Rapper Snootie Wild died Saturday after being found shot in a ditch a day earlier. He was 36. “Gone in body, but your NAME & LEGACY will live forever!” reads a post from his official Instagram account. Snootie Wild, born LePreston Porter, hit Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with his first single, “Yayo,” in 2013. The song caught the attention of Yo Gotti and T.I., who both remixed it, which eventually got him signed to Gotti’s CMG record label. His social media accounts tied his death to an early morning shooting Friday, in which an unidentified victim was found shot in the neck next t...
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For months, Russian forces have attacked the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut with frontal assaults, artillery barrages and air strikes in a stubborn battle for a settlement deemed strategically irrelevant by many observers.
Nonetheless, they have pushed forward.
As Russia continues to hurl what is left of its offensive power at entrenched Ukrainian positions in and around the city, experts have wondered whether the losses in manpower and equipment will match the potential prize.
"We are scratching our heads," a Western official told AFP this week when asked about Russia's focus on Bakhmut. "We don't know the answer."
With Ukrainian forces pressing forward with counteroffensives, Russian troops have largely dug in along the meandering front in an effort to hold the line as winter weather sets in.
Bakhmut, however, remains one of the few areas where the Kremlin's forces have fought to advance.
To gain control of the city, Russia is believed to have relied on mercenaries, prison conscripts, and newly mobilized soldiers to send waves of attacks against Ukrainian positions, resulting in brutal trench warfare and artillery battles that have flattened large portions of the city and its surroundings.
The assault follows a well-worn pattern eked out by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, where cities are pummeled under withering assaults at great cost until the Ukrainian military retreats.
"Russian efforts around Bakhmut indicate that Russian forces have fundamentally failed to learn from previous high-casualty campaigns concentrated on objectives of limited operational or strategic significance," wrote the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.
"The costs associated with six months of brutal, grinding, and attrition-based combat around Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage that the Russians can obtain from taking Bakhmut."
- 'Every metre counts' -
The think tank went on to suggest that the continued fixation with Bakhmut along with the resources needed to capture it has effectively given Ukraine the ability to conduct counteroffensives elsewhere.
"Russian efforts to advance on Bakhmut have resulted in the continued attrition of Russian manpower and equipment, pinning troops on relatively insignificant settlements for weeks and months at a time," the institute concluded.
In the past week, Russian forces have made incremental gains in the outskirts of the city, as freezing temperatures across Ukraine have hardened the once muddy ground and paved the way for harder fighting in the east.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the difficult inch-by-inch battle and other "hot spots" along the frontline in Donetsk.
"There is a very tough confrontation, every meter counts," the president said in his nightly address to the nation.
"I thank all our guys who destroy the enemy there every day, every night, every hour."
As seen by AFP reporters during a recent trip to Donetsk, Ukrainian forces continue to move large amounts of artillery around the area, while groups of reserve fighters are often visible along the roads leading to Bakhmut and the surrounding front.
For some, the Kremlin appears desperate for a tangible victory on the battlefield following months of setbacks.
Russia's last major victory in Ukraine came with the capture of the eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk over the summer.
Since then they have steadily lost large swaths of ground.
A lightning offensive in Kharkiv in early September shattered Russia's northeastern flank followed by a retreat from Kherson in November, robbing Moscow of the only provincial capital they managed to capture during the course of the war.
"Russians continue their offensive to shift the focus in the media from a series of Russian defeats this autumn," said Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv, echoing similar assessments made by the Ukrainian high command.
Bakhmut also represents a small piece of a much larger political goal repeatedly stressed by the Kremlin -- the capture of the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
"The Russian leadership wants control over Donetsk, and Bakhmut is the main gateway to Slovyansk/Kramatorsk," Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a US-based research institute, told AFP.
Other voices in Russia have stressed that the fight for Bakhmut has little to do with the actual city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia's Wagner mercenary group that is helping lead the fight for Bakhmut, said his troops have primarily centered their efforts on demolishing the Ukrainian army there.
"Bakhmut is a large, well-fortified area with roads, suburbs, and water barriers," said Prigozhin in a statement released last month by his company, Concord.
"Our task is not Bakhmut itself, but the destruction of the Ukrainian army and the reduction of its combat potential, which has an extremely positive effect on other areas, which is why this operation was dubbed the 'Bakhmut meat grinder.'"
© 2022 AFP
Beer bottles and broken plastic chairs litter the fairways of a derelict golf course on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, where laid-off workers lament the unfulfilled promises of a Donald Trump "dream project".
Nearly a decade ago, the real estate mogul and future US president signed a deal to license his name to a six-star holiday destination intended to displace the Nirwana Golf Resort, one of the world's best.
But today, the once-thriving golf course is filled with weeds -- another failed project for Trump, whose six casino and hotel bankruptcies spanning two decades have run up billions of dollars in debt and impacted thousands of lives.
"There was no clarity about our future. We heard that we would be re-recruited but it has never happened," said Ditta Dwi, a 26-year-old former caddy who was forced to take a waitressing job while awaiting a reopening that never came.
The Trump Organization and Indonesian developer MNC Group shut the resort in 2017 and laid off hundreds of workers after partnering to rebrand the Nirwana, which boasts idyllic views of the Indian Ocean.
The planned redevelopment -- Trump's first venture into Southeast Asia's biggest economy -- was dubbed a "dream project" by his son Donald Trump Jr on a 2019 visit to Jakarta.
But Trump's deal to license his name to the new resort and help operate it -- first struck in 2015 -- has turned out to be a pipe dream for Indonesian workers.
Five years after sending staff home, the hotel sits demolished and its course defunct, its forlorn fairways the domain of a solitary security guard who wheels around on a cart, warding off tourists.
The derelict, overgrown and empty site is a far cry from the luxury image Trump long maintained for his real estate interests before setting his sights on the White House.
But the property magnate, who recently announced he will seek the presidency again in 2024, is no stranger to colossal flops.
Six times between 1991 and 2009, his casino and hotel projects fell into bankruptcy.
The first to fail, the Trump Taj Mahal in the beachside gambling mecca of Atlantic City, New Jersey, threatened Trump's personal fortune. To cover some of the casino's debts, he had to sell off his yacht, private jet and half his shares.
MNC chief and Trump ally Hary Tanoesoedibjo -- who bought the Nirwana in 2013 -- has previously cited lower consumer spending during the Covid-19 pandemic in explaining delays, but the project's troubles predate the outbreak.
Edwin Darmasetiawan, director of MNC's property arm, refused to confirm how many Indonesians were sacked when the development was abruptly sidelined.
He said "financial matters" had caused the years-long delays and said he hoped it would still be developed within two years, even though no work has begun.
"I don't see this project as a failure, but as postponed," he told AFP.
"We have another project in Lido, now we are focusing on that," he said, referring to a planned mega resort city of the same name south of Jakarta.
The project in West Java, which will include a Trump golf course and resort, has courted controversy over builders allegedly exhuming Islamic ancestral graves without locals' permission.
The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment about the Bali resort.
Many Balinese workers have lost opportunities due to the billionaires' decision to let the plot stagnate.
While hotel workers were compensated after losing their jobs, about 150 caddies on temporary contracts received no money when they were suddenly released.
"It was hard. The time I lost my job as a caddy was difficult. Many people were angry," said Dwi.
She earned a 1.3 million rupiah ($86) monthly salary, but tips from wealthy golfers meant she could earn as much as 15 million rupiah in a good month. Now she makes the same salary, but no tips.
Yet the hotel and golf workers whose livelihoods were sliced into the rough are trying to forgive and forget.
Dwi, the former caddy, told AFP that getting her old job back now seemed "impossible".
"I have just let it go. I'm moving on," she said.
Pita Dewi, who worked at the hotel's spa for 18 years and now runs her parents' cafe, said Trump's shutdown of the resort had left her fearing for her future.
"I got stressed thinking about how I would earn money, because I have children," she said.
"I was 48 years old, how could I get another job?"
But in typical Balinese fashion, optimistic locals who believe staunchly in forgiveness are quick to throw away any negative feelings towards the larger-than-life tycoon.
"We have to continue our life," Dewi said.
"If we hated him, would that make him give us money?"
© 2022 AFP
According to emails obtained by Politico, Republican National Committee head Ronna McDaniel is facing a wide-ranging revolt from members because she did not forcefully condemn Donald Trump's meeting with white nationalist Nick Fuentes.
The report notes that one member of the RNC copied everyone on the email list and fumed, "I am flabbergasted at the lack of outrage from Ronna about this,” before adding, "I tweeted to her yesterday, asking her to condemn this. We must, as a party, oppose all racism and prejudice, and condemn those who accept and endorse it, which includes inviting neo-nazi’s [sic] to dinner.”
According to Politico's Meredith McGraw, "The emails, which were sent to all 168 committee members’ email addresses, offer a rare glimpse at the agitation that is roiling among some in the Republican National Committee at a moment of intense scrutiny of the institution and the party it represents."
She added, "It also brings to the surface tensions over whether or not McDaniel can or should lead the RNC in this current political climate, with an increasingly undisciplined Trump launching a third presidential run and the party coming to terms with midterm losses that many blame on the former president. McDaniel claims the support of a majority of committee members, but has recently faced challenges for the chair position."
After the RNC's Richard Porter of Illinois wrote, "I am so thankful to be working alongside each of you, and each of the other people in our respective states and territories, to stop the hate and defeat the anger,” another, Bill Palatucci of New Jersey fired back, "Is it just me or is anyone else struck by the incredible irony that Richard was writing these wonderful words within 48 hours of Donald Trump having dinner with anti-Semite Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, also an anti-Semite and a racist, white nationalist. All Republican leaders need to stand up and denounce Trump’s actions and lack of judgment here.”
Politico's McGraw noted that McDaniel did respond to the Fuentes and Kanye West dinner at Mar-a-Lago, but failed to mention Trump in her remarks.
The report goes on to note, "criticism of McDaniel has escalated in the aftermath of the Georgia runoff election. On Fox News, host Laura Ingraham said that while she likes the RNC chair, it was time for new party leadership. Ingraham notably invited Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman from California who recently announced a challenge to McDaniel on Tucker Carlson’s show."
You can read more here.