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As Bloomberg Jokes of Media's Death, UN's Ban Lives It, Asbestos Links the Two

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 11 -- Both the UN and New York's City Hall are covered by fewer and fewer mainstream journalists. At a December 10 event at Gracie Mansion, Mayor Michael Bloomberg joked that there were gatecrashers like at the White House, the proof being that they said they were with the New York Times Metro section, "clearly fake."

  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, at a similar event on December 4, did not joke about the increasing flight of the press from the UN. That was left for master of ceremonies Richard Roth of CNN, who joked that soon the UN would only be covered by "the bearded blogger."

   At the Gracie Mansion event, the joke by the New York Post's David Seifman was that there were only eight reporters present, the rest being publicists. Inner City Press, which attended both events because it covers both beats, was pitched even during Bloomberg's jokes by a promoter of hotels, from Crosby Street to Eighth Avenue and 44th Street and even the Bronx' City Island.

  A running joke throughout the December 4 event was that the already begun gut rehabilitation of the UN building is releasing not only rodents but asbestos. As it happened, by December 10 the UN's contractor was furiously testing for asbestos release right by the UN's gift shop, which is open to the public.

   Bloomberg's sister, the City's liaison to the UN, has already barred public school children from touring the UN's Conference Building. One wonders if she knows of the suspected release by the UN gift shop: some gift.

  CNN's Roth got laughs, for example by suggesting that outgoing spokesperson Michele Montas go on a vacation to Club Med in Sri Lanka with this publication.

  Seifman's jokes at Bloomberg included a Bronx reference, a gift certificate for Kingsbridge Armory which he called the Ruben Diaz Junior Mall. Seifman said Bloomberg would need the Bronx Democrats' American Express, available from Reverend Ruben Diaz Senior.

  While at the UN there is discussion of a law pending in Uganda which would criminalize homosexuality, one wonders what the Reverend Diaz thinks of it. Inner City Press asked for Ban Ki-moon's position, and the first line was, "we have no specific opinion about domestic legislation" -- not true in the case of the cap and trade climate change proposals in the U.S. Congress. We will have more on this.

UN's Ban and Bloomberg, asbestos jokes not shown

  While Mr. Ban stood next to a blinking disco ball and used a TV screen, Bloomberg handed out gifts, for example a "Spanish by Bloomberg" dictionary and a City University of New York football helmet for a reporter heading into academia at CUNY. Ban joked that as his spokesperson he has wanted this reporter, but ended up with Martin Nesirky.

  Nesirky, during his speech, said he had brought a gift from Austria: Mozart's golden balls, which he awarded to your truth for having, well, balls. Bloomberg's spokesman Stu Loeser joked that both his boss and Sarah Palin said that if God hadn't wanted people to eat animals, He wouldn't have made them out of meat.

 As he handed out gifts, Bloomberg joked that he can buy anything -- read, the election. Afterwards, a UN official to whom Inner City Press compared the two events noted that Bloomberg is a billionaire. Perhaps the jokes too were bought.

  The Gracie Mansion event avoided at least one obvious topic, Dominick Carter. Until recently the go-to TV show for NY politicians, now with the host convicted of domestic violence / attempted assault, there's a pothole on the Road to City Hall. Why no reference? Why no jokes? We will try to find out, watch this site.

Update: on Friday morning in the UN General Assembly basement, the gift, book and coffee shops were closed, yellow "Caution" tape blocking the way, sheet plastic flapping. Visitors wandered around asking Inner City Press why the shops were closed. We will seek an on the record answer.

* * *

As UN Flies 700 Staff to Copenhagen, Coup Leader Set to Speak, Major Emitter Excluded

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 10 -- In the run up to the Copenhagen climate change conference, Inner City Press on December 4 asked UN climateer Janos Pasztor how many UN system staff, officials and consultants would be traveling to Denmark, with what carbon footprint. Pasztor said it wouldn't be known until the conference began.

  On December 10, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky finally answered the question, or part of it. He said that the Copenhagen conference has among its participants 477 people from the UN Secretariat and 309 from 19 specialized agencies and related organizations. That is, 786 people from the UN. But does this include consultants? And what is the carbon footprint and will it be offset?

  Nesirky did however answer two questions Inner City Press asked on December 10, after an ill attended noon briefing held at the same time as a media stakeout by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice. Inner City Press asked if Ban Ki-moon is aware of the request that the coup leader of Madagascar not be allowed to participate in the Copenhagen conference, just as he was barred from speaking before the General Assembly in September.

  Nesirky answered, "As for Madagascar, it is scheduled to speak on next Wednesday 16 December, sometime after 6 p.m., so they seem to have been invited." But what about the request that, as at the UN General Debate in September, they be disinvited?

  On December 8, Inner City Press asked Ban Ki-moon

Inner City Press: Has Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has he indicated to you – we’ve heard that you’ve spoken to him weekly by videoconference – he represents the African Union. Is the $10 billion enough? They threatened to walk out if not sufficient funds were committed. What’s you stance on how that issue’s going to play out?

SG: As you know I, together with Prime Minister [Lars Løkke] Rasmussen [of Denmark], have been engaging in weekly videoconferences with major stakeholders on climate change - particularly the representatives of the most vulnerable countries, including the African Union and small island developing countries. We are going to continue to do that, as we did in Trinidad and Tobago. Now the idea of short-term fast-track financial support is supported by developing countries. We had a very in-depth discussion on this issue during our Commonwealth summit meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. As you know the 53-Member State Commonwealth adopted a consensus declaration where this financial support – fast-track support – was agreed by all the Member States, including a provision that 10% of this $10 billion will be provided to small island developing countries.

  So the Commonweath agreed -- but has the African Union? Inner City Press asked Ban's top humanitarian John Holmes on December 10, but he said he hadn't been involved in setting the $10 billion figure. So who was?

UN's Ban pre-signs Deal, coup leader coming, major emitter not shown

  Inner City Press also asking about the block on participation by Taiwan, which is a major industrial emitter. Nesirky answered only that "Taiwan is not a party to the UNFCCC." But why not? Would the UN want a major source of emission like Taiwan to participate?

  The answer, of course, in China, a senior diplomat of which told Inner City Press a good joke on Thursday. He noted that U.S.' Susan Rice had been harsh against Iran in that morning's Council meeting. She has to play to the electorate, he said, just as Iran's teetered regime tries to strengthen its power by being ever more hard-line. The Chinese diplomat said, "This is the problem with democracy." And then he laughed.

* * *

At UN, Downer Says Anti-Obama Op-Ed Has No Effect on Cyprus Work with U.S., Coal Role

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 9 -- Alexander Downer, alongside being the UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, works for the consultancy Bespoke Approach, serves as a director of Hong Kong based mining firm ResourceHouse and its China First coal, and writes op-eds, most recently saying Barrack Obama should not have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  Inner City Press asked Downer on December 9 if this op-ed had any effect on his discussion for the UN with Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom he met about Cyprus on December 8. Downer laughed and said, "Of course not! No such thing was discussed." Video here, from Minute 8:32.

  But the question isn't whether Hillary Clinton brought up the op-ed: it's whether it has any impact of Downer's effectiveness for the UN on the Cyprus issue. Another correspondent pointed out that Downer had offered the Press nearly exactly the same upbeat assessment of the talks back in May. Has any progress been made?

  Previously, Inner City Press has asked Downer and the UN what safeguards are in place to avoid any conflict of interest between Downer's work for the consultancy Bespoke Approach and his UN role. Downer scoffed that Cyprus doesn't have much business. But of course, Turkey and Greece have a stake in Cyprus, and both have big business. In fact, while KKR lists Bespoke Approach as an Easter affiliate, KKR has business interests in Turkey. So where are the safeguards?

  Downer is also on the board of directors of ResourceHouse, which is raising funds for a China director coal mine in Australia. Inner City Press asked Downer, in this light, to comment on the UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

  Downer against laughed, saying that his Cyprus role does not involve climate change.  How about his China First Coal role?

Downer at stakeout, round and round, hook not shown

  Ironically, in a press conference the same day the head of UN peacekeeping argued that all UN peacekeeping mission are impacted by climate change. But Downer, without responding to the question about China First Coal, said that his personal hope is that the negotiations succeed. And that an $2.25 will get you on the subway in New York: appointments with Bespoke Approach cost more. Watch this site.

Footnote: the UN's force commander in Cyprus is slated to be changed in the Spring of 2010. A question at the stakeout about Slovakia's public claim to be lobbying for the position yielded no answer, except that the process takes place in New York. We will follow this.

* * *

As Sudan Claims "Unrelenting Backing" of UN's Ban, Spokesman Snarks, Dodges

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- Indicted war criminal Omar al Bashir received the "unrelenting backing" of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during a December 6 phone call, Sudanese media has reported.

  Inner City Press asked Mr. Ban's new spokesman Martin Nesirky about this call and characterization, among other questions on December 7, his first day. Video here, from Minute 16:08.

  Mr. Nesirky said that Ban's call was "purely on humanitarian grounds," about two UN hostages in Sudan. He acknowledged that the appointment of Ibrahim Gambari as the UN's and African Union's envoy to Sudan was also discussed. So how, some wondered, can the call be legitimately characterized as "purely" humanitarian?

  Inner City Press asked about advise by the UN's own Office of Legal Affairs, that Ban avoid Bashir since his indictment by the International Criminal Court. Nesirky that it is "right" that their was advice to retain a distance, but this was "purely humanitarian." He confirmed that it was the first call from Ban to Bashir since the ICC indictment.

  Pressed about the Sudan's state media's quote of Ban's "unrelenting backing" of Bashir, Nesirky snarked, to some refreshingly, "Listen to me, not the Sudanese media."

  His other answers were less clear. Inner City Press asked if Darfur envoy designate Gambari, in his December 7 speech in Nigeria about that country's leadership, was speaking for the UN, or being paid that day by the UN. Nesirky said during the briefing he would look into it, and reiterated later on Monday that an answer was in the works. But after the lid was called, after 7 p.m. no answer had arrived.

UN's Ban and Bashir in 2008, still "unrelenting" backing?

  Inner City Press asked if the UN joined the call by ECOWAS that the military junta in Guinea must leave power. Nesirky responded with a statement of concern, but no direct response to the regional ECOWAS position. On the Secretariat's withdrawal of its human resources proposal for "continuing" rather than permanent contracts, Nesirky said he'd respond later.

  On the UN's Congo Experts' report, which links the UN Mission in the Congo with murderous former rebel units of the Congo's army, Nesirky said "ask the expert," who in fact claims to be independent from the UN. The expert brought a Secretariat employee, who refused to answer but rather passed notes to the Expert. So much for independence. Click here for that, and watch this site.

* * *

UN's Congo Expert Covers Up for MONUC, Chides Press He Was With Under Other Name

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- The coordinator of the ostensibly independent UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo appeared in the UN briefing room on Monday to criticize the Press for focusing on portions of the Experts' report which show the UN working with murderous former rebels engaged in Congo mining. Video here.

  Even before the press conference, Dinesh Mahtani on December 4 declined to answer on the record Inner City Press' questions about the UN's role in providing logistical support to units of the Congolese army which were until recently the rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda and indicted war criminal Jean Bosco Ntanganda.

  In a large conference call at the German Mission to the UN, filled with an audience of several dozen, Mahtani said "I can't speak on the record," and referred Inner City Press to his press conference on Monday. Dinesh was introduced, by former head of UN Peacekeeping Jean Marie Guehenno, as having been a journalist in the past. Guehenno also declined to answer questions.

  Three days later, when Mahtani took to the UN's rostrum accompanied by an employee of the UN's Department of Political Affairs, he emphasized that the Group is independent. He criticized press accounts of his report, previously leaked to Reuters, BBC and others in Kinshasa, which emphasized on the findings against the UN.

  He said the report, now available online here, is mostly about two groups, the FDLR and the CNDP, that latter of which has become a part of the Congolese army. The UN's Mission in the Congo, MONUC, provides logistical support to these former CNDP units, for example one led by Innocent Zimurinda, who identified as Zimulinda is charged by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston with murder and multiple rapes.

  Inner City Press asked Mahtani if he believes the UN should be working for example with these "Innocent" units. Mahtani replied that his report mentions Zimurinda several times. But should the UN be working with him?

  From there, things got more surreal. Mahtani told one long time wire service correspondent that her question was "strange." Dinesh Mahtani, as it happens, reported from Kinshasa for Reuters, under the name Dino Mahtani. Why so defensive?

In Bunia, mine awareness- land mine, that is, Experts not shown

  Mahtani also defended China, which is named in the report as flying in weapons without accounting for them to the UN Sanctions Committee. Defending itself is the company Niotan, identified as a wrong-doer in the report: it claims it has another name, Refractory Metals Mining Company Limited. Sort of like Zimulina and a certain Mahtani... To be continued.

Footnote: the Report at paragraph 119 zeroes in on a Western Union transfer to "the program manager of the Ahadi Institute, Edison Bashimbe Nshombo [whose wife] reportedly administers medical treatment to wounded FDLR in the region." But, hat tip CanWest, the Ahadi Institute has as a supporter the UN's own UNESCO, click here for that, and watch this site.

* * *

As Congo's Gold Hits 60 Minutes, UN Is Let Off Hook, Wal-Mart's 10% Solution

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 29 -- The Congo's conflict gold was the subject of a fifteen minute feature tonight on the American television program Sixty Minutes. A former rebel said he used collected gold to buy weapons and ammunition from the Congolese army. A woman said she was raped by men in Army uniforms.

  Sixty Minutes accepted UN escort and showed a UN camp, but neglected to mention that the UN now provides logistical support to the Congolese army, which beyond weapon sales and rape has been documented for the mass murder of civilians, by the UN's own special rapporteur and experts.

  But the UN's top envoy to the Congo Alan Doss has told Inner City Press there is not enough evidence, and has yet to act on Special Rapporteur Philip Alston's report detailing mass rape by Congo's Army. (Click here for coverage of Congo trip by Inner City Press.)

  Rather than at least mention this perversion of the UN's peacekeeping mandate, Sixty Minute showed a UN camp to which 13,000 internally displaced people fled. Bags of flour and beans and cooking oil were distributed on the day of filming, for the first time in five months.

  Neither Sixty Minutes nor the two non governmental organizations which appeared on screen, HRW and the Enough Project, explained the starvation just outside a UN camp.

UN's Ban and Doss in Congo, continuing support of rogue Army units not shown

  The point of the show was that just as conflict diamonds were focused on seven years ago, conflict gold now cries out for action.

  Sixty Minutes said without explanation that the UN tries to stem the flow of conflict gold. But if the UN is supporting Army units which rape, kill and sell weapons, and which themselves control mines, how is the UN trying to stop the flow?

Footnote: Back in the U.S., Sixty Minutes quotes Tiffany's as identifying the source of nearly all of its gold -- in Utah -- while Wal-Mart will only say that it will track the source of 10 percent of its gold by next year. If it were rap music with profanity, Wal-Mart would take action. But conflict gold from the Congo? Ten percent sourcing, maybe, by next year...

* * *

IMF Murky on Angola's Oil, Bond and China Deals, Doles Out $1.4 Billion

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 25 -- Days after announcing a $1.4 billion arrangement with Angola, the International Monetary Fund held a press conference call to offer explanations. At the end, things were murkier than before. Inner City Press asked if the IMF had been able to fully assess the income and distribution of revenue from the state owned oil company Sonangol.

  The IMF's Lamine Leigh, who led the Fund's missions to Angola in August and September, replied that "in the context of our negotiations, Sonangol participated fairly well." Inner City Press asked, since Sonangol has accounts in off shore financial centers and tax havens, if the IMF had gotten to the bottom of these accounts.

  After a long pause, Lamine Leigh proffered another answer, that the government has "committed to steps in the more general area of resource revenue transparency." But what about the Sonangol accounts?

Oil in Angola, Sonangol's accounts not shown

  Inner City Press asked about the statement by IMF Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair Takatoshi Kato that in Angola "measures will be taken to strengthen further the regulatory and supervisory framework." The IMF's Senior Advisor on Africa Sean Nolan replied that the IMF analyzed the effect of the exchange rate on borrowers and "on the banks."

  In fact, Angola's government has gotten billions in pre-export oil loans from, for example, BNP Paribas, Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank. The latter has made similar loans in Turkmenistan, assailed by transparency and human rights advocates. How much of the IMF's new arrangement benefits these banks?

  In fact, the questioner after Inner City Press, cutting off follow up, was from Standard Bank. Other than Inner City Press, the only other media questioner was from Reuters.

  Before the call ended, Inner City Press was able to ask about Angola's reported $4 billion bond sale planned for December. Sean Nolan said that the IMF's "understanding" with Angola does involve a "fundraising effort," but that the timing was not agreed to, the IMF does not "micromanage" to that extent. Nolan added that there is an agreement on an "overall limit."

  "Is it four billion dollars?" Inner City Press asked.

  Nolan replied that the precise limit will be "clear in the documents," which have yet to be released. Why play hide the ball?

 Nolan praised the country for "appointing reputable financial and legal advisers for the transaction" -- JPMorgan Chase will be the manager.

  Nolan continued that the actual size of the bond sale will depend on how much "concessionary lending" Angola gets from "countries with a strong record of financial support to Angola."

  Inner City Press asked if the size of China's loans to Angola -- China gets 16% of its foreign oil from Angola -- were known by the IMF or considered.

  "That hasn't figured in our discussions," the IMF's Nolan responded. Why not? Watch this site.

* * *

 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.

* * *

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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