Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 20th, 2018

First proper walk since I bunged up my knee

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Knee is feeling fine, and today I did 4631 steps in 43.6 minutes, a cadence of 106.2 steps/minute. Since anything over 100 is good, I’m satisfied. I definitely am going a shorter distance and not so fast as before, but now I have a route (a flat route, I emphasize: no hills) and I can watch the times gradually improve.

It’s good to get out walking again. And doubtless good for me in ways beyond my mood.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Fitness, Nordic walking

The Saudi Cover-Up May Be Trump’s Worst Crime Yet

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Martin Longman writes in the Washington Monthly:

Many of Donald Trump’s crimes have been committed in plain sight, like his fraudulent Trump University and his naked efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. He famously bragged about sexually assaulting women. But until now there hasn’t been a whiff of murder in his past.

Trump couldn’t be more obvious about the fact that he does not want the world to conclude that the Saudi government sent a kill team to Istanbul to torture and chop up an American resident who was simply visiting their consulate to obtain papers he needed to get married.

His killers were waiting when Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. They severed his fingers and later beheaded and dismembered him, according to details from audio recordings described by a senior Turkish official on Wednesday.

Mr. Khashoggi was dead within minutes, and within two hours the killers were gone, the recordings suggested…

…A team of 15 Saudi agents, some with ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was waiting for Mr. Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate the moment he arrived, at about 1:15 p.m. on Oct. 2.

After he was shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the agents seized Mr. Khashoggi almost immediately and began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, the senior Turkish official said.

“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi, the consul, told them, according to the Turkish official and a report in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.

As they cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body, a doctor of forensics who had been brought along for the dissection and disposal had some advice for the others, according to the senior Turkish official.

Listen to music, he told them, as he put on headphones himself. That was what he did to ease the tension when doing such work, the official said, describing the contents of the audio recording.

Since there are audio recordings, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman didn’t have any real alternative but to confess, but instead he came up with the cockamamie alibi that the kill team had gone rogue and was not acting on his orders or with his knowledge. That this was preposterous didn’t prevent him from the argument. Amazingly, President Trump repeated the claim on Monday as if there was some plausibility to it, but the cover story has fallen apart as quickly as it was concocted.

Three of the members of the kill team are members of Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail and another has accompanied the crown prince on trips to Paris, Madrid, Houston, Boston and the United Nations in New York City.

Perhaps the Saudis know they’re in real trouble since they sent the American government $100 million yesterday. But whatever happens for here, we’ve now been exposed to a president who aspires to be an accessory to murder after the fact.

The New York Times editorial board sensibly notes that Trump is obviously lying when he claims that he doesn’t know what happened.

On Monday, when Turkey had already leaked considerable evidence of a hit, Mr. Trump was behaving like a royal apologist. “Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen,’” he wrote on Twitter. A bit later he told reporters, “The denial was very, very strong,” adding: “It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

Actually, he probably does, if American spy agencies are doing their job.

Despite this, on Tuesday Trump complained that the Saudis were being treated as if they were “guilty until proven innocent.” He knows full-well that they’re guilty and yet on Wednesday he suggested that he had not yet asked Turkey for the audio tapes or received any verification that they exist. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 11:27 am

The Washington Post, as It Shames Others, Continues to Pay and Publish Undisclosed Saudi Lobbyists and Other Regime Propagandists

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Glenn Greenwald writes in the Intercept:

IN THE WAKE of the disappearance and likely murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, some of the most fervent and righteous voices demanding that others sever their ties with the Saudi regime have, understandably, come from his colleagues at that paper. “Why do you work for a murderer?,” asked the Post’s long-time Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, addressing unnamed hypothetical Washington luminaries who continue to take money to do work for the despots in Riyadh, particularly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, or “MbS” as he has been affectionately known in the western press.

Hiatt urged these hypothetical figures to engage in serious self-reflection: “Can I possibly work for such a regime, and still look at myself in the mirror each morning?” That, said Hiatt, “is the question that we, as a nation, must ask ourselves now.”

But to find those for whom this question is directly relevant, Hiatt need not invoke his imagination or resort to hypotheticals. He can instead look to a place far more concrete and proximate: his own staff. Because it is there – on the roster of the Washington Post’s own columnists and Contributing Writers – that one can find, still, those who maintain among the closest links to the Saudi regime and have the longest and most shameful history of propagandizing on their behalf.

Carter Eskew is a former top-level adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and a Founder and Managing Director of Glover Park Group which, according to the Post’s own reporting, is one of the Saudi regime’s largest lobbyists. Glover Park, says the Post, has “remained silent amid growing public outrage over reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.” Indeed, as the New York Times reported this week, Eskew’s firm, “which was started by former Clinton administration officials,” is the second-most active lobbying firm for the Saudi regime, “being paid $150,000 a month.”

In addition to his work as a Managing Director in one of the Saudi regime’s most devoted lobbying firms, Eskew is also a Contributing Opinion Writer at the Washington Post. His last column was published just three days ago, on October 12 – ten days after Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey, and the same day that Eskew’s editor, Hiatt, published his righteous column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience could maintain ties to the Saudi regime (raising a separate but equally important ethical quandary, Eskew’s last Post column was an attack on “Medicare for All,” even though Glover Park clients include corporations with direct financial interests in that debate, none of which was disclosed by the Post).

Worse still, according to a noble campaign promoted by Karen Attiah, the Post’s Global Opinion Editor and friend of Khashoggi – a campaign designed to keep track of and shame those who still intend to participate in the Saudi Crown Prince’s “Davos in the Desert” event – Eskew, along with fellow Glover Park Director Mile Feldman, are still scheduled to speak at that event. Given all the moral decrees and shaming campaigns the Post has issued over the past ten days, how can they possibly justify their ongoing relationship with Eskew as his firm lobbies for the Saudi regime and he attends the regime’s P.R.-building event?

That question is even more compelling when it comes to Ed Rogers, the long-time GOP operative who is currently an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post. In addition to his work for Hiatt on the Post’s Op-Ed page, Rogers himself receives substantial financial rewards for his work as an agent of the Saudi regime. Just two months ago, the lobbying firm of which he’s the Chairman, BGR Group (headed by former RNC Chairman and GOP Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour), signed a new contract that includes “assist[ing] the Saudis in communicating priority issues regarding US-Saudi relations to American audiences including the media and policy communities.”

According to the firm’s own press release, “BGR chairman Ed Rogers” – also an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post – “handles the Saudi work.” Like Eskew, Rogers’ last column for the Post was on October 12: just two days ago, the same day Hiatt published his moralizing column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience and a soul could maintain financial ties to the Saudi regime. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 10:56 am

Saudi Media Casts Khashoggi Disappearance As A Conspiracy, Claims Qatar Owns Washington Post

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Lee Fang reports in the Intercept:

IN SAUDI ARABIA, major media outlets have cast the disappearance and apparent murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a foreign conspiracy to denigrate the image of the kingdom. The media accounts, which come from outlets run with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies, are spinning the coverage of Khashoggi’s disappearance as a plot by rival governments and political groups to hurt the kingdom — going so far as to make false claims about the Washington Post’s owners.

The English-language arm of the news channel Al Arabiya, for instance, claimed that reports of Khashoggi’s detention inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul were pushed by “media outlets affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar” — the pan-Arab Islamist political movement and rival Persian Gulf monarchy, respectively. A subsequent story on Al Arabiya casts doubt that Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, is truly who she says she is, claiming that her Twitter profile shows that she follows “critics of Saudi Arabia.”

Al Arabiya is owned by the Saudi royal family and based in Dubai, one of the Gulf monarchies that has sided closely with Saudi Arabia amid the regional row with Qatar and others. It’s among a handful of other Saudi- and Gulf-controlled outlets — such as Al Riyadh Daily, Al-Hayat, and the Saudi Gazette — that toe their governments’ line, including frequently casting a conspiratorial light on critics of the governments’ human rights records.

In recent months, as tensions have boiled over with Qatar, Saudi Arabia is increasingly scapegoating its Persian Gulf adversary. Recent news articles in Al Arabiya blamed Qatar for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen against Houthi militia forces, a conflict that has killed over 15,000 people and brought at least 7 million to the brink of starvation.

With a public relations crisis erupting over Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, these Gulf-linked outlets are kicking into overdrive to both deny any Saudi involvement and disparage Khashoggi.

In a Thursday column for the Saudi daily newspaper Okaz, Mohamed El Saad argued that Khashoggi has advanced the interests of Qatar. He then falsely claimed that Qatar has a “50 percent ownership of the Post and has influence over its editorial direction.” Qatar, notably, has no ownership stake in the Washington Post, a paper that is privately owned by American billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Another Okaz columnist, Ahmed Ajab Al-Jahrani, claimed in a column titled, “Who Liberated Khashoggi?” that the government critic was a terrorist sympathizer whose sectarian goals were designed to destabilize the Saudi government. Al-Jahrani suggests that Khashoggi’s disappearance from Turkey represented liberation, since he had been “kidnapped” by “extremist groups” while living abroad in self-imposed exile.

Other columnists echoed these frequent refrains. Jameel Altheyabi, who write for the Saudi Gazette, an English-language affiliate of Okaz, wrote that any fears about Khashoggi’s disappearance should be blamed on Qatar, not Saudi Arabia. Altheyabi also suggested that Khashoggi’s fiancée may serve the interests of foreign spies and that much of the media coverage of Khashoggi appeared orchestrated by foreign enemies. “Those involved in the drama of Jamal’s disappearance after leaving the Saudi Consulate will face severe penalties,” he warned.

MEANWHILE, EVIDENCE OF Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance has been steadily mounting. On Wednesday, the New York Times and other outlets published photographs of 15 men who arrived in Istanbul aboard two private planes on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The men included several Saudi military officials, among them Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the chief of forensic evidence and an autopsy expert with the Saudi Interior Ministry. The group arrived in Turkey the day of Khashoggi’s scheduled meeting at the Saudi consulate and also visited the same consular building. All 15 of the men boarded private planes to quickly leave the country and return to Saudi Arabia later that day.

Saudi-affiliated outlets reacted by defending the rights of the accused hit squad. Al Yaum, a pro-government newspaper published in Saudi Arabia, reported the disclosure of the 15 men as a violation the “rights of tourists.” The photographs, the paper claimed, were defamatory. In the news section of the paper, the men were urged to seek an attorney to file a lawsuit against those who had published their photographs. Al-Riyadh Daily, in an editorial on Friday, sharply criticized foreign media for attempting “to incite international public opinion against the kingdom,” claiming that the New York Times has an “an anti-Saudi policy.”

News outlets affiliated with Saudi Arabia also toe the government’s line abroad, to an international news audience. Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper headquartered in London and owned by Faisal bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family, has published several columns this week claiming that foreign agents tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar were behind reports claiming that the Saudi government had a role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

This isn’t the first time the Saudi-backed outlets have sprang to the defense of the government amid a public relations fiasco over the regime’s human rights record. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 10:52 am

Grim report: Saudis’ Image Makers: A Troll Army and a Twitter Insider

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This report does not, I hope, describe the future. Katie BennerMark MazzettiBen Hubbard, and Mike Isaac report in the NY Times:

Each morning, Jamal Khashoggi would check his phone to discover what fresh hell had been unleashed while he was sleeping.

He would see the work of an army of Twitter trolls, ordered to attack him and other influential Saudis who had criticized the kingdom’s leaders. He sometimes took the attacks personally, so friends made a point of calling frequently to check on his mental state.

“The mornings were the worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire online,” said Maggie Mitchell Salem, a friend of Mr. Khashoggi’s for more than 15 years.

Mr. Khashoggi’s online attackers were part of a broad effort dictated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close advisers to silence critics both inside Saudi Arabia and abroad. Hundreds of people work at a so-called troll farm in Riyadh to smother the voices of dissidents like Mr. Khashoggi. The vigorous push also appears to include the grooming — not previously reported — of a Saudi employee at Twitter whom Western intelligence officials suspected of spying on user accounts to help the Saudi leadership.

The killing by Saudi agents of Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, has focused the world’s attention on the kingdom’s intimidation campaign against influential voices raising questions about the darker side of the crown prince. The young royal has tightened his grip on the kingdom while presenting himself in Western capitals as the man to reform the hidebound Saudi state.

This portrait of the kingdom’s image management crusade is based on interviews with seven people involved in those efforts or briefed on them; activists and experts who have studied them; and American and Saudi officials, along with messages seen by The New York Times that described the inner workings of the troll farm.

Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations.

Many Saudis had hoped that Twitter would democratize discourse by giving everyday citizens a voice, but Saudi Arabia has instead become an illustration of how authoritarian governments can manipulate social media to silence or drown out critical voices while spreading its own version of reality.

“In the Gulf, the stakes are so high for those who engage in dissent that the benefits of using social media are outweighed by the negatives, and in Saudi Arabia in particular,” said Marc Owen Jones, a lecturer in the history of the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula at Exeter University in Britain.

Neither Saudi officials nor Mr. Qahtani responded to requests for comment about the kingdom’s efforts to control online conversations.

Before his death, Mr. Khashoggi was launching projects to combat online abuse and to try to reveal that Crown Prince Mohammed was mismanaging the country. In September, Mr. Khashoggi wired $5,000 to Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident living in Canada, who was creating a volunteer army to combat the government trolls on Twitter. The volunteers called themselves the “Electronic Bees.”

Eleven days before Mr. Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he wrote on Twitter that the Bees were coming.

One arm of the crackdown on dissidents originates from offices and homes in and around Riyadh, where hundreds of young men hunt on Twitter for voices and conversations to silence. This is the troll farm, described by three people briefed on the project and the messages among group members.

Its directors routinely discuss ways to combat dissent, settling on sensitive themes like the war in Yemen or women’s rights. They then turn to their well-organized army of “social media specialists” via group chats in apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, sending them lists of people to threaten, insult and intimidate; daily tweet quotas to fill; and pro-government messages to augment.

The bosses also send memes that their employees can use to mock dissenters, like an image of Crown Prince Mohammed dancing with a sword, akin to the cartoons of Pepe the Frog that supporters of President Trump used to undermine opponents.

The specialists scour Twitter for conversations on the assigned topics and post messages from the several accounts they each run. Sometimes, when contentious discussions take off, they publish pornographic images to goose engagement with their own posts and distract users from more relevant conversations.

Other times, if one account is blocked by too many other users, they simply close it and open a new one.

In one conversation viewed by The Times, dozens of leaders decided to mute critics of Saudi Arabia’s military attacks on Yemen by reporting the messages to Twitter as “sensitive.” Twitter automatically hides such reported posts from other users, blunting their impact.

Twitter has had difficulty combating the trolls. The company can detect and disable the machine-like behaviors of bot accounts, but it has a harder time picking up on the humans tweeting on behalf of the Saudi government.

The specialists found the jobs through Twitter itself, responding to ads that said only that an employer sought young men willing to tweet for about 10,000 Saudi riyals a month, equivalent to about $3,000.

The political nature of the work was revealed only after they were interviewed and expressed interest in the job. According to the people The Times interviewed, some of the specialists felt they would have been targeted as possible dissenters themselves if they had turned down the job.

The specialists heard directors speak often of Mr. Qahtani. Labeled by activists and writers as the “troll master,” “Saudi Arabia’s Steve Bannon” and “lord of the flies” — for the bots and online attackers sometimes called “flies” by their victims — Mr. Qahtani had gained influence since the young crown prince consolidated power.

He ran media operations inside the royal court, which involved directing the country’s local media, arranging interviews for foreign journalists with the crown prince, and using his Twitter following of 1.35 million to marshal the kingdom’s online defenders against enemies including Qatar, Iran and Canada, as well as dissident Saudi voices like Mr. Khashoggi’s.

For a while, he tweeted using the hashtag #The_Black_List, calling on his followers to suggest perceived enemies of the kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia and its brothers do what they say. That’s a promise,” he tweeted last year. “Add every name you think should be added to #The_Black_List using the hashtag. We will filter them and track them starting now.”

Twitter executives first became aware of a possible plot to infiltrate user accounts at the end of 2015, when Western intelligence officials told them that the Saudis were grooming an employee, Ali Alzabarah, to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others, according to five people briefed on the matter. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Mr. Alzabarah had joined Twitter in 2013 and had risen through the ranks to an engineering position that gave him access to the personal information and account activity of Twitter’s users, including phone numbers and I.P. addresses, unique identifiers for devices connected to the internet.

The intelligence officials told the Twitter executives that Mr. Alzabarah had grown closer to Saudi intelligence operatives, who eventually persuaded him to peer into several user accounts, according to three of the people briefed on the matter. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 10:08 am

Phoenix Artisan Solstice, a great favorite

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I really like Phoenix Artisan’s Solstice shaving soap a lot. Partly it’s the fragrance (which certainly is why I also like Solstice aftershave), but more than the fragrance is the extremely good lather I get and the way the lather treats my skin, which came out BBS (and in this case, that means Baby-Butt Soft).

So the prep for a Phoenix Artisan Solstice shave is definitely a good part of the fun. And if you’ve tried it, what do you think of the fragrance?

This Edwin Jagger (clone?) did a very nice job indeed. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with an Edwin Jagger razor, and I do like it on this handle.

A splash of Solstice and I’m ready for the weekend. Hope you are, too, because here it is.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2018 at 9:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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