They’ve Got Him At Jared’s — John Cassidy on Trump’s son-in-law’s problems.
It was only a matter of time before Jared Kushner’s conflicts of interest reëmerged as an issue. In January of last year, he resigned as head of his family’s real-estate firm, Kushner Companies, and partially divested himself of some of its assets, including his stake in 666 Fifth Avenue, an aluminum-clad midtown office building.
As I noted at the time, Kushner’s divestment was of a very limited and Trumpian form. Rather than selling off his assets to the highest bidder, or setting up a blind trust and hiring an outside expert to manage it, he merely transferred the ownership of some of his assets to his brother and to a trust overseen by his mother. It wasn’t immediately clear what Kushner had held onto, but it turned out to be substantial. The Timesreported on Thursday that “he retained the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies. His real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings.”
Kushner, who, unlike his father-in-law, can be prosecuted for violating federal conflict-of-interest laws, also promised to recuse himself from any government matters related, directly or indirectly, to his financial interests. It turns out that this recusal was also conveniently limited. Thanks to that same report in the Times, we know that it didn’t prevent Kushner from taking meetings at the White House with top executives from two financial firms—Citigroup and Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance—that lent more than half a billion dollars to two Kushner family ventures in which, according to federal filings, he still owns a direct stake. One is a skyscraper in Chicago and the other is a collection of office buildings in Brooklyn.
Kushner’s personal lawyer, Kushner Companies, and the two firms all insisted to the Times that nothing untoward had taken place. They are asking us to believe that the meetings at the White House were not connected to the loans, which were extended during the normal course of business, with Kushner playing no role in soliciting or negotiating the deals. “Stories like these attempt to make insinuating connections that do not exist to disparage the financial institutions and companies involved,” a spokesperson for Kushner Companies told the Times.
Actually, it is primarily Kushner’s behavior and position that have been called into question. Even if he didn’t discuss any personal business with Joshua Harris, one of the founders of Apollo’s parent company, or with Michael Corbat, Citigroup’s chief executive, it’s hard to believe that he was unaware of the huge amounts of credit being extended to his family’s real-estate empire and its business partners by their firms. In most Administrations, senior officials routinely do due-diligence checks before meeting with individuals representing industrial or financial interests. Kushner appears to have blithely ignored this custom, just as, earlier, he failed to fulfill the requirement that people seeking security clearance complete official forms assiduously.
The issue goes well beyond casual oversights. Not only has Kushner’s presence in the White House made a mockery of federal guidelines designed to prevent nepotism and conflicts of interest, it has also raised national-security concerns. Many foreign governments view him not merely as a privileged son-in-law who lucked into the role of senior Presidential adviser but as a privileged son-in-law who lucked into the role of senior Presidential adviser and is desperate to raise large sums of money. In other words, he’s an easy target.
Kushner Companies co-owns 666 Fifth Avenue with another developer, Vornado Realty. In 2007, at Jared Kushner’s urging, the company paid $1.8 billion for the building—at the time, the highest price ever paid for a New York office tower. The property occupies a prime spot between Fifty-second and Fifty-third streets, but it was built in 1957 and needed extensive upgrades. It still has many vacancies, and the $1.2 billion mortgage, which reportedly has ballooned to almost $1.5 billion, is due in February, 2019. Right now, it is not entirely clear whether Kushner Companies is in a position to repay or refinance the loan. “The company hoped to knock the building down and put up another, twice as tall and far more luxurious, in its place,” Bloombergreported earlier this week. “It sought funds from investors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China, South Korea, Israel and France. No investors were announced for the plan, described by many as prohibitively expensive.”
There is irony aplenty here. Kushner doesn’t look or speak or act like his father-in-law: to all public appearances, he is Trump’s antithesis. But much like Trump did in the late nineteen-eighties, Kushner overpaid for a trophy property, borrowing heavily, and subsequently encountered serious financial challenges that became public. On Wednesday, the Washington Postreported that U.S. intelligence agencies have learned that officials in at least four foreign countries—the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico—have been discussing ways of exploiting Kushner’s “complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” An official familiar with the intelligence told the Post, “Every country will seek to find their point of leverage.”
The report also said that Kushner’s extensive dealings with foreign officials have raised concerns among some people in the White House and “are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance.” Last week, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, downgraded Kushner’s security clearance from top secret to a lower level that would prevent him from gaining access to many classified documents, such as the President’s daily intelligence briefing.
After observing Kushner being hit with a security-clearance downgrade and the damaging back-to-back stories in the Post and the Times, many political observers are now questioning his future in the White House. On Thursday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “Jared is still a valued member of the Administration,” and added that he “will continue in his current role.”
It wasn’t the most ringing endorsement, and there is some speculation that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, are, like Hope Hicks, on their way out. Whether or not that will happen, who can say? But it certainly should. Having one cash-needy real-estate developer in the White House was always going to present big problems. Having two of them has turned out to be an outrage.
Voting At 16 — Lawrence Steinberg in the New York Times.
The young people who have come forward to call for gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at their high school in Parkland, Fla., are challenging the tiresome stereotype of American kids as indolent narcissists whose brains have been addled by smartphones. They offer an inspiring example of thoughtful, eloquent protest.
Unfortunately, when it comes to electing lawmakers whose decisions about gun control and other issues affect their lives, these high schoolers lack any real power. This needs to change: The federal voting age in the United States should be lowered from 18 to 16.
Skeptics will no doubt raise questions about the competence of 16-year-olds to make informed choices in the voting booth. Aren’t young people notoriously impulsive and hotheaded, their brains not fully developed enough to make good judgments?
Yes and no. When considering the intellectual capacity of teenagers, it is important to distinguish between what psychologists call “cold” and “hot” cognition.
Cold cognitive abilities are those we use when we are in a calm situation, when we are by ourselves and have time to deliberate and when the most important skill is the ability to reason logically with facts. Voting is a good example of this sort of situation.
Studies of cold cognition have shown that the skills necessary to make informed decisions are firmly in place by 16. By that age, adolescents can gather and process information, weigh pros and cons, reason logically with facts and take time before making a decision. Teenagers may sometimes make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they do not make them any more often than adults do.
Hot cognitive abilities are those we rely on to make good decisions when we are emotionally aroused, in groups or in a hurry. If you are making a decision when angry or exhausted, the most critical skill is self-regulation, which enables you to control your emotions, withstand pressure from others, resist temptation and check your impulses. Unlike cold cognitive abilities, self-regulation does not mature until about age 22, research has shown. (This is a good reason to raise the minimum age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21 or older, as some have proposed.)
This psychological evidence is backed up by neuroscientific findings. Neuroimaging studies show that brain systems necessary for cold cognition are mature by mid-adolescence, whereas those that govern self-regulation are not fully developed until a person’s early 20s.
If the voting age were lowered, would that necessitate changing other laws to bring them into alignment? Of course not. We use a wide variety of chronological ages to draw lines between minors and adults when it comes to smoking, driving, viewing violent or sexually explicit movies, being eligible for the death penalty and drinking alcohol. Although the specific ages used for these purposes often lack a good rationale, there is no reason lowering the voting age would require lowering, say, the drinking age, any more than allowing people to drive at 16 should permit them to drink or smoke at that age as well.
In addition to the scientific case for lowering the voting age, there is also a civic argument. Consider the dozen or so countries like Argentina, Austria, Brazil and Nicaragua that allow people to vote at 16 in national, state or local elections. In such countries, voter turnout among 16- and 17-year-olds is significantly higher than it is among older young adults.
This is true in parts of the United States as well. In Takoma Park, Md., a city that permits 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, that age group is twice as likely to vote than are 18-year-olds.
Why is higher turnout among 16- and 17-year-olds so important? Because there is evidence that people who don’t vote the first time they are eligible are less likely to vote regularly in the future. Considering that people between 18 and 24 have the lowest voter turnout of any age group in the United States (a country that has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout in the developed world), allowing people to begin voting at an age at which they are more likely to vote might increase future turnout at all ages.
The last time the United States lowered the federal voting age was in 1971, when it went from 21 to 18. In that instance, the main motivating force was outrage over the fact that 18-year-olds could be sent to fight in Vietnam but could not vote.
The proposal to lower the voting age to 16 is motivated by today’s outrage that those most vulnerable to school shootings have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Let’s give those young people more than just their voices to make a change.
Redefining Masculinity — Collier Meyerson in The Nation.
I would bet a large sum that my father has seen 90 percent of the films nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. And my guess, too, is that he cried during every single one of them. He’s not embarrassed to cry at movies, or television shows, or commercials. He’s a sap, pretty proudly. Or, he’s at least an unconcerned one.
Physically, my dad is strong; he plays lots of tennis. But he’s very skinny. He refers to his legs as sticks, and says they are not of the human varietal—that they more resemble poultry (he’s right, by the way). My dad is overwhelmingly kindhearted, he’s there for me, is super-keen on listening to my problems, and he’s affectionate. Poppi texts me at least three times a day to tell me he loves me and is proud of me. In fact, just now, as I was in the middle of writing this paragraph, he sent me a text that read, “I love you infinity times infinity and best in all of the galaxies and beyond through eternity.” And every time I publish a piece of writing, he sends out an e-mail announcing my new article to his friends, our family, his colleagues, my friends, and also, somehow, my colleagues.
This side of Poppi doesn’t quite fit our country’s definition of “masculine”—which we often assume includes attributes like strong, withdrawn, and violent.
But in other ways, my “sissy” dad is quite “masculine.” He’s got a bad temper, though it’s cooled with age. I remember visiting his office when I was a kid and seeing holes in the wall—when I asked, he’d say, sheepishly, that they were the result of his being frustrated after a phone call or meeting with a client, judge, or opposing counsel. Also, Poppi doesn’t like it when you disagree with him—fair enough, that’s natural; I don’t either. But he’ll interrupt you over and over and over to get his point across, drowning out any possibility of your actually finishing your thought. On days and nights when he watched football when I was growing up, I’d hear him clear across the apartment screaming into the television, “Oh, come onnnnnnnn, you [expletive expletive expletive]” in a tone that frightened me. Nowadays, I stay away from his room when he’s watching his football—and I’m pretty sure that’s why my mom got her own TV in the kitchen.
Reading this, you may think that my dad’s less-desirable behavior is pretty normal for a cis white guy, and I agree with you, it is. (I would know, I’ve dated lots of them.) But when I try to confront my dad, or most of the cis men who I am close to about their misogyny, their responses have always been a genuine—but unwelcome—shock. When I describe their unsavory qualities as rooted in what bell hooks calls the “disease” that is masculinity—punching walls, talking over women, screaming at a sporting event in a tone that should only be reserved for encounters with killers—they’ve looked at me quizzically, angrily.
Last week, comedian Michael Ian Black wrote a compelling and heartfelt piece for The New York Times titled “The Boys Are Not All Right.” Acknowledging, in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers, that “Girls aren’t pulling the triggers. It’s boys. It’s almost always boys,” Black made a plea to interrogate the state of boyhood and manhood in the United States. He writes, “There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity. I don’t know how we open ourselves to the rich complexity of our manhood.”
Black is starting from the same place that many of the men in my life are: that certain qualities of masculinity are natural and immovable, and what’s important is that we expand on its innate properties to include more feminine ones, instead of scrutinizing, or, dare I even say, proposing to rid ourselves of the whole category.
It might sound rash, getting rid of masculinity. But it’s really not a crazy thought. We only have to look back a little over 100 years to understand that, in America, the concept of masculinity was constructed to defend white supremacy and white male dominance over black men and women of all races.
In her seminal book on the issue, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, author Gail Bederman writes: “I don’t see manhood as either an intrinsic essence or a collection of traits, attributes, or sex roles. Manhood—or ‘masculinity,’ as it is commonly termed today—is a continual, dynamic process.” The first thing we need to do, according to Bederman, is stop arguing that masculinity has traits that are inherent. “Gender,” she writes, “is dynamic and always changing.”
Between 1820 and 1860, according to Bederman, more and more white men were beginning to identify as middle class: entrepreneurs, professionals, and managers. And with that distinction, there came about a new and important gender identification for men, one that centered around civility. As opposed to brutishness or violent tendencies, manliness during this period was focused on a civilized character, holding off on marriage to accrue wealth. And then a man should focus on providing a good life for his wife, his children, or his employees.
Between 1879 and 1910, the number of middle-class men who were self-employed dropped, from 67 percent to 37 percent, prompting another a shift. “Middle class Victorian men were obsessed with manhood at the turn of the century,” writes Bederman. They became “obsessed” with cowboy novels, and hunting and fishing. At the same time new epithets, like “sissy,” “pussy-foot,” “cold feet” and “stuffed shirt, ” emerged, indicating “behavior which had once appeared self-possessed and manly but now seemed over-civilized and effeminate,” writes Bederman. Around 1890, a noun defined as “the essence of manhood” took hold for the first time—now, manhood was called “masculinity.”
The idea, Bederman says, was that being “manly” had a “moral dimension,” and was defined by a dictionary at the time as “possessing the proper characteristic of a man; independent in spirit or bearing; strong, brave, large-minded, etc.” But then, when the economy tanked between 1879 to 1896, and with it the whole middle-class white-male “civilized” identity, the concept of “manliness” shifted again. After that, Bederman says, when men wished to invoke a male power they used “masculine” and “masculinity” to describe it. “The adjective ‘masculine’ was used to refer to any characteristics, good or bad, that all men had,” she wrote. The element of morality had been left behind.
The shift in white middle-class American male identification at the turn of the 19th century was also a way to justify white supremacy. “Linking whiteness to male power,” Bederman wrote, “was nothing new.… during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, American citizenship rights had been construed as ‘manhood’ rights which inhered to white males, only…Negro males, whether free or slave, were forbidden to exercise ‘manhood’ rights—forbidden to vote, hold electoral office, serve on juries, or join the military. The conclusion was implicit but widely understood: Negro males, unlike white males, were less than men.” But once “masculinity” came around at the end of the 19th century, and black men were fighting for “manhood rights,” a new idea had emerged. White middle-class men were starting to see themselves as maintaining a universal male quality: savagery. But the way they separated themselves from their black counterparts, was to articulate that they had evolved more. Bederman uses the example of National Geographic, which was first published in 1889 and gained popularity “by breathlessly depicting the heroic adventures of ‘civilized’ white male explorers among ‘primitive tribes in darkest Africa.” Similarly, she writes, “Anglo-Saxonist imperialists insisted that civilized white men had a racial genius for self-government which necessitated the conquest of more ‘primitive’ darker races.”
America’s new definition of masculinity was cemented during the 20th century. Though black men gained the right to vote, under Jim Crow laws, which last well into the mid-20th century, they continued to be subjugated by white men, who restrained black men’s economic possibilities and frequently portrayed them as uncontrollable rapists. From early westerns to the action films we watch today, white cis men overwhelmingly were cast as leads in the mass entertainment our culture consumes; guns became a rite and plaything of young white men in our country. And masculinity became a made-up excuse to dominate.
In his essay, Michael Ian Black writes: “I believe in boys. I believe in my son. Sometimes, though, I see him, 16 years old, swallowing his frustration, burying his worry, stomping up the stairs without telling us what’s wrong, and I want to show him what it looks like to be vulnerable and open but I can’t. Because I was a boy once, too.”
Black can’t show his son what vulnerability looks like not because he is biologically incapable of doing so. The block is one formed by habit, culture, and an American history predicated on white male domination—which produced a masculinity predicated on white male domination. Who says we have to hold onto that? It is only with the understanding that gender identification is moveable, malleable, and worth undoing that we can begin to make the boys all right.
Doonesbury — Next up.