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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

NPR : History as a Guide to Alito's Nomination Hearings

NPR : History as a Guide to Alito's Nomination Hearings: "History as a Guide to Alito's Nomination Hearings

Listen to this story... by Nina Totenberg

All Things Considered, January 2, 2006 · On the eve of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, Nina Totenberg looks back at past hearings, including the recent hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts.

Monday, January 02, 2006

China's Youth Look to Seoul for Inspiration - New York Times

China's Youth Look to Seoul for Inspiration - New York TimesJanuary 2, 2006
China's Youth Look to Seoul for Inspiration

BEIJING - At Korea City, on the top floor of the Xidan Shopping Center, a warren of tiny shops sell hip-hop clothes, movies, music, cosmetics and other offerings in the South Korean style.

To young Chinese shoppers, it seemed not to matter that some of the products, like New York Yankees caps or Japan's Astro Boy dolls, clearly have little to do with South Korea. Or that most items originated, in fact, in Chinese factories.

"We know that the products at Korea City are made in China," said Wang Ying, 28, who works for the local branch of an American company. "But to many young people, 'Korea' stands for fashionable or stylish. So they copy the Korean style."

From clothes to hairstyle, music to television dramas, South Korea has been defining the tastes of many Chinese and other Asians for the past half decade. As part of what the Chinese call the Korean Wave of pop culture, a television drama about a royal cook, "The Jewel in the Palace," is garnering record ratings throughout Asia, and Rain, a 23-year-old singer from Seoul, drew more than 40,000 fans to a sold-out concert at a sports stadium here in October.

But South Korea's "soft power" also extends to the material and spiritual spheres. Samsung's cellphones and televisions are symbols of a coveted consumerism for many Chinese. Christianity, in the evangelical form championed by Korean missionaries deployed throughout China, is finding Chinese converts despite Beijing's efforts to rein in the spread of the religion. South Korea acts as a filter for Western values, experts say, making them more palatable to Chinese and other Asians.

For a country that has been influenced by other cultures, especially China but also Japan and America, South Korea finds itself at a turning point in its new role as exporter.

The transformation began with South Korea's democratization in the late 1980's, which unleashed sweeping domestic changes. As its democracy and economy have matured, its influence on the rest of Asia, negligible until a decade ago, has grown accordingly. Its cultural exports have even caused complaints about cultural invasion in China and Vietnam.

Historically, Christianity made little headway in East Asia, except in South Korea, whose population is now about 30 percent Christian and whose overseas missionary movement is the world's second largest after the United States.

Today, in China, South Korean missionaries are bringing Christianity with an Asian face. South Korean movies and dramas about urban professionals in Seoul, though not overtly political, present images of modern lives centering on individual happiness and sophisticated consumerism.

They also show enduring Confucian-rooted values in their emphasis on family relations, offering to Chinese both a reminder of what was lost during the Cultural Revolution and an example of an Asian country that has modernized and retained its traditions.

"Three Guys and Three Girls" and "Three Friends" are South Korea's homegrown version of the American TV show "Friends." As for "Sex and the City," its South Korean twin, "The Marrying Type," a sitcom about three single professional women in their 30's looking for love in Seoul, was so popular in China that episodes were illegally downloaded or sold on pirated DVD's.

"We feel that we can see a modern lifestyle in those shows," said Qu Yuan, 23, a student at Tsinghua University here. "American dramas also show the same kind of lifestyle. We know that South Korea and America have similar political systems and economies. But it's easier to accept that lifestyle from South Koreans because they are culturally closer to us. We feel we can live like them in a few years."

"They seem to have similar lifestyles," Ms. Qu said. "They have friends and go to bars. They have good mobile phones and good cars and lead comfortable lives."

Her classmate, Huo Kan, 23, said, "American dramas are too modern."

Ms. Qu said, "They're postmodern."

Ms. Huo added, "Something like 'Sex and the City' is too alien to us."

Jin Yaxi, 25, a graduate student at Beijing University, said, "We like American culture, but we can't accept it directly."

"And there is no obstacle to our accepting South Korean culture, unlike Japanese culture," said Ms. Jin, who has studied both Korean and Japanese. "Because of the history between China and Japan, if a young person here likes Japanese culture, the parents will get angry."

Politics also seems to underlie the Chinese preference for South Korean-filtered American hip-hop culture. Messages about rebelliousness, teenage angst and freedom appear more palatable to Chinese in their Koreanized versions.

Kwon Ki Joon, 22, a South Korean who attends Beijing University and graduated from a Chinese high school here, said his male Chinese friends were fans of South Korea hip-hop bands, like H.O.T., and its song "We Are the Future." A sample of the song's lyrics translate roughly as: "We are still under the shadows of adults/Still not Free/To go through the day with all sorts of interferences is tiring."

To Mr. Kwon, there is no mystery about the band's appeal. "It's about wanting a more open world, about rebelliousness," he said. "Korean hip-hop is basically trying to adapt American hip-hop."

Like many South Koreans, Oh Dong Suk, 40, an investor in online games here, said he believed that South Korea's pop culture was a fruit of the country's democratization. "If you watch South Korean movies from the 1970's or 1980's, you could feel that it was a controlled society," Mr. Oh said.

Hwang In Choul, 35, a South Korean missionary here, also sees a direct link between South Korea's democratization and its influence in China. After restrictions on travel outside South Korea were lifted in the late 1980's, South Korea's missionary movement grew from several hundred to its current size of 14,000 missionaries.

Mr. Hwang, who since 2000 has trained 50 Chinese pastors to proselytize, is among the 1,500 South Korean missionaries evangelizing in China, usually secretly.

"Under military rule, it was simply not possible to come out of South Korea, and even our activities inside the country were monitored," Mr. Hwang said. "We had the potential to be missionaries out in the world, but we were constrained. We had the passion, but we couldn't express our passion."

Until South Korea and China, enemies during the Korean War, normalized relations in 1992, North Korea had a stronger presence here, with its embassy, restaurants and shops. Back then, South Korea remained unknown to most Chinese, or suffered from a poor image.

"If a Japanese television set stopped working, the Chinese would say something's wrong with the power lines," said Ohn Dae Sung, the manager of a Korean restaurant, Suboksung, who has been here since 1993. "If a South Korean television set stopped working, they'd say it was the fault of the set."

The Korean Wave has been gathering for some time, with its roots traceable to several developments, including the Seoul Olympics in 1988. The first civilian president was elected in 1992, ending nearly 32 years of military rule and ushering in tumultuous change.

A newly confident South Korea has pursued an increasingly independent foreign policy, often to Washington's displeasure, warming up to China and to North Korea. Social changes that took decades elsewhere were compressed into a few years, as new freedoms yielded a rich civil society, but also caused strains between generations and the sexes, leading to one of the world's highest divorce rates and lowest birth rates.

As South Korea quickly became the world's most wired nation, new online news sites challenged the conservative mainstream media's monopoly; press clubs, a Japanese colonial legacy that controlled the flow of news, were weakened or eliminated. Unlike other Asian nations, South Korea has tackled head-on taboo subjects in its society, including the legacy of military rule and collaboration during Japanese colonial rule.

Here, at a computer center on a recent evening, young Chinese could be seen playing South Korean online games. Cyworld, the largest online community service in South Korea, is announcing its arrival in China by plastering ads on city buses.

Thanks to the Korean Wave and South Korea's new image, being Korean helps business.

"I'm sure there is a connection, though we don't have exact figures," Jim Sohn, the chief executive of LG Electronics China, said in an interview inside the company's brand new $400 million headquarters here.

Another company that has benefited from the Korean Wave's "positive effect" is Hyundai, said Um Kwang Heum, president of its Chinese division. Though a latecomer to China, Hyundai signed a joint venture agreement with Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings in 2002 and has already become No. 2 in sales among automakers in China.

Thanks to its local partner, Hyundai's cars have been chosen by the Beijing government to replace the city's aging taxis before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Hyundai Elantras will make up most of the city's taxi fleet in time for the Olympics, which are expected to be a turning point for China, just as they signaled South Korea's entry onto the world stage in 1988 and postwar Japan's in 1964.

For all of South Korea's influence in China, though, few Chinese expect the Olympics and democratization to dovetail as they did in Seoul.

A local television production company, Beijing Modern English Film and TV Culture, proposed a Korean-language program for adults in 2004 but was rejected 10 times by the Chinese authorities for unexplained reasons. Eventually, it successfully pitched a cartoon, "Happy Imitation of Korean Sentences."

"As long as it was a kids' show, it was O.K.," said Sun Hogan, a producer at the company.

"The government," he added, "is definitely a little nervous about the popularity of the Korean Wave."

Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda - New York Times

Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda - New York TimesJanuary 2, 2006
Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 - A Pentagon contractor that paid Iraqi newspapers to print positive articles written by American soldiers has also been compensating Sunni religious scholars in Iraq in return for assistance with its propaganda work, according to current and former employees.

The Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, was told early in 2005 by the Pentagon to identify religious leaders who could help produce messages that would persuade Sunnis in violence-ridden Anbar Province to participate in national elections and reject the insurgency, according to a former employee.

Since then, the company has retained three or four Sunni religious scholars to offer advice and write reports for military commanders on the content of propaganda campaigns, the former employee said. But documents and Lincoln executives say the company's ties to religious leaders and dozens of other prominent Iraqis is aimed also at enabling it to exercise influence in Iraqi communities on behalf of clients, including the military.

"We do reach out to clerics," Paige Craig, a Lincoln executive vice president, said in an interview. "We meet with local government officials and with local businessmen. We need to have relationships that are broad enough and deep enough that we can touch all the various aspects of society." He declined to discuss specific projects the company has with the military or commercial clients.

"We have on staff people who are experts in religious and cultural matters," Mr. Craig said. "We meet with a wide variety of people to get their input. Most of the people we meet with overseas don't want or need compensation, they want a dialogue."

Internal company financial records show that Lincoln spent about $144,000 on the program from May to September. It is unclear how much of this money, if any, went to the religious scholars, whose identities could not be learned. The amount is a tiny portion of the contracts, worth tens of millions, that Lincoln has received from the military for "information operations," but the effort is especially sensitive.

Sunni religious scholars are considered highly influential within the country's minority Sunni population. Sunnis form the core of the insurgency.

Each of the religious scholars underwent vetting before being brought into the program to ensure that they were not involved in the insurgency, said a former employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Lincoln's Pentagon contract prohibits workers from discussing their activities. The identities of the Sunni scholars have been kept secret to prevent insurgent reprisals, and they were never taken to Camp Victory, the American base outside Baghdad where Lincoln employees work with military personnel.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad, declined to comment.

After the disclosure in November that the military used Lincoln to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers, the Pentagon ordered an investigation, led by Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq, said that a preliminary assessment made shortly after the military's information campaign was disclosed concluded that the Army was "operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures."

Admiral Van Buskirk has finished his investigation, several Pentagon officials said, but it has not been made public.

Lincoln recently sought approval from the military to make Sunni religious leaders one of several "target audiences" of the propaganda effort in Iraq. A Lincoln plan titled "Divide and Prosper" presented in October to the Special Operations Command in Tampa, which oversees information operations, suggested that reaching religious leaders was vital for reducing Sunni support for the insurgency.

"Clerics exercise a great deal of influence over the people in their communities and oftentimes it is the religious leaders who incite people to violence and to support the insurgent cause," the company said in the proposal, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times.

In some cases, "insurgent groups may provide Sunni leaders with financial compensation in return for that cleric's loyalty and support," the proposal said, adding that religious leaders are motivated by "a need to retain patronage" and a "desire to maintain religious and moral authority."

Unlike in many other Middle Eastern countries, sermons by Iraqi imams are not subject to government control, enabling them to speak "without fear of repercussions," the document said.

The Special Operations Command said in a statement that it did not adopt the Lincoln plan, choosing another contractor's proposal instead. When the Lincoln Group was incorporated in 2004, using the name Iraqex, its stated purpose was to provide support services for business development, trade and investment in Iraq.

But the company soon shifted to information warfare and psychological operations, two former employees said. The company was awarded three new Pentagon contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars, they said.

Payments to the scholars were originally part of Lincoln's contract to aid the military with information warfare in Anbar Province. Known as the "Western Missions" contract, it also called for producing radio and television advertisements, Web sites, posters, and for placing advertisements and opinion articles in Iraqi publications. In October, Lincoln was awarded a new contract by the Pentagon for work in Iraq, including continued contact with Muslim scholars.

Lincoln has also turned to American scholars and political consultants for advice on the content of the propaganda campaign in Iraq, records indicate. Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington research organization, said he had reviewed materials produced by the company during two trips to Iraq within the past two years.

"I visited Camp Victory and looked over some of their proposals or products and commented on their ideas," Mr. Rubin said in an e-mailed response to questions about his links to Lincoln. "I am not nor have I been an employee of the Lincoln Group. I do not receive a salary from them."

He added: "Normally, when I travel, I receive reimbursement of expenses including a per diem and/or honorarium." But Mr. Rubin would not comment further on how much in such payments he may have received from Lincoln.

Mr. Rubin was quoted last month in The New York Times about Lincoln's work for the Pentagon placing articles in Iraqi publications: "I'm not surprised this goes on," he said, without disclosing his work for Lincoln. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs."

Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Baghdad, Iraq, for this article.

States Take Lead in Push to Raise Minimum Wages - New York Times

States Take Lead in Push to Raise Minimum Wages - New York TimesJanuary 2, 2006
States Take Lead in Push to Raise Minimum Wages

Despite Congressional refusal for almost a decade to raise the federal minimum wage, nearly half of the civilian labor force lives in states where the pay is higher than the rate set by the federal government.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have acted on their own to set minimum wages that exceed the $5.15 an hour rate set by the federal government, and this year lawmakers in dozens of the remaining states will debate raising the minimum wage. Some states that already have a higher minimum wage than the federal rate will be debating further increases and adjustments for inflation.

The last time the federal minimum wage was raised was in 1997 - when it was increased from $4.75 an hour. Since then, efforts in Congress to increase the amount have been stymied largely by Republican lawmakers and business groups who argued that a higher minimum wage would drive away jobs.

Thwarted by Congress, labor unions and community groups have increasingly focused their efforts at raising the minimum wage on the states, where the issue has received more attention than in Republican-dominated Washington, said Bill Samuel, the legislative director of the national A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Opinion polls show wide public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, which falls far short of the income needed to place a family at the federal poverty level. Even the chairman of Wal-Mart has endorsed an increase, saying that a worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford to shop at his stores.

"The public is way ahead of Washington," Mr. Samuel said. "They see this as a matter of basic fairness, the underpinning of basic labor law in this country, a floor under wages so we're not competing with Bangladesh."

The minimum wage has been the subject of fierce ideological debate since it was first established in 1938 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Business groups and conservative economists have argued that the minimum wage is an unwarranted government intrusion into the employer-employee relationship and a distortion of the marketplace for labor. An increase in the minimum wage, they say, drives up labor costs across the board and freezes unskilled and first-time workers out of the job market.

"Increasing the minimum wage is a bad move economically, philosophically and politically," said Marc Freedman, director of labor law policy for the United States Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Freedman said that any minimum wage set by the federal government was completely arbitrary and did not take local labor market costs into account.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, about two million American workers, 2.7 percent of the overall work force, earned the minimum hourly wage of $5.15 or less in 2004, the last year for which such statistics were available. Those workers were generally young (half were under 25, and a quarter were teenagers), unmarried and had not earned a high school diploma. About three-fifths of all workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage worked in bars and restaurants, and many received tips to supplement their basic wages.

Advocates of an increase in the minimum wage said that inflation had so eroded the value of the minimum wage in the last nine years that it was worth less today in real terms than at any time since 1955. They also cited studies that found that raising the minimum wage did not cause job loss, as opponents argue. According to these studies, employers can absorb the higher labor costs through efficiencies, less employee turnover and higher productivity.

Tim Nesbitt, the former president of the Oregon A.F.L.-C.I.O., said that despite having one of the highest minimum wages in the country at $7.25 an hour, Oregon had had twice the rate of job growth as the rest of the country.

The 2006 battle over the minimum wage is expected to be particularly intense in Ohio, one of only two states that have a minimum wage below the federal level (the other is Kansas). The minimum wage in Ohio since 1991 has been $4.25 an hour, which applies to small employers, some farms and most restaurants. Workers at larger enterprises are generally covered by the federal minimum wage.

Efforts to get the Republican-run General Assembly to consider raising Ohio's minimum wage have gone nowhere, so labor groups and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as Acorn, an advocacy group for low-income individuals and families, are planning a ballot initiative to put the issue to a popular vote in November.

Tim Burga, legislative director for the Ohio A.F.L.-C.I.O., said that 92,000 workers in the state made less than the federal minimum wage, some as little as $2 an hour. The proposed Ohio Constitutional amendment would set the state minimum wage at $6.85 an hour, indexed to future inflation, bringing an immediate raise to as many as 400,000 workers.

Former Senator John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, said in an interview that he planned to help organize the minimum wage campaign in Ohio as part of his national campaign to alleviate poverty. He called the current minimum wage a moral disgrace and a national embarrassment.

"My view is it should be $7.50 an hour, and I can make a great argument for it being a lot higher than that," Mr. Edwards said. "This is a perfect example of the Republican leadership in Congress, combined with the powerful presence of lobbies in Washington, thwarting the will of the people."

Leading the opposition to the initiative will be the Ohio Restaurant Association, which like its parent organization, the National Restaurant Association, closely monitors and vigorously opposes efforts to raise the minimum wage.

"Restaurants are a low-margin business," said Geoff Hetrick, president of the Ohio Restaurant Association. "A number of marginal operations which are more or less on the ragged edge right now might find this to be the straw that breaks the camel's back, especially in northern Ohio where they've had a significant loss in manufacturing employment that's taken a lot of disposable income out of the economy."

One of those who would be affected by the proposed minimum wage increase in Ohio is Rick Cassara, owner of John Q's Steakhouse in downtown Cleveland. He said that while all of his 55 employees currently earn more than the minimum wage, he opposed a mandated increase because it would drive up all of his labor costs. "It exerts upward pressure on all wages and prices," Mr. Cassara said. "If the minimum wage is $7 and I have to pay $8 or $9 to hire a dishwasher, then the cooks are going to say they want more. How much can I charge for that hamburger?"

Another small employer, Dan Young, owner of Young's Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs, a working farm and restaurant operation, said that more than half of his 300 workers were high school and college students, many of them in their first jobs. He said he paid many of them $5.25 an hour, just above the federal minimum wage, but most quickly won raises or earned far more than that in tips.

Mr. Young said that if Ohio enacted a Democratic proposal to raise the state's minimum wage by $1 an hour over the federal level, his labor costs would go up by $250,000 a year or more. "When you do all the math," he said, "I'll have to figure out a way to hire fewer workers, or raise prices, or both."

In 2004, voters in Nevada and Florida approved ballot initiatives raising the state minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, in both cases by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Nevada voters must vote on the measure again this year because it is a Constitutional amendment, but proponents are confident they will prevail. Lawmakers in California, which already has one of the highest rates in the nation at $6.75 an hour, approved a bill last year to increase the wage to $7.75 an hour in 2007, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it, the second time he has rejected such legislation.

Mr. Schwarzenegger said then that he believed that low-wage California workers deserved a raise, but said the legislation, which contained automatic increases tied to inflation, would be too costly to employers.

But aides to Mr. Schwarzenegger said late last week that the governor would propose a $1-an-hour increase in the California minimum wage in his State of the State address this week. If approved, the proposal would take effect over the next 18 months and would not have an automatic inflation adjustment, the aides said. The move appears designed in part to pre-empt a ballot initiative that would raise the California hourly rate an additional $1, to $8.75 an hour, and include annual cost-of-living increases.

Inflation indexing is also an issue in Oregon, where the minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and adjusts every year for inflation under an initiative approved by voters in 2002. Each year since passage of that measure, the Oregon Restaurant Association and other business groups have pushed legislation to cancel the indexing provision or to exempt some workers from the wage law, but have so far failed. Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, a Democrat and former labor lawyer, has vowed to veto any such measure that reaches his desk.

Russia Cuts Off Gas to Ukraine in Cost Dispute - New York Times

Russia Cuts Off Gas to Ukraine in Cost Dispute - New York TimesJanuary 2, 2006
Russia Cuts Off Gas to Ukraine in Cost Dispute

MOSCOW, Jan. 1 - Russia cut off the natural gas intended for Ukraine on Sunday as talks over pricing and transit terms unraveled into a bald political conflict that carried consequences for Ukraine's recovering economy and possibly for gas supplies to Western Europe.

The dispute comes a year after the Orange Revolution brought a pro-Western government to power in Ukraine. It ends a decade of post-Soviet subsidies in the form of cheap energy that allowed Russia to retain some influence over the former Soviet republics.

Choking off the westbound pipes is a striking gamble by Russia, one likely to send political and economic ripples westward in the months ahead. Russia is positioning itself to become an energy-supplying nation capable of easing dependency on Middle Eastern oil in Western Europe and even in the United States.

Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, 51 percent of which is owned by the state, provides about a quarter of Western Europe's natural gas. Under a system begun in the Soviet era, 80 percent of Russia's exports to Europe have passed through Ukraine. Gazprom said it had reduced the flow to equal the volumes it agreed to provide to Western countries, minus what the company provides for the Ukrainian domestic market.

On the same day it throttled back its gas to Ukraine, Russia assumed the chairmanship of the Group of 8, the club for the world's large developed economies, promising to push the theme of "energy security."

Sunday's early-winter cut in gas supplies to Ukraine came as an unsettling reminder that promises of energy exports are not Russia's only method of using oil and gas to further its foreign policy goals - it can also turn off the valve of energy exports.

The election of Viktor A. Yushchenko as Ukraine's president last winter pulled the former Soviet country from Russia's sphere of influence. A gas shortage this winter could discredit him and weaken his party, with parliamentary elections coming up in March.

Tellingly, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was personally involved in the negotiations. It was he, rather than company officials, who made the final offer of a grace period on Saturday.

A jump in Russia's utility bill to Ukraine is at the heart of the current conflict. Russia is seeking to charge $220 to $230 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas, up from $50. Ukraine's economy has depended on buying cheap energy from Russia, which provides about a third of its natural gas supply.

The 11th-hour effort to head off the shutdown failed. On Sunday, Ukraine's natural gas distributing company, Naftogaz, said it had faxed a draft contract to Russia shortly after 11 p.m. Saturday - agreeing to terms laid out earlier that evening by Mr. Putin, the company said in a statement.

Mr. Putin had suggested a 3-month grace period if Ukraine would agree to pay the higher prices thereafter. Gazprom, however, said Sunday the faxed reply had fallen short of demands.

"We were prepared to come to terms with the Ukrainian people and help maintain comfortable conditions for them during the winter, the most crucial season from the point of view of energy supplies," Gazprom's chief spokesman, Sergei V. Kupriyanov, said on Russian television. "Our proposals were turned down."

At around 10 a.m. on Sunday, Gazprom began cutting the pressure on pipelines at the border with Ukraine, and the effect on the Ukrainian web of pipelines was felt later in the day.

"Russia counts on Ukraine to guarantee the stable supply of Russian gas to European countries in accordance with international obligations fixed in the European Energy Charter," a statement from the Interior Ministry said.

The effects were starting to be felt in Europe on Sunday night. The Hungarian natural gas wholesaler, MOL, said that deliveries from the affected pipeline were down more than 25 percent, according to Reuters, which added that in Poland, supplies dwindled 14 percent.

Polish officials said reserves were adequate for now, and the Hungarian company asked big gas consumers to switch to oil where possible.

Gazprom reduced the pressure in the gas mains leading to Ukraine at three metering stations and ceased boosting pressure in the westbound pipelines from a storage system that is designed to keep the pressure up during peak demand in the winter. It was unclear whether the impact on the other countries was a result of Gazprom's action or whether it was the result of interference by Ukraine.

"It's their task not to take the gas that goes through their territory," a Gazprom spokesman, Denis I. Ignatyev, said in a telephone interview.

Prime Minister Yury I. Yekhanurov of Ukraine said on Sunday that his country was not siphoning gas from the pipeline.

The State Department, expressing hope that the conflict would be resolved, said in a statement: "Such an abrupt step creates insecurity in the energy sector in the region and raises serious questions about the use of energy to exert political pressure. As we have told both Russia and Ukraine, we support a move toward market pricing for energy, but believe that such a change should be introduced over time rather than suddenly and unilaterally."

Mr. Putin has said that Russia's foreign policy will hinge on energy exports. In trips to Germany, Turkey and Japan last fall, he boldly promised not only a secure supply of fuel for the West, but also that Russia could become a much larger energy exporting nation in the years ahead.

He pushed Germany to endorse a multibillion-dollar underwater gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea. Gazprom is hoping to extend the pipe to Denmark, Belgium and Britain. Gazprom is also in talks with a short list of five major energy companies to develop a huge gas field in the Barents Sea, far above the Arctic Circle off western Russia, hoping to ship significant quantities of liquefied natural gas directly to the United States, the world's largest energy consumer.

Gazprom is the Russian government's largest energy policy instrument - though the company sometimes insists it operates only on business principles. The loss of fuel, if it persists, could shake Ukraine's economy the way the 1973 oil embargo helped plunge the United States into recession. Ukrainian officials said the loss could reverse its modest economic growth to cause a contraction of between 4 and 5 percent this year.

The dispute involves complex arguments by Gazprom, which says the price it wants to charge Ukraine is based on the prices of competing fuels, like diesel and bunker oil, on international exchanges. But not far below the surface, there is the embarrassing loss of a Kremlin-backed candidate in last winter's Orange Revolution.

Russia has increased the costs of its natural gas to other former Soviet states, though not as steeply. Belarus, a Russian ally, pays $47 per 1,000 cubic meters.

With its reduction in the flow of natural gas - from a rate of around 120 million cubic meters per day to around 96, according to Gazprom - Russia demonstrated there is only so far Ukraine can go before Russia reacts, and that indeed the country is still within Mr. Putin's range of influence. Each side blamed the other for the breakdown in talks.

"We will take all steps not to allow theft," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "We get the impression that the Ukrainian government, feeling themselves uncertain, deliberately decided to break off the negotiation process."

In addition to a large pipeline - called "Brotherhood" for the supposed warm relations between the two Slavic republics in Soviet times - Russian gas enters Ukraine through more than 100 smaller pipes.

"There's a lot of posturing and a lot of ways to put pressure on Ukraine," said Leonid Y. Mirzoyan, an equity analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, a financial company that has investment banking business with Gazprom.

In addition to the natural gas provided by Russia, Ukraine has domestic production and contracts for natural gas from the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan.

Naftogaz officials in Ukraine have said the Russian exports to Western Europe will not diminish. Yet government officials have also said the country will siphon gas from the export routes if necessary. Ukraine is a party to the European Energy Charter, an agreement intended to prevent disruption of fuel passing between countries.

Nonetheless, Mr. Ignatyev, the Gazprom spokesman, said Sunday evening that Gazprom had already detected some siphoning of gas by Ukraine, and that the company would reveal its evidence on Monday.

Brian Knowlton contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

844 in U.S. Military Killed in Iraq in 2005 - New York Times

844 in U.S. Military Killed in Iraq in 2005 - New York TimesJanuary 1, 2006
844 in U.S. Military Killed in Iraq in 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 31 - At least 844 American service members were killed in Iraq in 2005, nearly matching 2004's total of 848, according to information released by the United States government and a nonprofit organization that tracks casualties in Iraq.

The deaths of two Americans announced by the United States military on Friday - a marine killed by gunfire in Falluja and a soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad - brought the total killed since the war in Iraq began in March 2003 to 2,178. The total wounded since the war began is 15,955.

From Jan. 1, 2005 to Dec. 3, 2005, the most recent date for which numbers are available, the number of Americans military personnel wounded in Iraq was 5,557. The total wounded in 2004 was 7,989.

In 2005, the single bloodiest month for American soldiers and marines was January, when 107 were killed and nearly 500 were wounded. At the time, American forces were conducting numerous operations to secure the country for the elections on Jan. 30. The second worst month was October, when 96 Americans were killed and 603 wounded.

More than half of all 2005 American military deaths, 427, were caused by homemade bombs, most planted along roadsides and detonated as vehicles passed. American commanders have said that roadside bombs, the leading cause of death in Iraq, have grown larger and more sophisticated. Many are set off by remote detonators and are powerful enough to destroy heavily armored tanks and troop carriers.

The totals were compiled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a nonprofit group that tracks American service members killed and wounded in Iraq. The Associated Press, which keeps its own statistics, reported the year's death toll as slightly lower, saying that 841 had been killed.

Death totals for Iraqis have been more difficult to estimate, and vary widely. Iraq Body Count, an independent media-monitoring group, estimates that about 30,000 Iraqis have died since the war began in 2003.

On Saturday, violence flared across Iraq. In Khalis, north of Baghdad, a bomb killed five members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political party that defied insurgent threats and fielded candidates in the Dec. 15 election. Since 2003, at least 75 party members have been killed.

In central Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi police patrol, killing two officers.

At Camp Victory, the American military headquarters just outside Baghdad, Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged Iraqi political leaders on Saturday to form a new government as quickly as possible to avoid the kind of delay that stalled the political momentum after the vote last January.

"Clearly, the sooner that they're able to come to agreement on who their leaders are going to be, the sooner that those leaders then can act to appoint the rest of the country's key leadership," General Pace told reporters traveling with him on a troop visit.

In historical terms, the number of casualties in Iraq is still relatively small. At the height of the Vietnam War, the American military was sustaining 500 killed and wounded each week. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, about 58,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded on the first day.

In interviews, American commanders have said the relatively unchanging number of deaths in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 belies the progress that had been made here against the guerrilla insurgency and in setting up democratic institutions. Three nationwide votes were held this year.

Although the number of attacks against American and Iraqi forces in and around Baghdad has grown over the past year - to about 28 per day now from about 22 a year ago - only about 10 percent of those attacks inflict casualties, said Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., the commander of American forces in and around Baghdad.

A year ago, about 25 percent of attacks inflicted casualties.

More than 400 car and suicide bombs struck the country in 2005, although the number has dropped sharply in recent months. In April, for instance, there were 66 suicide and car bomb attacks, compared with 28 in November.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Camp Victory, Iraq, for this article, and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed from Baghdad.

Officials at U.N. Seek Fast Action on Rights Panel - New York Times

Officials at U.N. Seek Fast Action on Rights Panel - New York TimesJanuary 1, 2006
Officials at U.N. Seek Fast Action on Rights Panel

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 31 - Officials of the United Nations, which has struggled through a period of scandal and mismanagement, have decided they must act within weeks to produce an alternative to its widely discredited Human Rights Commission to maintain hope of redeeming the United Nations' credibility in 2006.

The commission, which is based in Geneva, has been a persistent embarrassment to the United Nations because participation has been open to countries like Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe, current members who are themselves accused of gross rights abuses. Libya held the panel's chairmanship in 2003.

"The reason highly abusive governments flock to the commission is to prevent condemnation of themselves and their kind, and most of the time they succeed," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "If you're a thug, you want to be on the committee that tries to condemn thugs."

Mark Malloch Brown, chief of staff to Secretary General Kofi Annan, noted that with two other crucial steps toward reform in place - a new Peacebuilding Commission to help countries emerging from war, and a biennial budget under an arrangement laying the groundwork for major management change by June - the rights commission had taken center stage.

"For the great global public, the performance or nonperformance of the Human Rights Commission has become the litmus test of U.N. renewal," he said. "We can't overestimate getting a clear win on this in January."

Mr. Annan begins his last year in office with a mandate to bring fundamental and lasting change to the beleaguered institution. Negotiators have been struggling for months over the terms of a new Human Rights Council that he proposed in the spring to replace the commission. A hoped-for agreement in December did not materialize.

Negotiators resume talks on Jan. 11 and must settle on a resolution for the new council soon after to have it in place by March, when the commission reconvenes in Geneva. "The commission should hold that meeting with the understanding that it is going to be its last meeting," said Ricardo Arias, the ambassador of Panama, who is one of the leaders of the working group drawing up the new Human Rights Council.

The current commission has 53 members serving staggered three-year terms and elected from closed slates put forward by regional groups. It meets each year in Geneva for six weeks.

The proposed council would exist year-round, be free to act when rights violations are discovered, conduct periodic reviews of every country's human rights performance and meet more frequently throughout the year.

Still in dispute are the council's size, the procedures for citing individual countries, how often the panel would meet, a possible two-term limit for membership and whether members would be chosen based on agreed criteria of human rights performance or by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly as a way of weeding out notorious rights violators.

The proposal envisions votes on each candidate for membership rather than on regional slates. As with most of the changes being proposed at the United Nations, the rights council has drawn suspicion from the poorer and less developed nations of the 191-member General Assembly. They say they fear the new council may be yet another way for wealthier and more powerful nations to intrude in their affairs.

Abdallah Baali, the ambassador of Algeria, said the main concern of objecting nations was "whether or not this council will impose both its measures and its views on a member state or will it seek their cooperation in order to improve their human rights records. " He said Algeria supported the proposed council.

Diplomats at the United Nations singled out Egypt and Pakistan as countries that were leading the resistance to the proposed council.

In introducing his recommendation for a new council in March, Mr. Annan cited the flaws in the current commission and the consequences for the United Nations of not reforming it. The commission had been undermined, he argued, by allowing participation of countries whose purpose was "not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others."

"As a result," he said, "a credibility deficit has developed, which casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole."

Mr. Roth of Human Rights Watch was blunter. "If the governments of the world cannot get together on human rights at the U.N., then it is a shameful act for the entire organization," he said.

Peggy Hicks, the global advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said that having rights abusers on the panel had a broadly debilitating effect on its work. "In the case of Sudan, the Sudanese government's presence on the commission meant that African states and others watered down language that human rights groups around the world thought appropriate to address crimes against humanity," she said.

She said Zimbabwe's presence on the commission was an important factor in the panel's decision to take no action this year against the government of Robert Mugabe despite widespread accusations of abuse against Zimbabwe's own citizens.

"In general," Ms. Hicks said, "what the presence of abusive countries on the commission means is that much of its energy is taken up with the blocking actions and delaying tactics that end up weakening action on human rights abuses worldwide. Yes, they delay action on their own internal situations, but they have a vested interest in seeing that the overall ability is as weak as possible."

Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organizations, said the United States' priorities were "to improve the membership so that countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan were not eligible" and "to make sure the council can act."

"We don't need more theatrics and discussion in Geneva," she said. "We need concerted action."

"Some countries have argued that it's better for the council to stay away from anything that would embarrass a country, but we think the council needs to be prepared to take action in serious cases like Darfur and Burma," she said in an interview, referring to the country that now calls itself Myanmar.

Mr. Arias said that "a lot of emphasis has been placed on the matter of cooperation to improve human rights, not just passing resolutions against a country which is in violation but on making an effort to increase the capacity to improve human rights in the long term."

Mr. Roth said the United States and the European Union were strong supporters of the proposed council but needed to become more aggressive in building the case for it with reluctant countries.

Ms. Silverberg said that she and the State Department's adviser on United Nations reform, Ambassador Sharin Tahir-Kheli, had pressed the case for the human rights council and management reform on trips to capitals in Latin America and South Asia and that she was going to the Middle East for the same purpose next month. She noted that Ms. Tahir-Kheli had visited Cairo and Islamabad, among other capitals.

Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the ambassador of Jordan, said that while his country supported the proposed council, it was concerned that condemning the current commission outright would be to ignore that it had sometimes proved effective.

"What we are concerned about is about 20 percent of its work, while the rest seems to be working quite well," said the prince, a former United Nations peacekeeper in Bosnia. "Look at all the rapporteurs in the field putting together their reports, often with good cooperation with governments. This must be encouraged and continued."

This year the commission established a special rapporteur, or investigator, on human rights and counterterrorism that drew the support of 80 United Nations members, including Russia and the United States. It also passed a resolution establishing a human rights monitoring operation in Nepal where both the government and Maoist insurgents have been accused of abuses.

In November, Mr. Arias and the other leader of the working group, Dumisani Kumalo, the South African ambassador, accompanied Jan Eliasson, the Swedish diplomat who is the General Assembly president, to Geneva on a mission to calm concerns there over plans for the council.

"There was a good deal of suspicion, and it's important that you don't develop an antagonistic relationship between Geneva and New York," Mr. Eliasson said in a telephone interview from Stockholm.

"It was important to pick up the best practices and good things the Human Rights Commission has been doing," he said, "and many people in Geneva felt that aspect was being disregarded."