Train And Simple
April 11, 2022
Some Good News
- Stand Up For Ukraine Event Sees $10.1 Billion Pledged In Support Of Refugees (Deadline)
- Spain bans harassment of women entering abortion clinics (NPR)
“Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.” – Lao Tzu
Kush-ioning His Pockets
Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as president was to the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia was his first stop. Jared Kushner, acting as his father-in-law’s Middle East adviser, was clearly interested in the petroleum-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf. He helped forge ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and backed Emirati rulers in a feud with Qatar. Most importantly, he developed a personal relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. During Kushner’s first two years in the White House, a real estate investment company he co-owned with his brother and a friend raked in over $90 million in foreign funding from an opaque offshore vehicle, and the company’s value increased fivefold. Kushner forcefully defended Mohammed bin Salman, even after it was determined the de facto ruler had ordered the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident, Jamal Khashoggi.
Upon leaving the White House, Kushner and his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, moved to South Florida. Kushner co-founded the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace, a nonprofit building on Israeli-Arab ties formed during his father-in-law’s presidency. The nonprofit allowed Kushner to stay active in the Middle East while he ramped up his newest Miami-based investment company, Affinity Partners. In 2021, Kushner reached out to several Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds for investment in his new money management firm; these attempts to raise large sums from officials he’d dealt with on behalf of the U.S. government barely six months earlier raised eyebrows among diplomats, investors, and ethics watchdogs.
The UAE and Qatar declined to participate in Kushner’s new fund, and an advisory panel screening investments for the main Saudi sovereign wealth fund also disapproved. But days later, Kushner had a $2 billion investment from the Mohammed bin Salman-controlled fund. In its March 31 Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Affinity Partners reported its main fund had $2.5 billion under management, most of it likely the $2 billion from the Saudi fund. In return, the fund receives a minimum 28% stake in Kushner’s main investment vehicle. No law or rules constrain the investment activities of former administration officials – many from both parties have profited from government-gained connections. However, the president of the nonprofit group Public Citizen calls Kushner’s close relationship with the Saudis “extremely troubling.” (NYT ($), GQ)
Le Pen Is Mightier Than We Thought
- President Emmanuel Macron finished ahead of his closest rival, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, in the first round of the French presidential election Sunday. With 99% of the vote counted, Macron had 27.6% to Le Pen’s 23.4%. Le Pen’s second-place finish was much closer than when Macron ran for his first term in 2017 and beat her by over 30 percentage points.
- Macron conceded on the campaign trail that he had not managed to calm voters’ concerns about immigration or suppressed the fears that led people to vote for extremists. But he told a crowd of cheering supporters he wants a France that is “part of a strong Europe,” and not a France that entails “decline for everyone.”
- The next two weeks until the runoff election on April 24 will be brutal. A Le Pen victory would mark the first far-right presidency in French history. It would also upend politics in Europe, replacing the most fervent advocate of E.U. cooperation with someone Macron says is anti-E.U., anti-Muslim, and complacent about Vladimir Putin. (WaPo, $)
Serb-ing A Purpose
- Media and military experts say that China delivered a sophisticated anti-aircraft system to Russian ally Serbia over the weekend. Six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes were spotted landing at Belgrade’s civilian airport early Saturday, reportedly carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian military.
- Experts see the arms delivery over the territory of at least two NATO member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, as a demonstration of China’s growing global reach. Although Serbia has voted in favor of U.N. resolutions condemning Russia’s attacks in Ukraine, it has refused to join international sanctions against Moscow or to criticize atrocities committed by Russian troops. Serbia was at war with its neighbors in the 1990s, but today is formally seeking EU membership.
- The West fears that arming Serbia with Russian and Chinese arms, including warplanes and battle tanks, could encourage the Balkan country toward another war, especially against its former province of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in 2008. Serbia, Russia, and China don’t recognize Kosovo’s statehood, while the U.S. and most other Western countries do. (LAT, $)
Additional World News
- German arms maker offers weapons to Ukraine, German government source says (Reuters)
- Israeli army kills one Palestinian in Jenin refugee camp raid (Al Jazeera)
- 2 European divers rescued in Indonesia, Dutch teenager dead (AP)
- Mexico’s AMLO offers voters chance to kick him out (WaPo, $)
- PM Khan gone: Pakistan’s political crisis explained in 400 words (Al Jazeera)
- Frontrunner for next Pakistani PM seen as ‘can-do’ administrator (Reuters)
Train And Simple
- Maryland’s Democrat-controlled General Assembly voted Saturday to override Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a measure to expand access to abortion. Under the state’s old law, only physicians were allowed to provide abortions. The new law, taking effect July 1, creates an abortion care training program, with $3.5 million annually to fund it.
- Once trained, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants can provide abortions. Most insurance plans will be required to cover abortions at no cost. The insurance provisions apply to all policies, contracts, and health benefit plans issued, delivered, or renewed in the state on or after January 1.
- Republican lawmakers criticized the funding provision that pays for the training, with one lawmaker describing the bill as “the most radical expansion of abortion in Maryland’s history in a state that already has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the country.” Supporters noted that if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, at least 26 states are likely to either ban abortion outright or severely limit access. (ABC)
Making A List, Checking It Twice
- The State Department says it’s unable to compile a complete and accurate accounting of gifts presented to former President Trump, his family, and other U.S. officials by foreign governments during his final year in office because the Executive Office of the President didn’t submit any information. Likewise, the General Services Administration didn’t submit information about gifts given to former Vice President Mike Pence and White House staffers in 2020.
- The State Department said it sought the missing information from the National Archives and Records Administration and the GSA, but was told that “potentially relevant records” aren’t available because of access restrictions related to retired records. The Department’s Office of Protocol publishes such lists annually in part to guard against potential conflicts of interest.
- A preview of the 2020 report was posted on the Federal Register website on Friday ahead of its formal publication Monday. The report also notes there was a “lack of adequate record-keeping pertaining to diplomatic gifts” all four years Trump was in office. (NBC News)
Additional USA News
- ‘TV is like a poll’: Trump endorses Dr Oz for Pennsylvania Senate nomination (Guardian)
- Woman in Texas Charged With Murder in Connection With ‘Self-Induced Abortion’ (NYT, $)
- South Carolina to execute death-row inmate by firing squad or electric chair (NBC)
- Power has been restored to much of Puerto Rico following an island-wide outage. Full restoration is possible Sunday, company says (CNN)
- Proud Boys member pleads guilty to role in US Capitol attack (Guardian)
- DeSantis tops $100 million for Florida reelection race — and sends signal to 2024 Republican field (CNN)
The Art Of The Matter
- Sanctions ordering the seizure of assets owned by Russian oligarchs and others – that happen to be found in certain other countries – aren’t going to apply to Russian art on loan to museums and galleries. A spokesperson for Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday authorization was granted for the return of three shipments of Russian art that were headed back home, but instead had been impounded by Finnish customs officials. Russian museums loaned the paintings and sculptures worth $46 million to institutions in Italy and Japan.
- Customs agents seized the shipments last weekend at a Finnish border crossing because they suspected the shipments contravened E.U. sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine. A statement from the ministry said legislative changes were being made on April 9 that included the ability for member states “to issue permits for the export or other transfer of cultural objects that are part of official cultural cooperation to Russia.” The statement didn’t say why such cultural goods were being exempted, but one knowledgeable fellow said, “Often under these types of sanctions, cultural items are exempt because they are non-pecuniary and … not related directly to the war effort.”
- Proponents of cultural exchanges as bridge-building exercises hoped officials would abide by international agreements that govern such loans. But other analysts said that art closely associated with the Russian state or sanctioned individuals could be legitimate targets of sanctions intending to isolate the country that has murdered civilians and devastated entire cities. (NYT, $)
- Mimi Reinhard, secretary who typed ‘Schindler’s List,’ dies at 107 (WaPo, $)
- Canada bans foreign homebuyers for two years in effort to cool market (Guardian)
- The Surprisingly Bulky Particle That Might…Break Physics? (Slate)
- Nissan, NASA aim to ditch rare, pricey metals in solid-state batteries (Ars Technica)
- Academy Bans Will Smith From Oscars for 10 Years (Variety)
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