike: business was down 40 percent in some restaurants and 60 percent in some stores; home health aides were unable to reach their patients; people were delaying chemotherapy and radiation; the New York Blood Center declared a state of emergency; attendance at museums and theaters was down; the holiday crowds on Fifth Avenue had thinned.

After the first day of chaos, there were signs that systems were being fine-tuned and people were adapting. Some suburban trains took to skipping stops to get into Manhattan faster. Police checkpoints ran more smoothly.

Still, Wednesday's evening rush was as chaotic as Tuesday night's, with long lines almost everywhere.

The transit strike, the first in a quarter century, began at 3 a.m. Tuesday after negotiations between the union and the transit authority broke down over the authority's last-minute demand that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions - up from the 2 percent that current workers pay.

The authority has said it needs to rein in its soaring pension costs. Mr. Toussaint has argued that, under state law, it is illegal for the authority to insist on including a pension demand as part of a settlement.

On Wednesday, Justice Jones ordered the union leaders to appear in court to face contempt charges and possibly jail. He also agreed to consider a request by the city for a temporary restraining order, which could lead to strikers being assessed additional fines. Justice Jones brought up the possibility of jail for top union officials during proceedings in which James B. Henly, the lead state lawyer in the case, was seeking fines against Mr. Toussaint and two other officials of Local 100 - Ed Watt, the secretary-treasurer and Darlyne A. Lawson, the recording secretary.

The union's lawyer, Arthur Z. Schwartz, argued that the judge could not rule on the state's request for fines against the three officials because they were in mediation, and not present in court. Although he had not been asked by the state, the authority or the city to jail any union officials, Justice Jones said "one or more of these people could possibly be sent to jail" and agreed that they needed to be present.

Mr. Toussaint, at his news conference, reiterated the union's argument that the authority had forced the union to strike by illegally insisting on pension changes. Under the state's Taylor Law, one side cannot make pensions a condition of a settlement. But in 1994 and in 1999, both sides agreed on pension changes.

"We are prepared to resume negotiations, right away, right this minute," he said. "If the pension issue were taken off the table, that would form the basis for us to ask our members - to ask our executive board - to ask our members to go back to work."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Matthew Sweeney, Michael Cooper, Janon Fisher, Thomas J. Lueck, Jesse McKinley, Colin Moynihan, Fernanda Santos, Shadi Rahimi and Timothy Williams.

No Timetable Is Announced on Resumption of Service - New York Times

No Timetable Is Announced on Resumption of Service - New York TimesDecember 22, 2005
No Timetable Is Announced on Resumption of Service
By STEVE GREENHOUSE and SEWELL CHAN

After meeting with both sides through the night, state mediators have devised a preliminary framework for a settlement of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority contract dispute that would allow strikers to return to work later today, according to four people close to the negotiations.

The people emphasized that the details of a final settlement would take at least a day or two longer to be finalized, although buses and subways would be running before that.

The agreement, they said, would give every side some of what it asked for.

It would allow Gov. George E. Pataki to save face because the final negotiations would not take place until the strikers return to work, the people said, and it would apparently allow the union's president, Roger Toussaint, to save face because, they believe, the authority's pension demands - which are at the crux of the deadlock - have been significantly scaled back.

The mediators were appointed by the state's Public Employment Relations Board on Tuesday afternoon after the union declared a strike at 3 a.m. that day and the authority said the talks had reached an impasse.

Richard A. Curreri, the board's director of conciliation, met with lawyers for the union, Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, that afternoon. Mr. Curreri also invited two veteran mediators - Martin F. Scheinman, a longtime arbitrator who has negotiated many labor agreements, and Alan R. Viani, the former chief negotiator at D.C. 37, the city's largest municipal workers union - to join him.

All three met with both sides for hours at a time on Wednesday and into the night. The authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, and Mr. Toussaint both participated in the talks on Wednesday and early this morning, the people said. They did not want to be identified because of the sensitive stage of the negotiations.

The news is an abrupt change from Wednesday's developments, when a war of rhetoric surrounding the strike entered a louder and more contentious phase, with Mr. Toussaint demanding that thorny pension issues be removed from the table before the strikers returned to work. But Gov. George E. Pataki joined Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in saying that the transit workers must end the strike before negotiations could resume, contradicting the M.T.A.'s earlier position that it would talk anytime. The authority took the highly unusual step of running television advertisements urging individual workers to return to their jobs.

Even so, there was evidence of a willingness to compromise, at least behind the scenes, as both sides met separately with state mediators - the first possible step toward taking the dispute to arbitration. And late last night, members of the union's executive board were summoned to headquarters for an emergency meeting at 1 a.m. Then, a short time later, it was postponed indefinitely.

In State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Justice Theodore T. Jones ordered the top three union leaders to appear today to face charges of criminal contempt and possibly be jailed under the law that prohibits strikes by public employees.

For his part, Mr. Toussaint attacked the mayor and the governor for what he called the use of "insulting and offensive language," apparently referring to the mayor's characterization of the strike by the city's 33,700 subway and bus workers as "thuggish" and "selfish."

In a speech that belied the union's tenuous position - it is already being fined $1 million a day - Mr. Toussaint seemed to cast the conflict in a social-justice context. In describing the struggle of his largely minority union, he invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, saying: "There is a higher calling than the law. That is justice and equality."

Despite Mr. Toussaint's vow not to return to the table until the pension demand was dropped, he and his top lawyers were meeting with state mediators for hours at a time. State mediation could either yield a solution to the differences, or force the two sides to binding arbitration. While Mr. Toussaint reiterated his opposition to binding arbitration, he did not rule it out.

And while Governor Pataki vowed that there would be no negotiations as long as workers were striking, Peter S. Kalikow, the chairman of the authority, was in the Grand Hyatt hotel Wednesday night, suggesting he was still willing to meet with Mr. Toussaint. Though he issued a statement highly critical of Mr. Toussaint's words, it included language hinting the authority still wanted to talk.

Mayor Bloomberg recited a litany of misery brought on by the strike: business was down 40 percent in some restaurants and 60 percent in some stores; home health aides were unable to reach their patients; people were delaying chemotherapy and radiation; the New York Blood Center declared a state of emergency; attendance at museums and theaters was down; the holiday crowds on Fifth Avenue had thinned.

After the first day of chaos, there were signs that systems were being fine-tuned and people were adapting. Some suburban trains took to skipping stops to get into Manhattan faster. Police checkpoints ran more smoothly.

Still, the evening rush was as chaotic as Tuesday night's, with long lines almost everywhere.

More cars entered Manhattan. About 36,000 cars entered between 5 and 10 a.m., up 18 percent over Tuesday, said Kay Sarlin, a spokeswoman for the City Department of Transportation. The Staten Island ferry had more passengers than usual; commuters thronged ferry terminals at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and at Hunters Point in Long Island City. The city reopened Fifth and Madison Avenues, which had been closed to all but emergency vehicles on the first day. There were scattered reports of price gouging by taxi and livery car drivers, the mayor said.

The burden of the strike fell unevenly upon New Yorkers of different classes.

For many living in Manhattan, the strike remained an inconvenience, not a hardship. Some, like Dave Halman, a 35-year-old Wall Street banker, worked from home the first day. On Wednesday, he was out on West 96th Street waiting for a company shuttle. "It's fine," he said. "We went through the blackout, 9/11 and now most people are taking this in stride."

But for many more, the impact was harsher. Stan Decker said he had walked nearly seven miles from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn to Jamaica, Queens. "They're hurting the ordinary people, they're not hurting the big shots," Mr. Decker, 59, said of the union. A union member himself, he complained, "Everybody's paying for health insurance. Why should they be different? When they overdo it like this, they hurt unions because if gives people a bad impression."

In its television advertisement, broadcast on the local cable channel NY1 News, the president of New York City Transit, Lawrence G. Reuter, said that "many hundreds of employees have already reported to work and we commend them." He urged employees to report to designated locations, listed on the agency's Web site, to avoid "severe legal and financial consequences."

On picket lines outside a bus depot in Midtown Manhattan and outside a transit plant, on West 53rd Street, some striking workers hinted they were having second thoughts. They said they live paycheck to paycheck, burdened with mortgages, many with children and ailing relatives to care for. Some said they had begun to wonder if they would be the ones to lose the most.

Mayor Bloomberg, too, raised the question of whom the strike is hurting.

"Roger Toussaint and the board have sought to portray the strike as a fight for working people," he said at a news conference. "That argument doesn't hold any water. Working people are the ones that are being hurt. Busboys are getting hurt, garment industry workers are getting hurt, owners of mom-and-pop businesses are being hurt."

The transit strike, the first in a quarter century, began at 3 a.m. Tuesday after negotiations between the union and the transit authority broke down over the authority's last-minute demand that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions - up from the 2 percent that current workers pay.

The authority has said it needs to rein in its soaring pension costs. Mr. Toussaint has argued that, under state law, it is illegal for the authority to insist on including a pension demand as part of a settlement.

At a news conference, Mr. Pataki said: "There aren't going to be any talks while you're out there walking. Come back to work. And then the M.T.A., I'm sure, will be willing to engage in negotiations. But not while you're engaged in an illegal strike."

Asked about the union's demand that pensions be taken off the table, the governor said, "I don't care what the union says, until they come back to work."

The governor's staff would not elaborate on his words, nor say whether they represented a change in the state's stance. Mr. Kalikow, who was appointed by the governor, said in his statement that the authority was ready to negotiate, but warned ominously that time was running out.

"The M.T.A. has remained in the hotel since the strike commenced, ready to negotiate," Mr. Kalikow said. He added: "It is becoming clear that we are rapidly approaching the point at which further waiting would be futile."

Justice Jones ordered the union leaders to appear in court to face contempt charges and possibly jail. He also agreed to consider a request by the city for a temporary restraining order, which could lead to strikers being assessed additional fines. Justice Jones brought up the possibility of jail for top union officials during proceedings in which James B. Henly, the lead state lawyer in the case, was seeking fines against Mr. Toussaint and two other officials of Local 100 - Ed Watt, the secretary-treasurer and Darlyne A. Lawson, the recording secretary.

The union's lawyer, Arthur Z. Schwartz, argued that the judge could not rule on the state's request for fines against the three officials because they were in mediation, and not present in court. Although he had not been asked by the state, the authority or the city to jail any union officials, Justice Jones said "one or more of these people could possibly be sent to jail" and agreed that they needed to be present.

Mr. Toussaint, at his news conference, reiterated the union's argument that the authority had forced the union to strike by illegally insisting on pension changes. Under the state's Taylor Law, one side cannot make pensions a condition of a settlement. But in 1994 and in 1999, both sides agreed on pension changes.

"We are prepared to resume negotiations, right away, right this minute," he said. "If the pension issue were taken off the table, that would form the basis for us to ask our members - to ask our executive board - to ask our members to go back to work."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Michael Cooper, Janon Fisher, Steven Greenhouse, Thomas J. Lueck, Jesse McKinley, Colin Moynihan, Fernanda Santos, Shadi Rahim and Timothy Williams.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

China Says Economy Much Bigger Than Thought - New York Times

China Says Economy Much Bigger Than Thought - New York TimesChina Says Economy Much Bigger Than Thought
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Filed at 10:15 a.m. ET

BEIJING (AP) -- China said Tuesday its economy is much bigger and less dependent on exports than previously reported, issuing new data that analysts said make its roaring growth look easier to sustain and could encourage even more foreign investment.

A new survey of China's economy boosted its official output for 2004 by 16.8 percent by taking into account emerging service businesses, the government said. It said services' share of the economy rose sharply, while that of manufacturing fell.

The results show China's mainland replacing Italy as the world's 6th-largest economy, trailing Britain and France. China would jump to No. 4, behind only the United States, Japan and Germany, if it added in Hong Kong, which reports its economic figures separately.

The figures mean China's rates of exports and investment are smaller as a percentage of the total economy, possibly easing fears that they were unsustainably high, analysts said.

''The Chinese economic miracle will look less like a miracle and more like a normal country,'' said Steve Tsang, director of the Asian Studies Center at St. Antony's College at Britain's Oxford University.

''It would mean the economy's ability to continue at the current rate of growth is better,'' Tsang said.

The figures were released by the National Bureau of Statistics, which said it surveyed 30 million businesses, including restaurants, karaoke bars and others in booming service industries.

The new data put China's 2004 gross domestic product, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, at nearly 16 trillion yuan ($2 trillion). That was up 2.3 trillion yuan ($285 billion) from numbers previously reported.

''Based on these figures, we can have even more confidence in our long-term fairly fast and sustained economic growth,'' Li Deshui, director of the statistics bureau, said at a news conference.

Even more important could be the finding that Chinese consumers are spending much more than previously thought, fueling economic growth and reducing reliance on exports, economists said.

Based on the new data, exports fell from 34 percent of the economy to 29 percent, cutting China's ''very high export dependency,'' Jun Ma, chief economist for Greater China at Deutsche Bank, said in a research report.

Ma's report said such evidence of strong consumer spending could encourage planners to stimulate even more growth in services, creating new opportunities for foreign investors.

The government will be revising GDP growth figures back to 1993, Li said.

The new figures should not affect China's policy on the politically sensitive exchange rate of its currency, Li said. China's trading partners complain that its government-controlled exchange rate is too low, giving Chinese exporters and unfair price advantage.

And Li emphasized that despite the upward revision in sheer economic size, China's vast population of 1.3 billion people means it still ranks below the top 100 countries in output per capita.

''We still have a long way to go to catch up with the developed countries,'' he said.

Economists have long said China understated the size of its economy due to its failure to collect statistics accurately from small, private businesses, especially in services.

The key problem was a system that focused on manufacturing and relied on each company to keep an employee to report statistics, something that few private businesses do.

Other governments have reported similarly large jumps in output when they switch economic measures, including a 17 percent increase for Indonesia in 2004 and 11 percent for Norway in 1995, according to the World Bank.

Li, the statistics official, said Beijing will have to wait until it compiles figures for 2005 to figure out its current rank among the world's economies.

''But undeniably they're going to be the second-largest economy in the world in a few years,'' said David Cohen of the consulting firm Action Economics in Singapore. ''And then the question is, At what point do they surpass the U.S. in size?''

U.S. weapons at last make Taiwan parliament agenda

U.S. weapons at last make Taiwan parliament agendaU.S. weapons at last make Taiwan parliament agenda
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's ruling party managed to get a $11 billion U.S. arms package, which it sees as key to keeping the balance of power with China, on to parliament's agenda on Tuesday after being stalled by the opposition 41 times.

The United States, which recognises China and not Taiwan, offered the package of advanced weapons in 2001. Taiwan has since cut its budget for the arms from $18 billion to $11 billion

Many security analysts see the Taiwan Strait, which separates China and Taiwan, as one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

Lawmakers from Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and their allies voted 12 to 5 in a sub-committee responsible for setting parliament agenda while many opposition lawmakers were in a separate meeting.

But the victory could be short-lived as the opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which once ruled all China, and People First Party control a slim parliamentary majority and vowed to overturn the decision on Friday.

The two parties favour closer ties with China and say the purchase is expensive, provocative and unnecessary.

They have stopped the issue getting on parliament's agenda 41 times. The delay has fuelled worries in Washington that Taipei is not serious about its own defence.

China has viewed Taiwan as part of Chinese territory since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the self-governed democracy of 23 million people back to the fold -- by force if necessary.

The United States recognises the mainland as China's sole legitimate government -- the "one-China" policy -- but in a deliberately ambiguous piece of foreign policy it is also obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself.

"We will send the issue back to the procedural committee on Friday," KMT legislative caucus whip Tseng Yung-chuan told reporters.

"They have started a confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties ... at a time when our priority should be to review the government budget," Tseng said.

The special budget is to pay for eight diesel-electric submarines and 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.

The government dropped six anti-missile Patriot Advanced Capability-3 batteries from the deal, although it still plans to buy the systems using the defence ministry's regular budget.

President Chen Shui-bian has said he hoped rival parties could set aside domestic political rhetoric after Dec. 3 local government elections, in which the opposition won a crushing victory against the ruling party.

KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou has recently hinted at room for discussion, saying the party supports legitimate self-defence, but is against a "sucker's" arms purchase.

BBC NEWS | Africa | Eritrea broke law in border war

BBC NEWS | Africa | Eritrea broke law in border war Eritrea broke law in border war
Eritrea triggered the border war with Ethiopia when it attacked its neighbour in May 1998, an international commission in the Hague has ruled.

Since there was no armed attack against Eritrea, its attack on Ethiopia could not be justified as lawful self-defence under the United Nations charter.

Eritrea is now liable to compensate Ethiopia for damages caused, it said.

Tensions over the border have risen in recent months with both countries sending more troops there.

Last week, Western UN staff in Eritrea left at the request of Eritrea.

Most of the UN peacekeepers deployed to monitor the border under a peace accord that ended the war in 2000 are from Asian and African countries and have stayed behind.

The Claims Commission - that was set up as part of the peace agreement - said that settling such disputes by use of force could not be considered self-defence.


TENSE BORDER
Dec 2000: Peace agreement
Apr 2002: Border ruling
Mar 2003: Ethiopian complaint over Badme rejected
Sep 2003: Ethiopia asks for new ruling
Feb 2005: UN concern at military build-up
Oct 2005: Eritrea restricts peacekeepers' activities
Nov 2005: UN sanctions threat if no compliance with 2000 deal

"[Eritrea] is liable to compensate Ethiopia for the damages caused by the violation of international law," the ruling, published on its website, said.

Ethiopia has welcomed the ruling.

The war was ostensibly fought over the dusty town of Badme, which was awarded to Eritrea by another commission set up as part of the peace agreement.

But Ethiopia has not yet withdrawn its forces from Badme, frustrating Eritrea.

Under the peace accord, the two states agreed to accept the findings of the border commission.

In recent months, Eritrea has placed increasingly tight restrictions on the operations of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along the border and ordered Western UN staff to withdraw.

Last week, the UN Security Council strongly condemned what they called Eritrea's unacceptable actions and restrictions on the peacekeeping mission and warned it could have implications for the operation's future.

It also emphasised the need for progress in implementing the Boundary Commission's decision over Badme.

The Horn of Africa neighbours' two-year conflict led to some 80,000 deaths.

Story from BBC NEWS:

A Korean TV Show Reports, and the Network Cancels It - New York Times

A Korean TV Show Reports, and the Network Cancels It - New York TimesDecember 21, 2005
A Korean TV Show Reports, and the Network Cancels It
By JAMES BROOKE

SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 17 - Last June, Hwang Woo Suk, South Korea's celebrated stem cell scientist, was named Supreme Scientist of the nation. Korean Air gave him first-class air tickets for a decade.

Then a member of Dr. Hwang's laboratory team secretly posted a denunciation of his work on a confidential Internet bulletin board maintained by "PD Notebook," South Korea's leading investigative news show. According to the tipster, Dr. Hwang faked some of the human stem cell cloning data that had been published days earlier in Science, the Washington-based monthly.

Fast-forward six months. In recent days, two "PD Notebook" programs on Dr. Hwang's lapses have pried open the lid of a laboratory where the news often seemed to be too good to be true. Last week, in a rolling series of press conferences here and in the United States, Dr. Hwang and two former collaborators confirmed some of the allegations originally e-mailed by the whistle-blower to the Internet bulletin board.

So, Choi Seung Ho, the "PD Notebook" executive producer who unraveled Korea's cloning scandal, must be the toast of Seoul.

Well, not exactly. On Saturday afternoon, he sat unsmiling in his newsroom, dressed in black and blue, dragging occasionally on a menthol cigarette. Protesters had picketed his network, MBC. Death threats and photos of family members of his reporting team had been posted on the Internet. All 12 advertisers had fled the program. After 15 successful years of "PD Notebook," MBC has pulled the plug.

"The show is suspended; we are waiting for the final decision by the executives," Mr. Choi said. Referring to the public backlash, he said: "Of course we anticipated this to some extent, but it was so much stronger than we expected. It made us realize once again how important this individual was for Korea."

Mr. Choi is in the journalistic doghouse partly for tearing down a national icon, a charismatic, handsome scientist who was the modern, successful face that South Koreans yearned to show the world.

But it is also partly because he allowed South Korea's ultracompetitive journalism world to spur him to use techniques that tarnished his work.

In one crucial interview, a former co-worker of Dr. Hwang, now working at the University of Pittsburgh, is led to believe that his former boss is about to be arrested for fraud.

When the worker, Kim Seon Jong, starts to talk about faking photographs for the Science article, he can be seen nervously asking if the interview was being filmed. No answer comes from the story's producer, who is holding a bag with a hidden camera. Instead, the producer hints that if he cooperates with MBC, he will be protected from arrest. To this date, no one has been arrested in the case.

"That must be a flagrant violation of journalism guidelines," said Shin Hak Lim, chairman of the National Union of Media Workers, a trade organization. He noted that MBC apologized because of the public outcry, and docked Mr. Choi and the story's producer, Han Hak Soo, one month's pay.

The Korean Broadcasting Commission, a government agency, reviewed the tapes and a spokesman told the press that the commission "has judged that it is highly likely that the program violated regulations on fairness, objectivity, human rights violations and statistics and public surveys under the broadcast law."

As protesters picketed MBC, even South Korea's president, Roh Moo Hyun, commented in a statement on his Web site: "I also feel MBC's program was annoying. But after I saw MBC's program battered en masse, I felt heavy-hearted."

The journalistic jury is still out in South Korea, a nation of news devotees that has ridden an emotional roller coaster over escalating accusations and denials swirling around Dr. Hwang.

"Many people now understand why MBC produced those programs," said Lee Hyun Jae, a 24-year-old business administration student at Seoul National University, where Dr. Hwang did his work. "They have uncovered many areas we would like not to believe. If Dr. Hwang had had more research in a couple of months, with better results, people might never have known about the problems. MBC has done their job. But people will never forgive them for that."

Others said that the network should have been prepared for the reaction.

"It is admirable that they were investigating this man, when everyone else was idolizing him," Jang Se Ju, a 25-year-old agricultural science student at the university, said. "Why did they take on an issue they could not handle at the end of the day?"

Her lunch partner, Kim Yang Hee, a 26-year-old education student, said she feared the volatility of public opinion.

"When Dr. Hwang was made into a religious icon that was idolized, I was afraid we were unable to criticize him," she said. "Before, we were idolizing him. Now I fear that there will be an atmosphere of making him responsible for all the failures."

Noting the "strong criticism of reporting techniques of 'PD Notebook,' " she said: "I thought it was strange to see it suddenly disappear after they had all these achievements over many years. I thought it was not a rational decision - an emotional decision."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge Imposes $1 Million-a-Day Fine Against Union for Strike - New York Times

Judge Imposes $1 Million-a-Day Fine Against Union for Strike - New York TimesJudge Imposes $1 Million-a-Day Fine Against Union for Strike
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The city's subway and bus workers went on strike Tuesday for the first time in more than 25 years, stranding millions of commuters, holiday shoppers and tourists at the height of the Christmas rush. A judge promptly slapped a $1 million-a-day fine on the union.

State Justice Theodore Jones leveled the sanction against the Transport Workers Union for violating a state law that bars public employees from going on strike.

Attorneys for the city and state had asked Jones to hit the union with a "very potent fine" for defying the law.

Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes - New York Times

Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes - New York TimesDecember 20, 2005
Judge Bars 'Intelligent Design' From Pa. Classes
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- "Intelligent design" cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said. Several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs, he said.

The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation.

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy," Jones wrote.

The board's attorneys had said members were seeking to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory that evolution develops through natural selection. Intelligent-design proponents argue that the theory cannot fully explain the existence of complex life forms.

The plaintiffs challenging the policy argued that intelligent design amounts to a secular repackaging of creationism, which the courts have already ruled cannot be taught in public schools. The judge agreed.

"We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board's real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom," he wrote in his 139-page opinion.

The Dover policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement said Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.

Jones wrote that he wasn't saying the intelligent design concept shouldn't be studied and discussed, saying its advocates "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors."

But, he wrote, "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

The controversy divided the community and galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the Nov. 8 school board election.

Said the judge: "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

The board members were replaced by a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum.

Eric Rothschild, the lead attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling "a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district."

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., which represented the school board, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

The dispute is the latest chapter in a long-running debate over the teaching of evolution dating back to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that forbade teaching evolution. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed his conviction on a technicality, and the law was repealed in 1967.

Jones heard arguments in the fall during a six-week trial in which expert witnesses for each side debated intelligent design's scientific merits. Other witnesses, including current and former school board members, disagreed over whether creationism was discussed in board meetings months before the curriculum change was adopted.

The case is among at least a handful that have focused new attention on the teaching of evolution in the nation's schools.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Georgia heard arguments over whether evolution disclaimer stickers placed in a school system's biology textbooks were unconstitutional. A federal judge in January ordered Cobb County school officials to immediately remove the stickers, which called evolution a theory, not a fact.

In November, state education officials in Kansas adopted new classroom science standards that call the theory of evolution into question.

Millions Are Left to Make It to Work Any Way They Can - New York Times

Millions Are Left to Make It to Work Any Way They Can - New York TimesDecember 20, 2005
Millions Are Left to Make It to Work Any Way They Can
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE, SEWELL CHAN and CHRISTINE HAUSER

Workers walked to their offices in bitter cold, long lines formed for taxis and the police inspected cars at tunnels and bridges as transit workers started a strike this morning, shutting down New York City's subway and bus system after contract talks with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority broke down.

An average of seven million people ride the subway every day, and the disruption will prevent people from going to work, cause millions of dollars in economic damage and seriously upend the life of the city in the week before Christmas. Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 33,700 subway and bus workers, announced its first strike in 25 years this morning after feverish last-minute negotiations faltered over the transportation authority's demands for concessions on pension and health benefits for future employees.

The state's Taylor Law bars strikes by public employees and carries penalties of two days' pay for each day on strike, but the transit union decided it was worth risking the substantial fines to continue the fight for what it regards as an acceptable contract.

The union's executive board voted 28 to 10, with 5 members abstaining, to start the strike, but Michael T. O'Brien, the president of the Transport Workers Union of America, Local 100's parent union, warned the board that he could not support a strike because he believed the authority's most recent offer represented real progress.

The authority dropped its demand to raise the retirement age for a full pension to 62 for new employees, up from 55 for current employees. But the authority proposed that all future transit workers pay 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions for their first 10 years of employment, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay.

The transportation authority says that it needs to bring its soaring pension costs under control now to stave off future deficits. But union leaders vow that they will not sell out future transit workers by saddling them with lesser benefits.

Roger Toussaint, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, announced the strike at a 3 a.m. news conference and tried to portray the action as part of a broader effort for social justice and workplace rights.

"New Yorkers, this is a fight over whether hard work will be rewarded with a decent retirement," he said. "This is a fight over the erosion, or the eventual elimination, of health-benefits coverage for working people in New York. This is a fight over dignity and respect on the job, a concept that is very alien to the M.T.A."

Peter S. Kalikow, the chairman of the transportation authority, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg both condemned the union's action, and vowed to pursue more legal action against it. "I have no doubt by working together we can and will get through this," Mr. Bloomberg said, before walking over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall from the city's emergency operations center in Brooklyn.

Across the city this morning, New York City Transit began to safely shut down the subways and buses, line by line. About 5,000 managers and supervisors, a fraction of the 47,000 workers, will remain on the job to maintain the system during the strike.

Classes at New York City schools were delayed by two hours.

Metro-North railroad and other regional trains were not directly affected by the strike action but they bring in thousands of commuters into the city who then must compete for seats on whatever modes of transportation they could find to reach their offices.

Streets were crowded with workers bundled up against the cold, with a wind chill of as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the early morning hours. Cars were backed up at arteries leading onto the bridges, tunnels and major expressways that feed into Manhattan, as the police peered into cars to enforce the four-passenger rule, turning some away and letting others pass.

Although New Jersey Transit is running on schedule, commuters living west of the Hudson River coped with changes in their usual routines.

By 6 a.m., the Port Authority police had closed several lanes of traffic on the approaches to the Lincoln Tunnel and set up check points to make sure that all vehicles had at least four people in them. Commercial vehicles were turned back, because they are not being permitted into Manhattan before 11 a.m.

At the Port Authority Bus Terminal, lines for taxis were extremely long, even at 6:30 a.m., a time when there is usually no line. New Yorkers, meanwhile, headed into the dark streets to begin the process of finding ways to get to work, or wherever they needed to go. A transit worker who said he had just recently been hired to maintain subway cars drove through Brooklyn offering people rides to work. He picked up a woman on Washington Avenue and dropped her off at Empire Boulevard.

"She was helpless, she had bags," said the man, Samuel Gowrie, 51. "I just volunteered."

He said he did it from "the good of my heart. If someone offers me something, I am not turning it down. But I am not demanding or pursuing money."

At the corner of Cedar and Nassau Streets in the downtown financial district, Christian Kerr, 28, a foreign currency analyst , was assessing his options for getting to his office adjacent to Grand Central Terminal in midtown.

"I don't know how I'm going to get to work, honestly," he said. He thought he might take one of the ferries to the 30's and walk.

"It's a pain in the neck," he said. "I'm very anti-union, especially this time of year. It's ridiculous. If you look what they're asking for, that's 50 years ago. Pensions don't work like that anymore."

The Red Cross had a truck set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge, with workers saying they would distribute coffee and cocoa to people walking from Brooklyn.

The union has repeatedly urged Gov. George E. Pataki to join the talks, trying to put the onus on him if there was a walkout. But the governor, like the mayor, said that the professionals at the authority should handle the talks.

In a radio interview this morning, John C. Liu, chairman of the City Council's Transportation Committee, said that because the two sides have failed to come together, someone else needs to step in. "I think the most appropriate person to do that I think would be Governor Pataki," he said. "I think he needs to understand how much this is affecting people and how much this is going to drain the economy of much-needed activities and revenues."

Workers at the Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road are not expected to strike in support of transit workers. Anthony J. Bottalico, the chairman of the union that represents Metro-North engineers, conductors and rail-traffic controllers, said Monday that none of his members planned to strike.

However, two other unions, which represent Metro-North ticket collectors and track workers, have vowed to show solidarity with Local 100 by refusing to cross picket lines, and they could conceivably delay, though not disrupt, regular train service.

Mr. Toussaint appealed for public support, acknowledging the tremendous inconvenience to millions of commuters and tourists. "To our riders, we ask for your understanding and forbearance. We stood with you to keep token booths open, to keep conductors on the trains, to oppose fare hikes," he said. "We now ask that you stand with us. We did not want a strike, but evidently the M.T.A., the governor and the mayor did."

Shortly after he spoke, Mr. Kalikow appeared before reporters to condemn the strike.

"The T.W.U.'s action today is illegal and irresponsible," he said, calling the walkout "a slap in the face to all M.T.A. customers and New Yorkers."

Mr. Kalikow said the authority and the state attorney general would go to state court to seek a contempt citation against the union. Last week, a state judge issued an injunction barring the transit workers from striking under the Taylor Law.

"I regret the enormous inconvenience this will impact on our customers," he said. "The M.T.A. has made every effort to resolve this dispute."

He said the authority had changed its offer so that it no longer demanded an increase in the retirement age. But he said the union rejected that proposal and never made a counteroffer.

Mr. Kalikow said he would guarantee the public that the authority would take every step "to bring this illegal action to an end as quickly as possible."

Mr. Bloomberg, appearing shortly after Mr. Kalikow, said he would ask the city's Corporation Counsel, Michael A. Cardozo, to join the transportation authority and the state attorney general in an emergency court hearing to hold the union in contempt and order severe fines against the union.

"The union must understand there are real and significant consequences to their action," he said. "For their own selfish reasons, the T.W.U. has decided that their demands are more important than the law, the city, and the people they serve. This is not only an affront to the concept of public service, it is a cowardly attempt by Roger Toussaint and the T.W.U. to bring the city to its knees to create leverage for its own bargaining positions."

He said the city must not let the inconveniences created by the strike stop the city's economy from running and stop its schools from functioning.

"I have no doubt by working together we can and will get through this," he said.

The vote by the union board came after a 12-hour round of intense negotiations between the two pivotal figures in the talks - Mr. Kalikow and Mr. Toussaint - who bargained face-to-face Monday for the first time since Friday.

But with just an hour to go before the deadline, Tom Kelly, an authority spokesman, said that efforts to settle the dispute had faltered after the union turned down what he called "a fair offer."

"Unfortunately, that offer has been rejected by the Transport Workers Union, and they have advised us that they were going - that they are going - to leave the building, and going to the union hall," Mr. Kelly said. "The M.T.A. remains ready to continue negotiations." Union officials would not discuss the developments as they headed into their private strategy session.

The transit agency plans to store the majority of the 6,300 subway cars underground, one next to another, to protect them from the elements. Supervisors will run empty trains over the rails to keep them polished and prevent rust.

On Monday night, work trains, including trains that collect trash and transport money and normally begin their runs between 8 and 10 p.m., were ordered out of service. General orders, which alter service so that tracks can be used for construction work, were suspended. The agency's Rail Control Center, in Downtown Brooklyn, was filled with managers and supervisors Monday night and this morning, continuously monitoring service. Starting in the late evening, the agency tried to place a supervisor on each train to ensure the train was safely operated until the completion of its run.

From the time the strike was declared at 3 a.m., it would take more than 2 hours for all the trains to complete their runs.

The bus system is relatively easier to shut down. The 4,600 buses were being returned to their 18 depots this morning, where they will be stored and guarded for the duration of the strike.

The transit union stepped up the pressure by beginning a strikeMonday morning against two Queens bus lines, stranding about 57,000 passengers in what the union portrayed as a prelude to shutting down the whole city transit system, the nation's largest.

The union first threatened to shut down the whole system on Friday, but pushed back the deadline to today, seemingly to increase its leverage by warning of a walkout the week before Christmas, one of the busiest weeks for retailers.

On Monday, at rallies outside the governor's office and in Queens alongside the striking bus workers, Mr. Toussaint and many union members trumpeted their defiance, insisting that it was more important to obtain what they viewed as a just contract than to obey the law barring strikes.

City officials have prepared an emergency plan that would increase ferry service, allow taxis to pick up multiple fares, close several streets to traffic except for buses and emergency vehicles, and prohibit cars with fewer than four passengers from entering Manhattan below 96th Street during the morning rush. The city is also deploying hundreds of police officers to secure subway entrances in the event of a walkout.

The transportation authority's 11th-hour offer included a 3 percent raise in the first year, 4 percent in the second year and 3.5 percent in the third year of a new contract, representatives on both sides said. Before Monday, it was offering 3 percent a year for three straight years.

Ann Farmer and Colin Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Asking for Patience, Bush Cites Progress in Iraq - New York Times

Asking for Patience, Bush Cites Progress in Iraq - New York TimesDecember 19, 2005
Asking for Patience, Bush Cites Progress in Iraq
By ELISABETH BUMILLER

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 - President Bush declared to the nation on Sunday night that the United States was winning the war in Iraq and pleaded with his viewers not to "give in to despair" over a conflict that has cost more than 2,100 American lives and an estimated 30,000 Iraqi deaths.

In a 17-minute live televised address from the Oval Office, his first in the formal setting since he announced that he had ordered the Iraq invasion in March 2003, Mr. Bush offered a vigorous reaffirmation of an unpopular war and asked his viewers for patience.

"Some look at the challenges in Iraq, and conclude that the war is lost, and not worth another dime or another day," Mr. Bush said. "I don't believe that. Our military commanders do not believe that. Our troops in the field, who bear the burden and make sacrifice, do not believe that America has lost."

He added: "And not even the terrorists believe it. We know from their communications that they feel a tightening noose and fear the rise of a democratic Iraq."

The president, speaking in a steady voice punctuated by the constant gesturing of his hands, nonetheless acknowledged his critics more than he has in the past, and adopted a more humble tone. "I also want to speak to those of you who did not support my decision to send troops to Iraq," Mr. Bush said. "I have heard your disagreement, and I know how deeply it is felt."

But he also made clear that he himself had not wavered in his commitment to the war.

"I do not expect you to support everything I do, but tonight I have a request," the president said. "Do not give in to despair, and do not give up on this fight for freedom."

The president held out the possibility of American troop withdrawals in 2006, but he made no promises, and did not mention anticipated Pentagon reductions of troops to 138,000 in the next few months, which would be a return to the military's "baseline" level before the election last Thursday. Currently there are about 160,000 American troops in Iraq, a number that was increased to keep order during the vote.

"We will see the Iraqi military gaining strength and confidence, and the democratic process moving forward," Mr. Bush said. "As these achievements come, it should require fewer American troops to accomplish our mission. I will make decisions on troop levels based on the progress we see on the ground and advice of our military leaders, not based on artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington."

Democrats countered that while they welcomed the more realistic tone of Mr. Bush's speech, he had failed to explain the realities of the war. "He acknowledged that we have made mistakes and he acknowledged that he understood why people are upset with him," said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, in an interview after Mr. Bush's speech.

But "he made it sound like if we just get rid of Al Qaeda all will be fine in Iraq. As I said to the president on Friday, every single member of Al Qaeda in Iraq could be shot dead, but Mr. President, you would still have a civil war in Iraq."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said Mr. Bush's speech had not outlined the steps for the political transition that the Senate hopes to see next year in Iraq. "If the intent was to restate the mission, he certainly did that," Ms. Feinstein said in an interview. "But if the intent was to say how we get out, I don't think he did it. He did not recognize that the solutions have to be political."

The president's address, his fifth major speech on Iraq in 19 days, was the culmination of an intense campaign by the White House to try to stop a slide in support for the war that began last summer and intensified this fall. Mr. Bush delivered his remarks as he has come under new criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for ordering the National Security Agency to conduct an electronic eavesdropping program in the United States without first obtaining warrants.

The disclosure of that program, reported Friday in The New York Times, has overshadowed some of the good news of the Iraq election, and has frustrated a White House that was hoping to use the high turnout and relative calm of the vote as a positive end to the president's series of speeches. Vice President Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney, seemed to give voice to that frustration when she told CNN in an interview broadcast Sunday that questions about criticism of administration policy were "really wrongheaded" and that the Iraqi vote was more important.

"Now, that's the story from this week, and that's what I think we should focus on," Mrs. Cheney said.

The president used his address to hail those elections, even as he said that the bloodshed in the country would continue.

"This election will not mean the end of violence," Mr. Bush said. "But it is the beginning of something new: constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East. And this vote 6,000 miles away in a vital region of the world means that America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror."

The president reiterated his position that Iraq was the central front in the war against terrorism, and that despite the views of many critics, the American-led invasion into Baghdad had not created more terrorists ready to fight the United States. "My conviction comes down to this: We do not create terrorism by fighting the terrorists," Mr. Bush said. "We invite terrorism by ignoring them."

The president also warned, as he has in the past, about an early withdrawal from Iraq. "We would cause tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our failed resolve and tighten their repressive grip," Mr. Bush said. "We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us - and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before."

Mr. Bush's remarks, delivered to a prime-time audience a week before Christmas, were an attempt to drive home the major points of his four previous Iraq speeches before Americans turn their attention to the holidays. The president's earlier speeches focused on Iraq reconstruction, politics and security.

As he has in his previous speeches, Mr. Bush said he had made mistakes in Iraq and acknowledged in a more personal way than before the suffering he himself had caused. "I know that some of my decisions have led to terrible loss, and not one of those decisions has been taken lightly," Mr. Bush said. "I know this war is controversial, yet being your president requires doing what is right and accepting the consequences."

Yet overall his tone was positive. "Defeatism may have its partisan uses, but it is not justified by the facts," Mr. Bush said. He added, "My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq."

The president closed with words from "Christmas Bells," a carol written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the Civil War that is known for its tone of desperation about the conflict. But rather than repeating the words from one particularly dark verse - "And in despair I bowed my head; 'There is no peace on earth,' I said" - Mr. Bush chose to end with the carol's closing lines, "God is not dead, nor does he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men."

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting for this article.

Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture - New York Times

Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture - New York TimesDecember 19, 2005
Rights Group Reports Afghanistan Torture
By CARLOTTA GALL

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 18 - Eight men at the American detention camp in Guantánamo Bay have separately given their lawyers "consistent accounts" of being tortured at a secret prison in Afghanistan at various periods from 2002 to 2004, Human Rights Watch, a group based in New York, said Sunday.

The men, five of whom were identified by name, told their lawyers that they had been arrested in various countries, most commonly in Asia and the Middle East, the rights group said. Some recounted having been flown to Afghanistan and then driven just a few minutes from the landing strip to the prison, the rights group said, and hearing from Afghan guards that they were near Kabul.

A report released by the rights group to detail the accounts said that the detainees called the place the "dark prison" or "prison of darkness," and that they said they were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap or heavy metal music blaring for weeks at a time.

One detainee, identified as Benyam Mohammad, an Ethiopian who grew up in Britain, told his lawyer of being "hung up" in a lightless cell for days at a time, as his legs swelled and his hands and wrists became numb. He said that loud music and "horrible ghost laughter" was blasted into the cell, and that he could hear other prisoners "knocking their heads against the walls and doors, screaming their heads off."

The detainees said that they were guarded by Afghans and Americans in civilian clothes, the report said, and that their American interrogators did not wear uniforms, leading the rights group to suggest that "the prison may have been operated by personnel from the Central Intelligence Agency." The "dark prison" may have been closed in late 2004, the group said.

American military officials in Afghanistan declined to comment on the report of the men's accounts and referred all questions to the Department of Defense in Washington. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Conway, said Sunday night that it would be premature to comment because he had no details of the report.

The United States has not released the names of detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

Afghan officials denied any knowledge of secret prisons in Afghanistan. The foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, said that if such things existed, they should be made known to the Afghan authorities.

But midlevel Afghan intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they are not permitted to talk to the news media, said they were aware of several places where Americans currently detain people. One official mentioned the main military headquarters, Camp Eggers, in Kabul, and the Ariana Hotel, which is close to the presidential palace that C.I.A. officials have occupied since December 2001, when they first arrived in the capital after the fall of the Taliban.

Recent reports that the C.I.A. created a covert prison system after the terror attacks in 2001 have centered on Eastern Europe, and several European countries have begun investigating whether C.I.A. planes have made stops in various European countries as they carried suspects bound for those secret American prisons, in as many as eight countries.

There have been other reports suggesting that the United States operated a secret detention center in Afghanistan. One emerged in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Arab descent who said he was seized at the Macedonian-Serbian border in 2003 and turned over to the C.I.A., which apparently mistook him for a terror suspect of the same name. Mr. Masri said that he was flown to a prison and held for four months in 2004, and that he was told by his captors and fellow prisoners that he was in Kabul.

Human Rights Watch said it had identified 26 people who had been "disappeared" and were believed to be held in secret detention facilities operated by the United States. It also said that the United States may have used a center near Kabul to hold those "disappeared" detainees.

The detainees said that they were held incommunicado and that they were never visited by members of the Red Cross, the report says.

A spokesman for the International Red Cross said the organization knows that the United States has detainees who are not visited by the Red Cross, but that it does not know where in the world they are.

"In general we know, because we have various information, there are various detainees that we cannot visit, but we have no specific indications that they are held in Afghanistan," said Olivier Moeckli, spokesman for the organization in Afghanistan.

One detainee, identified in the Human Rights Watch report only as M. Z. at his lawyer's request, said he was arrested in 2002 outside Afghanistan and held in the "prison of darkness" for about four weeks. He was in an "underground place, very dark," in solitary confinement, where there was loud music playing continuously, the report said, and was interrogated in a room with a strobe light, and shackled to a ring in the floor. "During interrogations, he says, an interrogator threatened him with rape," the report said.

Another detainee, identified at his lawyer's request as J. K., was quoted as saying, "People were screaming in pain and crying all the time."

Some of the detainees said they were moved from one secret location to another, the report said, and some were eventually transferred to the main United States military detention facility at Bagram.

Another detainee, Abd al-Salam Ali al-Hila, a Yemeni, told his lawyers he was kept in the dark prison chained to a wall in 2003. Three others, Hassin bin Attash, Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi, told their lawyers that they were held at the prison in darkness, and that they were shackled and beaten, the report said.

"The U.S. government must shed some light on Kabul's 'dark prison,' " said John Sifton, a terrorism researcher for Human Rights Watch. "No one, no matter their alleged crime, should be held in secret prisons or subjected to torture."

A hangar close to the Kabul airport is another suspected detention center. The hangar, covered in a huge tent, has its own entrance from the airfield. Afghan airport personnel noticed Americans using the hangar, and bringing aircraft close to the hangar for off-loading until a year ago. Anyone who approached the hangar from the city side was ordered away by guards via loudspeaker, as they are at the Ariana Hotel.

Another possible former detention facility is the so-called Brick Factory that lies not far from the United States air base at Bagram, on the New Bagram Road that runs from the industrial east side of the capital. It is not a brick factory, but a huge Soviet-era transport mechanics yard with different workshops, according to a mechanic who worked there in the early 1990's. After the fall of the Taliban it became a C.I.A. training base, according to an American military official who was based in Afghanistan in 2003.

A sign posted outside now says it is an Afghan military facility, but American and Afghan commanders work there together, and members for the Afghan Rapid Reaction Force of the National Security Directorate, the Afghan intelligence service, guard the entrance to the base. New mud walls, topped with razor wire, run for kilometers around it. Guards said they could not let anyone on the base and referred all questions to the Afghan National Security Directorate.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hamas wins in West Bank elections

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hamas wins in West Bank elections Hamas wins in West Bank elections
Palestinian militant group Hamas has won a sweeping victory in municipal elections in the West Bank.

The Palestinian electoral commission said that in the biggest city, Nablus, Hamas took 73% of the vote, while the mainstream Fatah organisation took 13%.

Nablus has traditionally been seen as a Fatah stronghold, but the party appears to have been damaged by current splits.

On Wednesday, Marwan Barghouti split from Fatah to form a rival faction for elections in late January.

Barghouti is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison for ordering militant attacks.

Indicator of support

This week's poll is viewed as an important indicator for elections to the Palestinian parliament scheduled for 25 January 2006.

Partial results suggest Hamas has taken control of the councils in Nablus, the most populous West Bank city, and al-Bireh, a large suburb of Ramallah.

In Jenin, Hamas won seven seats on the council to Fatah's six seats.

In Ramallah, the West Bank's commercial centre, Fatah won six seats on the council, while the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also won six and Hamas three.

Full and final results were expected by the end of the week.

Israeli warnings

Hamas' charter commits it to the destruction of Israel, and the group has been responsible for most of the suicide attacks inside Israel.

Israeli officials have warned that the peace process will end if the group becomes the dominant Palestinian political party.

Late on Thursday Israel launched another round of missile strikes on targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants fired Qassam rockets into Israel.

The Israeli army said its missile strike was aimed at roads leading to areas from which militants fire rockets. Palestinian medical sources say that two people were injured.
Story from BBC NEWS:

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel's Sharon taken to hospital

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel's Sharon taken to hospital Israel's Sharon taken to hospital
Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been taken to hospital and is being tested to see if he has had a stroke.

He lost consciousness while being driven home from work on Sunday night and was driven to Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital, reports say.

Hospital officials say the prime minister is conscious and that his condition is not life-threatening.

The portly 77-year-old is not known to have had serious health problems in recent years.

Leading neurologists have been asked to come to the hospital, Israeli television reports.

Other Israeli politicians have been wishing him well.

The Prime Minister's office said he had complained of feeling unwell before he was taken to hospital.

A security cordon was reportedly placed around the hospital before he arrived.

Elections looming

The veteran Israeli politician, who has been prime minister since 2001, recently announced he was leaving the right-wing Likud party he helped found.

He has drawn supporters from both right and left for his new party, Kadima (Forward).

Polls suggest Kadima will come out on top in new elections scheduled for March.

Mr Sharon's health scare came from out of the blue, the BBC's Matthew Price says, but the life of the Israeli leader is a stressful one.

Story from BBC NEWS: