Syrian Rebels Are Now Fighting in Libya, for Turkey

Security forces patrol the streets of Libyan capital Tripoli. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Image)

The war in Syria is in its 10th year. And now it is shifting to Libya.

This week, The Guardian reported that roughly 2,000 militants will be abandoning the fight in Syria to deploy in support of the besieged, internationally recognized government in Tripoli.

The fighters, who took part in the recent campaign to take back land from U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, are deploying in exchange for $2,000 a month and the promise of Turkish citizenship. Amnesty International, among others, has accused these forces of committing potential war crimes.

It appears that some Syrians have already been deployed on the battlefields of Libya, with the news site Syria Direct reporting that over a dozen have returned home in body bags.

Since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become the scene of a complex proxy war between various international powers. Despite an international arms embargo, a leaked United Nations report said that Jordan, Turkey, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates had all been funneling arms to militants.

In April 2019, forces under the control of General Khalifa Hiftar a former CIA asset turned ally of Russia launched an assault on the UN-backed Government of National Accord, a campaign endorsed by U.S. President Donald Trump despite his own government’s public support for the Tripoli-based GNA. The subsequent fighting has left over 280 civilians dead, according to the United Nations. Last summer, an unidentified foreign actor bombed a migrant detention center, killing dozens of refugees.

The Turkish-backed deployment in Libya comes amid efforts to end the fighting there. General Haftar, whose militants control much of oil-rich eastern Libya, was in Moscow this week for negotiations but left without signing a cease-fire agreement, Voice of America reported, spurring vitriol from the Turkish president.

“If Haftar continues to attack the country’s legitimate government and our brothers in Libya, we will never refrain from giving Haftar the lesson he deserves,” Erdogan said.

According to human rights campaigners, neither side is centering the protection of innocent life.

“As long as armed groups enjoy impunity, civilians will pay the price,” Hanan Salah, a Libya researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Countries aiding the conflict parties should re-think their support for unaccountable and abusive armed groups that could make them complicit in serious human rights abuses.”

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Politicians Agree: California Pot Costs Way Too Much

A customer pays for cannabis products at Essence Vegas Cannabis Dispensary after the start of... [+] recreational marijuana sales began on July 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A customer purchases recreational marijuana at a legal but pricey dispensary. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

If you live in California, and you like to inhale, you are probably paying just as much for legal cannabis as you did back when weed was still very much illegal. In fact, because of the high taxes imposed on recreational marijuana, you might still save money by calling up your guy from college.

When Californians voted in 2016 to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, it was thought to be a death knell for cartels and other unsavory actors profiting from high margins of an illegal drug trade.

That has not transpired.

“Despite the state’s committed efforts to bring cannabis businesses fully into the regulated commercial market, as much as 80% of the cannabis market in California remains illicit,” according to a recent report from the state’s official Cannabis Advisory Committee.

And NBC News reported last fall that illegal weed dealers outnumber the regulated sellers by a margin of almost 3-to-1.

That would appear to bolster critics of Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized the recreational trade. At the time, opponents maintained that the initiative would “increase, not decrease black market and drug cartel activity.”

But the history of marijuana prohibition shows it’s not just about whether the plant itself is legal or not. Before it was banned at the federal level, lawmakers simply imposed draconian taxes on cannabis that made the black market the only real option.

In California, the tax on legal weed can be near 50 percent in some jurisdictions, the Associated Press reports. And on January 1, the state-wide tax rate only went up.

It’s not just libertarian stoners complaining about taxes, but Democratic lawmakers.

“In states with more supportive regulatory conditions, we’ve seen the illicit market make up less than 30% of all sales, unlike in California,” state assemblyman Rob Bonta told The Mercury News.

Evan Eneman, head of the Los Angeles-based advisory firm ELLO, told The Orange Country Register that high taxes “are a big factor driving people out of licensed retail.” And that ultimately costs the state, too, with illegal, untaxed sales adding nothing to its offers. “The state is ultimately reducing the tax base that they’re going to be able to draw from.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a longtime proponent of marijuana legalization, is aware of the problem. His 2020 budget proposes streamlining the taxation process and pledges that the governor’s office “will consider other changes to the existing cannabis tax structure, including the number of taxes and tax rates to simply the system and to support a stronger, safer legal cannabis market.”

But for now, at least, Californians who follow the law are still living in the age of the $60 eighth.

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‘It’s Gotta Be Bernie’: Democracy, Mass Politics and Our Next Organizer-in-Chief

Image result for bernie warren

Leftists are fighting, as they do, over which member of the Senate Democratic leadership is best prepared to lead them to the holy land (Denmark, basically). It’s important, then, to take a step back and acknowledge what we can: that in fall 2020, the Democratic Party nominee will be facing off against a proto-fascist who would enjoy the support of a third of the United States even if he personally stabbed their grandmother (she pulls through). Whoever that person may be, their promises of change, be they basic and moderate or big and structural, will slam up against republican institutions that deflate the power of a center-left majority — the first one being the Electoral College. Make it past that and it will be on to the rest.

The open question is not whether this vote, if all goes well, will deliver us unto socialism or whatever we’re now calling being more generous with the social welfare spending. Bernie Sanders would admit this. A social democrat running as a New Deal liberal, the independent senator from Vermont has a 2020 slogan, “Not me. Us.,” that speaks to the need for popular engagement. Elizabeth Warren, a social democrat running as a New Deal liberal, also tells her crowds that she’s “building a grassroots movement.”

The differences are subtle, and may amount to little more than branding; time will tell which works with the electorate. It helps, in a world of middling differences, to come up with some big reasons why one of the two just won’t do. In a recent editorial, then, the editors of Jacobin, a magazine for leftists who like Bernie a lot, insist that on the matter of mass politics, something a president can now lead, “Sanders is different.” When he says the words, “He really and truly means it”; in a pleasant gesture toward their subscribers, they add, “so do his supporters.” Numerical differences that rarely exceed a pollster’s margin of error are trotted out to show one camp — defined as it stands, in second or third place, months before a primary election — is rough and tumble and down for the struggle, if it’s led by one guy (a number are inclined to accept Joe Biden as their fallback), while the other just wants to get back to chatting about stuff they heard on NPR over a champagne brunch (sounds lovely).

But this is fan service, little more. While attacking each other’s crowds may be a ritual in any team sport it does not constitute a serious attempt at understanding how a left-of-center president should, or would, interface with the grassroots. As just a matter of bookkeeping, if either Sanders or Warren are relying on a vanguard of 15 to 25 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, per oft-cited polling, to pass their sweeping agendas come 2021 — well, these mass mobilizations aren’t going to be any larger than the crowd at a campaign stop.

That this is even an argument, today, speaks to the diminishing returns on policy, with Bernie more generous on relieving college debt and Warren on upping everyone’s Social Security, the latter prepared to abolish the filibuster to do so and the former seeking to preserve Senate tradition, and both about as likely to pass their full agenda. Arguments about perpetual, everlasting purity also misfire: While Warren was still a registered Republican (BAM!) Sanders was a drug warrior voting for the ‘94 Crime Bill (POW!). Indeed, the similarity on policy has provoked a string of editorials downplaying its importance and stressing the intangible power of Sanders’ campaign slogan.

“Warren’s plans can be presented as the product of elite expertise,” one supporter quoted by The Nation argued. “Bernie’s outward allegiance to popular movements over political elites is a provocation in a way Warren’s appeal to ‘the best policies’ is just not,” her own campaign slogans truncated — her campaign launching with paens to movements at an infamous site of class struggle, the candidate listing all the ways organized workers achieved the impossible — omitted for the sake of a cleaner argument.

The omission was on exhibit in Warren’s remarks at Washington Square Park, the same day she received an endorsement from the Working Families Party. The senator detailed an “inside-out” strategy inspired by Frances Perkins, who served as Secretary of Labor under Roosevelt, after a fire killed 146 people at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan. “With Frances working the system from the inside,” Warren said, and “the women workers organizing and applying pressure from the outside, they rewrote New York state’s labor laws from top to bottom to protect workers.”

Declaring Sanders uniquely prepared to harness the power of the people riles up and congratulates the home crowd, but Bernie-before-all zealots illustrate the fallacious reasoning behind their argument through the simple process of making it. A top-heavy mass politics, based on a cult of personality — however benevolent, it is real and the more committed have declared it non-transferable — can be corrosive, encouraging demobilization among people who are expecting to be led. And if we’re checking facts: three decades of public service did not see Bernie Sanders, or anyone else, creating an independent left force in Vermont to challenge Republicans and conservative Democrats alike. A relative unknown until 2015, are we sure that what we see at his speeches is a movement, not another campaign?

Maybe it is him and not her, who really means it more. And who really cares? It’s pleasant to hear a person seeking votes acknowledge the power of social movements, and indeed more than one is doing that; it will be useful to cite if any should go on to win and need the reminder. But no movement succeeds when it waits to be led by a politician, cueing for entry to official rallies hosted by a head of state. There’s no comparison to Trump’s base, but there is a window, in his MAGA rallies, into how rallying one’s base works in terms of getting legislation passed by unwilling legislators.

Jacobin’s editorial staff looks to Barack Obama — a competent manager who ran on hope and “change” in the form of gentlemanly, bipartisan concession after Bush’s partisan rancor —  as an example of an organizer-in-chief whose heart wasn’t really into mass politics, but this too feels mistaken: it’s a failure of liberals and leftists, who at some point must quit abdicating all responsibility for the state they are in, that “Tea Party” astroturfing came to be seen as the movement of that era. For all its many faults, it was Occupy Wall Street and its affiliates, organized by no political party but eventually supported by unions and given lip service by elected officials, that reminded all that while the center-left was in the executive branch the left was unhappy and in the streets. Sanders has himself benefited from being pushed by a genuinely grassroots movement, tacking left on immigration over the years — far preferable to the left taking its cues from the senator’s regrettable appearance on Lou Dobbs in the mid-2000s.

If one is inventing reasons, and seeking a leader who will ensure the socialist-minded among us do not stay at home post-election, then the fact that Warren is perceived as less keen on sticking with it is possibly an argument in her favor. People waiting to be betrayed tend to pay closer attention; think of it is a responsible form of accelerationism, one that sees the masses demanding more, not just playing defense and asking for harm reduction.

To even get that far will require a coalition with those who continue to provide the numbers at any major demonstration: liberals, or at least people who do not identify as members of any left-wing sect, not any particular Democrat’s supporters in fall 2019. How to keep them mobilized after Trump, which polls suggest will be in 2021, is a question not for Sanders or Warren, nor a matter of either’s commitment to the issue, but a challenge for those who insist that real and lasting power comes from the bottom up. Do they believe it? If so, this grassroots power can’t wait to be called on, nor can we assume that what we — or its would-be vanguard — sant out of those with state power is what its possessors would prefer to do with it.

Make them do it, even if they don’t like it (and assuming that they won’t), is a healthier means of relating from the left to any would-be commander of a capitalist state. Those to the left of center, while entitled to their preferences, should approach the next Democratic president, inshallah, with a healthy skepticism, fair critique that acknowledges obstacles exist beyond a simple unwillingness to act, and the sort of organizing that doesn’t wait for a head of state to say, “Go!”

Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles.

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Daniel Ortega Recruits the Head of Donald Trump’s Bible Study

The move reflects both the social conservatism of the Nicaraguan government and its desire for relief from U.S. sanctions.

Screenshot_2019-09-04 (28) Dr Ralph Drollinger transmite mensaje de Paz en el 40 19 - YouTube

Amid thousands decked out in the red-and-black bandanas of a ruling party that once espoused the virtues of Marx and Lenin, a towering, evangelical gringo — the head of a weekly bible study at Donald Trump’s White House — took centerstage. Ralph Drollinger, a professional basketball player turned pastor, donning a suit in the muggy capital of Nicaragua, then sermonized on what it means to be “a Christian nation.”

The target of this July 19 mission trip was not the poor in this country of some 6 million, but the country’s ruling class: a U.S.-sanctioned government that invited him down to celebrate 40 years since the overthrow of a U.S.-backed dictator, following a popular uprising last year that nearly toppled it too.

“In the United States of America, we have found amongst our political leaders that it is essential they have a Bible teacher in their midst,” Drollinger said, his remarks airing on state-controlled TV. “And we are so blessed, Mr. President and Mrs. Vice President, about the opportunity that you see to do the same here in Managua.”

His is a more familiar face in Washington than Managua, which actually helps explain his presence in Central America. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence takes part in his weekly lessons on Christianity and governance, as does U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Trump, reportedly, reads the notes. He “writes me back notes on my bible studies,” Drollinger told the BBC. “‘Way to go Ralph, really like this study, keep it up.’ Stuff like that.”

Few would confuse the stuff Ralph teaches with liberation theology. According to the pastor — a self-described conservative Republican, and an anti-gay ““extremist,” per the Human Rights Campaign — homosexuality is “illegitimate in God’s eyes”; “contentious women” violate God’s teachings by being “unrelenting in irritation”; and “the primary purpose of the state is to punish evil,” with capital punishment suggested as justice for those who violate “the sanctity of human life, which begins at conception.”

The pastor’s lessons stress the ostensibly biblical nature of private property and capitalism — blasphemous to the Sandinistas of the 1980s, perhaps, but not at odds with the 21st century Ortega, who reinvented himself as a reliable guardian of the private sector, winning praise from the International Monetary Fund.

All that makes Drollinger and his group, Capitol Ministries, attractive guests for a socially conservative regime labeled part of a “troika of tyranny” by Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton. “On policy,” Drollinger has claimed, “Trump’s enacting everything I’ve written.” At the July rally in Managua, another man of god, Father Antonio Castro, asked Drollinger to intercede for sanctions relief when back in D.C.

In a letter to Drollinger, Ortega requested that the pastor “establish Capitol Ministries in our government,” explaining: “We know if the people that God has trusted with the destiny of a nation are born again, our legislators will legislate according to the Bible.” A local evangelical minister, Arsenio Herrera, will lead that Bible study.

In 2018, Ortega and Murillo attended a funeral service for Herrera’s mentor, U.S. evangelical pastor David Spencer, who was posthumously awarded Nicaraguan citizenship. Herrera’s oratory, delivered at his Hosanna church in Managua, was circulated by state-controlled media.

Drollinger and his staff spent a total of four days in the Central American state, which last year saw a popular uprising against austerity met with police brutality. “Systemic repression and persecution,” is how the United Nations described the crackdown, which included a 15-hour siege on a church in Managua that saw two student protesters killed. More than 300 people died in the summer of 2018, the vast majority protesters or perceived sympathizers. More than 60,000 people have since fled the country, or about 1 percent of the population.

Capitol Ministries, the group Drollinger started in 1996 to deliver his conservative interpretation of the Bible to politicians, is unperturbed by state repression,

“That is what Capitol Ministries does,” spokesperson Deborah Mendenhall explained in a July 25 email. It “teaches historical, traditional evangelical theology to government leaders,” and is prepared “to make disciples of Jesus Christ in the political arena throughout the world.” Indeed, it previously set up shop in dictatorial Belarus, and its trip to Nicaragua included meetings with the officials who led last year’s crackdown, including Ortega, his wife and U.S.-sanctioned Vice President Rosario Murillo, and Police Inspector General Jaime Vanegas, whom Human Rights Watch has declared responsible for “gross human rights violations.” A member of the group also addressed several hundred police officers, at Vanegas’ request.

“After meetings were held, President Ortega invited Capitol Ministries to establish a Bible study to his cabinet and to the congress,” Mendenhall said. In addition to “weekly, in-depth expository Bible studies,” she said, the group issues written supplements “that examine today’s issues through a biblical lens, such as ‘Solomon’s advice on How to Eliminate a $20.5 Trillion Debt,’ and ‘The Remedy to Racism.’ These studies investigate what Scripture has to say about these issues to inform government leaders of the biblical positions.”

It may seem an odd coupling. In the 1980s, when Ortega led a Sandinista cabal following the popular revolution that toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza, he and Murillo were known as atheists. But a decade and a half out of power changed that, with Ortega emerging as a changed man ahead of the 2006 election, publicly reconciling with the Catholic Church and campaigning as a Christian, his running mate a former Contra. Back in office, he signed a comprehensive ban on abortion, and today his party refers to opposition protesters as “abortionists, delinquents and atheists.”

Rudy Antonio Palacios Vargas, an evangelical minister and a former member of the Sandinista Youth, told me he thinks his coreligionists are over-earnest victims of geopolitical chess.

“Daniel and Rosario speak of a country that is Christian, socialist and caring,” he said. “But that was just the hook they used to get Drollinger to come to Managua. What they really want is to use him to intercede with Trump so that he doesn’t impose more sanctions.”

But if sanctions relief is the goal, it will be an awful hard sell. Less than 24 hours before Drollinger’s address in Managua, one of Capitol Ministries’ pupils, Vice President Pence, delivered a speech in Washington assailing Ortega and his vice president for “their assault on faith and human rights.

Vargas, now in Guatemala after his life was threatened for supporting protests deemed “terrorism” by the state, doubts that another preacher can alter the Nicaraguan government’s behavior, either. “They keep killing, they keep kidnapping, they keep torturing, they keep violating the freedom of the press,” he said, likening it to the Somoza dictatorship that fell in 1979. “Hundreds of pastors have come to Nicaragua to speak the word of God,” he said, “and there has never been real change.”

Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles. His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast and Columbia Journalism Review.

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Mike Gravel and His Teens to Endorse Bernie, Snub Tulsi Gabbard, After Appeal From Sanders Camp

Update: The clown “campaign” couldn’t control its “candidate.”

Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel and the teenagers who managed his social media campaign for the presidency are endorsing Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination, this website has learned, punching above its weight once again.

The Michael endorsement, which the Gravel team said would be announced on Monday, was secured with a phone call from Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir — and the delicate persuasion of the influences who turned him into a meme, nudging the 89-year-old toward the democratic socialist from Vermont and away from Tulsi Gabbard, a conspiracy theorist running for president.

Gravel never registered much higher than 1 percent in the polls in which he was included; in 2007, when he threw a rock into a lake for an ad, few came calling when the Democratic presidential bid ended, Gravel ending up, for a moment, in the Libertarian Party.

The 2020 campaign was also entirely too online. But with a crowded field bringing early talk of a brokered convention, in an age when people use the internet too much, no politician can afford to entirely overlook the ironic vote; neither the Gabbard nor Sanders campaign did, both lobbying up to the finish line, per the Gravel team, which is out of school right now.

Gravel, the man, has not been in public office since 1981, and in 2020 he was more of a logo than a real candidate this time, this “run” the brainchild of a recent high school graduate and a future college sophomore, David Oks and Henry Williams. These guys wanted to inject a maximalist non-interventionism, appropriate for their age, into the debate —  the U.S. out of everywhere. Gravel, himself, failed to make it into the Democratic debates or to expand much on that, and his volunteer kids say they will give his donations to charity.

Some foresaw an inevitable Gabbard endorsement. Gravel, the singular, was publicly leaning that way. But Tulsi is not as popular with the youth, or really anyone on the left, as Bernie still is, her conspiracy-laden campaign, however intriguing, defined by repeat appearances on Tucker Carlson’s broadcasts and a page on her website dedicated to questioning the true, official narrative on chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Gravel has his own eyebrow-raising theories (rhymes with 7-Eleven), but his teens did not prefer the candidate who wants to re-investigate “false flags.” They wanted Bernie, it was always going to be Bernie and should anyone have doubted that?

Oks and Williams will be interning for Jacobin magazine.

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Elite Impunity Matters: Bob Mueller, Valerie Plame and the Left


Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson

If one of Donald Trump’s oafish sons outed a covert intelligence agent tomorrow — in an angry tweet disclosing their party registration or in a clumsy boast to an Instagram thirst-trap — it would prompt a newscycle of clucking from former national security officials and their conventionally liberal interrogators. A spook would call it “treason,” a cable-news Democrat would say it’s “treasonous,” and the alleged traitor himself would either apologize, half heartedly, or double down in appearance on Fox & Friends. Life, for better or worse, would go on. Nothing matters.

In terms of ultimate consequences, this would not be altogether different than what happened under the presidency of George W. Bush. Back then, the ghoulish vice president’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, got caught leaking the name of clandestine CIA agent Valerie Plame, an act of retaliation spurred by Plame’s ex-diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, and his undermining the White House’s claims about Iraq with more accurate testimony of his own — the “Deep State” conspiracy of the mid-2000s. There was a special counsel and an indictment, albeit not for the underlying crime but for lying to investigators, and while everyone pretty much knew something like this wouldn’t have happened without at least a wink from up top, no one above Libby ever faced a trial.

It was a disappointment for progressives, some of whom had turned prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into a pin-up, but few outside the right considered it an exoneration. “Legal or not, the Plame leak was wrong,” wrote David Corn, then-Washington editor of The Nation. “One doesn’t need indictments — or convictions — to see this case as a clear representation of the way Bush and his crew do business.” The involvement of higher ups like Karl Rove was not in question (the senior Bush operative had been caught misleading investigators), and most suspected Dick Cheney’s chief of staff wouldn’t out a spook without at least a nod from his boss, but neither was charged with a crime.

Fitzgerald may have determined he lacked a powerful enough case, but then weaker cases are prosecuted everyday; one should always be mindful that those with the most power never face the same justice as those with the least (Libby had his sentence commuted by Bush before receiving a full, message-sending pardon from Trump). All on the left who cared about this affair, and were concerned that the world’s most powerful reactionaries were getting away with it, had no illusions about Valerie Plame’s employer and what it did: a lot of evil. Sympathy was tactical; when conservatives attacked the agency and its employees for being pinkos undermining a militarist, there was an understanding that they were doing so for bad reasons; no one cheered this as justice for Salvador Allende.

Could the left maturely address such a matter today, or would the siren’s call of aloof vulgarity prove too strong? To ask is to already know the answer — there is hardly a need for a thought experiment here. We already have this Russia stuff: the emails hacked by the government of Russia, laundered to WikiLeaks and openly welcomed by the Trump campaign, a fact — that this was happening, and that it mattered — mocked by the most avowedly cynical pundits among us even as these same people breathlessly reported on emailed banalities fed to them by the intelligence operation in question. The report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, or the Trump administration’s brief summary of it, has been welcomed with an unsettling glee by those who have long denied what it only confirmed: that the DNC break-in was carried out by the Russian government to help elect the current president.

Forget Valerie Plame: If Watergate were to happen now, righteous commentators would be defending their stories on what G. Gordon Liddy found in the DNC’s office, while at the same dismissing its relevance to an election that saw the Democratic nominee lose 49 states.

It is certainly a disappointment that we live in a world where a former FBI director did not, per the Attorney General’s summary, build a legally viable case for the unprecedented removal of a U.S. president from office. An excitable few may have expected that, but I suspect most of them are made of straw. Even so, it is of note that this is still no official exoneration, either: William Barr’s stated reason for not pursuing televised-and-tweeted obstruction of justice — the sort of thing that can prevent a prosecutor from obtaining the clear evidence needed to successfully prosecute a criminal conspiracy at the highest level — is that the underlying crime was not proven. The logic is more coherent than we’re used to from figures in the Trump administration, but it is nonetheless circular.

It is likewise strange for the successful prosecution of a sitting president, or an official accusation of treason against them, to be a progressive standard for assessing whether a crime was committed. By June 2016 it was known beyond all but a Kremlin apologist’s doubt that Russian military intelligence had hacked the Democrats and created a persona, Guccifer 2.0, to disseminate what they stole. The Trump campaign knew this even earlier thanks to its own contacts with Russian intelligence cutouts. Still, the future president’s son, Donald Jr., nonetheless accepted a meeting that month with a Russian lawyer based on the belief that he was about to receive “high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

I love it,” the son responded, a couple days before the DNC announced it had been hacked. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, told Congress he believes the future president was aware of the meeting — and that, “yes,” he’d totally do collusion, if he could. Both exchanges read like liberal fanfiction, and would be dismissed as such in most other universes.

But we live in this one, and it is crucial that the left live there too, where an outcome one may not otherwise care about, has real implications for how power, always learning, behaves in the future. It is not a good thing when the most powerful man in the world can openly obstruct justice. Aside from the issue of collusion  — so narrowly defined by Trump’s Attorney General as to exclude anything but an explicit agreement between the campaign and an actual government official, on the specific issue of hacking the DNC — Trump openly sought to prevent others from settling the questions around Russian anti-democratic actions in the 2016 election. This, like the commander in chief’s open fondness for authoritarianism at home and abroad, is another unfortunate lesson for those who will follow him, here and elsewhere.

Charles R. Davis is a writer in Los Angeles whose work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as Columbia Journalism Review, The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.


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Who Is Charles Redvers? How a Fake Man Got His Start


I just assumed they didn’t know, because the alternative — a credible news organization publishing a long-time contributor, but giving him a different name and nationality — did not make much sense. I assumed, then, that openDemocracy had been fooled; that when John Perry, a British man, got himself published as “Charles Redvers,” a Canadian, it had been through trickery. Believing this, I told them what I had found: that Perry had been going around telling other publications that he was Mr. “Redvers,” trumpeting his byline at openDemocracy and using the fake identity to circulate a false confession, recorded in a prison, from a Nicaraguan woman who told me she had been tortured.

An editor said “thanks” and then ignored all subsequent communication (questions like: Are you planning to do something about it?). But admitting mistakes is hard, I reminded by wounded ego, and it is entirely possible they think it is I whom is the crank. So I went ahead and published my investigation at The Daily Beast, confident that, once in the public domain, openDemocracy would no longer be able to ignore the fact they had published a man who is not real.

But that is what they did. Only after tagging an editor on Twitter, weeks later, was there the first bit of transparency: it was an inside job. According to social media chief Sunny Hundal, an editor at openDemocracy had published the story from the “Redvers,” ostensibly a Canuck in the Nicaraguan city of Leon, knowing that it was John Perry, a Brit in the city of Masaya — a fact that openDemocracy itself still does not acknowledge on its website.

Screenshot_2018-10-30 Nicaragua_s failed coup openDemocracy

After some more prodding, openDemocracy now asserts that Charles Redvers is “a pseudonym,” of whom they do not say, despite it having been reported. They note the privilege of anonymity is occasionally extended “when there are legitimate security concerns,” a belated disclaimer not to be found, obviously, on any of the Sandinista-run websites that republished the piece.

Screenshot_2018-10-30 Charles Redvers

A couple things jump out here, the first of them perverse: John Perry is not a dissident, but rather a partisan of a Nicaraguan government that has been found responsible, by human rights organizations and the United Nations, of the vast majority of the violence the once-tranquil Central American nation has seen since anti-government protests began in April. He was using his platform, as Redvers, at openDemocracy, to argue that Nicaraguan security forces were literally incapable of torture (and that the opposition was funded by the same arms of the U.S. government as openDemocracy itself); he then used the identity, and the credibility of openDemocracy, to spread a video of a tortured student activist, this time at the far less credible Grayzone website.


The other thing is that openDemocracy did not actually grant anonymity, in this case. Rather, it lied to its readers: it said a man they knew was somebody else, from somewhere else, living somewhere else. At that point, Redvers is not a pseudonym, but a deception — one coauthored by an editor who had, as all journalists have, a duty to not knowingly lie to their audience.

“This looks like a serious issue to me,” Guardian columnist George Monbiot noted on Twitter. “I love openDemocracy, and want to see its excellent standards upheld. So it seems important that the issue is resolved in favour of transparency asap.”

Mary Fitzgerald, editor in chief of openDemocracy, tells me the editor responsible for this decision has been informed that they screwed up — that the use of a fake name must always be noted. But we already know who “Redvers” is, and that this was a fraudulent identity, not just a pen name, however welcome the acknowledgement that no one exists with that name (at least no one with strong opinions about Daniel Ortega). What we don’t know is why anyone at openDemocracy considered it ethical to cosign and publish claims that were known at the time to be false.

Ethical lapses happen, and one like this does not damn openDemocracy forever. But it owes its readers more. Deception requires an explanation, not just an asterisk and a note where one should have been before. Charles Redvers, which is to say, John Perry, exploited the credibility of openDemocracy to lend legitimacy to his manufactured identity and the torture-confession video he laundered on behalf of the Ortega government. Both he and his editor should come clean.

Charles Davis is a journalist in Los Angeles whose work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.

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