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Faced With Crisis and Re-election, Senate Republicans Blame China

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WASHINGTON — When Senator Martha McSally, one of the most politically endangered Republicans, was asked last month about reports that President Trump had brushed away warnings from his own aides about the looming threat of the coronavirus, she promptly pivoted.

“I learned the day I entered the military, never trust a communist,” Ms. McSally answered. “China is to blame for this pandemic and the death of thousands of Americans.”

Her campaign went further, turning the sound bite into a television advertisement that has blanketed airwaves across Arizona, where polls show her badly trailing her Democratic challenger, Mark Kelly. And the Senate Republican campaign arm has sought to portray Mr. Kelly as beholden to Beijing, broadcasting a commercial that features an announcer saying the Mandarin transliteration of his name as Chinese characters flash across the screen.

Fighting for their political lives amid twin domestic crises — a pandemic that has battered the economy — vulnerable Republican senators running for re-election are working to divert voters’ gazes half a world away and make their races a referendum on China. The tactic, party strategists say, is a way for Republicans to avoid defending the president’s handling of the virus, which has been met with widespread public disapproval, and instead offer up an alternative issue that already inspires fear and skepticism among voters.

Facing plummeting standing in the polls and few upbeat messaging options, Ms. McSally and several other Republicans have leaned heavily into the message. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina released a five-point strategy last month meant to hold the Chinese government accountable for its “lies, deception and cover-ups.” A video of him standing in front of a poster, labeled “the Tillis Plan” in all capital letters, breaks down each point. In Montana, Senator Steve Daines, who is facing a challenge from the state’s popular Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, unveiled a digital and television ad campaign centered on casting China as responsible for the virus. Senator Joni Ernst in Iowa posted on Twitter and Facebook condemning so many bad actions out of China.”

“If only they had stood up and alerted the world much sooner, the pandemic could have been lessened,” she said.

The strategy comes as hawks, especially Republicans, are ascendant in Congress and jockeying for the role of lead China thought leader, and as national security experts in both parties warn a new era of great power competition between the two nations has begun. And while it is unclear whether an anti-China message will appeal to voters at a time of mounting domestic turmoil, some Republicans believe it may be the most effective message they have.

Image

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Neil Newhouse, a leading Republican pollster, said that both private and public polling indicated that Americans, regardless of political affiliation, had markedly negative feelings toward China over issues including trade and technology theft.

“It becomes an easy punching bag for politicians, both Republicans and Democrats,” he said in an interview.

For Republicans in particular, Mr. Newhouse said, the strategy “allows them to go on offense, to be aggressive, to take a strong position.”

The hope, according to strategists advising Senate campaigns, is that China will become a wedge issue, forcing candidates to take a position viewed through the lens of either strength or weakness, and putting America first — as Mr. Trump often frames it — or letting the nation lag as a global leader.

The strategy was devised, at least in part, by Brett O’Donnell, a veteran Republican strategist with ties to two of the party’s fiercest China hawks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. In a 57-page memo circulated to candidates in April by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Mr. O’Donnell outlined a coronavirus messaging strategy that focused on attacking China and largely avoided mention of Mr. Trump.

Predicting that candidates are likely to field questions about whether Mr. Trump was at fault for the nation’s response to the virus, Mr. O’Donnell advised: “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China travel ban — attack China.” The memo was first reported by Politico.

China hawks like Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, argue that the message has long resonated with voters at home.

“The typical, ordinary, normal everyday voter in my state at least, in Missouri — if you ask them what they think about China, they’d say they think they’re a threat, they’re a competitor, they’re an opponent,” Mr. Hawley, who is among the lawmakers with rumored presidential ambitions jockeying to lead an aggressive China policy, said in an interview. “Working voters have been concerned for years about China cheating on trade, taking their jobs, and the military threat.”

Republican strategists carefully watched reaction to the House campaign of Kathaleen Wall, who ran in a Republican primary race in Texas to succeed Representative Pete Olson, who is retiring. Ms. Wall released a provocative advertisement that began “China poisoned our people” and called the country “a criminal enterprise masquerading as a sovereign nation” as a picture of President Xi Jinping of China flashed in the background. Strategists believe the breakout ad, which Democrats condemned as racist, played well among voters.

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

But that was a primary contest in a conservative part of Texas. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is also in a difficult re-election race in a state that has steadily trended more liberal, has largely stayed away from the strategy.

As the chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, Mr. Gardner has a clear record to praise of his efforts to press the Chinese government on human rights abuses, including legislation he championed urging Beijing to end the continued persecution of its own citizens through the use of intrusive mass surveillance.

No one has emphasized the anti-China message more than Ms. McSally, whose race has particularly troubled Mr. Trump’s advisers and the president himself, to the point where he repeatedly asked if her candidacy was hurting his own prospects in a state that has become more competitive.

“This election is going to be about who can stand up to China, the world’s communist bully,” Ms. McSally wrote on Twitter. “I will stand up for freedom and against the oppressive Chinese regime, which has wrought so much death in our world.”

Some members of the Trump administration have sought to give Ms. McSally a political lift by supporting the decision of a semiconductor manufacturing company in Taiwan, T.S.M.C., to locate a new factory in Arizona, according to a person familiar with the plans. The company announced May 14 that it would invest $12 billion over the next decade to build a chip making plant — a move that represented a serious challenge to China’s technology ambitions.

Ms. McSally lauded the announcement, which will create 1,600 jobs in her state, as “fantastic news for Arizona and America, and bad news for China.”

Party officials believe the message is especially potent for Ms. McSally because her opponent Mr. Kelly, a former astronaut, has business ties to China. A space exploration company that Mr. Kelly helped found, World View Enterprises, has received investment from the Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings, among others. World View has said that Tencent does not play an active role in the company, and Mr. Kelly’s campaign has said that he views China as an adversary.

But Republican strategists still see an opening to negatively define Mr. Kelly, who has positioned himself as a bipartisan figure, hoping that playing the China card can pull in a portion of voters who support Mr. Trump but not Ms. McSally.

This month, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans released the advertisement accusing Mr. Kelly of “covering for China” on the coronavirus, featuring clips of him giving speeches there, complete with the audio overlay of his name in Mandarin.

Mr. Kelly’s campaign said that Ms. McSally was willfully misrepresenting his views on China, and noted that he had military experience in the region.

“Mark has long said that the Chinese government is an adversary, not because of how the political wind is blowing, but because he was stationed in the western Pacific and saw for himself how growing Chinese influence is a threat to American interests and our democratic partners,” a spokesman said.

But Ms. McSally’s advisers indicated that she would continue the China-related attacks, which they said had broad resonance in the race.

“Voters want China to be held accountable,” said Terry Nelson, a strategist advising Ms. McSally’s campaign. “You can pretty much go anywhere and there’s a concern.”

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/13/us/politics/faced-with-crisis-and-re-election-senate-republicans-blame-china.html

Fintech

Accept.inc secures $90M in debt and equity to scale its digital mortgage lending platform

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A lot of startups were built to help people make all-cash offers on homes with the purpose of gaining an edge against other buyers, especially in ultra-competitive markets. 

Accepti.inc is a Denver-based company that is attempting to create a new category in real estate technology. To help scale its digital mortgage lending platform, the company announced today that it has secured $90 million in debt and equity – with $78 million in debt and $12 million in equity. Signal Fire led the equity portion of its financing, which also included participation from existing seed investors Y Combinator and DN Capital.

Accept.inc describes itself as an iLender, or a “technology-enabled lender” that gives people a way to submit all-cash offers on a home upon qualifying for a mortgage.

Using its platform, a buyer gets qualified first and then can start looking for homes that fall at or under the amount he or she is approved for. They can purchase a more expensive home, but any amount above what they are approved for would have to come out of pocket. Historically, most buyers don’t know that they will have to pay out of pocket until they’ve made an offer on a specific home and an appraisal comes under the amount of the price they are paying for a home. In those cases, the buyer has to cough up the difference out of pocket. With Accept.inc., its execs tout, buyers know upfront how much they are approved for and can spend on a new home “so there are no surprises later.”

SignalFire Founding Partner and CTO Ilya Kirnos describes Accept.inc as “the first and only iLender.”

He points out that since it is a lender, Accept.inc doesn’t make its money by charging buyers fees like some others in the all-cash offer space.

“Unlike ‘iBuyers’ or ‘alternative iBuyers,’ Accept.inc fronts the cash to buy a house and then makes money off mortgage origination and title, meaning sellers, homebuyers and their agents pay no additional cost for the service,” he told TechCrunch.

IBuyers instead buy homes from sellers who signed up online, make a profit by often fixing up and selling those homes and then helping people purchase a different home with all cash. They also make money by charging transaction fees. A slew of companies operate in the space including established players such as Opendoor and Zillow and newer players such as Homelight.

Image credit: Accept.inc. Left to right: Co-founders Adam Pollack, Nick Friedman and Ian Perrex.

Since its 2016 inception, Accept.inc says it has helped thousands of buyers, agents and sellers close on “hundreds of millions of dollars” in homes. The company saw ”14x” growth in 2020 and from June 2020 to June 2021, it achieved “10x” growth in terms of the size of its team and number of transactions and revenue, according to CEO and co-founder Adam Pollack. Accept.inc wants to use its new capital to build on that momentum and meet demand.

Pollack and Nick Friedman met while in college and started building Accept.inc with the goal of “turning every offer into a cash offer.” The pair essentially “failed for two years,” half-jokes Pollack.

“We basically became an encyclopedia of 1,000 ways the idea of helping people make all-cash offers wouldn’t work,” he said.

The team went through Y Combinator in the winter of 2019 and that’s when they created the iLender concept. In the iLender model, the company uses its cash to buy a house for buyers. Once the loan with Accept.inc is ready to close, the company sells back the house to the buyer “at no additional cost or fees.”

“Basically what we learned through those two years is that you have to vertically integrate all of your core competencies, and you can’t rely on third parties to own or manage your special sauce for you,” Pollack told TechCrunch. “We also realized that if you’re going to build a cash offer for anyone who could afford a mortgage, you’ve got to make it a full bona fide cash offer that closes in three days as opposed to a better version of what existed. And you have to own that, and take the risk that comes with it and be comfortable with that.”

The benefits of their model, the pair say, is that buyers get to be cash buyers, sellers can close in as little as 32 hours, and agents “get a guaranteed commission check.” 

“Our mission is that everyone should have an equal chance at homeownership,” Friedman said. “We not only want to level the playing field, we want to create a new standard.”

Buyers using Accept.inc win 6-7 times more frequently, the company claims. With its new capital, It also plans to double its team of 90 and enter new markets outside of its home base of Denver.

SignalFire Partner Chris Scoggins believes that Accept.inc is different from other lenders in that its focus is on “winning the home, not just servicing the loan, with a business model that’s 10x more capital-efficient than other players in the market.

The team is driven…to level the playing field for homebuyers who today lose out against all-cash offers from home-flippers and wealthy individuals,” he added. “We see an enormous opportunity for Accept.inc to become the backbone of the future of mortgage lending.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/24/accept-inc-secures-90m-in-debt-equity/

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Apple’s AirPods Max fall to a new all-time low of $489 at Amazon

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All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

With good looks, quality construction and great natural sound, Apple’s AirPods Max headphones tick all the right boxes, but they’re mighty expensive at $550. However, you can now pick up a pair from Amazon at $490, the lowest price we’ve seen yet. That’s still not inexpensive by any means, but it’s a substantial savings on high-end headphones that only came out seven months ago. 

Buy Apple AirPods Max (pink) at Amazon – $490 Buy Apple AirPods Max (sky blue) at Amazon – $489 Buy Apple AirPods Max (space gray) at Amazon – $489

With an Engadget review score of 84, the AirPods Max earned a spot in our list of the best headphones you can buy. They look and feel great thanks to the aluminum and metal design, breathable mesh fabric and large earcups. A rotating crown and dedicated button let you switch between ANC and and regular modes, and it’s easy to switch seamlessly between iPhones, Macs and iPads. They offer hands-free capability with Siri, and you can go for up to 20 hours between charges with both ANC and spatial sound enabled.  

AirPods Max offer a more natural sound experience than other headphones, with bass that’s not overcooked. Active noise cancellation quality is right up there, though not quite on par with Sony’s WH-1000XM4 ANC headphones. And they support Apple’s Dolby Atmos-powered spatial audio on iPhones, iPads and Macs right now, and will come to Apple TV this fall. The main drawback is that they won’t stream Apple’s new lossless audio. 

Still, they deliver in nearly every other area and are especially useful for folks with Apple devices. $60 is a substantial discount for an Apple product this new, so if you’re interested, it would be best to act soon. 

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

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Source: https://www.engadget.com/apple-airpods-max-good-deal-amazon-124026253.html?src=rss_b2c

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SA agritech releases AI-enabled OmnioFarm to modernise African poultry farming

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The founders of South African cryptocurrency investment platform Africrypt have disappeared along with $3.6 billion (R51.4 billion) worth of Bitcoin, according to a report….

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Source: https://ventureburn.com/2021/06/sa-agritech-releases-ai-enabled-omniofarm-to-modernise-african-poultry-farming/

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Visa to acquire open banking platform Tink for more than $2 billion

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Visa has announced plans to acquire Tink for €1.8 billion, or $2.15 billion at today’s exchange rate. Tink has been a leading fintech startup in Europe focused on open banking application programming interface (API).

Today’s move comes a few months after Visa abandoned its acquisition of Plaid, another popular open banking startup. Originally, Visa planned to spend $5.3 billion to acquire the American startup. But the company had to call off the acquisition after running into a regulatory wall.

Tink offers a single API so that customers can connect to bank accounts from their own apps and services. For instance, you can leverage Tink’s API to access account statements, initiate payments, fetch banking information and refresh this data regularly.

While banks and financial institutions now all have to offer open banking interfaces due to EU’s Payment Services Directive PSD2, there’s no single standard. Tink integrates with 3,400 banks and financial institutions.

App developers can use the same API call to interact with bank accounts across various financial institutions. As you may have guessed, it greatly simplifies the adoption of open banking features.

300 banks and fintech startups use Tink’s API to access third-party bank information — clients include PayPal, BNP Paribas, American Express and Lydia. Overall, Tink covers 250 million bank customers across Europe.

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Tink operations should continue as usual after the acquisition. Visa plans to retain the brand and management team.

According to Crunchbase data, Tink has raised over $300 million from Dawn Capital, Eurazeo, HMI Capital, Insight Partners, PayPal Ventures, Creades, Heartcore Capital and others.

“For the past ten years we have worked relentlessly to build Tink into a leading open banking platform in Europe, and we are incredibly proud of what the whole team at Tink has created together,” Tink co-founder and CEO Daniel Kjellén said in a statement. “We have built something incredible and at the same time we have only scratched the surface.”

“Joining Visa, we will be able to move faster and reach further than ever before. Visa is the perfect partner for the next stage of Tink’s journey, and we are incredibly excited about what this will bring to our employees, customers and for the future of financial services.”

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Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/06/24/visa-to-acquire-open-banking-platform-tink-for-more-than-2-billion/

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