Kushner Family Business Pitch In China Prompts Questions About Investor Visas

Nicole Kushner Meyer (third from left), the sister of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, poses at a promotional event in Shanghai on Sunday.

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Networking, connecting, pitching — it’s all routine in the business world.

But a connection pitched in China over the weekend — involving ties between President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and a real-estate project — has prompted ethics experts to raise objections, and some lawmakers to call for change. There are concerns about potential conflicts of interests, but also about a visa program for investors.

At the White House press briefing on Monday, spokesman Sean Spicer said Kushner has taken necessary steps to prevent conflicts of interest.

“Jared has done everything to comply with the ethics rules to make sure and that had nothing to do with him per se, he wasn’t involved,” Spicer said.

But Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, says, “The strong feeling is that they — the Trump family, the Kushner family — see the White House and being in the government as a marketing opportunity.”

The controversy began when reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times sat in on a publicly advertised event at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing on Saturday.

Before being asked to leave, reporters heard Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer tell Chinese investors that they could participate in a New Jersey real estate project that “means a lot to me and my entire family.”

Meyer noted that if investors put at least $500,000 into the Kushner-family backed project, they could qualify for an EB-5 visa. Those are the visas, created in 1990, that provide eligible immigrant investors with a path that can lead to permanent residence. Their investments just have to create at least 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers.

And the pitch came with a sweetener: Meyer talked about the Kushner family, including her brother who holds a powerful position in the White House as senior adviser to President Trump.

Noble said the type of pitch offered in China “is not unheard of in other countries where you get to the leader by … financially supporting the family.”

Investors are receptive to such pitches because they believe “you’re getting a chance … to basically do business with the government or the family of people high up in the government. And it’s a very valuable thing in a lot of other countries,” he said.

Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, tweeted his objections on Monday.

“Abuse of power pure and simple. Congress should cancel EB-5 visa program if Kushner properties not disqualified,” he tweeted.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, says the Kushner situation shows Congress should change the EB-5 rules.

The visa program is “rife with fraud and abuse,” she said in a statement. “In addition to numerous cases of securities fraud, the program is frequently exploited by real estate developers to finance projects in the wealthiest parts of this country. This is a far cry from the program’s original intent to spur economic development in depressed communities.”

Attorney Blake Roberts at WilmerHale, which is Kushner’s personal counsel, says his firm’s client has no involvement in the project being pitched by his sister. And Kushner Companies spokesperson James Yolles said Meyer apologizes if the mention of her brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors.

Kushner had been running the family business until he went to the White House in January as a senior adviser to the president. At that time, he resigned from the daily operations, and sold assets in some projects to family members.

Noble says the overlap between the White House and family business — whether the Trumps or the Kushners — has become a persistent problem.

“We’re seeing this over and over again,” he said. “If called on it, they may apologize … or say that’s not what they did.”

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Sir Mix-a-Lot On 25 Years Of 'Baby Got Back'

Sir Mix-a-Lot in 2016, performing in Texas as part of the “(Baby Got) Back to the 90’s” concert tour.

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Twenty-five years ago Tuesday, a career-defining single was born — and with it, endless sitcom jokes and rap homages. It was referenced in Sing, the 2016 animated children’s movie, and in Shrek years before that. But when it debuted in 1992, there were those who took it to heart as an anthem of body positivity.

Baby Got Back” begins kind of a heartbreaking scene: a white woman talking to her friend Becky, straight up mocking a black woman. The man behind the song, Anthony Ray — better known as Sir Mix-a-Lot — says he didn’t make that up.

“It was like a blown-out, glorified version of what was actually being said at that time,” he says. “Basically, pop culture was waif-thin, heroin addict, big hair, fake boobs — you know, that was what they thought beautiful was. And because of the way it was discussed publicly, it made women who had naturally curvy bodies … run around with sweaters wrapped around their waist.”

“When I heard it, I just felt so — it was so affirming,” says Erin Aubry Kaplan. In the mid-’90s, Kaplan was staff writer at LA Weekly. She and wrote a big feature article about the paradoxical way black women’s butts were seen — using “Baby Got Back” as an epigraph.

“Every day, my butt wears me tolerably well, I’d like to think,” her piece went, “and has ever since I came full up on puberty about 20 years ago and had to wrestle it back into the Levi’s 501s it had barely put up with anyway.”

Kaplan says she admired the way the “Baby Got Back” cut through the timidity people had talking about that part of the body: “It was saying to me and other black women, you know what, you have a great shape and white people think that too. ‘Even white boys got to shout.'”

The song was pretty clear about who Mix-a-Lot thought was to blame, calling out magazines like Cosmopolitan and Playboy for pushing a very specific worldview of what women should look like. Have things changed in the past quarter-century? A little, says Ashley Weatherford, a beauty editor at New York magazine’s fashion site, The Cut.

“It’s been a long time coming, but I think there’s certainly an element, especially within the magazine space, of embracing a diversity of body sizes,” Weatherford says, though she thinks sites like hers might be ahead of the curve on that. She adds that black women didn’t really need Sir Mix-a-Lot to take up this particular fight — “but that doesn’t mean it’s not nice.”

As for Mix-a-Lot himself, he says he hasn’t put the song behind him yet, and still plays it when he gets a chance.

“Do I do bar mitzvahs? No,” he says, laughing. “You know, you’ve gotta draw a line somewhere. But when you’re in front of a big crowd — I know what they’re there to see.”

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Austrian Court Rules Facebook Must Delete Hate Speech

An Austrian court ruled on Friday that the “hate postings” against an Austrian politician must be deleted from Facebook worldwide. The case concerns posts insulting Eva Glawischnig, the leader of the Austrian Green party. Above, a poster featuring Glawischnig before legislative elections in September 2013.

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In a decision that could have global consequences, an Austrian court ruled on Friday that Facebook must delete postings deemed to be hate speech.

“[T]he Viennese appeals court ruled on Friday that Facebook must remove the postings against Greens leader Eva Glawischnig as well as any verbatim repostings, and said merely blocking them in Austria without deleting them for users abroad was not sufficient,” Reuters reports, adding that Facebook’s lawyers in Vienna declined to comment on the ruling, but that a court spokesman confirmed it.

The case was brought by Austria’s Green party after its leader, Eva Glawischnig, was insulted on Facebook by posts from someone who didn’t use their real name. According to the Austrian newspaper Die Presse, the posts called Glawischnig “miese Volksverräterin” and “korrupten Trampel,” which translate roughly as “lousy traitor” and “corrupt bumpkin.”

Facebook has argued that it is governed by the laws of California (site of its headquarters) or Ireland, the base of its European operations, Die Pressereported. But the court ruled that simply blocking the hate posts in Austria was not enough — they must be deleted across the platform.

The court said it was easy for Facebook to automate the process of deleting verbatim repetitions of the hate posts, according to Reuters. “It said, however, that Facebook could not be expected to trawl through content to find posts that are similar, rather than identical, to ones already identified as hate speech.”

“Facebook must put up with the accusation that it is the world’s biggest platform for hate and that it is doing nothing against this,” said Green spokesman Dieter Brosz, Reuters reports.

The Washington Postreported in December:

“The insults directed at Glawischnig appeared to have been spread via the same fake profile that was used to circulate false rumors during the run-up to Austria’s presidential vote this month, including that Alexander van der Bellen — who eventually won the election — was suffering from cancer and dementia. In what seemed like an echo of the U.S. presidential race, Van der Bellen, who is close to the Green Party, was forced to publish his health records to dispel the rumors.”

Facebook is facing increased pressure in Europe to respond more quickly to fake news. Last month, Germany moved forward with legislation that would fine social networks as much as $53 million “if they fail to give users the option to complain about hate speech and fake news or refuse to remove illegal content,” Bloomberg reported.

“Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet on Wednesday backed a bill that would also force the companies to purge content flagged as child pornography or inciting terrorism — two categories added to the original draft. Corporate officials responsible would risk separate fines of as much as 5 million euros. If passed by parliament, the measures would be the toughest regulation Facebook faces in any country where it operates. …

“Facebook … expressed concern that the measure ‘would force private companies instead of courts to decide which content is illegal in Germany.’ “

Last week, after a number of violent incidents appeared in videos on its network, Facebook announced that it would hire 3,000 employees worldwide to review violent or hateful content.

Facebook pays NPR and other leading news organizations to produce live video streams that run on the site.

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What's Next? Sixth Season Of 'Veep' Probes Post-Presidential Life

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won the “Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series” Emmy five times for her portrayal of Selina Meyer in HBO’s Veep.

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Justin M. Lubin/HBO

Julia Louis-Dreyfus — who plays U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer on the HBO comedy Veep — says that growing up in Washington, D.C., and later living in Los Angeles helped her prepare for the role:

“I think I understand the insular nature of Washington … ” she says. “There’s an inside-the-Beltway mentality, not dissimilar from Hollywood — it feels like the only thing that matters. I think you’re selling a brand of yourself.”

Louis-Dreyfus also did plenty of research for the show, now in its sixth season. She talked with lobbyists, senators and even former vice presidents.

“I really tried to ask questions that would get at: What is the human experience of this position?” she says. “Nothing about policy or anything like that, but just about: What it’s like day to day? … It was also interesting to watch them not answer or read between the lines.”

After a couple of seasons as the vice president, Selina Meyer actually does become president briefly, but doesn’t get re-elected in a runoff election. In this new season she and her posse of staffers and former staffers are struggling to figure out what to do next. There have been no shortage of comparisons of the character to Hillary Clinton, but Louis-Dreyfus says the show was written before the 2016 election.

“There is post-presidential life, you don’t just fall from the face of the Earth.” Louis-Dreyfus says. “Selina Mayer is very, very ambitious and she has a huge chip on her shoulder, so there’s a lot of mileage there.”


Interview Highlights

On how people on both sides of the aisle appreciate the show

On the show we have never identified party — we have just reaped so much benefit from that. Because everybody is invited … both sides of the aisle think we are making fun of the other party. … They identify with it which is super fun. I love that.

On the way characters on the show sometimes treat each other terribly

We all sort of wince. Very often there are lines that a multitude of characters might say that are so foul and nasty and mean-spirited that we all sort of die a little bit. … But you need to know that the group itself of actors and writers are incredibly kind and nice. They are the absolute opposite of the characters that they play.

On the relationship between Selina and her personal aide, Gary, played by Tony Hale

We do have a chemistry, we’re very good friends and we rehearse a lot. … It’s all of those things. … Tony Hale is notorious for breaking in a scene and so that’s often why we also have to rehearse a lot is for him to sort of get that out of his system.

On her character’s vulnerability

I think she’s very vulnerable. She’s incredibly brittle and just covers it up like crazy. … It’s like a toothpaste tube and you put holes in it and then you squeeze … and toothpaste goes out in lots of different directions and you didn’t expect it. I feel like that’s what she’s like with her emotional life.

Radio producer Anjuli Sastry, radio editor Mallory Yu and web producer Beth Novey contributed to this story.

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Sinclair Broadcast Group Has Deal To Buy Tribune Media's TV Stations

Sinclair Broadcast Group, based in Maryland, has announced a deal to buy TV stations owned by Tribune Media.

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Sinclair Broadcast Group, based outside Baltimore, announced Monday it had struck a $3.9 billion deal to buy dozens of local television stations from Tribune Media.

The move, seen as likely to win approval of federal regulators with only modest concessions, would further propel consolidation in the industry. It would also offer a greater reach for one of the nation’s most conservative media companies.

Though little known in major media centers, Sinclair’s holdings are vast. It owns or operates more than 170 local television stations; Tribune Media owns 42 television stations in 33 markets, including the nation’s top three: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. With its new holdings, Sinclair would hold stations in seven of the biggest 10 markets.

The acquisition, which also requires Sinclair to assume $2.7 billion in debt, would give the company even greater leverage in negotiating deals with the major TV networks whose programming it carries. 21st Century Fox, Rupert Murdoch’s television and entertainment company, explored making a run at Tribune Media with the Blackstone investment group, but ultimately decided against making a bid, according to an executive there. (Tribune’s newspaper holdings were spun off in 2014 into a company ultimately renamed tronc.)

If history is any guide, the Smith brothers who together control Sinclair Broadcast will also pull news coverage on those stations in a more conservative direction and explore giving full rein to those beliefs on a national platform.

In the days after the September 2001 terror attacks, Sinclair required the news and sports anchors and even weather forecasters to read editorial messages explicitly conveying full support for the Bush administration’s fight against terrorism. After some staffers raised objections at its flagship station in Baltimore, Sinclair officials allowed anchors there to say the message was from “station management.”

In early 2004, Sinclair sent a reporting crew to Iraq, including its chief editorialist whose conservative commentaries are carried on dozens of Sinclair stations, in search of “overlooked” stories with a more positive bent. That summer, Sinclair declined to broadcast a special from Nightline on its seven ABC stations, because it ascribed anti-war motivations to anchor Ted Koppel’s plan to read the names of all U.S. service members who had been killed in Iraq.

Former Sinclair Washington producer Lisa Modarelli later told me that decision hurt her ability to report on politics in the nation’s capital. “Our sources didn’t trust us anymore, even though we didn’t make that decision,” Modarelli said after she left the company. “They didn’t want to work with us anymore because whatever we did, the story would turn out biased.”

Later that year, then Sinclair Washington bureau chief Jon Leiberman openly opposed plans to air an hour-long program in the height of election season attacking Democratic nominee John Kerry for his service record in Vietnam and his anti-war stances afterward. Leiberman, who said publicly he had voted for George W. Bush in 2000, told me the show was “biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election.” The company fired Leiberman the day after his interview, saying he was a disgruntled employee.

Similar patterns emerged in more recent years.

In 2012, the company paid for robocalls taped by one of Sinclair’s Baltimore anchors to be placed to households around Maryland — with questions loaded against the positions of then Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Last fall, according to the Washington Post, Sinclair directed stations to carry certain “must-run” stories that reflected poorly on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Stories on Republican nominee Donald Trump were largely sympathetic or neutral, according to the newspaper.

In December, Politico reported that Jared Kushner had boasted to business executives that the Trump campaign had struck a deal giving access to Sinclair in exchange for more favorable coverage, a claim the chain denied.

There are what could be the stirrings of plans for a national platform — such as a cable television station.

Sinclair President and CEO Chris Ripley called the planned acquisition “transformational,” in a statement, adding: “The Tribune stations are highly complementary to Sinclair’s existing footprint and will create a leading nationwide media platform that includes our country’s largest markets.”

Sinclair recently signed former Trump campaign aide Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst. To lead its Sunday public affairs show, Sinclair hired former CBS correspondent Sharyl Atkisson, an investigative reporter whose scrutiny of the Obama administration won her the admiration of many conservatives.

Speculation has centered on possible conversion of Tribune’s WGN America as a possible conservative news and opinion channel, or one of Sinclair’s existing properties, though that could prove costly.

Sinclair’s plans for acquisition, however, appear likely to sail through. Under its new chairman, Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules relaxing restrictions on how many stations a single company can own.

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After Decades Covering It, Tech Still Amazes Walt Mossberg

Walt Mossberg has been reporting on technology since the 1990s. He plans to retire in June.

Mike Kepka/Courtesy of Walt Mossberg

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Mike Kepka/Courtesy of Walt Mossberg

In 1995, NPR’s All Things Considered invited tech writer Walt Mossberg on to the show to report on an increasingly popular phenomenon: the World Wide Web.

Mossberg shared a tool that helped to make sense of a disorganized and chaotic Internet, a website called Yahoo. At the time, Yahoo was a directory service for searching online, he explained.

In the early 1990s, he covered the Pentagon for The Wall Street Journal. After taking an interest in the complicated computers of the time, Mossberg realized that soon these devices would become commonplace, and that many people had no idea what this new technology might bring.

“I thought, well there’s a journalistic opportunity here,” Mossberg says, “for somebody to do two things: to represent the voice of the average person who wasn’t interested in the inside of the computer but was smart and shouldn’t be talked down to, and to criticize the computer industry for ignoring that person.”

Now, Mossberg plans to retire in June and he spoke with NPR’s Robert Siegel about his career in tech and how things have changed since he first logged online.


Interview Highlights

On getting his start in tech writing, before computers were popularized in personal use

What I did was, I took what had been my passion and my hobby privately, which was early computers and … two things occurred to me: one was it was very hard to learn how to get the most out of these early computers, and secondly, it was about to explode. …

There were a lot of computer columns. They were almost all written by geeks for geeks. I went to the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal … and I said I had this idea of a column, but I want to turn the formula on its head, I want to champion the nontechies.

On the complicated first models of personal computers

The first line of my first column was “personal computers are too hard to use and it’s not your fault.” And that was primarily Microsoft. I generally favored the Mac because Steve Jobs had the same idea that I did, not to compare myself to him, but I mean the idea was let’s make this accessible and easy for the average person. But, of course, he also was the BMW guy of the industry who was charging a fortune for these computers so he had a very tiny market share, and it was Bill Gates and Microsoft that did the actually awesome thing of getting it out there to a broad number of people. The problem was … it was like a kit. Things went wrong with it all the time. There were a lot of viruses and all kind of stuff. I had a lot of healthy arguing with Bill Gates over the years.

On how computers and technology has evolved since he began writing

Everyone in tech was always constantly being surprised and still is today. Things that were developed and invented for one purpose often had many other purposes. … The idea that the big bulky PCs that we had would be really thin little laptops would be … I mean, what is the personal computer today? It’s your phone and nobody had that notion in the late ’70s, early ’80s when this started.

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Restaurants With Low Yelp Ratings Suffer Under Higher Minimum Wages

Minimum wage increases in the San Francisco Bay Area have had an impact on the local restaurant industry, according to a study released by Harvard Business School. Restaurants with low or middling Yelp reviews have become more likely to go out of business. Places with high reviews have been unaffected. The study doesn’t attempt to determine whether the wage increases have been good for employees or the local economy overall.

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Is A Stradivarius Violin Easier To Hear? Science Says Nope

Violinist Adrian Pintea, from The Julliard School, plays a 1729 Stradivari known as the “Solomon, Ex-Lambert” in 2007 at Christie’s in New York.

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Another day, another study undercutting the myth surrounding the 18th-century Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivari.

Since the early 20th century, musicians and instrument experts have been trying to figure out what, if anything, makes the violins he made sound better.

Dedicated NPR listeners and violin enthusiasts may remember a few years ago when a team led by the French acoustics researcher Claudia Fritz published a study showing that blindfolded professional violinists could not tell the difference between a so-called Old Italian violin (they tested instruments made by both Stradivari and Guarneri) and a new violin.

At the time, it was a bombshell.

Of the 17 players, seven said they couldn’t tell which were which and seven got it wrong. Only three got it right.

“In terms of physics, we haven’t found any differences, basically, between new and old Italian violins,” she explains.

On Monday, Fritz and a team published a follow-up study. This time, they focused on how audience members experience the differences between old and new instruments.

In particular, they were looking into the widely held belief that violins made by Stradivari have a paradoxical ability to project their sound while still seeming relatively quiet to the ear of the person playing them.

In one experiment, they had 55 people listen to six violins — three by Stradivari and three by new makers — in a small concert hall outside Paris and fill out a questionnaire about which they preferred, and about how well they could hear the instruments.

Fritz, an associate professor at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, described the Paris audience as “people with an expert ear,” including professional musicians, instrument makers and others. They listened to the violins with and without an orchestra accompanying.

“Everybody knows about this claimed superiority, so everybody was quite enthusiastic about taking part,” she says.

In a second experiment in New York City, 82 people listened to the same six violins playing unaccompanied. That audience was made up of a mix of experts and non-experts.

Fritz and her team made recordings of the experiments. Here are four clips: two each on a Stradivarius violin and a new violin.

In both the Paris and the New York experiments, the study found that people thought the new violins projected their sound better. That was true when the violin was played alone or when it was accompanied by an orchestra.

They also found that the sounds of the new violins were generally preferred overall.

What’s more, when they asked the musicians playing the instruments how loud they sounded, the musicians reported that the instruments that projected best also sounded the loudest to the performer.

“We haven’t found any evidence that a quiet violin can be projecting in the hall,” says Fritz, although she cautions that the study only included six instruments, and can’t necessarily be extrapolated to all violins.

She also says that how an instrument projects may have something to do with the person playing it, but this study doesn’t test that possibility. That’s because such an experiment would have required each listener to listen to nine pairs of violins twice, explains Fritz. Comparing 36 repetitions of the same piece, they decided, would be too difficult.

Here are two violins playing the same excerpt with an orchestra. Can you tell which is the new violin?

Violin 1, with orchestra

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Violin 2, with orchestra

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The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Full disclosure, one of Fritz’s co-authors, Joseph Curtin, owns a company that builds violins and violas.

Fritz says she doubts her work will depress the market value of violins built by Stradivari, which can sell at auction for millions of dollars. In 2006, an instrument nicknamed “The Hammer” sold for $3.54 million.

But Fritz thinks there’s more to their value than their sound.

“It’s a piece of art. I mean, they are beautiful. We can’t deny that,” she says. For example, she says, “famous people want to pay full price for a Picasso rather than the copy, even if nobody will make the difference by eye. [It’s] the same for instruments.”

Fritz says the modern violin makers she has spoken to about her past work have told her they find it liberating to learn that Stradivari’s instruments are not objectively better by every measure.

“In general, [violin] makers — especially young makers — are delighted,” says Fritz. “And old makers as well, because old [violin] makers, they feel like they are liberated, that’s what they told me … because they feel less pressure to copy Strad.”

She hopes her work will help young musicians decide how to choose what instrument to seek out for performances and competitions. “As long as people are aware that they don’t need to pay that amount to have something that works well, then it’s fine.”

And, finally, the identities of the mystery violins in the clips above. Violin 1 is the Stradivarius.

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