UAID foundation, a volunteer network that, among the many things it’s doing, has sold more than 15 pieces of war debris, including several missile and rocket tubes used by the Ukrainian military that are big hits. All told, the war debris has netted more than $4,000, which the foundation spends on protective vests, medicine and other supplies for Ukrainian troops.

“We are taking things used to kill people to now save lives,” she said.

She said that one young Ukrainian soldier fighting in the Donbas region has been a huge help in finding things from the front lines. He has jumped out of trenches even as Russian shells were exploding around him and fellow soldiers were yelling at him to take cover. But, she said, he’s close to a bunch of volunteers and yells back, “I have to go. My friends need this stuff!”

Bucha, a Kyiv suburb where Russian troops slaughtered hundreds of civilians, to take photos for a social media campaign about the connection between fossil fuels and Russia’s war machine.

Just by chance, they stumbled into a backyard where they found a Russian military jacket and the pair of black boots (size 10). They remain among his prized items.

“We didn’t go to Bucha looking for this,” he said. “We just got lucky.”

Diego Ibarra Sanchez contributed reporting from Lviv and Oleksandra Mykolyshyn from Kyiv.

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What Happened on Day 104 of the War in Ukraine

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — Just to enter Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian soldiers run a gantlet of Russian artillery shells zeroed in on the only access route: a bridge littered with the burned husks of cars and trucks that didn’t make it.

And once inside the city in eastern Ukraine, the focus of both armies for the past several weeks, Ukrainian soldiers battle Russians in back-and forth combat for control of deserted, destroyed neighborhoods.

Ukraine’s leaders now face a key strategic decision: whether to withdraw from the midsize city and take up more defensible positions, or to remain and risk being boxed in if the bridge is blown up. It reflects the choices the country has had to make since the Russian invasion began, between giving ground to avert death and destruction in the short term, and holding out against long odds in hopes it will later pay off.

In Sievierodonetsk, that calculation has taken on significance beyond the city’s limited military importance. In remarks to journalists on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky referred to Sievierodonetsk and its neighbor across the river, Lysychansk, as “dead cities” ravaged by Russian attacks and nearly empty of civilians.

And yet he insisted there was a compelling reason to stay and fight: Ukraine’s position throughout the war has been that it intends to hold onto its sovereign territory, and not yield it to Moscow.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Retreating now to better positions on higher ground across the Seversky Donets River, and then fighting to retake the city later, he said, would be harder and carry a higher price in bloodshed than holding on.

“It will be very costly for you to return, in terms of the number of people killed, the number of losses,” Mr. Zelensky said.

“Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk,” he added. “Fierce urban combat continues in the city.”

It was a rare public rumination by Mr. Zelensky on strategic decision-making in the war, providing a window into the goals of his government and its military. Sievierodonetsk is the last major city in the breakaway region of Luhansk that the Russians have not taken; capturing it would give them near-total control of that enclave.

There are other factors as well. Falling back could be demoralizing to Ukraine’s forces. And some Ukrainian soldiers said it is worth drawing out the phase of urban combat to inflict more casualties on the already depleted Russian forces, and possibly damage their morale.

It was also possible Mr. Zelensky was aiding the military with misdirection by signaling one intention while quietly pursuing an opposite course of action.

The government has not said how many military casualties Ukraine has suffered overall since the Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin ordered the invasion in February. But Mr. Zelensky said last week that in the recent, intense fighting, each day his country was losing 60 to 100 soldiers killed and 500 wounded. Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Tuesday that 6,489 Ukrainian service members had been captured.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry this week estimated civilian casualties at 40,000 killed or wounded, though some government officials say the true figures are higher. Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that ruptured sewer and water pipes in the southern city of Mariupol, seized by Russia after a devastating siege, have created a risk of severe disease outbreaks that would raise the civilian toll.

The battle for Sievierodonetsk, part of Luhansk and the broader Donbas region in the east, has raged now for weeks, and some Ukrainian soldiers have questioned why the army has not ordered a tactical retreat.

“They are killing a lot of our guys,” said a soldier who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Kubik, interviewed last week while smoking beside a road in the town of Siversk, a staging area to the west of the fighting. He had recently rotated away from positions near Sievierodonetsk.

“Let them come forward a little bit, let them think they have captured the town, and then we will meet them beautifully” from the more advantageous position, he said.

The city lies on the mostly flat, eastern bank of the Seversky Donets. The western bank, in contrast, rises in a prominent hill that provides commanding views and firing positions.

Earlier in the war, Ukrainian soldiers were surrounded in Mariupol and fought for weeks, eventually retreating to hold just a tiny pocket of ground in a steel factory complex where they sheltered in bunkers, before Mr. Zelensky ordered the holdouts to surrender rather than be killed.

Ukrainian commanders decided to avert a smaller-scale version of that siege earlier this week in Sviatohirsk, a town lying on the low bank of the Seversky Donets.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Trying to trap Ukrainian troops in the town, Russian forces had been firing artillery at their only remaining route across the river, a bridge near an Orthodox monastery that was also frequently hit. On Monday, the Ukrainian army pulled back, blew up the bridge and took up positions on the river’s high bank, Ukrainian officials said.

Sievierodonetsk was once a sleepy, provincial backwater of about 100,000 residents, with streets lined with poplar trees and a skyline dominated by smokestacks of a fertilizer factory.

Now it is a largely abandoned ruin where battle lines sway often, with each side at times claiming to have expelled the other from part of the city. On Tuesday, Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, said Russian forces were again storming positions. “Combat continues,” he said.

Russian artillery fire into the potential fallback position on the high bank, where Lysychansk lies, has also been ferocious. Shelling hit a market, a mining academy and a school, Mr. Haidai said. The strike on the market touched off a fire that burned through the day Monday. Two civilians were wounded.

The Ukrainian government has been emphasizing the tenuousness of its positions in the battle for Donbas, the mining and farming region now mostly controlled by Russian forces.

The pivotal access bridge to Sievierodonetsk is a panorama of destruction, testifying to the difficulty and risk to Ukraine in holding even some portion of the city.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

A video recorded by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporters who entered on a resupply run last week showed the mayhem on the span: crossing it meant weaving between the burned husks of cars and shell craters in the bridge deck.

The debris has piled up over the past two weeks. In an interview in late May, a soldier at a sandbagged checkpoint at the western edge of the bridge cautioned that Russian artillery spotters had the span — clear of debris at the time — under observation and opened fire whenever a car drove over. Two other bridges into the city were destroyed earlier in May.

Mr. Haidai has justified Ukraine’s efforts to hold Sievierodonetsk as partly a matter of symbolic resistance.

“Strategically, the city of Sievierodonetsk is not of great importance,” he said over the weekend. The high opposite riverbank is more significant militarily, he said. “But politically, Sievierodonetsk is a regional center. Its liberation will lift our morale substantially and demoralize the Russians.”

Still, Mr. Zelensky said he was open to reconsidering his decision based on developments. Either command — to hold ground or to retreat — had potential downsides, he said.

“In the first option there is risk, in the second option there is risk,” he said.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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Live Updates: Facing Heavy Losses, Ukraine Slowly Falls Back in East

Amid the roar of artillery and bone-rattling explosions, New York Times photographers have borne graphic witness to the fight to survive. These are their stories and images.

Through the three months of Russia’s invasion, New York Times journalists have chronicled carnage and courage, ruin and resolve, across the wide arc of combat through eastern Ukraine, where Vladimir V. Putin’s brutal offensive is now concentrated.

At the front line and within easy range of it, they have joined civilians whose homes, families and emotions have been shattered, as well as Ukrainian soldiers — hardened veterans and green volunteers — using tools as modern as surveillance drones and as ancient as trenches.

Amid the roar of artillery, the clatter of small arms and bone-rattling explosions, Times photographers have borne graphic witness to the fight to survive and kill — or just survive. These are their accounts and images from the last few weeks of that fight.

On the front line south of Izium, a Russian-captured city just north of the Donetsk region, two Ukrainian 122-mm guns thundered across the rolling landscape last week. They belonged to an artillery detachment of the 93rd Mechanized Brigade, called in to fire on Russian forces who had pinned down Ukrainian troops.

The camouflaged gunners then worked at lightning speed to conceal their position, moving broken branches to hide from view the smoking barrels of the powerful weapons. A young soldier wearing a bandanna and a determined expression burst out of the greenery, sprinting back into the woods to hide from enemy drones. Soon the team was reloading, aiming and firing again.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit… Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Along the same front, a dozen members of the 95th Air Assault Brigade camped in a concrete building at an abandoned farmhouse. Throughout the night, in pairs, they took turns on sentry duty from inside a trench system worming down a hillside, overlooking a valley of rolling wheat fields pockmarked with dark clumps of dirt kicked up by the impact of recent shelling by Russian artillery.

Several nearby buildings had been shattered by shelling, and the thump of artillery exchanges between Ukrainian and Russian troops a few miles north rumbled day and night.

Artem Sandul, 20, pulled on a cigarette under the cover of a wood and mud bunker in the trenches as dawn broke. Until Russia invaded on Feb. 24, he had been flipping burgers at a McDonald’s. Now he was cooking for his fellow soldiers, his commander seemingly keeping him back from the most dangerous shelling a couple of miles up the road, where Ukrainian lines were only 400 yards from Russian lines in some places.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Near Izium, jets, most likely Russian, flew low over Ukrainian positions, firing defensive flares to confuse antiaircraft batteries, then made a sharp turn toward the trenches and screamed by so low that they disappeared behind a tree line before vanishing over the horizon.

On Tuesday, in Vuhledar, about 30 miles southeast of the Russian-occupied Donetsk, an artillery team from the 53rd Brigade responded to Russian artillery fire the soldiers said was coming from inside a church about four miles away.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In Barvinkove, a Ukrainian-held town 20 miles southwest of Izium, a cyclist pedaled past blown-out buildings and a barricade, while at a small base, soldiers drank coffee and a sniper prepared his rifle for a mission. Nearby, Russian forces were trying to push southward, part of a pincer move to trap the Ukrainian troops still holding a pocket of territory in the two eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

On the seesawing front line of that pocket lies Bakhmut, a largely evacuated town of blasted building shells, rubble and incinerated vehicles, where two huge craters bracket the administrative building. In newly reinforced defensive positions, Ukrainian soldiers tried to hold off the Russian advance, amid the constant din and ground shudder of artillery fired by both sides.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

In that region, Times photographers encountered evidence of Russian losses, too. Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, mostly volunteer fighters, managed to retake the village of Novopil. With Russian troops still less than half a mile away, the evidence of a fierce battle was everywhere, in the wreckage of houses and the stench of dead bodies.

In front of a small shed, the body of a Russian soldier lay where he had been cut down, his clean, well-polished boots at odds with the surrounding devastation. His brown suede belt bore the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union.

Near Bilohorivka were the ravaged bodies and tanks of hundreds of Russian troops whose disastrous attempt to cross the Seversky Donets River fell to deadly Ukrainian heavy artillery.

But many of those caught in the destruction did not wear uniforms. Vitaliy Kononenko, 47, had just built a new home for his family in the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine, but before he could bring his wife and children to see it, it was destroyed.

In the train station in Pokrovsk, in the Donetsk region, Anna Vereschak, 43, boarded a westbound evacuation train with her daughters Milana, 5, and Diana, 4, after bombardment forced them from their village. Another woman, Valentina, ushered her blind 87-year-old mother, Nina, onto the train.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes, particularly from the east, taking only what they can cram into a bag or two, often after holding out for weeks or months in basements despite bombardment, hunger and isolation. Some of the fiercest fighting now is around Sievierodonetsk, in the Luhansk region, the easternmost city still held by Ukraine.

In Lysychansk, just across the bombed-out bridge from Sievierodonetsk, three police officers braved artillery fire to collect the bodies of the dead, like a 65-year-old woman known to neighbors as Grandma Masha. Her dog growled and barked from his kennel as they loaded her into a body bag and then their white van.

Grandma Masha could not get the medicine she needed to treat her diabetes, according to a neighbor, Lena, 39. Her son had left with his family and was not able to return when she fell ill.

“It’s a completely stupid war — but no one asked for my opinion,” said Lena, who, like most people interviewed, gave only her first name because she feared for her safety.

In an apartment block in Sievierodonetsk, already partially blasted and burned by shelling, residents huddled in the basement, resigned, at last, to evacuation. They barely reacted to the sounds of explosion and nearby gunfire.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Across the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, and the southern part of the Kharkiv region, Times photographers found Ukrainian troops in every imaginable phase of daily life in a combat zone.

In an underground bunker were dozens of members of the Carpathian Sich Battalion — eating, sleeping, cleaning their weapons and chatting on cellphones with their wives and girlfriends. Some gathered around a monitor to watch drone video of a recent attack. Most smoked.

The floor and walls of the bunker quaked as a tank round hit a nearby building, and small-arms fire followed. Bullets ricocheted off walls outside. The Russians were close.

A handful of Ukrainian soldiers dashed outside to repel the attack, while others collected their weapons and waited by the door in case they were needed. They weren’t; the shooting subsided.

One soldier lit a stove and began frying buckwheat.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

At a well-guarded and heavily fortified checkpoint, fighters built more trenches and bunkers, using sandbags and rough-hewn logs, in preparation for a possible Russian advance in their direction. Warned of incoming artillery fire, they ducked into a bunker, and a medic in the group boasted that their hideouts could take almost anything the Russians might fire at them.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The evidence of war was strewn across the ravaged landscape. Wreckage was everywhere, from collapsed buildings and buckled streets to burned-out tanks. A common sight was the tail of a rocket sticking out of the ground, a reminder of the constant danger from above.

The smells and sounds of war were everywhere, too. Few civilians were around, but troops were omnipresent, patrolling, scavenging, resting and building fortifications when they were not fighting.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit… Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

After their armored vehicle broke down, a dozen soldiers from Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade recently stood by a roadside near the city of Kramatorsk, smoking, like stranded commuters waiting for a lift.

An attempt to tow them failed, so the soldiers, with their weapons, piled aboard another armored vehicle and set off in the day’s fading light toward the front.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The men of the 93rd Brigade are at the forefront of efforts to hold off the Russian advance south of Izium. Small units of mortar teams have camped out in destroyed villages, battling Russian forces that have thrown everything at them.

They spoke of enduring days of near-constant shelling, sheltering in dank basements, surrounded by jars of pickled vegetables.

Thoughts rarely strayed far from the lethal stakes, but between such harrowing episodes, it was striking how the ordinary business of life, like a highway breakdown, never quite disappeared.

A kiosk in Bakhmut did a brisk trade serving coffee, burgers and sandwiches to soldiers coming and going from the fighting.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit… Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

In Barvinkove, which has come under heavy Russian bombardment, a few local women were still hawking vegetables and dairy products under the shade of a tree in the town center. A passing soldier, back from the front to refuel, asked to buy some herbs.

The woman refused to take payment for her goods, waving him off and wishing him well.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

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Gun in Texas Shooting Came From Company Known for Pushing Boundaries

He has said that his gun company was born out of his poor golf game. Instead of puttering around the course, Mr. Daniel started using an AR-15 — the type of gun he would later go on to make — for target practice. “Every shot he fired filled him with a satisfaction he’d never before experienced,” the company’s website says.

At the time, Mr. Daniel had trouble finding a way to mount a scope onto his rifle. He began designing and selling his own accessory that allowed gun owners to add lights, a range finder and lasers onto the rifle.

He got his break in 2002 at a gun show in Orlando, Fla., where he was approached by a representative of the U.S. Special Forces. He ultimately won a $20 million contract to produce the accessories for combat rifles. More deals followed. In 2008, he won a contract with the British military, according to Daniel Defense’s website.

By 2009, the company had expanded to making guns for consumers. Its military ties were the basis of its marketing, which often featured heavily armed fighters. “Use what they use,” one ad says. Another shows a military-style scope aimed at passing cars on what looks like a regular city street. Others include references — using hashtags and catchphrases — to the “Call of Duty” video game.

Before the 2000s, most gun makers did not market military-style assault weapons to civilians. At the largest industry trade shows, tactical military gear and guns were cordoned off, away from the general public. That started to change around 2004, industry experts say, with the expiration of the federal assault weapon ban.

“Companies like Daniel Defense glorify violence and war in their marketing to consumers,” said Nick Suplina, a senior vice president at Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that supports gun control.

In 2012, the Sandy Hook shooting led to an industrywide surge in gun sales, as firearm enthusiasts stocked up, fearing a government crackdown. In an interview with Forbes, Mr. Daniel said the shooting “drove a lot of sales.” (Forbes reported that Daniel Defense had sales of $73 million in 2016.)

After the shooting, Daniel Defense offered employees extra overtime to meet skyrocketing demand, according to Christopher Powell, who worked for the company at the time. “They kept people focused on the task at hand,” he said.

But in the late 2010s, some colleagues started to worry that Mr. Daniel had become distracted by the glamour of marketing the brand and rubbing shoulders with celebrities and politicians, according to a former Daniel Defense manager. They voiced concerns that some of the marketing materials were inappropriate for a company that manufactures deadly weapons, said the manager and a former executive, who didn’t want their names used because they feared legal or professional repercussions.

Some ads featured children carrying and firing guns. In another, posted on Instagram two days after Christmas last year, a man dressed as Santa Claus and wearing a military helmet is smoking a cigar and holding a Daniel Defense rifle. “After a long weekend, Santa is enjoying MK18 Monday,” the caption states, referring to the gun’s model.

The industry’s aggressive marketing has landed some companies in trouble. Earlier this year, the gun maker Remington reached a $73 million settlement with families of children killed at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn. The families had claimed that Remington improperly marketed its assault rifles, including with its weapons appearing in “Call of Duty,” which the killer at Sandy Hook had frequently played.

A year after Sandy Hook, with the Super Bowl approaching, Daniel Defense deployed a new marketing stunt.

The National Football League had a policy prohibiting ads for weapons on its telecasts. But Daniel Defense tried to buy a 60-second spot that depicted a soldier returning home to his family, with ominous music in the background. “I am responsible for their protection,” the ad’s narrator intones. “And no one has the right to tell me how to defend them.”

Given the N.F.L.’s ban on gun ads, it was no surprise that the ad was rejected. (Daniel Defense claimed that the ad complied with the policy because the company sells products besides guns.) But Mr. Daniel turned the rejection into a rallying cry, and the conservative media lapped it up. Appearing on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” he urged viewers to “call the N.F.L. and say, ‘C’mon, man, run my ad.’”

“That is Marty Daniel at work,” Mr. Powell said. “He’s not one of those typical C.E.O.s that you see.”

Mr. Daniel and his wife, Cindy, have worked hand-in-hand with the National Rifle Association to raise money for the group, sell weapons to its members and beat back calls for gun control.

In recent years, Mr. Daniel and Ms. Daniel, the company’s chief operating officer, became outspoken supporters of Donald J. Trump, contributing $300,000 to a group aligned with Mr. Trump. Mr. Daniel joined the “Second Amendment Coalition,” a group of gun industry heavyweights who advised Mr. Trump on gun policy.

Mr. Daniel told Breitbart News in 2017 that Mr. Trump’s election saved “our Second Amendment rights.” He and his wife have also donated to other Republican candidates and groups, including in their home state of Georgia. So far in the 2022 election cycle, they’ve given more than $70,000 to Republicans.

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Elon Musk’s arrival stirs fears among some Twitter employees, article with image

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  • Concerns center around Twitter’s ability to moderate content
  • Fear Musk’s views on moderation may allow trolling to flourish
  • Twitter management, employees make daily decisions -spokesperson

April 7 (Reuters) – News of Tesla (TSLA.O) Chief Executive Elon Musk taking a board seat at Twitter (TWTR.N) has some Twitter employees panicking over the future of the social media firm’s ability to moderate content, company insiders told Reuters.

Within hours of the surprise disclosure this week that Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist,” acquired enough shares to become the top Twitter shareholder, political conservatives began flooding social media with calls for the return of Donald Trump. The former U.S. president was banned from Facebook and Twitter after the Jan 6. Capitol riot over concerns around incitement of violence.

“Now that @ElonMusk is Twitter’s largest shareholder, it’s time to lift the political censorship. Oh… and BRING BACK TRUMP!,” tweeted Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert on Monday.

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Despite Twitter’s reiteration this week that the board does not make policy decisions, four Twitter employees who spoke with Reuters said they were concerned about Musk’s ability to influence the company’s policies on abusive users and harmful content.

With Musk on the board, the employees said his views on moderation could weaken years-long efforts to make Twitter a place of healthy discourse, and might allow trolling and mob attacks to flourish.

In the wake of Trump’s ban from Facebook and Twitter, the billionaire tweeted that many people would be unhappy with U.S. tech companies acting “as the de facto arbiter of free speech.”

MUSK’S INTENTIONS

Musk has not articulated what he wants to do as a new board member but he has telegraphed his intentions with his Twitter activity. A week before Musk disclosed a 9.1% stake in Twitter, he polled his 80 million followers on whether the site adhered to the principle of free speech, and the majority voted ‘no.’

The employees, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, point to Musk’s history of using Twitter to attack critics. In 2018, Musk came under fire for accusing a British diver who had helped rescue children trapped in a cave in Thailand of being a pedophile.

Musk won a defamation case brought by the diver in 2019.

When asked for comment, a Twitter spokesperson repeated a statement from Tuesday that the board “plays an important advisory and feedback role across the entirety of our service,” but daily operations and decisions are made by Twitter’s management and employees.

“Twitter is committed to impartiality in the development and enforcement of its policies and rules,” the spokesperson said.

Some employees that Reuters spoke to were not so sure about the company’s commitment to this.

“I find it hard to believe (the board) doesn’t have influence,” said one employee. “If that’s the case, why would Elon want a board seat?”

But other employees Reuters spoke to said that Musk’s involvement could help quicken the pace of new feature and product launches, and provide a fresh perspective as an active user of Twitter.

Neither Tesla nor Musk responded to requests for comment.

Twitter’s board figures prominently in discussions within Twitter, more so than at other tech companies, one employee said. That is because unlike Meta Platforms Inc, where founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg controls the company through a dual class share structure, Twitter only has a single class of shares, making it more vulnerable to activists like Musk. Teams within Twitter often consider how to communicate a strategy or decision to the board, for instance, the employee said.

On Thursday, Musk tweeted an image from 2018 of him smoking weed on the Joe Rogan podcast on Spotify, with the text: “Twitter’s next board meeting is going to be lit.”

TRUMP’S RETURN?

One employee familiar with the company’s operations said there were no current plans to reinstate Trump. A Twitter spokesperson said there were no plans to reverse any policy decisions.

But a veteran auto analyst who covers Musk’s operating style at Tesla said such a decision may only be a matter of time.

“If Donald Trump was actually rich, he would have liked to have done the same thing but he couldn’t afford it. So Elon is doing what Trump would have liked to have done,” said Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid.

“I wouldn’t be surprised” if Twitter restores Trump’s account now that Elon owns nearly 10% of the company,” he said.

Longer term, employees said Musk’s involvement may change Twitter’s corporate culture, which they say currently values inclusivity. Musk has faced widespread criticism for posting memes that mocked transgender people and efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, and for comparing some world leaders to Hitler.

Several employees were alarmed by the warm welcome Musk received from Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and cofounder Jack Dorsey, which prompted them to hit the job market this week.

“Some people are dusting off their resumes,” one person said. “I don’t want to work for somebody (like Musk).”

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Reporting by Sheila Dang in Dallas; additional reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco; Editing by Kenneth Li, Aurora Ellis and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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On Patrol: 12 Days With a Taliban Police Unit in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan — A young Taliban fighter with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his finger warily watched the stream of approaching cars as he stood in front of a set of steel barricades.

Friday prayers would begin soon at the Sakhi Shah-e Mardan shrine and mosque, a holy Shiite site in central Kabul that he was guarding.

There had been two bombings of Shiite mosques in Afghanistan by the Islamic State in recent months, killing dozens, and this 18-year-old Taliban fighter, Mohammad Khalid Omer, wasn’t taking any chances.

He and his police unit of five other fighters, colloquially known as the Sakhi unit after the shrine they defend, represents the Taliban’s vanguard in their newest struggle after the group’s stunning takeover of the country in August: They won the war, but can they secure the peace in a multiethnic country racked by more than 40 years of violence?

economic hardships gripping their countrymen, with the same threat of Islamic State attacks and with the raucous, puzzling, winding streets and back alleys of Kabul, a city of about 4.5 million people that they are practically strangers to.

The Sakhi unit lives full time next to the shrine in a small concrete room painted bright green with a single electric heater. Steel bunk beds line the walls. The only decoration is a single poster of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca.

the Taliban’s interim government, composed almost entirely of Pashtun hard-liners who are emblematic of the movement’s harsh rule in the 1990s, and who are perceived as anti-Hazara.

As he spoke in the unit’s cramped barracks, a small speaker often played “taranas,” the spoken prayer songs, without musical accompaniment, popular with the Talibs.

One of the group’s favorites was a song about losing one’s comrades, and the tragedy of youth lost. In a high thin voice, the singer intones, “O death, you break and kill our hearts.”

On a fall day last year as the Sakhi unit looked on, families gathered on the tiled terraces around the shrine, drinking tea and sharing food.

Some cautiously eyed the Talibs patrolling the site, and one group of young men rushed to put out their cigarettes as they approached. The Taliban generally frown on smoking, and the unit has at times physically punished smokers.

Another day, two teenage boys came to the shrine, brazenly strolling with their two girlfriends. They were confronted by the Sakhi unit, who asked what they were doing. Unsatisfied with their answers, the Talibs dragged the boys into their bunk room to answer for the transgression. In conservative Afghanistan, such public consorting is taboo, doubly so in a holy site under Taliban guard.

Inside their room, there was an argument among the Sakhi unit about how to handle the two boys: good cop versus bad cop. Hekmatullah Sahel, one of the more experienced members of the unit, disagreed with his comrades. He pushed for a verbal lashing rather than a physical one. He was overruled.

When the teenagers were finally allowed to leave, shaken by the beating they had just received, Mr. Sahel called out to the boys, telling them to come back again — but without their girlfriends.

The episode was a reminder to the shrine’s visitors that the Taliban fighters, while generally friendly, could still revert to the tactics that defined their religious hard-line rule in the 1990s.

For the group of six fighters, contending with flirting teenagers was just another indicator that their days of fighting a guerrilla war were over. Now they spend their time preoccupied by more quotidian policing considerations, like spotting possible bootleggers (alcohol in Afghanistan is banned), finding fuel for their unit’s pickup and wondering whether their commander will grant them leave for the weekend.

Mr. Omer had joined the unit only months before. “I joined the Islamic Emirate because I had a great desire to serve my religion and country,” he said.

But to some Talibs, Mr. Omer is what is derisively called a “21-er” — a fighter who only joined the movement in 2021, as victory loomed. This new generation of Talibs bring new expectations with them, chief among them the desire for a salary.

They and most other rank-and-file fighters have never received a salary from the movement. Despite seizing billions in American-supplied weapons and matériel, the Taliban are still far from being well equipped. Fighters are dependent on their commanders for basic supplies, and they have to scrounge for anything extra.

Mr. Sahel, at 28, is older than most of his comrades, slower to excite and more restrained. He spent four years studying at a university, working the whole time as a clandestine operative for the movement. “None of my classmates knew that I was in the Taliban,” he said. He graduated with a degree in physics and math education, but returned to the fight.

Relieved the war is over, he and his comrades still miss the sense of purpose it provided. “We are happy that our country was liberated and we are currently living in peace,” he said, but added, “we are very sad for our friends who were martyred.”

Every few weeks, the men are allowed to visit their families back in Wardak for two days. On a crisp morning in November, Mr. Inqayad sat in his home in the Masjid Gardena valley, a beautiful collection of orchards and fields hemmed in by mountain peaks.

He explained that many families in the area had lost sons to the fighting, and estimated that 80 percent of the families in the area were Taliban supporters.

Mr. Inqayad attended school until the seventh grade, but had to drop out. Religious studies filled in some gaps. He joined the Taliban at 15.

Recently married, he faces new challenges now that the movement is in power. The only potential breadwinner in his family, he needs a salary to support his wife, mother and sisters, but so far he has not been drawing one.

Back in Kabul, the Sakhi unit loaded up for a night patrol, bundling up to combat the cold wind that blows incessantly from the mountains ringing the city.

Mr. Omer rode in the bed of the unit’s truck, a machine gun resting on his lap and bands of ammunition wrapped around his neck like party beads.

But there was little to warrant the heavy weaponry meant for suppressing enemy troops. Their area of responsibility was quiet, and the men seemed bored as they spun around the city as packs of street dogs chased and snapped at the tires of passing cars.

Sami Sahak contributed reporting.

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A Ban on 19 Singers in Egypt Tests the Old Guard’s Power

CAIRO — The song starts out like standard fare for Egyptian pop music: A secret infatuation between two young neighbors who, unable to marry, sneak flirtatious glances at each other and commit their hearts in a bittersweet dance of longing and waiting.

But then the lyrics take a radical turn.

“If you leave me,” blasts/explodes/shouts the singer, Hassan Shakosh, “I’ll be lost and gone, drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”

The song, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has become a giant hit, garnering more than a half- billion views of its video on YouTube alone and catapulting Mr. Shakosh to stardom. But the explicit reference to drugs and booze, culturally prohibited substances in Egypt, has made the song, released in 2019, a lightning rod in a culture war over what is an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music and who gets to decide.

The battle, which pits Egypt’s cultural establishment against a renegade musical genre embraced by millions of young Egyptians, has heated up recently after the organization that licenses musicians barred at least 19 young artists from singing and performing in Egypt.

arrested teenage girls who posted videos of themselves dancing, which is a crime there. And in 2020, Northwestern University in Qatar called off a concert by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.

But online streaming and social media platforms have poked giant holes in that effort, allowing artists to bypass state-sanctioned media, like television and record companies, and reach a generation of new fans hungry for what they see as more authentic and relevant content.

Iran’s draconian restrictions on unacceptable music have produced a flourishing underground rock and hip-hop scene. The question facing Egypt is who now has the power to regulate matters of taste — the 12 men and one woman who run the syndicate, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.

Mahraganat first rose out of the dense, rowdy working-class neighborhoods of Cairo more than a decade ago and is still generally made in low-tech home studios, often with no more equipment than a cheap microphone and pirated software.

DJ Saso, the 27-year-old producer of Mr. Shakosh’s blockbuster hit.

Many lawyers and experts say the syndicate has no legal right to ban artists, insisting that Egypt’s Constitution explicitly protects creative liberty. But these arguments seem academic in the authoritarian state of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has stifled freedom of speech, tightened control on the media and passed laws to help monitor and criminalize immoral behavior on the internet.

The syndicate’s executive members have adamantly defended their move, arguing that a key part of their job is to safeguard the profession against inferior work that they say is made by uncultured impostors who tarnish the image of the country.

YouTube.

He is one of the Arab world’s leading performers. Since he was barred, he has performed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the biggest Arabic hits to date.

“It’s not the same old love songs,” said Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, after attending one of Mr. Shakosh’s concerts before the ban. “His stage presence, the music, the vibe, it’s fresh and it’s all about having fun.”

Mr. Shakosh would not agree to be interviewed, preferring to keep a low profile, his manager said, rather than to appear to publicly challenge the authorities. The ban has been harder on other artists, many of whom do not have the wherewithal or the international profile to tour abroad.

They have mostly kept quiet, refusing to make statements that they fear could ruffle more feathers.

Despite the squeeze, however, many are confident that their music falls beyond the grip of any single authority or government.

Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer known by the stage name El Waili, is still burning tracks, sitting in his bedroom with a twin mattress on the floor, bare walls and his instrument, a personal computer with $100 MIDI keyboard.

“Mahraganat taught us that you can do something new,” he said, “and it will be heard.”

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