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The Rosett Report

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Don’t panic. This is hypothetical. But I’ve been thinking about those recent comments by the U.S. envoy for United Nations management and reform, Joseph Torsella, in his effort to illustrate the profligacy of the UN’s soaring core budget. Torsella just told the UN General Assembly’s budget committee that while the UN may regard $100,000 as a mere rounding error in a core budget now topping $5 billion per year, a big chunk of that money comes from U.S. taxpayers. According to Torsella, $100,000 represents the total federal taxes paid on average by 16 hard-working American families, laboring for a full year.

Torsella also said that for the more than 10,000 UN staffers paid out of the UN’s core budget, total compensation now averages $119,000 per staffer. At the UN, that kind of thing is tax-free.

So, let’s do a bit of arithmetic. U.S. taxes provide the funds for 22% of the UN’s core budget. So, out of a total of more than 10,000 UN staffers now making an average of $119,000 per year, the U.S. supports more than 2,200. Using Torsella’s ratios, for the U.S. to cover the salaries of each of these more than 2,200 staffers requires the total federal taxes paid over a full year by almost 20 average American working families. In round numbers, this means that roughly 44,000 average American working families toil for a full year to provide America’s share of the salaries paid to UN staff, over that same interval, out of the UN’s core budget.

Of course, one reason the UN gets away with its profligate, sky-rocketing budgets, staff numbers, and pay hikes for personnel is that the money from U.S. taxes is not collected from 44,000 specific working families. Instead, the bill is spread as a lesser-ticket item among millions of tax-paying Americans, most of whom are chiefly busy earning a living (and paying taxes), and don’t have time to focus on how the UN spends its share of the swag.

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U.S. Taxes and the United Nations Money Pit

September 29th, 2011 - 6:44 pm

Whether you love or hate the United Nations, one thing all Americans ought to be able to agree on is that sloshing billions of American tax dollars into the UN, with little accountability and regardless of UN performance, is a chump’s game.  I’d even suggest it is no favor at all to the UN itself — corroding its incentives for decent behavior, and swaddling its staff and offices in plush sinecures that are increasingly catching the attention of financially strapped American taxpayers, who pick up the biggest share of the UN tab.

Yet the chief effort currently on the table to reform the UN — Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s “United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act of 2011″ — is playing in Washington as an utterly partisan issue. There are so far 98 co-sponsors for this bill, and not a single Democrat among them.

Why’s that? The Hill reports that according to Ros-Lehtinen, the Obama administration is telling Democrats to stay away from her bill. The bill seeks to clean up the UN by revamping some of its financial incentives — basically proposing to condition a substantial share of U.S. money on UN performance. This would include potentially withholding some of the assessed dues with which the UN General Assembly bankrolls its self-approved and ever-expanding budgets, for which the U.S. dutifully pays 22%. The administration’s argument against this approach takes the line that if America stops automatically dispensing money at the UN’s demand, it would reduce U.S. influence and ability to reform the UN.

By that argument, America’s clout at the UN consists chiefly of bribery. And there are a great many signs at the UN that such bribery has long ago been absorbed into the system not as an an exceptionally generous contribution by the host state, for which the other 192 are grateful. Rather, America’s out-sized dues are viewed by the UN’s other member states, and many on its staff, as an entitlement.

Maybe the administration should take a closer look at some of the facts now being unearthed by its own envoy for UN management and reform, Joseph Torsella. I don’t mean to suggest that Torsella is at odds with his boss — if anything, he seems to be trying to walk the impossible line of promoting reform by reconciling the administration’s give-’em-the-money theory with the UN’s gimme!-gimme! realities. But to Torsella’s credit, in his efforts to persuade the UN to behave, he has been digging up a lot of information that suggests there are excellent reasons for withholding money from the UN.

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A Voice of Decency at the UN

September 25th, 2011 - 2:04 am

It wasn’t just Israel that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was defending in his address Friday to the United Nations General Assembly. It was also the United States. He did this not only by implication — arguing eloquently for the free world principle of policy based on facts and truth, not lies — but also quite specifically. One of the most bracing moments in his speech came when he talked about the Sept. 11 attacks on America. Netanyahu said that the night before his speech, he had gone to lay a wreath at the Sept. 11 memorial. He found it “deeply moving,” a comment you might hear from any number of democratic leaders who have made that pilgrimage.

But he went on to say something that was, itself, deeply moving. Speaking to the General Assembly, the erstwhile Parliament of Man, he said, “As I was going there, one thing echoed in my mind: the outrageous words of the president of Iran on this podium yesterday. He implied that 9/11 was an American conspiracy. Some of you left this hall. All of you should have.”

He was unequivocal. “Some of you left this hall. All of you should have.” 

He was right. But among the political leaders of our time, who, apart from the embattled Israeli prime minister, has the courage and decency to speak such truths to the assembled nations? This is the kind of leadership that’s desperately needed from the U.S. itself.

 

It’s no surprise by now that the United Nations continues to host Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at “high-level” events at its New York headquarters. At the UN, despite its charter stipulation that membership is open to “peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter,” it is by now obvious that a welcoming hand (including that of the Secretary-General) is routinely extended to Ahmadinejad as leading envoy of Iran’s regime. Never mind that Tehran’s proliferation-loving mullocracy is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, a persistent and flagrant violator of UN sanctions, a gross violator of human rights on its domestic turf and a self-advertised hub of genocidal desires regarding the democratic state of Israel, and ultimately the United States (that’s the meaning of “Death to America! Death to Israel!”).

Hey, welcoming folks like this is part of UN business as usual. As administration officials like to remind us, the UN may be imperfect, but why let that get in the way of the utopian dream?

And that is exactly the message that still seems to be registering with some in the Manhattan private sector, where — Tehran’s track record of terror and proliferation notwithstanding — it seems it is still possible for Ahmadinejad to find a luxury hotel room for the night. In recent years he has migrated from one plush New York hotel to another — the Barclay Intercontinental, the Hilton, and so forth — apparently shut out of return visits after public protests naming the hotels. But it seems there is always another willing establishment. This year it appears to be the Warwick New York Hotel, on West 54th Street. There, if the Warwick brochure is any guide, Ahmadinejad can enjoy fat pillows on which to lay his Holocaust-denying head and dream his radioactive dreams of a new Holocaust. There, he and his entourage will presumably have the pick of  the “richly appointed suites, several with private terraces offering breathtaking views of Manhattan.”

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Please Remind Us — Why Keep the UN in New York?

September 20th, 2011 - 2:37 am

When Moammar Gaddafi came to speak as one of the stars of the United Nations General Assembly’s annual opening debate in 2009, he complained about the rigors of traveling all the way to New York, and offered to move the UN to Libya. That offer may now be off the table. But it was one of those very rare moments in which the deranged dictator had a good point. It gets ever harder to justify keeping the UN in New York.

This year, as the UN General Assembly wends through its annual opening at UN headquarters in Manhattan, the tone, theme and starring characters are distinctly Middle Eastern. The new president of the General Assembly is from Qatar: His Excellency Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. The country presiding at the Security Council this month is Lebanon. One of the most powerful voting blocs in the General Assembly is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference), headquartered in Saudi Arabia. One of the major meetings organized by the General Assembly will be the Durban III “commemoration” of the 2001 Durban Conference, which centered on that Middle Eastern specialty of bigotry and discrimination toward Jews and Israel. The focal issue of the entire Assembly this year has become the bid by the Palestinian rulership to abrogate years of “peace” agreements by seeking from the General Assembly a statehood the GA cannot confer — but which it is prepared to promote regardless. And, of course, there will be the annual main stage appearance by Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

What part does the U.S. play in all this? Well, New Yorkers get to navigate the security barricades and the traffic gridlock. American taxpayers get to foot roughly one-quarter of the tab, both for the UN budget and for the current $2 billion renovation of UN headquarters. And the American president and his diplomatic corps get to plead with the Palestinians to wave off, while readers of the New York Times get to peruse such stuff as the not-so-veiled threats from Saudi Arabia that America had better kow-tow to the Palestinian godfathers and their pals, or else…

Seriously, why does the setting for this have to be midtown Manhattan? At far less cost to Americans and their allies, this entire performance could more easily be staged in Doha. Or Beirut. Or Riyadh. Or Tehran. Or, for that matter, Ramallah. If the UN is going to function largely as a vehicle to serve the demands and agenda of the Middle Eastern gang now dominating the doings of the General Assembly in New York, then why should America grant the UN right-of-way in Manhattan, and pay to put fuel in the tank? Ship the whole caboodle to the Middle East. Save American taxpayers roughly $8 billion per year by letting the UN enthusiasts in that part of the world pay for it. And let the new UN patrons know that if they’re willing to play nice and pay for the tickets, American diplomats might perhaps be persuaded it’s occasionally worth the bother to drop by.

Ahmadinejad’s Entourage

September 15th, 2011 - 10:47 pm

It’s become an annual guessing game, in the run up to the United Nations General Assembly opening debate each September: What antics will Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad engage in this time?

In years past, he has dined (if not wined) the media — sending out invitations on thick creamy stationery, and then, in his role as the smirking face of the Tehran regime, world’s leading sponsor ot terrorism, he has lectured his guests on Love and Justice. He has told Columbia University students there are no homosexuals in Iran (where the regime tries to bolster that lie by hanging them). He has felt himself surrounded by an apocalyptic green aura while speaking at the UN podium. He has told his audience that most folks believe the U.S. government was behind the Sept. 11 attacks on America. He has shared a hush-hush meal with Louis Farrakhan and the New Black Panthers.

And, while hosting a reception in New York in 2006, Ahmadinejad availed himself of his UN-sponsored access to New York to personally recruit for Iran the services of a software expert who was later caught and convicted in Philadelphia federal court of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

In all this, what largely escapes public notice — as Ahmadinejad basks in his own escapades — is the traveling circus he brings with him on his “diplomatic” travels: his entourage.

Ahmadinejad usually travels with a big entourage. Not that the exact size of his retinue tends to be publicly announced. But every so often, tid-bits about it turn up. When Roger Simon and I went to cover Ahmadinejad’s speaking appearance at the Durban Review conference in Switzerland, in 2009, we discovered that Ahmadinejad and his traveling party were occupying 40 rooms of the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva. This became apparent because newly arriving guests — myself among them — had to wait to check in until Ahmadinejad had finished hosting a banquet for 500 of his closest friends in Switzerland, and he and his entourage had checked out.

Last year, when Ahmadinejad made an extra trip to New York to attend a UN conference on “nonproliferation,” the Tehran regime at the last minute asked the U.S. State Department to issue visas for 81 people in his entourage. This came to light because State compliantly hustled to issue visas for 80 of these Iranians, and refused a visa to one. Iran’s government then complained to the UN about the lone denial.

Who are these scores of people who travel with Ahmadinejad? What are they busy doing in such money-and-diplomacy centers as Geneva and New York,  while Ahmadinejad yucks it up in the spotlight? For that matter, assuming that U.S. authorities keep a close watch on how these folks occupy themselves in New York, what does that kind of additional surveillance cost American taxpayers? On what missions have the many members of Ahmadinejad’s retinue been dispatched by the Iranian government to busy themselves in New York while Ahmadinejad sups at Columbia University?

Some of this entourage may be for security — but there’s no need for that, and it’s no excuse. The U.S. government ensures that Ahmadinejad, when he visits the U.S., enjoys far better security than do most U.S. legislators.  The question remains: Who are these Iranians who make up the traveling court of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and how, exactly, do they spend their time while he busies himself with auras and media meals and visits to Columbia University? And why does the U.S. State Department dignify this entourage with any visas at all?

Commemorate 9/11 By Stopping Iran

September 9th, 2011 - 9:53 pm

On this tenth anniversary of Islamist terrorists striking America, there will be many tributes to the victims and heroes of Sept. 11, including Sunday’s ceremonies in lower Manhattan. But the best way to honor America’s dead is not solely to remember them. It is to win the war against the enemies who killed them.

In that spirit, one of the best commemorations  – perhaps the most appropriate of all — can be found in Times Square, where a patriotic nonprofit called United Against Nuclear Iran, or UANI, has put up a billboard about Sept. 11. It reads: “AS WE REMEMBER 9/11 TEN YEARS LATER, AL QAEDA’S SILENT PARTNER IS COMING TO NEW YORK.” Under that caption is today’s most prominent face of the Tehran regime, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who will be arriving in New York later this month to deliver his seventh speech since 2005 at the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

What does Iran have to do with Al Qaeda? Plenty, as the U.S. Treasury detailed in July. UANI, a bipartisan outfit headed by a former U.S. envoy to the UN, Ambassador Mark Wallace, provides a much fuller account, in a report on its web site, “Alliance Against America: Al Qaeda and Iran.” Most immediately, UANI is calling on New York hotels to refuse lodging to Ahmadinejad and his entourage. The broader message here is that Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, now pursuing nuclear weapons, has been acting in cahoots with Al Qaeda since the early 1990s. This alliance poses a “formidable and menacing threat” to America. This is part of the same war that brought – to borrow an Iranian slogan — “death to America,” out of blue skies, on Sept. 11.

When the Greatest Generation rallied around the slogan “Remember Pearl Harbor!” the aim was not solely to remember the dead of that horrific surprise attack, but to win World War II. So it needs to be in the remembrances this September. Mourn the dead, honor the victims and the heroes — and cast an eye at that billboard in Times Square. Here it is again. The best way, the only way, to keep faith with those dead is to win this war.

Durban III: Coming UN-Attractions

September 5th, 2011 - 11:10 pm

The last time the United Nations had a big conference on fighting “racism,” the star speaker and sole head of state to attend was Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That was in April, 2009, in Geneva, at the “Durban Review Conference” prepared by a UN committee chaired by an envoy of Qaddafi’s Libya, with help from such quarters as Iran, Pakistan and Cuba. It was all part of what the UN calls the “Durban Process” — named for the original, 2001 conference that launched this Orwellian routine. That conference was held in Durban, South Africa, and, as a fitting precursor to Ahmadinejad’s elocutions, it was devoted chiefly to beating up the world’s only Jewish state, Israel.

Now comes the UN’s next step, which some have dubbed Durban III. Rather than apologize for its “Durban Process” iniquities, the UN General Assembly wishes to commemorate them.

As one of the main events of this year’s annual opening of the UN General Assembly in New York, the General Assembly will host a day-long “high-level” conference, Sept. 22, with which it proposes to mark the 10th anniversary of the original Durban conclave. The organizers and proponents of these festivities, including the current General Assembly president, Switzerland’s Joseph Deiss (who this past March offered the General Assembly hall as a venue for the U.S. premiere of an Israel-trashing movie), are hoping the timing will attract some of the many heads of state who will be in New York for the General Assembly “debate” (they deliver monologues, but at the UN is it called a debate) that kicks off a day earlier, on Sept. 21.

Nine countries so far have explicitly decided not to attend Durban III: Canada, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, Israel and the U.S.

Who might attend? There’s an educated guess to be gleaned from checking the roster of 104 countries whose governments voted last December in favor of this Durban “follow-up” commemoration. You have to scroll down in the UN tome to Annex I for the full list — but here are some highlights: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cameroon, China, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Laos, Lebanon, Burma, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Niger, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Qaddafi’s Libya (it will be interesting to see whether post-Qaddafi Tripoli has the decency to steer clear).

The number of countries that voted against Durban III is relatively small, just 22. But that group of nay-sayers has the distinction that unlike the above yea-sayers to Durban III, there is not a dictatorship in the lot.

For Iran’s Ahmadinejad, it has the makings of another thrilling visit to New York —  his seventh trip to speak at a General Assembly opening since he first took the UN stage in 2005. He is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Sept. 22, the same day as Durban III. So much to do. He can run back and forth between the General Assembly podium and Durban III, availing himself of the UN’s Manhattan facilities, for which U.S. taxpayers are bearing the brunt of a $2 billion renovation.

Maybe that’s as much as anyone can stomach in one sitting of Durban III’s coming attractions. But if you’re in the mood for a video sample, here’s an item from the UN’s 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva. I’m not going to bother with Ahmadinejad’s speech — you’ll be hearing from him again soon enough, and if you want to scroll through the webcast menu, you can find it here. But sometimes the finer points also speak volumes. This is the Iranian delegation, protesting that an NGO has had the audacity to speak ill of Ahmadinejad and the regime he represents, and demanding as a point of order than any such criticism be silenced — to which the president of the conference agrees.