FedEx to scan every parcel at two Texas facilities after blast

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People evacuate as emergency vehicles stage near the site of another explosion, Tuesday, March 20, 2018, in Austin, Texas. (AP)
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Members of Austin Police Department block off part of Mission Oaks Boulevard following an explosion in Austin, Texas, U.S., in this March 19, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
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A law enforcement officer runs on Brodie Lane in Austin, Texas, moments after an explosion on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (AP)
Updated 21 March 2018

FedEx to scan every parcel at two Texas facilities after blast

CHICAGO: FedEx Corp. will screen every package at the Texas facility where a parcel exploded on Tuesday, according to a FedEx manager, describing extraordinary steps the company is taking in response to a series of bombings in the state capital.
The package delivery company will also X-ray entire truckloads of parcels at its sorting facility outside Austin, and then divert them elsewhere for sorting and delivery, said the FedEx employee who was not authorized to speak on the record. The source does not work at the sorting facility but was briefed on the situation.
FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey said he had no immediate comment.
The blast at FedEx on Tuesday was one of five explosions in Texas in the past 18 days. A sixth explosion on Tuesday night did not appear related, authorities said. The five attacks have killed two people, injured others and left hundreds of federal and local investigators scrambling to find the perpetrator and a motive.
Package screening is not routine at the nation’s big delivery companies such as FedEx, United Parcel Service Inc. or the US Postal Service. The industry delivers a total of around 40 million parcels in the United States each day, industry experts said. Checking every package on a regular basis would virtually paralyze their operations.
FedEx will carry out the special screenings at the sorting facility in Schertz, Texas where the package exploded, injuring one worker, and at a second location in Austin, where another explosive device was found, the employee said. The second package was turned over to police.
“FedEx in conjunction with the authorities are field X-raying all the packages one at a time,” the employee said. “From then on, we will be doing bulk X-rays of entire trailers.”
Packages will likely be delayed by a day or two at the facility, and FedEx was re-routing all other packages to its hub in Houston to avoid further delays, he said.
FedEx has provided law enforcement with “extensive evidence from our advanced technology security systems designed to protect the safety of our teammates, our customers and the communities we serve,” Chief Executive Officer Fred Smith told analysts on Tuesday after the company reported quarterly financial results.
FedEx will provide authorities with the location where the package was picked up by the driver and the time, the employee said, providing authorities with a wealth of data.
Satish Jindel, a founder of the delivery company that became FedEx Ground and now serves as president of ShipMatrix, which tracks on-time shipments, said it was highly unlikely that the industry would move toward routine screening. Package bombs are rare, he said, making it unrealistic to check every package, every day, considering the enormous cost.
“They don’t, they can’t, and they shouldn’t, and it would be unreasonable and ignorant for this country and for people to expect it,” Jindel said. “It would shut the economy down.”
For now, the industry will likely rely on employees who are trained to flag suspicious packages, Jindel said.
UPS spokesman Glenn Zaccara said the world’s largest package delivery company has security measures in place and was cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation, but declined to comment further.
DHL Worldwide Express said it had “standard” security and screening procedures in place and that its security teams were monitoring the situation in Texas.
The US Postal Service uses technology, targeted screening and employee training to stop suspicious packages, spokesman Dave Partenheimer said.
The FedEx manager with knowledge of the incident said the blast appeared to have been set off by a mechanical arm that diverts packages along a conveyer belt. When the arm came out and hit the package, it exploded on the sorter just as it entered a chute, he said.
“The good thing is it went off when it was going down the chute,” he said. “The chute actually shielded anybody below from the blast.”
 


Why the UN is struggling to function

Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, called the budget shortfall “the worst cash crisis facing the UN in nearly a decade,” jeopardizing, among other things, peacekeeping efforts and the management of the UN’s New York headquarters. (Ray Hanania)
Updated 16 October 2019

Why the UN is struggling to function

  • World body facing 'the worst cash crisis' in nearly a decade due to mounting arrears
  • Crisis is marked by lack of cash to pay staff and vendors or to fund critical programs

NEW YORK CITY: The UN is facing its worst liquidity shortfall in 74 years of operation with a deficit of $1.385 billion, which is making it difficult for the world body to pay staff and vendors or fund missions.
The crisis has forced Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, to begin cutbacks in all operations.
Warning on Oct. 8 that the problems are at a “tipping point,” he called it “the worst cash crisis facing the UN in nearly a decade,” jeopardizing peacekeeping efforts in Yemen, Myanmar and the management of the UN’s New York headquarters, offices in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, and investigative commissions in Bangkok, Addis Ababa, Santiago and Beirut.
A UN budget review presented this week showed that the crisis is being driven by the lack of cash to pay staff and vendors or to fund critical programs, and outlined spending cuts that will begin immediately pending a resolution of the situation.
“The cash deficits occur earlier in the year, linger longer and run deeper,” said Catherine Pollard, UN under-secretary-general for management strategy, policy and compliance.
“For the second successive year, we have exhausted all regular budget liquidity reserves, despite several measures we had taken to reduce expenditures to align them with available liquidity.”
Chandramouli Ramanathan, UN's controller, detailed the debt in a presentation with Pollard on Oct. 11 that identified $1.385 billion in debts, more than half of the UN’s 2019 annual budget of $2.85 billion.
Ramanathan said that only $1.99 billion had been collected this year, including past year arrears.
“If the trend continues … you will pretty much see that at some point we are running out of liquidity so often — everything depends on the liquidity if the liquidity runs down, we have to prioritize the payment,” he said.
“It will come to the point where you will not have enough staff or not have enough to pay the vendors.”
Ramanathan said that 75 percent of the UN’s budget is for employee and building costs. The remainder includes air charters, fuel, rations, IT support and political missions, which he said are all in jeopardy.
This does not include the costs of peacekeeping missions, nearly $8 billion for 2019, but which are nearly $3.7 billion in arrears.
A slew of operating spending cuts at the UN began on Oct. 14, ranging from no new hirings or filling of vacant positions to switching off heating and airconditioning.
Ramanathan said that these were emergency steps but warned failure to address the “liquidity crisis” would result in other more serious cutbacks including funding of operations, missions and more.

UN OPERATING SPENDING CUTS

• No new hirings or filling of vacant positions

• Reducing operating hours of UN facilities including the New York City headquarters

• Suspending release of new documents, studies and translation of documents

• Curtailing travel of UN officials, meetings or publicly scheduled receptions

• Cutting back operations at the UN headquarters and its worldwide centers, including turning off the use of electricity for certain building operations such as escalators, and shutting down the UN’s fountains

• Heating and air conditioning to be turned off at 6 p.m. each day and not turned on until 8 a.m. at UN buildings

“We are trying to cut back on non-salaried costs, operating hours to meet obligations and to vendors,” he said.
Ramanathan said that the UN was prohibited by its charter from borrowing money. He acknowledged that traditionally member countries were late in paying, usually until the last half of the year or last quarter, but the late payments had become “later and later” each year.
“The US is the largest contributor and they have a large outstanding amount … the US has a large amount outstanding,” Ramanathan said, noting that the UN does single out and list specific debts or debtors.
“We are in active engagement with all the states that owe large amounts.”

Ramanathan identified seven member nations that had failed to pay their memberships fully and accounted for 97 percent of the debt owed: the US ($1.06 billion), Brazil ($143 million), Argentina ($51.5 million), Mexico ($36 million), Iran ($26.9 million), Israel ($17.7 million) and Venezuela ($17.2 million).
He said that a total of 65 other countries were in arrears for their annual dues, based on country size and per capita income, but that represented less than 3 percent of the operating budget shortfall. Only 128 members were fully paid up for this year.
According to Ramanathan, the US owes its annual membership dues of $674 million for 2019, and $381 million for previous years.
UN officials declined to comment on reports that Guterres is seeking to address the unpaid US monies in a meeting with US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the UN and the US financial obligations.
But an independent report by UN Dispatch, which is funded by the UN Foundation, reported on Dec. 6, 2016, that the UN’s headquarters generated $3.69 billion in benefits to New York City’s economy through jobs, commerce, hotels and retail spending by delegates and their staff.
One example of the costs includes accommodating the more than 1,500 journalists, delegates and support staff at the opening of the UN’s 74th General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 23.

The cash deficits occur earlier in the year, linger longer and run deeper.

Catherine Pollard, UN under-secretary-general for management strategy, policy and compliance

The UN erected a huge outdoor media tent in its grounds to accommodate journalists, providing access to the internet, electrical outlets, video and audio feeds, tables and work stations.
But these journalists, staff and delegates also brought with them revenue for the host city — filling hotels and restaurants, and generating profits for retailers, cabs and other businesses.
Despite the financial benefits New York City reaps from the UN headquarters presence, and the power the US wields at the UN, Trump brushed aside reports of the budget crisis or his nation’s failure to pay its share of the UN costs during his address on Sept. 24 to the UN General Assembly.
And a week later, Trump tweeted in response to UN officials’ budget concerns: “So make all Member Countries pay, not just the United States!”
The UN could suspend the voting of any nation that fails to pay its dues under Article 19 of the UN Charter, which states: “A Member of the United Nations which is in arrears in the payment of its financial contributions to the Organization shall have no vote in the General Assembly if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contributions due from it for the preceding two full years. The General Assembly may, nevertheless, permit such a Member to vote if it is satisfied that the failure to pay is due to conditions beyond the control of the Member.” (Article 19 of the Charter of the United Nations)
A UN staff member said that it was unlikely that the UN would implement the rule against the US and that they fully expected the US “to pay at least part of what it owes” before the end of the year.
The UN was created in 1945 with the goal of ending human-rights abuses.
The power of the UN rests with the 15-member Security Council, which the US is a member of and controls through its veto to block any policies or resolutions it opposes.
The UN General Assembly includes 193 nations, serving as a platform for advocacy and action.