Kushner Companies' Pitch To Chinese Investors Raises Conflict Of Interest Questions

Chinese staff wait for investors at a reception desk on Sunday in Shanghai, China, during an event promoting investment in a Kushner Companies development.

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The sister of President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, highlighted her powerful brother as she pitched financing the family firm’s real estate project in New Jersey to Chinese investors.

That’s according to reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times, who were attending the publicly advertised event at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing on Saturday before press was removed from the room.

“Speaking in a ballroom, [Nicole] Meyer said the project ‘means a lot to me and my entire family,'” according to the Times. “She mentioned her brother’s service as chief executive of Kushner Companies, the family business from which he resigned in January, saying he had left to serve in the Trump administration.”

This is the latest in a series of conflict-of-interest questions surrounding the vast business interests of top Trump administration officials.

“It’s highly problematic,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, tells NPR. “It appears that Jared Kushner’s family business is using his name and his official position to bring in investment.”

Kushner Companies “apologizes if that mention of [Meyer’s] brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors,” it said in a statement emailed to NPR, adding that it was not her intention. It said the One Journal Square project would provide millions in tax revenue and bring in thousands of construction jobs to New Jersey.

The event was organized by QWOS, a firm that assists Chinese citizens access U.S. green cards through investments. Its advertising highlights the controversial EB-5 visa program, which provides a path to a green card to foreign nationals who invest at least half a million dollars and create 10 full-time jobs.

“Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States,” said one pamphlet for the event to raise money for the project, according to the Post.

The program is popular with some commercial real estate developers, who use it to raise funds for their projects, as NPR’s Greg Allen has reported. But it has also been linked to fraud schemes and critics are uneasy about the idea of “essentially selling visas to wealthy foreigners with no proven skills, paving the way for money laundering and compromising national security, as Bloomberg reported.

Before Kushner joined the Trump administration as a senior adviser, the news agency added, his family firm raised some $50 million through the EB-5 program for a Trump-branded luxury apartment building in New Jersey.

Kushner’s lawyer, Blake Roberts of WilmerHale law firm, said in an emailed statement that Kushner “will recuse from particular matters concerning the EB-5 visa program.”

Bookbinder, from the watchdog group CREW, says that “at this point, it might make sense for him to consider broader-based recusals on China issues as well, as more and more business ties keep on coming up.”

Roberts also stressed that Kushner has distanced himself from the firm he used to run:

“Mr. Kushner has no involvement in the operation of Kushner Companies and divested his interests in the One Journal Square project by selling them to a family trust that he, his wife, and his children are not beneficiaries of, a mechanism suggested by the Office of Government Ethics.”

However, it’s worth noting that ethics watchdogs had wanted to see Kushner’s assets sold to independent third parties, rather than to a family trust.

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50,000 German Residents Evacuated After World War II Bombs Found

Officers of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Division (EOD) load a bomb onto a truck after it was made safe on May 7, 2017 in Hanover, Germany.

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Fifty thousand people have been evacuated from their homes in the northwestern German city of Hanover while experts defused three British bombs dropped during World War II.

It was the second largest evacuation of its kind carried out in Germany, according to the BBC.

City officials initially said five suspected bombs were discovered; two at a construction site and three more nearby. But the BBC cites local German media as saying two suspected bombs turned out to be harmless scrap metal. Two unexploded bombs were successfully defused by Sunday afternoon and a third required a specialized cutting machine to be made safe.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhadi Nelson reports, “The bombs were discovered weeks ago, but officials say planning the evacuation of 10 percent of the city’s residents and disposal of multiple bombs takes time.”

An elderly woman boards a bus and is helped by police forces to evacuate her as part of the evacuation of 50,000 people on May 7, 2017 in Hanover, Germany.

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The affected area covers more than a half mile radius and city officials said people should be able to return to their homes by Sunday evening.

The city worked to accommodate residents, first by handing out leaflets in German, Polish, Turkish, English and Russian with word of the evacuation, reports the Associated Press. Lest residents find themselves with nowhere to go, city museums opened their doors for free admission and a senior citizens’ agency organized a Scrabble gathering.

Nearly 75 years after World War II ended, the discovery of unexploded bombs in Germany is not at all rare; indeed they have been found in cities across the continent. Millions of tons of bombs were dropped over the course of the war, many of which never went off.

And so, cities were rebuilt and life went on over thousands of ordnances that are still able to wreak havoc.

About a dozen bomb technicians have been killed in Germany since 2000, reportsSmithsonian Magazine. And the danger may be getting worse.

Soraya says, “Undetonated World War II bombs, of which there are thousands still buried around Germany, are becoming more dangerous with time because of components breaking down.”

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Emmanuel Macron Declared French President In Early Vote Counts

French independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron waves as he leaves the polling station after casting his ballot in the presidential election in Le Touquet, France, Sunday. Macron was declared the winner based on early vote counts by the French Interior Ministry.

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France has a new president. Emmanuel Macron – an independent centrist who has never held elected office – has won a resounding victory over far-right, nationalist Marine Le Pen in the most important French presidential race in decades, according to early vote counts by the French Interior Ministry.

In early returns, Macron had won an estimated 65 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s nearly 35 percent, according to the French Interior Ministry. Le Pen has already called to congratulate Macron and conceded defeat to a gathering of her supporters in Paris.

Sunday’s results mark a big defeat for Le Pen, a right-wing populist who had hoped to repeat the surprise victories of Donald Trump and the Brexit camp, which won last summer’s referendum to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. Macron, a political newcomer, is set to become the youngest president in modern French history. His improbable path to victory has been extraordinary in that it included dispatching France’s two major political parties, the Socialists and the Republicans.

The French presidential race — which has been closely watched around the world — became the latest referendum in the West on globalization and its benefits and societal costs. The race here also focused on the deeper question of what it means to be French.

As the day began, French voters faced a stark choice. Macron, 39, is an avowed internationalist who speaks fluent English and envisions a France deeply integrated with Europe and open to the world.

The France Le Pen described to supporters in her National Front party could not be more different. Le Pen, 48, had called for a temporary ban on immigration, a referendum to leave the European Union and replacing the Euro with the Franc, the old French currency.

Among those cheering Macron’s victory will be officials in Brussels who work with the European Union. The E.U. is in the early stages of negotiating the exit of the United Kingdom, which is seen as damaging to the 28-member trading block, but not fatal. Le Pen had promised as president to call a referendum to pull France out of the E.U., which would have threatened to destroy the institution.

Macron’s victory is not a surprise as polls routinely showed him far ahead of Le Pen. Political observers insisted that she faced an electoral glass ceiling because they perceived her positions as too extreme to win over the majority of French voters.

The final week of the race was marked by dramatic twists and turns.

On Wednesday, the candidates faced off in a gripping televised debate that ran two and a half hours without any commercial breaks. Le Pen, who is a fiery speaker with a laser-focused message, was expected to clobber Macron, who has little political experience. Macron had served as economy minister in the outgoing, deeply unpopular government of President Francois Hollande.

Le Pen spent most of the evening on the attack, but provided few detailed solutions to France’s myriad problems, which include a 23-percent youth unemployment rate and a spate of horrifying, terrorist attacks in recent two years. Both the news media and public opinion suggested Macron was the clear winner.

On Friday, hackers dumped a trove of emails from Macron’s campaign on the internet in an apparent attempt to damage his candidacy just ahead of today’s vote. But the French government warned both the media and citizens not to spread the hacked documents and abide by a traditional black-out ahead of the vote. The hacked documents did not appear to gain much traction and were not seen to have an effect on today’s results.

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Champion Bobsledder Steven Holcomb 'Found Dead In His Room'

Steven Holcomb reacts after a run at the Men’s Four Man Bobsleigh at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Holcomb was found dead in his room on May 6, 2017 in Lake Placid, New York.

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Steven Holcomb, an Olympic gold medalist bobsledder, was found dead Saturday morning in his room at the Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. He was 37 years old.

News of his death came from a statement by the United States Olympic Committee, which gave no information about the cause. The Associated Press said foul play is not suspected. And The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) said Holcomb was found to have passed away in his sleep.

An autopsy is tentatively scheduled for Sunday.

At the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Holcomb helped steer the U.S. to its first Olympic bobsledding gold in more than 60 years, when he piloted a four-man team to victory. Four years later he won bronze in both two-man and four-man bobsled races.

He also won 60 World Cup medals and 10 medals at world championships, reports USA Today.

“Steve was a tremendous athlete and even better person, and his perseverance and achievements were an inspiration to us all,” said Scott Blackmun, USOC CEO.

Holcomb wrote about his struggles with alcohol and depression in his autobiography, But Now I See: My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold. The book also outlined his 2007 suicide attempt with sleeping pills in a hotel room.

Holcomb had been diagnosed with keratoconus, a degenerative disease, which damaged his vision to the point where he believed his career was over. But he was able to bounce back after eye surgery saved his vision.

At the time of his death, Holcomb remained one of the world’s elite drivers, finishing second on the World Cup circuit this past season.

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82 More Chibok Schoolgirls Freed In Militant Exchange

This picture taken on March 5, 2015 shows an arial view of the burnt-out classrooms of a school in Chibok,in Northeastern Nigeria, from where Boko Haram Islamist fighters seized 276 teenagers in April 2014. On Saturday, the Nigerian government announced 82 schoolgirls were freed.

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Eighty-two schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in 2014, were freed Saturday in exchange for the release of suspected militants, according to a statement from the Nigerian president’s office.

The statement credits the Government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross, among other N.G.Os, with helping negotiate the girls’ release.

The Associated Press reports five militants were freed in the swap.

The girls were scheduled to meet President Muhammadu Buhari in the Nigerian capital Abuja, Sunday.

But Amnesty International objected to that plan, saying the girls should be released quickly to their families and don’t deserve to be put through a “publicity stunt that largely doesn’t reckon with their privacy.”

Their release comes less than a month after the third anniversary of the abduction of 276 girls from the Chibok boarding school in northeastern Nigeria on the evening of April 14, 2014. The brutality of the act sparked a global outcry, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls sweeping social media and unifying outraged citizens and political leaders alike, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls. -mo pic.twitter.com/glDKDotJRt

— First Lady- Archived (@FLOTUS44) May 7, 2014

But the groundswell eventually waned and the Associated Press reports, many of the girls were forced into marriages with their captors and others were feared to have been forced into suicide bombing missions. Some relatives never lived to see their daughters’ freed.

After Saturday’s release, 113 schoolgirls remain unaccounted for.

NPR’s Ofeibea Quist Arcton reports, “Many people say this is hope because the government is talking to the insurgents.” But after three years in captivity, the situation has become complicated. “Apparently, some of these Chibok girls and other abductees do not want to return because they consider these Boko Haram fighters now their husbands,” Quist Arcton says.

Boko Haram released 21 of the school girls in October 2016. Others escaped and were found roaming the forest. Many of the girls brought babies fathered by the militants.

The schoolgirls are among thousands of men, women and children taken by Boko Haram, an Islamist group that has terrorized Nigeria for eight years and whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden.”

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North Korea Says It Has Detained A Fourth U.S. Citizen

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center), inspecting a defense detachment on Jangjae Islet and the Hero Defence Detachment on Mu Islet in a photo published by state media.

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North Korean state media reports the country has detained a U.S. citizen — the fourth U.S. citizen being held there amid rising tensions between the two countries.

The official Korean Central News Agency identifies the man detained Saturday as Kim Hak Song, an employee of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

He was detained by North Korea “on suspension of his hostile acts against it,” according to the news agency, and “a relevant institution is now conducting detailed investigation into his crimes.”

North Korea did not provide further details about the circumstances. It was not clear why the news agency’s English translation referred to the man as “Jin Xue Song,” a Chinese written format of the same name.

Kim Hak Song is the second PUST staffer detained within a month. As NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports from Seoul, the first, named Kim Sang Duk, “was arrested late last month while trying to leave North Korea, and accused of trying to overthrow the government in Pyongyang. North Korean media haven’t said whether the two men knew each other.”

The other two detained U.S. citizens “are already serving prison terms, with hard labor, for alleged ‘anti-state acts’ and ‘espionage,'” Lauren adds.

PUST, which opened in 2010, is something of an anomaly in the country. The Associated Press reports that it is “the only privately funded university in North Korea and is unique for having a large number of foreign staff.”

NPR’s Anthony Kuhn discussed a possible motivation for the detentions after North Korea confirmed last week that it is holding a third U.S. citizen:

“In the past, Pyongyang has demanded that Washington send high-level envoys to obtain the release of U.S. citizens detained in North Korea. For example, North Korea freed three U.S. citizens during visits by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter in 2009 and 2010, respectively.”

It’s a “fair assumption” that North Korea could be detaining U.S. citizens as a diplomatic bargaining chip, Joseph DeTrani, who served as the State Department’s special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, told NPR last week. Here’s more:

“I personally think when President Trump and Secretary of State Tillerson made the comments about being willing to negotiate, the focus indeed was and is on their nuclear and missile programs and the commitment that North Korea would have to comprehensive verifiable denuclearization. I mean, that’s the primary core issue that has to be addressed by the North Koreans.

“That does not mean, however, that the detainees will not be part of that dialogue because I — from my experience, I would say one of the first requirements we would have is to show goodwill. And the release of the American hostages would lend for a decent atmosphere to pursue the core issues of comprehensive verifiable denuclearization.”

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An Old Soldier Is Back In Action In 'City Of Miracles'

City of Miracles

“What an ugly thing I am,” he thinks. “Why did I ever believe I could wreak anything but ugliness in this world? Why did I ever think that those near me would meet anything but pain and death?”

That is Sigrud je Harkvaldsson feeling sorry for himself. Sigrud, the one-eyed murder machine who always lurked around the dark, ragged edges of Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities books. Who stole every scene he was in. Who showed up as the near-silent secretary and enforcer for politician and intelligence operative Shara Komayd in the first book, City of Stairs, and immediately straightened my spine.

Who is this guy? I asked myself. And why hasn’t he been in every book I’ve ever read?

Without a doubt, Sigrud is Bennett’s best invention. But that line is spoken (well, thought) by Sigrud as an old man — 20 years gone from the adventures of the last book, City of Blades, and something like 40 from the events of the first. It is Sigrud in the wilderness (literally), hiding out as a simple-minded logger in the deep forests as the final book in the trilogy, City of Miracles, opens,because he is wanted by pretty much every government in existence for all the aforementioned ugliness he has wrought. It is Sigrud thoughtful. Regretful. Tired. He has been out of action for a very long time, but now he has a purpose again, because Shara — his mentor, employer, partner and friend — has been assassinated. And Sigrud wants revenge.

Which, yes, could have been so dull and stupid. Because of all the tropes in the trope-rack, the old “retired soldier goes out on one last mission” story is among the hoariest there is.

But really, there is no other story that could’ve been told here because Sigrud is a single-use object. He’s the thing you pull out when you want things to catch fire, blow up or crash into each other; the tool you use when you want everything to end up bloody. This was how Shara used him when they worked together and it is how Bennett has used him over the course of 600-some pages already.

Only Bennett, as a writer, is no slouch. He knows what he’s doing here, and with a skillful bit of author-judo, he both embraces the ridiculous Sigrud SMASH!!! simplicity of what he’s setting up — and then turns it on its head by making Sigrud unflinchingly aware of what he’s doing. He knows what he is. He is murder on two legs. But he is … resigned to it. “What a crime it is that creatures of hope and justice fade from this world,” he says, “while those like me live on.”

Sigrud aside, the other thing I have always loved about Bennett’s Divine Cities books is the worldbuilding. His universe is one of brilliant juxtaposition — this fantasy world that is literally stitched together by the magical hoodoo of gods called Divinities, but which is not wholly dependent on them. It is a world in flux, making the violent transition from mythology to technology, where the gods who work the miracles have been killed or vanished, leaving plain old mortals to wallow around in their absence.

The complication is, those Divinities haven’t gone completely, and so Bennett’s books become a place where a god, a gun, a telephone and a plow horse can all exist comfortably on the same page, in the same sentence. It is this world that has driven the action in this trilogy, the push and pull of spies and generals and gods and bureaucrats all dancing because the intrinsic entropy of Bennett’s universe demands it.

So yes, City of Miracles is all about Sigrud and his rage. But it’s also about the cyclical nature of violence, of destruction and rebirth, and the kind of scars that get passed down, generation by generation. Sigrud, exhausted by marvels, is the eyes of Bennett’s story, the reader surrogate. But as his seemingly simple last mission grows more complicated by degrees — the living, changing, unstable mix of magic and modernity that Bennett has so carefully created growing even stranger and more dangerous — he becomes our wonder as well. And our regret as we see the consequences of years of terrible mistakes.

Because Bennett has advanced the timeline so far over the course of three books, this finale takes on a generational feel. Old friends re-appear. The children have children now. Everyone has grown old in the interim except, maybe, Sigrud himself. And as ancient powers clash among gleaming, modern skyscrapers, those who have survived from the first page to these last have a heaviness about them — a sense that they have seen remarkable things, done deeds both heroic and terrible, and that they can see a far and final horizon in the distance, quickly approaching.

Jason Sheehan knows stuff about food, videogames, books and Starblazers. He is currently the restaurant critic atPhiladelphiamagazine, but when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.

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