Nice work if you can get it
April 12, 2021

President Biden is preparing to nominate a slate of ambassadors, and among them will be Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a key Biden backer in Arizona last year, Politico reports. McCain is being vetted as the U.S. envoy to the United Nations Food Programme in Rome, a "coveted ambassador post in Western Europe in what would be his administration's first Republican appointee to a Senate-confirmed position," Politico says.

McCain, 66, has worked on global food scarcity and hunger issues, including collaborating with the World Food Programme in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Georgia. The three presidents before former President Donald Trump all appointed at least one member of the other party to their Cabinet, and Biden has not resumed that tradition. The Arizona Republican Party censured McCain in January, along with former Sen. Jeff Flake (R) and Gov. Doug Ducey (R), for insufficient fealty to Trump. Biden won Arizona in November, becoming the first Democrat to do so since 1996. Peter Weber

December 14, 2020

National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is heading to Paris on Monday as head of a U.S. delegation to the 60th anniversary of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention, the White House announced Sunday. His wife, Lo-Mari, is accompanying him on the lame-duck trip, which will double as "a holiday tour of the romantic Mediterranean and European capitals, including seeking a private tour of the Louvre despite it being closed because of coronavirus restrictions," Axios reports.

Most Americans are barred from traveling to France or other European countries, and U.S. citizens already in Paris are supposed to leave their homes only for grocery shopping or work. O'Brien and his wife will also visit Tel Aviv, Rome, and London, Axios reports, and their holiday tour "is causing consternation among O'Brien's hosts and questions about the need for his wife to tag along." Most of the participants in the Paris event, including many heads of state representing their countries, will attend virtually due to COVID-19 concerns.

National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot told Axios that "while we don't comment on spousal travel on specific trips, anytime Ambassador O'Brien has his wife on official trips, any associated costs for her travel are paid for by Ambassador O'Brien and there is no additional cost to taxpayers." U.S. government employees abroad will have to shepherd the couple on their foreign travels, though, one overseas diplomat tells Axios.

The inspector general for the State Department reported last week that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had failed to receive written approval for six of the eight trips his wife, Susan, accompanied him on, at taxpayer expense, from April 2018 to April 2020, breaching internal rules for official travel of family members. Pompeo criticized the report, and acting Inspector General Matthew Kilmow told colleagues on Thursday he's stepping down earlier than expected, CNN reports.

Kilmow is the department's third inspector general this year; President Trump fired the Senate-confirmed one, Steve Linick, at Pompeo's urging in May, when Linkick was investigating Pompeo's potential misuse of government resources and several other instance of potential wrongdoing involving the Pompeos. Peter Weber

February 24, 2020

President Trump arrived in India on Monday, starting 36 hours of tightly choreographed pomp and quieter trade talks. Trump and first lady Melania Trump landed in Ahmedabad, in western India, and after being greeted warmly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two leaders traveled to the world's largest cricket stadium for a huge rally.

The cricket stadium held 100,000 people, making it the largest rally of Trump's political career. "The boisterous scene featured soldiers on camels, a mix of songs from Bollywood hits and Trump's campaign rally playlist, including an Elton John hit that seemed to puzzle most of the crowd," The Associated Press reports. Trump spoke for nearly half an hour, and "toward the end of the speeches, there were many empty seats, especially in the upper part of the stadium, in the sections facing the sun," noted AFP's Jerome Cartillier, the White House pool reporter.

Trump also visited Mohandas Gandhi's humble home and planned to visit the Taj Mahal before flying to Delhi for the business part of his trip, as well as some vegetarian meals. Modi provided Trump a lot of imagery the Trump team expects to use in his re-election campaign, AP reports. "Trump's motorcade traveled amid cheers from a battery of carefully picked and vetted Modi loyalists and workers from his Bharatiya Janata Party who will stand for hours alongside the neatly manicured 22-kilometer (14-mile) stretch of road to accord the president a grand welcome on his way to the newly constructed stadium. Tens of thousands of police officers were on hand to keep security tight and a new wall has come up in front of a slum, apparently to hide it from presidential passers-by."

India and the U.S. are hoping to restart stalled trade talks amid tit-for-tat tariffs. India is also home to the most Trump-branded properties outside the U.S. Peter Weber

January 9, 2020

The surprise announcement by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the duke and duchess of Sussex, that they are stepping down as "senior" members of Britain's royal family, will split their time between the U.K. and North America, and are going to get jobs was big news in the British press — and also, apparently, news to the queen, Harry's grandmother.

"Do you have any idea what that means?!" Stephen Colbert asked on The Late Show. "Because I have no idea what that means. There are 'senior' levels of royal?" What is clear is that "de-crowning themselves will bring some big life changes, because it will enable Harry and Meghan to work for money, something they currently can't do," he added. "This is great. She's an actress. This means Meghan Markle can go back to Suits — and Harry can sell them at Mens Wearhouse."

"Being a member of the royal family has always been one of the sweetest gigs you can have," but "Harry and Meghan are leaving the palace to become 'financially independent,'" Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "You see, this is what happens when you bring the first black woman into the royal family. Yeah, she looked at Harry and she was, like, 'N----r, you need to get a job. ... You can't still be living in your mama's house, Harry.'"

"Now the big question is, if Meghan and Harry come to America, where are they gonna live?" Noah said. "I think they'll move to L.A., because Meghan is an actor, and she's gonna want to work again. And then Harry can just join the cast of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

In real life, an unidentified aide told Britain's Daily Mail that Harry and Meghan have "no clue" how they will become "financially independent." But the couple will keep their Frogmore Cottage home and their police protection, the Mail huffs. Harry also gets millions from Prince Charles' estate every year and inherited millions from his late mother, Princess Diana, and great grandmother; Markle earned millions from her acting career; and the couple "may also be able to make money from merchandise. In the past few weeks, the couple have trademarked their Sussex royal brand on more than 100 items, from T-shirts, books, and magazines to teaching materials and emotional support groups." Peter Weber

June 4, 2019

In an interview broadcast Sunday night, Jared Kushner told Axios he believed he was named senior White House adviser because of his "good track record in all the things I've done," not because he's married to President Trump's eldest daughter — but Kushner's track record isn't great, The New York Times reports. "His plan for ending a 35-day government shutdown failed to deliver a compromise. His immigration proposal was greeted by congressional Democrats and Republicans alike as dead on arrival," and his secret Middle East peace plan "is in trouble even before it has been officially announced."

"Amid policy missteps and at the risk of frustrating President Trump," Kushner "has set his sights on what he has described to people as a new problem in need of his attention," lackluster fundraising for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, the Times reports. So Kushner organized a dinner in the White House residence last month with Trump, Republican National Committee head Ronna McDaniel, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and a group of big donors. None of them reportedly thought Trump has a fundraising problem.

"Reading the room, Mr. Kushner tried to turn the meeting over to Ms. McDaniel, but she replied that she was not the one who had organized it," the Times reports. Trump left the dinner early, saying: "As long as we're breaking records, I don't care."

So why is Kushner taking on Trump's fundraising, atop everything else? "For personal and strategic reasons," the Times reports, citing Kushner allies. He's reveling in his "new sense of influence in the White House," but also trying to prevent "antagonists and potential rivals from taking over a job that comes with great power and proximity to the president." Kushner allies say he hosted the dinner "to present himself to Mr. Trump as the person with the best solutions," his self-confidence undiminished by "criticism and defeat," the Times adds. You can read more about Kushner's awkward dinner party and moxie at The New York Times. Peter Weber

January 7, 2019

Sultan Muhammad V has become the first king in Malaysia's history to abdicate, ending speculation following a two-month leave of absence for medical treatment. "The National Palace informs that his majesty has resigned as the 15th king effective January 6," the royal palace said in a statement Sunday. The palace did not give a reason for the 49-year-old monarch stepping down, but photos emerged late last year of Sultan Muhammad V's marriage in Russia to 25-year-old model Oksana Voevodina, Miss Moscow 2015.

The king's abdication isn't expected to have much effect in Malaysia, a constitutional monarchy where most of the power is wielded by the prime minister. Sultan Muhammed V, elevated to the throne in December 2016, also only had three years left in his reign; under Malaysia's unique monarchy, the throne is rotated every five years among the Muslim country's nine royal houses. His replacement will be selected by the Council of Rulers, made up of the nine sultanates.

Malaysia's prime minister is currently Mahathir Mohamed, 92, whose coalition toppled the longtime ruling United Malays National Organization last May. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak was arrested months later, charged with money laundering and other charges stemming from scandal-plagued state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. Peter Weber

September 13, 2018

There's never been a better time to buy or upgrade corporate jets, thanks to a change in the tax laws that allows companies to write off the entire cost of new or used airplanes against earnings, The Wall Street Journal reports. Being able to deduct 100 percent of a corporate jet purchase, via a provision in the tax overhaul Republicans pushed through last December, is a big change, and business executives have taken note.

"Demand for used jets — especially aircraft priced under $7 million — has taken off in recent months as the tax change draws new, young, and previously reluctant buyers off the sidelines," the Journal says. "The race is on to get plane deals wrapped before the end of the year in order to get the tax write-off for 2018, though the break doesn't expire for several years." Bill Papariella, CEO of Jet Edge International, says he searches the international market for used jets for his clients, and it can take three to five months to find one in decent condition. "It's like a frenzy out there," he tells the Journal.

"The 100 percent write-off rule isn't exactly free money," because if you resell the plane right away, you have to pay back most of the deduction, the Journal notes. There are other rules, too, according to California accountant George Rice: The cost to operated and maintain the jet has to be reasonable for the size of your company, and you have to use the plane for business. Still, Rice estimates that half of prospective buyers are able to take the full deduction on their jet. You can read more at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

January 24, 2017

The U.S. stock market went on something of a tear after President Trump's victory in November, and the biggest winners were Wall Street banks, led by Goldman Sachs. The rise in bank shares was a boon for investors in Goldman, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase, and other top banks, but also for their executives, who sold off at least $100 million worth of stock since the election — more than any other November to January period in at least a decade — The Wall Street Journal reported. Bank stocks are collectively up about 20 percent since Nov. 9, more than triple the broader market.

That jump in valuation was attributed to expectations that Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress will gut financial reforms put in place by Democrats to prevent another banking crisis, plus enact lower taxes and other bank-friendly economic policies. The skyrocketing bank shares also revived millions of dollars worth of previously worthless stock options about to expire, and executives at top Wall Street banks also sold $350 million worth of stock to exercise those options, The Wall Street Journal reports. Not all banks have reported their executives' stock trades, and only some executives have to file such reports.

"Share sales by corporate executives are often viewed by investors as a sign that insiders could be growing wary of valuations or be less confident in an increase in share prices," The Wall Street Journal notes, though that's not necessarily the case in this round of profit-taking. You can read more about the Wall Street bonanza at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

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