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At UN, "Ugly Betty" and Basement Ugliness with Skanska's #2, Juul Memo Day 3

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 21, updated -- As the UN Headquarters hollows out, it becomes filled with other things. With Secretary General Ban Ki-moon away, first in South Korea and then nearly immediately on additional leave, presumably in the host country, his Deputy Spokesperson gushed breathlessly that the U.S. situation comedy TV show "Ugly Betty" would be filming in the building on August 19 and 20.

  From a booth above the EcoSoc Chamber on Thursday night, Inner City Press watched five dozen crew members mill about with boom microphones and lights and makeup, centering around a mock mosquito in front of a large fake UN logo. Malaria was the hook, Nothing But Nets, which is not even a UN program.*

  Previously the UN turned down even Alfred Hitchcock from filming North by Northwest in the building. Now, it's a fire sale, with Law and Order, a panel about Battlestar Gallatica, and now Ugly Betty. What's next -- Jon and Kate Plus 8 and a medley of divorce and diaper changing?

   There's a method to this transition and it takes us to the muck. Word reached Inner City Press late in the week of an incident in the bowels of the UN involving, literally, feces. Sources say that since the Skanska construction workers aren't allowed to use the regular UN bathrooms but rather some trailers set up in the garage with septic tanks filling up, they smeared their protest on the walls of a men's room near the publishing unit in the basement. A meeting of UN Security was convened which involved, sources tell Inner City Press, the "Number Two of Skanska." Indeed.

A Nothing but Nets mosquito, Ugly Betty and Skanska's #2 not shown

Some UN Security officers, meanwhile, are concerned their locker room in the basement, complete with the building's only weight room and gym, will be closed during the Capital Master Plan. Already ping pong up on the 40th floor has been curtailed. In much of the building, the air conditioning is off, as it hits 90 degrees in late August. Ban Ki-moon declared a Cool UN, ostensibly to save the environment, and then he hit the road. Many now ask -- will he go to Norway? Click here for that story.

Footnotes: Norwegian Mona Juul's memo slamming Ban's performance, including on climate change, was the talk of the reception at the August 20 farewell for Jean-Maurice Ripert. There was guessing why it was leaked, dark talk of Juul's husband Terje Roed Larsen wanting to be like Mark Malloch Brown, a strong UN Number Two. Ambassadors came to pay their respects along with the cream of NGOs, chicken skewers with cream, salmon on small crackers. Ripert leaves Tuesday. Some asked, how long will Ban Ki-moon stay? The Juul memo triggers a (Reuters) blog mentioning a (this) blog, here: fun house mirrors?

* -- Update: on August 24, the UN Foundation wrote in that "Nothing But Nets is a very real initiative of the UN Foundation and works in partnership with key UN agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, and UNHCR." Inner City Press' comment, above, was that Nothing But Nets is not a "UN program." And on its website, among UN agencies only UNHCR is listed as a partner -- along with corporate partners ExxonMobil, Orkin, Time Inc. and United Airlines. Our point wasn't that Nothing But Nets mightn't do good work, only that it's strange to have the UN Spokesperson's Office bragging for the third time this year about a TV show invited into the building, in this case for a program that is... not a UN program, but rather one that partners with the UN as well as ExxonMobil, United Airlines and Time Inc. Home Entertainment...

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As UN Relocates Some Get Taxis, Others Pay, Closing Post Office But Temp Building to Remain?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 15 -- The UN in New York is becoming a vacant shell, literally. Each week fewer people work here, each week there is less press. Unit after unit is moved out for the Capital Master Plan. This week there was talk of disparate treatment. Those sent to Long Island City to work for the UN Office of Information and Computer Technology, it's said, will have to pay their own transit fare to travel back and forth under the East River to headquarters.

   Meanwhile it's said that those from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, sent to Madison Avenue and 47th Street, will have the use of taxis, that DPKO budgeted for a van but not for gas and a driver. Would the driver have to possess a commercial license, someone asks. With the UN it is always about exemption for U.S. law.

  The UN post office in the Secretariat building basement appears on a list for USPS offices to be closed. But what of the UN stamps, which are sold and sent from there? Inner City Press asked CMP chief Michael Adlerstein, who while noting that he is not in every loop said that, yes, the post office might be closed during the whole Capital Master Plan.

Files head to Madison, some to return to taxis while others pay?

  And what of the Delegates' Lounge? A visit during the day on August 14 found the air conditioning off and the barristas hot and complaining. Returning in the evening, the crowd was the smallest in recent memory. When the free food came -- this time it was sushi, followed by fried plantains -- the platters were hardly finished. In the cafeteria these days, there are more and more empty seats. Aramark workers with less seniority face layoffs. The UN is offering no training.

  Meanwhile in the design of the Request for Proposals for the next food service contract, applicants are reportedly told there will be two Vienna Cafes, the existing one by Conference Room 4 -- which will temporarily become the Security Council -- and the other, apparently ongoing, in the "temporary" building on the North Lawn. Some in the process read this as an admission that the temporary building will remain.

  The overall questions is why, in this time of fiscal crisis, the UN bulled forward with its billion dollar plan. Given that it seems to be happening, how could the UN justify spending months to erect a conference building, and then just tearing it down? Watch this site.

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At UN, Construction Accidents and Fire Hazards Subject to Secret Meeting, Anti-Whistleblower

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 31 -- The day after the UN's Capital Master Plan sealed off an area in front of the Security Council balcony with red "Asbestos" tape and then afterwards quickly declared the area safe, CMP chief Michael Adlerstein barred the Press from a "Town Hall" meeting about the plan and safety.

  Adlerstein, when Inner City Press was previously blocked from covering such a meeting, promised to allow entry in the future. But on July 31 he shrugged and his spokesman argued that the offer had been only for the next meeting, and that the presence of the Press would change the discussion.

Inner City Press has been provided with several blow by blow accounts of the meeting. The fallen ceiling and testing for asbestos was raised. But another controversy, which perhaps explains Adlerstein's desire for secrecy, was an incident discussed in which concrete hit a workman on the UN construction site in the head. This was written up as a violation, along with the UN's general contractor Skanska blocking access to the Siamese connection carried water to put out fires.

   Adlerstein told concerned UN staff that Skanska is appealing. The staff, at least as sampled by Inner City Press, were not convinced. Adlerstein was asked to put on the UN's web site all information about violations. He said he would check with the Office of Legal Affairs. Given his exclusion of the press and public from his "Town Hall" meetings, Internet posting of safety violations seems unlikely.

   Adlerstein was also grilled about bad conditions in the UN's "swing space" in the Albano Building on 46th Street. Russian staffers of the Department of General Services and Conference Management complained of freezing air being thrust upon them from badly designed vents directly above their workplaces.

    Inner City Press was invited and confirmed this, as well as the lack of air conditioning at the Arabic DGACM unit lower down in the Albano Building. One wag jokes that this was a form of profiling, and that the Arabic group, if and when the UN compound is finally fixed, are not assured of a right of return.

   The UN's messengers' unit, meanwhile, says it is forced to work in cramped quarters with the whole Albano unit using a single toilet, and without access to the various floors of the Albano Building which they need to visit or service. Inner City Press' invited visit reveals some floors with fire doors blocked or taped open, others sealed up tight. Some complained that when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited this week, he went to only two floors. The issues raised at Friday's closed door meeting and below, these staffers say, are not understood or taken seriously by Ban Ki-moon.

UN's Ban in hard hat, workman hit in head and short walls not shown

   A recurring complaint was the lack of sound proofing cutting into the ability top work. This is a theme with Adlerstein, who along with Department of Management chief Angela Kane is insisting on changing a previously commitment to the UN correspondents that their "swing space" would be similar to what they have, with the ability to make phone calls and, in the case of investigative journalism endeavors like Inner City Press, to meet confidentially with whistleblowers.

   Now Adlerstein, Kane and Ban's advisors have decreed that walls will be only seven feet tall, and paper thin at that. In an attempt to divide and conquer, wire services will be able to request taller walls after a week, while other media like Inner City Press and the Washington Post -- which is mulling closing its long time UN bureau, as Inner City Press exclusively reported, as picked up by the Daily Beast -- can only make such a request after four months in a "Whistleblower Free Zone."

   Inner City Press' visit on July 30 -- after a demand to delete a photograph of the police taped "Asbestos" zone on the floor -- to Adlerstein's office in the basement under the library found that he has full floor to ceiling walls, hard and sound proof. Secrecy reigns at the UN, with safety and sanity seeming to take a back seat. Watch this site.

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At UN, Belated Asbestos Warning by Fallen Ceiling, Photograph's Deletion Demanded

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, July 30 -- For days on the UN's third floor a patch of fallen ceiling has been roped off with yellow police tape. Still, on July 29 Inner City Press witnessed families with strollers walking feet away from the police tape, touring the UN. On July 30, seeing a workman with what appeared to be a gas mask on probing at the ceiling with standing on a ladder, Inner City Press took a photograph.

An official of the UN Capital Master Plan rushed over to Inner City Press and asked why the photograph was taken. The safety measures used by the UN workman, under a ceiling hole by while unprotected visitors and children passed only a day earlier, seemed of potential news value. The official went back over to the roped off area and returned with the workman. "You have to delete the picture," the workman said. "You took it without my permission." He grabbed for the camera.

   Inner City Press pulled back and explained that since the UN is a public institution, the work done with public money, in an area with even outside visitors were permitted less then 24 hours earlier, the photograph would not be deleted. The workman retorted that he is not a UN employee but rather a contractor. (Click here for Inner City Press' previous exclusive story about the UN's asbestos contractor, ATC Associates which has been hit for Clean Air Act violations).

The Capital Master Plan official escorted Inner City Press down to the office of the CMP in the basement of the UN's library, to speak with CMP director Michael Adlerstein.

Tour of UN with roped off area and kids, July 29, 2009
In front of his ample office with its views of the East River, a receptionist asked, Is this about up there, the third floor? It's related, the official said.

Another receptionist said Mr. Adlerstein is in a meeting, Mr. Adlerstein can't be bothered. Inner City Press left a business card, if any legal reason for deleting such a photo existed.

UN workman, with protection, under same ceiling, July 30, 2009

Later on Thursday, to the yellow police tape around the work area, now with what appeared to be air testing machines buzzing, was added an additional red emergency tape with the word "ASBESTOS."

The context here is that the City of New York has already barred school children from being taken on tours of the UN"s Conference Building, including the third floor area at issue. It is not clear why children, including in strollers, still passed by the fallen ceiling on July 29. The CMP's many assurances that all asbestos work is being done in a safe manner appear to be called into question by the amateur and ad hoc fashion that the fallen ceiling on the third floor has been handled.

  Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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