The United Nations recorded spending $9.5 million at the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, Syria, in 2016. In doing so, the organization put money straight into the pockets of the Syrian government, which co-owns the lodging, Bloomberg Politics reports.
In addition to the eye-popping hotel bill, the U.N. awarded telecommunications and security contracts to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's cousin and donated money to a charity organized by Assad's wife. In total, $18 million flowed from the U.N. to Assad-linked businesses.
"Any money going to Assad and his allies shows that the U.N. is not impartial but is in fact helping the largest player in the conflict," Kathleen Fallon, a spokesperson for the Syria Campaign advocacy group, told Bloomberg Politics. "The regime has been responsible for the majority of the deaths, and they are being rewarded. It sends the wrong message."
The U.N. does not have to follow restrictions imposed by member states; instead, the organization uses its own blacklist. "Still, the distribution of funds to Assad allies will further fuel criticism that the world body has failed badly over Syria, where more than six years of civil war have left at least 400,000 people dead," Bloomberg Politics writes.
The U.N.'s chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, explained that the Four Seasons costs resulted from "limited options." "That's one place in Damascus that has been cleared for security," Dujarric said. The full U.N. report can be read here. Jeva Lange
Congress can be a home away from home for lawmakers, and no one knows that better than the 50-plus elected officials — including top Republicans like newly anointed House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who convert their offices into bedrooms after hours.
The reason for camping out, The New York Times explains, is "fiscal, practical, and political," allowing lawmakers to dodge Washington rent and work extra long hours (Ryan, for example, tries to maintain a 9 p.m. bedtime and rises before 6 a.m.). What's more, most of them consider "home" to be elsewhere — a 5,800-square-foot mansion in Wisconsin, if you're Ryan, for example. Why waste time and money finding a place in D.C. when a cot in the office does the trick just as well?
The practice is widespread. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has been through three mattresses in his time in office:
First there was the blowup bed, but "I must be too fat," he said, "because I woke up one morning on the ground." After too many midnight deflations, he moved on to a Coleman cot ($44) but its springs were too weak. Lately he has settled on a more sturdy frame and mattress from Walmart ($69).
He keeps sheets in a closet along with a warm blanket, which is especially important, he said, because the heat goes off from roughly midnight to 4 a.m. In another closet he has several suits and the rest of his clothing. He also keeps a small vacuum cleaner on hand for last-minute housekeeping, and frozen pizzas that he can heat in his toaster oven. [The New York Times]
Some watchdog organizations wag their fingers at the practice of office-sleeping, claiming the congressmen unfairly take advantage of taxpayer dollars for their "housing." But Chaffetz insisted it's out of necessity, not a way to dupe the system.
"It's uncomfortable and it's just lonely," he said. Jeva Lange