The United Nations expresses its gratitude to the City of New York for hosting the Millennium Summit by spelling out “Thank You” in lights on its Secretariat Building on 10 and 11 September, 2000. UN Photo/Evan Schneider, UN Staff Photographer

New York City: “Thank You NY” the United Nations building administration spelled out in lit-up windows of their beautiful 39 story headquarters years ago after their annual meeting of global big shots here. It is happening now again with the annual General Assembly in town.

Every year it’s a strange time. The illuminated courtesy above is a thanks to New Yorkers for enduring the disruptions of nearly 200 heads of state, and now Hurricane Trump, in town. Midtown workers and residents grumble at the inconvenience of not being able to pursue their itineraries without the cops bossing them around, closing off streets and enforcing “frozen zones.” Stand on a corner and you might see a president or a king, a potentate or a dictator. Or maybe just some twat with a motorcade. The boutiques on Madison Avenue are filled with first ladies shopping for baubles on their national treasury’s dime, and it’s a fair bet you can’t find an available hooker in the tri-state area as their husbands pursue “intercultural understanding meetings.” *cough*

If you’re ever in New York, a little known but fabulous diversion is the $22 guided tour of the UN Headquarters situated on 42nd St and the East River. The site used to be a slaughterhouse, and many other locations (Bronx, Westchester, Switzerland, Nairobi) were considered, but the genius of architects Le Corbusier and Niemeyer combined with Manhattan’s political gravity to build it on the East Side. There are grand statues in the ample gardens, heaps of flags, and a sense of reverence peculiar to places of great human importance. It’s like Jerusalem, the Vatican or Mecca except helpful to humanity.

Upstairs, if you know people who will let you visit, many of the corridors are still painted “UN Blue” and there’s a last century feel to the whole behemoth: until a decade or so ago you could still smoke cigarettes in the offices. This and other John Le Carre type jurisdictional oddities are due to the fact the entire complex is an enormous embassy and its own country, legally speaking.

Many of the employees have diplomatic immunity, don’t pay any American taxes and aren’t subject to local laws. Over the decades we’re read of diplomats indulging in various felonies; hundreds of thousands in unpaid parking fines (looking at you Russia), and even an African diplomat who kept a slave in his penthouse. It should be said, though, most responsible non-Russian countries do obey the laws here.

This goes for our enemies as well as friends, but it gets strange. Dictators who would otherwise be arrested in the US (Yasser Arafat, Castro and Gadaffi, staying in his stupid tent) when visiting the UN or representing there are given special diplomatic visas. Diplomats of our enemies like Iran, Cuba, or North Korea can work and reside only within a 100 mile radius of the UN building. It is not called a “short leash visa for villains” – but it’d be fun if it were.

The real hard currency for the hundred plus heads of state infesting Manhattan now isn’t the meetings, or listening to rambling speeches of politicians through tinny translation ear-pieces at the Secretariat: it’s the show for their home audiences. This week is a chance, at their respective governments’ expense, to take a trip to America with their spouse(s), idiot relatives, cronies and hangers on in their own fancy planes. So many foreign “Air Force Ones” they have to park them outside NYC airports and their motorcades have run into each other at times. They shop and appear on the world stage, can meet with discrete Panamanian bankers, shady arms dealers, and get at least a walk on part in a Big Production for the proles at home on telly.

But even considering all the above amusements, and its imperfect nature, the UN is a force for good. Its vaccination, clean water, education, peace keeping and refugee efforts make the world a better place. Right wing fevers about “global government” are, for a lawyer with any understanding of the dynamics, laughable: no UN policy is effected without the consent of the signatory country-parties involved, and all its treaties must be ratified by signatory member states. The UN owns no black helicopters. The main problem is many of its agreements and resolutions are ignored: Israel still builds illegal settlements like Lego, North Korea still nukes away loudly, and even our own county’s compliance with resolutions is sketchy. An unbiased observer and international peacemaker is especially precious in this current Orwellian era where America’s Forever Wars have continued for 16 years and looks like being a multi-generational adventure.

Plus, all the money and attention are great for our city! So in response to their building-sized light-up of windows spelling “Thank You NY” — New York replies: “You’re Welcome.”

David Anderson
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