DUBAI/CAIRO — Oman’s ailing Sultan Qaboos bin Said, one of the Middle East’s longest serving rulers, died on Friday and the Gulf state’s high military council called on the ruling family to convene to choose a successor, state media said.
Three days of official mourning have been declared, with flags flown at half-mast for 40 days for the Western-backed Qaboos, 79, who had ruled since taking over in a bloodless coup in 1970 with the help of former colonial power Britain.
State news agency ONA did not give a cause of death, but Qaboos had been unwell for years and spent a week in Belgium undergoing medical treatment in early December.
Qaboos had no children and had not publicly appointed a successor. A 1996 statute says the ruling family will choose a successor within three days of the throne becoming vacant.
The high military council, in a statement carried on state media on Saturday, called on Oman’s ruling family council to convene to choose a new ruler.
If the council fails to agree, a council of military and security officials, supreme court chiefs and heads of the two consultative assemblies will put in power the person whose name has been secretly written by the sultan in a sealed letter.
There has been wide speculation over the succession as domestic challenges loom large, from strained state finances to high unemployment.
Oman observers say the sultan’s three cousins – Assad, Shihab and Haitham bin Tariq al-Said – stand the best chance.
“I imagine that the succession itself will be a smooth process within Oman,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of the Texas-based Rice University’s Baker Institute told Reuters.
The sultan’s death comes at a time of heightened tension in the region between Iran and the United States and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.
Oman maintains friendly ties with Washington and Tehran and helped mediate secret U.S.-Iran talks in 2013 that led two years later to the international nuclear pact which Washington quit in 2018.
“Sultan Qaboos had such charismatic authority and became so synonymous with Oman as a modern nation-state that it will naturally be difficult for any successor to replicate that, at least at the beginning,” Ulrichsen said.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Clarence Fernandez)
Marie Cohuet hid in a lavatory inside the Louvre art museum for over two hours, plotting her gatecrashing of Louis Vuitton fashion show in protest at the environmental damage that activists say is caused by the fashion industry.
After edging closer to the show’s entrance as the event neared, Cohuet saw her chance when staff were distracted by the glitzy arrival of actress Catherine Deneuve.
Talking animatedly into her phone, Cohuet pretended to be from the organising team and walked in.
She bided her time until the catwalk parade began to a soundtrack of thunderous organ music and church bells, at which point she unfurled her banner and joined the procession of models under a chandelier-lit runway.
“It was a little bit like taking back power,” the 26-year-old environmental campaigner, a member of the Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) group, told Reuters of the seconds before she was bundled to the floor by Louis Vuitton’s security agents.
Her banner was scrawled with the slogan “overconsumption = extinction”.
Cohuet said she had taken a stand on Oct. 5 against a fashion industry that fell short on its promises to act against climate change and pushed brands to renew collections faster, and produce more for less cost.
She accused LVMH of having pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions but excluding its sub-contractors from its calculations.
Asked by Reuters to comment, LVMH said its 2030 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half, announced in April, included those of subcontractors.
Critics say that fast fashion, which replicates catwalk trends and high-fashion designs at breakneck speed, is wasteful, exploits low-paid workers and pollutes the environment, including through intensive use of pesticides to grow cotton.
On the runway, Cohuet’s heart was in her stomach as she stared ahead and passed the gazes of cinema stars, LVMH chief executive Bernard Arnault and members of his clan.
“Sometimes an act of civil disobedience is needed, sometimes we need to challenge head-on those who are screwing the planet today, those who are trampling on human rights and social rights,” Cohuet said.
As a teenager at home, she expressed her indignation at the failure of global leaders to act on climate change. It had only been in the past few years that she joined protests, organised petitions and lobbied lawmakers.
Cohuet said she avoided frivolous clothing purchases and air travel but that there was only so much impact an individual could make. Real change must come from governments and leaders of big business, she continued.
Even so, Cohuet holds little hope for meaningful progress at this month’s United Nations COP26 climate change conference summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
“Nice promises get made on paper but then things tend to falter and states fail to turn them into concrete actions,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Mimosa Spencer; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Mark Heinricjh)
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Donald Trump announced Wednesday night that he will be launching his own social media network, the embarrassingly named TRUTH Social. For those of you scratching your heads and wondering, But wait, didn’t Trump already launch a new social media company? you are likely thinking of (1) one of the right-wing networks tangentially associated with the ex-president, like Gab, Parler, or Gettr, or (2) something called “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” the blog that published Trump’s comments and was shut down after just a month because it had almost no readers.
Obviously, the lack of readers was upsetting to the former president, who spent much of the last decade tweeting every deranged thought that came into his head, from “I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th” to “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE” to “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.” Unfortunately for Trump, his ban from Twitter, on account of inciting an insurrection, remains in effect. Hence, TRUTH Social.
Like most Trump initiatives, TRUTH Social is incredibly cringeworthy and embarrassing. For one thing, before it even launched, per The Washington Post, patriotic pranksters were able to find a seemingly unreleased version and post “a picture of a defecating pig to the ‘donaldjtrump’ account,” causing it to be pulled offline. For another, the network’s terms of service dictate that users must refrain from “excessive use of capital letters,” i.e., the only way Donald Trump knows how to type. Then there’s also the fact that TRUTH Social, billed as a vehicle for “stand[ing] up to the tyranny of Big Tech,” which conservatives claim hates free speech, prohibits users from saying anything to “disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site.” Meanwhile, the whole thing is basically a crappier version of Twitter. Per the Post:
The site looks almost entirely like a Twitter clone: A user can post Truths, which are like tweets, or Re-Truths, which are retweets. There’s also a news feed, called the Truth Feed, a notification system so users can know “who’s interacting with your TRUTH’s,” the social network’s App Store profile states.
So yes, the whole thing already looks like a big flop that will no doubt have very few users, and Trump himself will probably get bored of the app and only post there sporadically. But in this case, it doesn‘t actually matter, and Trump might have actually figured out a way to make millions despite the product being a joke. How? We’re glad you asked!
TRUTH Social is being formed through a merger of a new company set up by Trump, the Trump Media & Technology Group, and a special purpose acquisition company, a.k.a. a SPAC. SPACs, which are all the rage these days for reasons that will soon become clear, are shell companies that are listed on exchanges like the NYSE or the Nasdaq and exist for the one and only purpose of merging with companies that want to go public—like the Trump Media & Technology Group. In this case, the SPAC TMTG will merge with is called Digital World Acquisition Corp., which is run by a guy named Patrick Orlando, a former investment banker who once cofounded a sugar-trading company. As Axios’s Dan Primacktweeted this morning, “Trump social media SPAC thing filed SEC paperwork this morning, but it’s basically just the press release again. Nothing of substance, including management, etc. So far, this is a shell buying a shell.” Normally, this would be pretty embarrassing for a company, but in this case, due to the SPAC of it all, plus Trump’s uniquely gullible supporters, it doesn’t matter.
I am not going to pretend to make a business case for [a Trump social media network]—there is a long history of hilariousfailure in the “social media for Trump” category—but maybe you can. It is not a sure thing, in any case. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t. When Twitter Inc. went public, it had never been profitable, and it was, you know, a real social network that people used. Maybe Twitter But Trump would immediately be profitable, but boy, I have some doubts. On the other hand, if Donald Trump launched a company that was like, “I am going to start a social media platform for Trump fans,” could he get people to buy the stock? I think that two fundamental lessons of the last few years are:
You can get people to buy any stock; and
Donald Trump can get people to buy anything.
So if Donald Trump announced, “Hey, I’m gonna do a social media company, buy some stock,” people would buy some stock. And then he’d get a lot of money. And then if the social media platform did not end up being profitable—as I cannot imagine it would be!—then he would, uh, still have that money? And if the social media platform did not end up being launched—if Trump and his crack team of technologists just couldn’t actually build a well-functioning online social network—then he would, uh, still have that money? And if there was no crack team of technologists at all, if nobody even tried to build the social media platform—then you see where I am going with this, right?
The point is that if you launch a company with the goal of making it profitable, you have to, like, have a workable business plan and execute on it and deal with a million different operational complexities. If you launch a company with the goal of selling a lot of stock, you have to get people to trust you and give you their money. There is some overlap between those things! But they are different things!
As Levine notes, and as we’ve learned from other SPACs over the last few years, “if you go public by merging your private company with a special purpose acquisition company, then you can just make up whatever you want and no one will check.“ Is that actually the law? No, but in practice, it’s basically how SPACs work and is obviously incredibly appealing to Team Trump. Basically, they can get rich without actually having a profitable or even functioning social media network.
Here’s Levine again:
Traditionally, SPAC deals are often announced with PIPEs, private investments in public equity, in which institutional or strategic investors commit hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money alongside the SPAC investment. Here, there is no PIPE; no institutional investors seem to be involved. Trump Very Tech Company Group is raising its money only from public investors in the SPAC.
Ordinarily, that would be risky: The SPAC investors have withdrawal rights—they can take back their $10 per share in cash, plus a little interest, instead of leaving it in the pot for the merger—so the company might not get any money. Here, it is not risky. The reason it is not risky is that people who like Trump will buy the stock. (Also: People who think “people who like Trump will buy the stock” will buy the stock; the Keynesian beauty contest applies here too.) Yesterday, before this announcement, DWAC’s stock closed at $9.96, a bit below the approximately $10.20 per share that it has in its trust, sort of a standard price for a SPAC with no deal yet. At 11 a.m. today it was trading at about $19.38, implying a valuation for Trump Thing of something like $1.7 billion. If you think Trump Thing is worth $19.38 per share, you are not going to take your $10 back; you’re going to keep the stock and let Trump have your $10. He will definitely get all $293 million.
Want proof? Here’s some depressing news from CNBC:
The stock price of SPAC company Digital World Acquisition Corp. skyrocketed on extremely heavy trading volume Thursday after news of a merger that would launch former president Donald Trump’s planned social media platform. DWAC’s stock surged 356.8% to close at $35.54 per share. Trading in the SPAC was halted multiple times due to volatility. At one point the stock was up more than 400% to hit a high of $52.
Digital World Acquisition was the single most actively traded stock on the Fidelity platform Thursday, and was by far the most traded name on the consolidated tape of New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq listings. More than 470 million shares of DWAC changed hands during Thursday’s session, according to FactSet. In comparison, SPY, the exchange-traded fund that tracks the S&P 500, only traded about 32 million shares.
So yeah, TRUTH Social appears to be just as much of a joke as “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” but in this case, Donald J. Trump might actually make some real money off of it, which he definitely needs considering he’s reportedly in debt for $1 billion.
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Joe Manchin says Dems are unlikely to reach an agreement on social safety net programs “anytime soon”
Conveniently, the senator from West Virginia left out the part about how he is the one leading the charge to scale back initiatives that might actually help people, many of whom are children. Per Reuters:
Democrats have spent months arguing about the size and scope of what was initially proposed as a $3.5 trillion plan to expand the social safety net and fight climate change, which Democratic leaders have agreed this week will be cut to well below $2 trillion. Manchin—who along with fellow moderate Senator Kyrsten Sinema has been pushing for a smaller package—had said earlier he believed Democratic negotiators could settle on a final figure by Friday. That would resolve a key sticking point, although progressives and moderates would still have to sort out the substance of the bill, including what programs to keep, what to cut, and how long to fund them.
Fellow Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said he expected Democrats would agree on a total price tag within the next few days, leaving lawmakers to fill in the details. “I think they’ve got to stay in over the weekend to try to get this resolved,” he said. Biden told lawmakers on Tuesday he thought he could get Manchin and Sinema to agree to a figure in the range of $1.75 trillion to $1.9 trillion, according to a source familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Getting to that number would mean giving up priorities, including a plan to offer all Americans the opportunity to attend two years of free community college, and scaling back others such as a child tax credit and funds for affordable housing.
Manchin has been adamant that child tax credits must include work requirements, which, among other things, would penalize households in which children are being raised by their grandparents. He has also explained to protesters that he doesn‘t support the expansion of Medicare from the deck of his yacht.
Don’t be coming at Republicans with facts!
FDA authorizes Moderna and J&J boosters, says people can get a shot different from original dose (The Washington Post)
Pfizer-BioNTech Booster Shot Restores Full Covid Protection (Bloomberg)
Democrats Look for Tax Options If They Have to Ditch Rate Hikes (Bloomberg)
Texas targets Roe v. Wade, urges U.S. Supreme Court to maintain abortion ban (Reuters)
The Elizabeth Holmes trial: The prosecution produces a smoking gun (Insider)
Prosecutors urge conviction of Giuliani associate (Politico)
Grateful Dead T-shirt auctioned for a record-breaking $17,640 (UPI)
Accused Burglar Said Motive Was Desire to “See His Imaginary Girlfriend Emma” (TSG)
Pablo Escobar’s Cocaine Hippos Are Legally People, Court Rules (Gizmodo)
Shabir Ahmadi started his job at TOLO TV, Afghanistan’s largest private broadcaster, during one of the darkest days for the media in the war-torn nation: January 21, 2016.
The evening before, a Taliban suicide bomber had killed a graphic designer, video editor, set decorator, three dubbing artists and a driver who worked for TOLO’s entertainment wing.
When he arrived at the TOLO office the next morning, the guards at the door were confused and still grief-stricken. They had no idea what to do with Ahmadi. They looked at the then 24-year-old, who had just ended his job with TOLO’s main rival, 1TV, and asked him if he was “crazy” to start work at a network that had come under direct attack only hours ago.
Because the news never stops, not even when your organisation becomes the news, Ahmadi started his job less than a week later.
Everything changed on August 15
After that, reporting on the deaths of their colleagues by suicide bombers, unidentified gunmen and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) became a routine as the Taliban, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) and unknown armed groups continued to target journalists over the next five years.
Still, Ahmadi and thousands of other media workers across Afghanistan, most of them in their 20s and 30s, continued their work undeterred. Newsrooms and production houses full of young men and women worked together to make the country’s media the freest in the region, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) watchdog.
But all that changed on August 15.
First came the news that former President Ashraf Ghani and top cabinet officials had fled the country. Then came reports that the Taliban, which had just entered the districts of Kabul province early that morning, was heading into the capital city.
Suddenly, the memories of the bombings and killings came flooding back. Ahmadi, who was then deputy head of news at TOLO, met the network’s top management and immediately came to two decisions.
“The first thing we did was send all the female staff home,” Ahmadi told Al Jazeera over the phone from Europe.
The other decision they made was controversial but necessary, he said. They immediately stopped broadcasting music and entertainment programmes. The Turkish serials, game shows, singing competitions, talk shows and sketch comedy shows that millions of people tuned into every evening came to a sudden end.
Though the Taliban had made no official declarations on programming at the time, Ahmadi said the decision was a preemptive one.
“If you understood the fear that night, you would see why we came to such a decision,” he told Al Jazeera.
Ahmadi said he now regrets that decision, but that at the time, it seemed like a necessary one. “We wanted to be the ones to cut them off, not the Taliban,” he said.
Ahmadi said he tried to work as a journalist in the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate, but it quickly became clear that would be too difficult. There were reports of the Taliban torturing journalists, confiscating their equipment, beating them on the streets of main cities, jailing them for weeks at a time and instituting new restrictive media laws.
By September, Ahmadi was among hundreds of other Afghan journalists and media workers, including his TOLO colleagues, who had fled the country.
The exodus of journalists has led to serious questions about the future of the media in Afghanistan, where a free press was one of the few real gains to come out of 20 years of Western occupation.
Steven Butler, the Asia programme coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says the current media situation in Afghanistan resembles that of Myanmar.
Like Afghanistan, Myanmar also experienced a recent political upheaval that saw the end of a controversial semi-democratic Western-supported government and led to an immediate flight of the country’s media workers.
Butler fears that, like Myanmar, the future of Afghanistan’s media is “bleak”, but he understands why so many journalists left both the countries, operating in exile.
“[It] is not ideal, but it is better than being in jail or killed,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone.
Though some Afghans have already resumed their work from abroad, Butler said Afghans will have a much more difficult time than the people of Myanmar when it comes to restarting their work in exile.
“In Myanmar, there was already much more of a precedent and infrastructure for journalists to operate in exile,” he said.
For Ahmadi, the flight of journalists is especially difficult to bear because the media was one industry where thousands of young people felt heard and challenged at the same time.
Ahmadi describes his years at TOLO and 1TV as a time when he “felt free and supported”.
“Whenever we would present an idea to them, they would say, ‘Great, go do it.’ There really wasn’t anything we were discouraged from trying,” he says, reminiscing about his days at two of the nation’s top-ranked TV stations.
Butler says CPJ is trying to establish contacts with the Taliban to advocate for the rights of the Afghan reporters, but that has proven difficult so far. He says the Islamic Emirate promises it will investigate matters, but has yet to present any actual findings.
Abdullah Khenjani, the former director of news at 1TV, the nation’s second-largest private broadcaster, says if the Taliban truly believes in the free media, as it said shortly after taking power, then they must prove it with their actions.
“So far, the Taliban has not been able to buy public confidence and secure a safe environment for critical journalism in particular,” he said.
Journalists beaten and tortured
That commitment to free media came under renewed scrutiny on Thursday, when CPJ reported the Taliban beat three journalists covering a small women’s protest in one of the busiest areas of Kabul.
Once again, the organisation said the Taliban did not respond to their requests for comment on the incident, which came just a month after the group detained, beat and flogged journalists covering a similar demonstration.
Other journalists Al Jazeera spoke to agreed with Khenjani’s assessment, saying they have faced pushback while trying to report on several issues over the last two months.
Journalists who were beaten and tortured for reporting on protests in Kabul last month told Al Jazeera they have been warned by Taliban officials not to cover such events.
Likewise, journalists also recalled being stopped by the Taliban from reporting from the northern province of Panjshir where an armed resistance against the group started after it took over Kabul.
Abdul Farid Ahmad, the former deputy director for operations at TOLO News, references all of these events when speaking about his efforts to continue working in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
“They have beaten journalists many times. They didn’t let journalists cover the women’s protests. They didn’t let journalists go to Panjshir when it was not under their control. We have so many examples that the Taliban didn’t and still don’t want journalists to work freely,” he told Al Jazeera.
In a recent report, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) described the killing of a journalist by unknown gunmen and seizures of two media outlets in the east and the north as examples of the Islamic Emirate failing to ensure safety of the media.
Like CPJ, the AJSC also says the Taliban has failed to provide details of promised investigations into abuses against journalists.
“I don’t know any journalist who is willing to work with the Taliban, but I do know a lot of journalists who left the country and many others who want to leave the country. Journalists don’t feel safe in Afghanistan,” said Ahmad.
The exodus has greatly affected the quality of reporting in the country. In a recent statement, the AJSC said, “Media reporting quality has reached to its lowest level in the last 20 years.”
Journalists Al Jazeera spoke to over the last two months say they have faced great difficulty in getting sources ranging from hospital officials to other media workers and even average citizens in remote areas to go on the record for their reports.
Khenjani, the former news director at 1TV, says the fears are due to the Taliban’s “rudimentary government structure” which is sorely lacking in qualified professionals and “incoherent policies” which vary from province to province. This, he says, has affected the relationship between media and even their most stellar sources.
Lack of foreign aid
The AJSC went on to say that 70 percent of the media outlets across the country have closed in the two months since the Taliban came to power.
It is not just physical danger that is leading to these closures. Foreign governments and donor organisations have slashed funding to the nation since the Taliban’s takeover. The media was one of the industries most reliant on foreign aid.
Large outlets such as TOLO claim to be self-sufficient based on advertisement sales, a privilege Ahmadi acknowledges few others enjoy.
“For years, we charged some of the highest ad fees. At the time, we could do that.”
Ahmadi says those reserves may help TOLO outlast the current financial crisis, but smaller organisations are not so well-placed to deal with the situation.
Butler from CPJ agrees. “When an economy collapses, so too does the market for ads,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that it will be very difficult for many outlets to continue operations under the current financial constraints.
The overarching unease does not bode well for the Afghan media going forward, said the journalists Al Jazeera spoke to.
“I don’t know how much longer the private media can afford to go on,” said Ahmad.
Khenjani lamented the continued shrinking of the Afghan media. “In Afghanistan, the media works best when it can try to speak truth to power and hold the powerful to account,” he said.
Khenjani said while they “often faltered” with the former Islamic republic, they at least had the chance “to try and challenge the government narrative”.
Today, he says, that is no longer possible. “The Taliban will never accept the kinds of scrutiny and investigations that were conducted during the republic.”
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