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Alexander Mercouris…Dutch MH17 report’s “elephant in the room”…Ukrainian BUK missile launchers active in East Ukraine right before tragedy

A comprehensive look at the Dutch MH17 report, the shortfalls of the inquiry, its legality and what lies ahead, as the West continues to slowly drip feed information on the tragic event in an effort to cover up its war and aggression in Ukraine.

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In the weeks leading up to the publication of the Dutch Safety Board’s report into the MH17 tragedy, the drum beat from the Western media was that it would say MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface to air missile launched from militia controlled Snezhnoe.

In the event, when the report was published, it confirmed that MH17 had been shot down by a BUK surface to air missile, but failed to identify the precise launch point.  

It instead identified a huge area extending over 320 square kilometres, from any part of which it said the BUK missile could possibly have been launched, whilst admitting that more forensic tests were needed to confirm this.  

Whilst Shezhnoe lies just within this area, at the time of the tragedy the area was a bitterly contested war zone, and it is simply impossible to infer that it was definitely the militia who launched the missile from this area, if it was indeed from this area that the missile was launched.

Almaz-Antey, the BUK missile system’s manufacturer, continues to insist – as it did previously – that the launch point was not in this area at all, but was at Zaroshchenskoye, a settlement 7 kilometres south of Shakhtorsk, which was controlled at the time by the Ukrainian army.

To those of us familiar with the Western media, the disappointment at the failure to pinpoint the launch point was obvious.

The report received little coverage, and was quickly relegated to the back pages.  By the following day as a news story it was dead.

Tjibbe Joustra, the chair of the inquiry, was so obviously embarrassed that after delivering the report he refused to take questions.

Instead he spoke to some Dutch journalists in the corridors of the Dutch parliament building where – away from Russian journalists – he did say the BUK missile was launched from militia controlled territory.

In doing so Joustra went beyond what is in his own report.

What happened that prevented the report giving a precise answer to this critical question?

It is not in fact difficult to reconstruct what happened, though one has to go to Russian sources to do it.

The Russian aviation agency Rosaviation says the first draft of the report did identify Snezhnoe as the launch point.

When the Russians were provided with the first draft, they vigorously complained that their input was being ignored.  According to some reports, they took their complaints directly to the head of the International Civil Aviation Organisation(the “ICAO”).

It seems that as a result the report was watered down, leaving the precise launch point unidentified.

In the process the Dutch Safety Board has hidden behind the claim that under ICAO rules it lacks the authority to determine the precise launch point.  This is a claim it has made before, and which is often made by its defenders.

Supposedly its report is a purely forensic report limited to the question of what caused the crash – a BUK missile or some other malfunction or object – and which is not concerned with who launched the BUK missile and from where it was launched.

This claim is based on a misreading of Annex 13 to the Convention on Civil Aviation, which sets out the rules and procedures for air accident investigations.

Annex 13 prohibits an air accident inquiry from apportioning blame or liability, and says that these are questions that need to be dealt with separately.

That however reflects the fact that an air accident inquiry conducted under Annex 13 is set up to establish how an accident happened.

It is not a court of law, able to decide legal questions.

Blame and liability are legal questions, which only a court of law, not an accident inquiry, can determine. 

Annex 13 in no way limits an accident inquiry from carrying out a full and thorough investigation of an air crash to establish how it happened.  On the contrary it requires it.

Nor does Annex 13 prevent an accident inquiry from interviewing witnesses.  On the contrary paragraph 5.4 of Annex 13 specifically provides for it.

Nor does Annex 13 say an accident inquiry cannot identify persons whose actions might have led to the air crash.  As it happens the report does identify some of the persons who were responsible for the MH17 air crash, namely the Ukrainian authorities, who it says failed to close the air corridor through which MH17 was flying as they should have done since the air corridor lay over a war zone.

The report avoids using witness evidence, with responsibility to obtain such evidence being passed to the Joint Inquiry Team (“JIT”) that is carrying out a parallel criminal probe.

This brings to the fore the precise relationship between the Dutch Safety Board, whose inquiry was conducted under Annex 13 and whose report has just been published, and the JIT.

The Dutch Safety Board’s inquiry originates from UN Security Council Resolution 2166, passed immediately following the tragedy, which requires “a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines” (ie. Annex 13).

Resolution 2166 makes no reference to an investigation undertaken by a body like the JIT.  That investigation was set up independently soon after Resolution 2166 was passed, without reference to the Security Council, by a group of states including the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Ukraine following private discussions between each other (Malaysia joined several months later).

The setting up of a second inquiry under a veil of secrecy before the “full, thorough and independent international investigation” set up by the Security Council had even begun its work is extraordinary and points to the error made by Australia’s inexperienced foreign minister Julie Bishop when she proposed Resolution 2166.

She failed to realise that an inquiry set up by the Security Council under “civil aviation guidelines” would mean an inquiry in which the Russians had a say.

That is why the Russians – to Bishop’s surprise – voted for Resolution 2166 and why a few weeks later, probably following angry recriminations behind the scenes, an entirely different inquiry independent of the Security Council and not bound by “international civil aviation guidelines” and from which the Russians were excluded, was hurriedly set up.

What that has meant in practice is that the Dutch Safety Board has decanted responsibility for the more difficult work it ought to have done to the JIT.  In order to justify doing that, it is hiding behind a narrow interpretation of Annex 13.

As it happens so far from being prevented by Annex 13 from identifying the launch point the report discusses the question at length and even solicits technical advice about it.

If it was Russian intervention that knocked the inquiry off its intended course, have we nonetheless learnt anything from its report?

It is now clear beyond doubt that MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface to air missile.

Those who have persisted with the SU25 theory need now to accept this fact.  The shrapnel evidence is conclusive, and they are arguing with Almaz-Antey – the BUK missile system’s manufacturer – not just with the Ukrainians and with the Dutch Safety Board.  That is a hopeless position to take, and those taking it risk losing credibility and becoming marginalised in any further discussions about this tragedy.

We also now know that the BUK missile used to shoot down MH17 was an older version of the missile, still used by the Ukrainians, but not apparently by the Russians.

The report has accepted Almaz-Antey’s first claim that the BUK missile was of a type the Russians stopped making some time ago.

Based on further analysis Almaz-Antey now says the BUK missile was an even older variant than they originally thought, which stopped being made as long ago as 1986 (ie. before the USSR broke up).

Regardless of which variant of the BUK missile was used, if it is indeed the case that both of these types of BUK missile are no longer used by the Russian military, then the Russian military’s direct involvement in the tragedy becomes extremely unlikely and can for practical purposes be excluded.

The report has not adopted Almaz-Antey’s latest finding on the age of the missile, possibly because it came too late for it to be included in the report or – more probably – because the Ukrainians reject it.

The information that the BUK missile that shot down MH17 was an early generation missile no longer in service with the Russian military does not however prove that MH17 was shot down by the Ukrainian military.

It leaves open the possibility the militia captured the missile from the Ukrainians, as some reports suggest and as the German intelligence agency the BND apparently believes, or that it was taken out of a reserve stock of old missiles held somewhere in Russia and was smuggled across the border.

The report casts doubt on the claim the militia captured an operational BUK missile launcher at a Ukrainian military base.  The Ukrainians say the launcher the militia captured was not operational.  Western intelligence sources appear to agree.

As for the claim that the claim that a BUK missile launcher was smuggled across the border, that claim remains completely unsubstantiated, and we now know from the report that despite the size of the BUK missile system Western intelligence had no information before the tragedy that the militia possessed such a system (see below).

The report shows how busy the air corridor through which MH17 flew was at the time of the tragedy.  It seems a large proportion of the aircraft using the corridor were Russian, which argues against the Russians supplying the militia with a BUK system, which might put their own aircraft at risk.

To conclude, the fact the BUK missile that shot MH17 down was an old version of the missile apparently no longer used by the Russian military does tend to point to the Ukrainian military, but does not conclusively prove their involvement.

In all other respects the report is unsatisfactory.

It does not identify the precise launch point.

It makes no mention of the US satellite imagery US Secretary of State Kerry in an interview given 3 days after the tragedy said the US has in its possession.  

The report does not even say whether or not this evidence even exists or whether the Dutch Safety Board has asked to see it.

There are suggestions this evidence is so highly classified it cannot be disclosed or even discussed.

The report however refers – albeit at second hand – to radar evidence from NATO AWACS aircraft provided to the Dutch Safety Board at its request by the NATO command.  That evidence presumably is also classified.

There may be a good reason why the NATO AWACS evidence has been declassified to the point where it can be discussed in the report, whilst the US satellite evidence has not been declassified so that it apparently cannot be discussed or even mentioned in the report.  However if so we do not know what that reason is.

The elephant in the room that the report refuses to see is however the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers we know from Russian satellite imagery were present in the area at the time of the tragedy.  

Attempts to discredit the Russian images of these launchers have been made by the Ukrainian authorities and by Bellingcat.  They have ended in abject failure.  The presence in the area at the time of the tragedy of these launchers is incontrovertible.

The report in fact admits that the Ukrainians were known before the tragedy to have had anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting down MH17 in the area.  The report does not however say that some of these were BUK missile launchers.

The report makes no reference to these launchers though their relevance to the question of how MH17 was shot down is all too obvious.

The silence about the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers contrasts oddly with the report’s lengthy discussion of the anti-aircraft systems the militia was believed to possess before the tragedy took place.  Inconclusive speculations about militia anti-aircraft systems were apparently considered more worthy of inclusion in the report than incontrovertible evidence of the presence of Ukrainian BUK missile systems, despite the fact that it was a BUK missile that shot MH17 down, and despite the fact the Ukrainians have a previous history of shooting down civilian airliners with such missiles.

As it happens the report confirms that neither the Dutch nor it seems the intelligence agency of any other Western power believed before the tragedy that the militia possessed anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting MH17 down, even though other Ukrainian aircraft had been shot down in the previous days over the same area, and even though the area was under the close observation of Western intelligence agencies.

The silence in the report about the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers continues the pattern of Western silence about these launchers that has been evident ever since the Russians first revealed them in their intelligence presentation of 21st July 2014.  It is doubtful that more than a tiny fraction of the Western public knows about them.  If it did it would radically alter the Western public’s view of the tragedy.

However the single greatest flaw of the report is its failure to take heed of the Russian technical advice – specifically that of Almaz-Antey – even though it is the properties of a Russian weapons system – the BUK missile of which Almaz-Antey is the manufacturer – which is being discussed.

In the case of Almaz-Antey insult is added to injury by the way its advice is misrepresented in the report so as to make it seem that Almaz-Antey has corroborated the Dutch Safety Board’s view that the missile was launched from within the 320 square kilometre area the Dutch Safety Board identifies as the probable launch area.  Almaz-Antey actually pinpoints the launch point as being outside this area, but the report makes no mention of the fact.

Even if Almaz-Antey’s objectivity as a Russian state company is doubted, its expertise as the BUK missile’s manufacturer ought to grant its opinion a measure of attention and respect.  It should at the very least be the subject of comment and discussion, even if it is in the end rejected.

One senses that the Dutch Safety Board was intimidated by Almaz-Antey’s expertise and was afraid to take Almaz-Antey directly on, but could not accept Almaz-Antey’s advice because it contradicted the Dutch Safety Board’s pre-formed opinions about the tragedy.   It therefore simply ignored the advice.

The result is an incomplete and inconclusive report.

What happens now?

Now that the Dutch Safety Board has released its report, the focus shifts to the criminal probe being undertaken by the JIT.

Since this probe is being conducted under a veil of secrecy – with Ukraine having a veto on release of any information – we know very little about it.  Supposedly it will report some time next year, with the suggestion that this is taking longer than was originally anticipated.

Since we know so little about this investigation it is impossible to assess the quality of the evidence it possesses.  It does not so far seem to include the witness evidence of the political and military leaderships of the two sides, or of the personnel of the various military units, or the log books and communications records of the various military units involved, which look to me essential if a successful prosecution is to be brought.  There is no information of this evidence being collected, as there surely would be if it was.

Certainly a successful prosecution would have to rely on evidence significantly stronger than the vague conclusions about the launch site in the Dutch Safety Board’s report, and the social media images and the probably in large measure fabricated radio intercepts beloved of Bellingcat and Elliott Higgins, to stand any real prospect of success in any remotely impartial or independent court.

Assuming there is enough evidence to bring a case, to which court would it be brought?

Since the alleged crime was one that is supposed to have taken place on Ukrainian territory, if a prosecution is brought, the courts with jurisdiction to try it are the Ukrainian courts.

No one takes that possibility seriously.  An attempt to set up an independent tribunal was however blocked in the UN Security Council by the Russians, who were never consulted about the setting up of the JIT and who consider it a device to undermine the inquiry set up by Resolution 2166, which they voted for.

In a recent Crosstalk programme for RT in which I participated, the scholar and writer John Laughland suggested that moves might be underway to conduct the prosecution before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Whilst that is a possibility, there would be significant legal difficulties.   The Rome Statute under which the International Criminal Court was set up does not give it jurisdiction to try crimes committed during internal conflicts.

A way round this might be found, but there would be a risk that in that case that might lead to calls for crimes committed during the conflict by the Ukrainian government to be put under the International Criminal Court’s scrutiny as well.  Needless to say that would not be something the Western powers would welcome.

There must also be some people in Washington uncomfortable with the idea of treating the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner over a war zone as a crime, given that it is something the US has done in the past itself and could conceivably do again.

The uncertainty about which court would try any case the JIT brings – assuming such a case is ever brought – is a reflection of the hurried and secretive way in which the JIT was set up, with no one thinking the implications through.

There must be some people in Washington and Brussels who are by now wondering whether bringing a case is worth the trouble, given how thin the evidence is likely to be, especially at a time when efforts are underway to de escalate the Ukrainian conflict.

The fact that assurances have to be given repeatedly to reassure the Western public and the families of the victims that the resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice remains unchanged, is a sure sign such doubts exist.

One way to get round the difficulty – and to avoid the embarrassment of simply dropping the case – might be to bring charges against lesser people on the grounds that the more important people who were supposedly responsible are either dead or beyond reach.

It is anyway inconceivable that the Russians – who have repeatedly made it known that they will never extradite anybody – will surrender anyone accused of a crime to the JIT or to any court considering a case brought by it, and that fact alone makes it unlikely a trial will ever take place.

Regardless of what happens to the JIT, one case is already underway.

This is the case Almaz-Antey is bringing before the European Court of Justice against the sanctions the European Council has imposed on it.

As of now, on the basis of Almaz-Antey’s presentation and in light of previous precedents, that case looks undefendable.

It will be interesting to see if the lawyers who advise the European Council are of the same view, and if they take any steps to settle it.

There is a third case that is now round the corner.

Prior to the shooting down of MH17 the Ukrainians claimed the Russians had shot down two of their aircraft: an AN26 transport and an SU25 ground attack bomber.

These aircraft were flying in the same general area in which MH17 was shot down.

The Ukrainians say these aircraft were flying at an altitude of more than 6,000 metres, much higher than short range man portable anti aircraft missiles (“MANPADS”) of the sort known to have been possessed by the militia could reach.

The Ukrainians claimed these aircraft were shot down by the Russians using either a Pantsir surface to air missile or an air to air missile launched by a MiG29 fighter.

Those claims are almost certainly untrue.

As the report says, examination of the wreckage of the AN26 suggests it was shot down at a much lower altitude than the Ukrainians say, almost certainly by a MANPADS missile.

The Ukrainians however refuse to retreat from these claims.

By doing so they have hoisted themselves on their own petard.

By claiming some of their aircraft were shot down from a much higher altitude than a MANPADS missile can reach, the Ukrainians have opened themselves up to criticism in the report that they should have closed the airspace through which MH17 was flying to commercial aircraft.

This criticism almost certainly exposes the Ukrainians to claims in negligence from the victims’ families.

It is likely Western governments, who the report says were given this information by the Ukrainians but who also failed to warn their aircraft to stay away from the area, are now exposed to claims in negligence as well.

There are difficulties of sovereign immunity and jurisdiction in the way of bringing such claims.  Ways round these obstacles however almost certainly exist.  It is a certainty there are lawyers looking for those ways as I write this.

If or rather when claims in negligence are brought, it will be interesting to see if Almaz-Antey is called as an expert witness.  If that happen then the situation will become, as the lawyers say, very interesting.

 

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Trump grounds Nancy Pelosi from taxpayer-subsidized travel

Nancy Pelosi is exhibiting all the maturity of a 14-year-old druggie teenager who just got grounded, only House Speaker Pelosi is 78.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Nancy Pelosi is 78 years old. She is the Democrat Party leader of the House of Representatives, and presently she is Speaker of the House since her party holds the majority of seats there. She is also grounded, like a naughty teenager.

Like a naughty, gossipy teenager, she is bitterly embroiled in a popularity war against another septuagenarian, US President Donald Trump (age 72).

One has to admit that there is a great deal of humor that can be extracted from this. After all, we are taught as kid to “behave like adults.” No doubt The Donald and Mrs. Pelosi were taught this too, probably even more strongly than those of us who are younger.

However, the American media is eager mostly to brand this as a “temper tantrum” of the President, because most of the American media, for some reason, just doesn’t like Mr. Trump. We have noted before here on The Duran the thought experiment surrounding Mr. Trump: “what if he had run as a Democrat, but with the exact same policy set as he has now?”

It is really too bad that it is not possible to see what would happen, but a thinking person can use this thought experiment to discover that most of the sentiment against Mr. Trump is simply because he ran as a Republican.

At any rate, we have a situation where it is being reported by a one-sided media that President Trump is at fault and is being somehow unfair and mean to Mrs. Pelosi. Mrs. Pelosi evidently thinks so too, for after Mr. Trump yanked her travel privileges via taxpayer-paid military transportation, she shot back, claiming that it was in fact President Trump who blew the security for the troops and personnel on this planned trip by announcing a secret trip publicly. CNN reports:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi canceled a planned trip to visit troops in Afghanistan Friday, after — her office alleged in a statement — the White House leaked the details of the congressional delegation’s commercial plane travel.

In the middle of the night, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the President announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

Which, to borrow the parlance of the Internet, is VERY big, if true.

It’s one thing for Trump, as he did on Thursday, to rescind the military plane Pelosi and the rest of her colleagues were planning to fly on as a way of exacting revenge on her for asking the President to delay his planned “State of the Union” speech on January 29. To do so publicly — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out the letter Trump sent to Pelosi — is to raise the stakes. To leak commercial travel plans to make absolutely certain that Pelosi can’t go on the trip is a bridge even further.

Now, to be clear, this is an allegation made by Pelosi without corroboration to date. And, the White House denies it. “When the Speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out,” a White House official told CNN’s Sarah Westwood and Kevin Liptak. “The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat out lie.”

It appears that Mrs Pelosi is copying The New York Times and The Washington Post narrative style of “slander the President, acknowledge somewhere buried in the article that the slanderous charge is unsubstantiated, but get that slander out there so people hear it and read it!”

It is a shoddy attempt for the news media to manipulate its consumers all while “protecting itself” from libel.

The unfortunate fact is that it does work, at least insofar as to galvanize the anti-Trump crowd into a very solid bloc of insanely angry Americans. Further, in using the classic style in which a drug addict or active alcoholic manipulates people to pity him or her, Mrs. Pelosi and the media act like the druggie teenagers arrayed as one against Dear old Dad, who is the only adult in the house.

The White House. But, still.

To put a bit of adult analysis on this story is very simple, but it is honestly not very thrilling. To be honest, it is probably more fun to be like the mainstream media and the Democrats – energized by passion, doing stupid things publicly and getting attention and praise for it.

But here is what appears to be the hard cold boring reality behind this saga.

President Trump is committed to getting a change made in how the United States handles illegal immigration. For decades, the country has been getting slowly infiltrated, if not invaded, by immigrants who at the very least game the welfare and social support mechanisms of various levels of US federal, state and local governments. When people come into the country illegally and go on welfare, taxpayers start paying non-citizens for being here. Taking care of even 100,000 illegal immigrants with such programs is likely to be extremely expensive. Housing, food, healthcare, schooling, legal protection by police… it goes on and on.

But there are not just 100,000 such people here. Last year, the Border Patrol apprehended well over four times that number. 467,000 illegals were apprehended in 2018. Estimates show anywhere from 12 million to 22 million illegals presently living in the United States. While it is certainly doubtful that all of them are gaming the welfare system, they are in the country, unknown, untracked, and not being good citizens by paying taxes and supporting our agreed-upon infrastructure and services the same way that American citizens are.

That is a huge money drain.

Add to that the drugs that do flow across the Mexican border, a fair infusion of criminals like murderers and rapists, and the possibility of terrorists making use of the open border to infiltrate the US and the situation becomes both costly and dangerous.

This is why President Trump wants to change it with a barrier running the length of the US-Mexico border.

While it is unlikely that all 2,000 miles need to have a wall, we certainly need more of a barrier than what we have now, and the barriers that DO exist are extremely successful in cutting the flow of illegals. From the high point of 2000, immigration apprehensions have on the whole fallen by quite a bit. This chart shows the track through 2016.


But our 467,000 apprehensions is an enormous number – larger than the population of the city of Long Beach, California! 

This is an enormous number, but it is far lower than the 1.6 million that got caught before the existing barriers were built. This is also the number of illegals that were caught. We do not know how many were not caught.

Now, President Trump begins to look like the adult in the room, because he wants to fix this, bringing the numbers down much closer to zero, and also finding a way to vet and interview immigrants that truly can contribute to the US dream as Americans. So, as part of creating a real border security apparatus, he wants to extend and even complete the Border Wall. It is not very expensive – even a $50 billion price tag is only about 1.3% of the bloated federal budget this year, and President Trump thinks the wall can be finished with half that amount. At this time, he is only asking for about $5 bn.

And all Nancy Pelosi will say is “no!” So, like a good parent, the President refuses to reward such behavior by giving her what she wants. Now there is a partial government shutdown. President Trump took it on himself, but he is correct. He is doing this because the Democrats are doing this childish druggie routine. And he cannot reward this behavior.

Pelosi and her loyal sidekick Senator Charles Schumer are like a clique of druggie kids in the class, disrupting everything by commanding some attention. But it seems they are gradually losing it, and the government remains shut down. However, they wanted to act like it is Trump’s fault, so Nancy Pelosi was trying to do “business as usual” and go to Afghanistan for whatever reason (do they want her?).

And the President said, “hey, not so fast. You have a partially closed government, and I have been here every day waiting for you to negotiate a deal. You have to be nuts to think this shutdown is not going to affect you, so you cannot use our military transportation while the government is shut down. It is only fair.”

Now who is looking like the bratty teenager?

For some people who read articles like this, the answer will probably still be “President Trump.”

But maybe if they put down the cannabis and the booze and read facts for a change, their heads will clear up and they will come to see what the rest of properly thinking people have already seen.

In this feud, there is an adult in the room. And he is having to manage the childish behavior of a woman six years older than he is.

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The Pences: defenders of Christian values in the White House

Article about Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen views Christian life as weird, showing nature of Christian persecution in the US.

Seraphim Hanisch

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A companion article noted that Christian believers in the US are seeking to help stand for those Christians in far off lands who are being martyred and persecuted for their faith at the hands of ISIS and other cruel religious and secular forces. But we also noted that this problem is extremely fierce in the Western “Christian” world, but the attacks try to bring Christian life to irrelevance and “shame it out of existence.”

An example of this in action came from Yahoo.com, carrying a news piece from AFP. Here is that piece; we have added emphases to focus on our point:

On page 11 of an application to work at a private Christian school in Virginia, teachers are bluntly asked to pledge to “maintain a lifestyle based on biblical standards of moral conduct.” It goes on to say banned conduct includes, but is not limited, to: “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g. premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity” or “any other violation of the unique roles of male and female.”

Students at the Immanuel Christian School — who range in age from five to 14 — are also banned from engaging in “homosexual or bi-sexual activity,” according to an agreement parents must sign before enrollment. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen is once again teaching art at the school in Washington’s suburbs — sparking anger from gay rights advocates who say it sends the wrong message from the inner circles of US power. “We’ll let the critics roll off our backs,” Pence said in an interview with Catholic television network EWTN. But he added: “The criticism of Christian education in America should stop.”

Of course, the Pence family’s brand of religious conservatism is exactly why Donald Trump chose him as a running mate in July 2016.

– Pro-prayer, anti-abortion –

At that time, Pence was the governor of Indiana and a former congressman with a low national profile. He had a few crowning achievements to boast of — a state anti-abortion law and a “religious freedom law” that said individuals and companies wishing not to serve gay and lesbian customers could cite a “substantial burden” on their religious beliefs as a reason.

An amendment was eventually passed to provide protections for LGBT citizens.

The anti-abortion law added limits to access, banning those motivated by the fetus’s race, gender or disability. But it was eventually blocked in the courts. Nevertheless, the two initiatives had burnished Pence’s reputation as a champion of the religious right. Since taking office as vice president, the 59-year-old Pence — who seems to make it his business not to make waves — regularly appears alongside the 45th president of the United States.

In meetings, he often takes a back seat, his lips sealed and his head nodding in approval. When he speaks in public, he never misses a chance to voice his admiration for the man who brought him back to Washington.

On the face of it, they could not be more different — Trump is brash, twice divorced, vocal about his sexual conquests and doesn’t seem to have a tight grasp on biblical passages. Pence meanwhile said last year: “I do try and start every day reading the Bible. My wife and I try to have a prayer together before I leave the house every morning.” On Thursday, the vice president was set to host a roundtable for pro-abortion rights activists on the eve of the March for Life, a major annual anti-abortion rally in Washington. Pence was the first vice president to speak at the march in 2017.

“We will not rest, until we restore a culture of life in America for ourselves and our posterity,” Pence told the crowd.

– The fight continues –

Mike and Karen Pence met at church — an evangelical Protestant congregation. One in four Americans associates with the movement. Today, they are often seen holding hands when they are together in public. Pence often begins his tweets by saying, “Karen and I are praying for…”

They are reportedly inseparable — a fact that sometimes sparks mockery. In 2002, Mike Pence, then a lawmaker, infamously told The Hill that he never ate alone with a woman other than Karen, and that he would not accept an invitation to an event where alcohol was being served if she were not there. “If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,” Pence told the Washington paper.

While he has often joked about his traditional views of coupledom, he has never denied them. Karen Pence, 62, shares her husband’s conservative beliefs. In 1991, she wrote to The Indianapolis Star newspaper to complain about an article that, she claimed, encouraged children to think they were gay or lesbian, according to a copy of the letter released by The Washington Post. Since that time, gay marriage has become the law of the land — legal across the country. But there is no explicit federal ban on discriminating against someone for their sexual orientation, which allows employers like the Immanual Christian School to maintain its rules against “sexual immorality.”

For the Pences, as for other evangelicals, the battle continues.

The thing that is stunning about this news piece is that it casts what are traditionally Christian values and a traditionally good Christian family in a negative light. For AFP and Yahoo, the Pences are an anomaly, a throwback that needs to be thrown back. The contemporary reader is more likely to mock the “backwardness” of Family Pence rather than see their lifestyles as honorable.

This is the nature of the attack against Christianity in our country.

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Google Manipulated YouTube Search Results for Abortion, Maxine Waters, David Hogg

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News.

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Via Breitbart


In sworn testimony, Google CEO Sundar Pichai told Congress last month that his company does not “manually intervene” on any particular search result. Yet an internal discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News reveals Google regularly intervenes in search results on its YouTube video platform – including a recent intervention that pushed pro-life videos out of the top ten search results for “abortion.”

The term “abortion” was added to a “blacklist” file for “controversial YouTube queries,” which contains a list of search terms that the company considers sensitive. According to the leak, these include some of these search terms related to: abortion, abortions, the Irish abortion referendum, Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The existence of the blacklist was revealed in an internal Google discussion thread leaked to Breitbart News by a source inside the company who wishes to remain anonymous. A partial list of blacklisted terms was also leaked to Breitbart by another Google source.

In the leaked discussion thread, a Google site reliability engineer hinted at the existence of more search blacklists, according to the source.

“We have tons of white- and blacklists that humans manually curate,” said the employee. “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.”

Others were more concerned about the presence of the blacklist. According to the source, the software engineer who started the discussion called the manipulation of search results related to abortion a “smoking gun.”

The software engineer noted that the change had occurred following an inquiry from a left-wing Slate journalist about the prominence of pro-life videos on YouTube, and that pro-life videos were replaced with pro-abortion videos in the top ten results for the search terms following Google’s manual intervention.

“The Slate writer said she had complained last Friday and then saw different search results before YouTube responded to her on Monday,” wrote the employee. “And lo and behold, the [changelog] was submitted on Friday, December 14 at 3:17 PM.”

The manually downranked items included several videos from Dr. Antony Levatino, a former abortion doctor who is now a pro-life activist. Another video in the top ten featured a woman’s personal story of being pressured to have an abortion, while another featured pro-life conservative Ben Shapiro. The Slate journalist who complained to Google reported that these videos previously featured in the top ten, describing them in her story as “dangerous misinformation.”

Since the Slate journalist’s inquiry and Google’s subsequent intervention, the top search results now feature pro-abortion content from left-wing sources like BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. In her report, the Slate journalist acknowledged that the search results changed shortly after she contacted Google.

The manual adjustment of search results by a Google-owned platform contradicts a key claim made under oath by Google CEO Sundar Pichai in his congressional testimony earlier this month: that his company does not “manually intervene on any search result.”

A Google employee in the discussion thread drew attention to Pichai’s claim, noting that it “seems like we are pretty eager to cater our search results to the social and political agenda of left-wing journalists.”

One of the posts in the discussion also noted that the blacklist had previously been edited to include the search term “Maxine Waters” after a single Google employee complained the top YouTube search result for Maxine Waters was “very low quality.”

Google’s alleged intervention on behalf of a Democratic congresswoman would be further evidence of the tech giant using its resources to prop up the left. Breitbart News previously reported on leaked emails revealing the company targeted pro-Democrat demographics in its get-out-the-vote efforts in 2016.

According to the source, a software engineer in the thread also noted that “a bunch of terms related to the abortion referendum in Ireland” had been added to the blacklist – another change with potentially dramatic consequences on the national policies of a western democracy.

youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

At least one post in the discussion thread revealed the existence of a file called “youtube_controversial_query_blacklist,” which contains a list of YouTube search terms that Google manually curates. In addition to the terms “abortion,” “abortions,” “Maxine Waters,” and search terms related to the Irish abortion referendum, a Google software engineer noted that the blacklist includes search terms related to terrorist attacks. (the posts specifically mentions that the “Strasbourg terrorist attack” as being on the list).

“If you look at the other entries recently added to the youtube_controversial_query_blacklist(e.g., entries related to the Strasbourg terrorist attack), the addition of abortion seems…out-of-place,” wrote the software engineer, according to the source.

After learning of the existence of the blacklist, Breitbart News obtained a partial screenshot of the full blacklist file from a source within Google. It reveals that the blacklist includes search terms related to both mass shootings and the progressive anti-second amendment activist David Hogg.

This suggests Google has followed the lead of Democrat politicians, who have repeatedly pushed tech companies to censor content related to the Parkland school shooting and the Parkland anti-gun activists. It’s part of a popular new line of thought in the political-media establishment, which views the public as too stupid to question conspiracy theories for themselves.

Here is the partial blacklist leaked to Breitbart:

2117 plane crash Russian

2118 plane crash

2119 an-148

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

2121 florida shooting crisis actors

2122 florida conspiracy

2123 florida false flag shooting

2124 florida false flag

2125 fake florida school shooting

2126 david hogg hoax

2127 david hogg fake

2128 david hogg crisis actor

2129 david hogg forgets lines

2130 david hogg forgets his lines

2131 david hogg cant remember his lines

2132 david hogg actor

2133 david hogg cant remember

2134 david hogg conspiracy

2135 david hogg exposed

2136 david hogg lines

2137 david hogg rehearsing

2120 florida shooting conspiracy

The full internal filepath of the blacklist, according to another source, is:

//depot/google3/googledata/superroot/youtube/youtube_controversial_query_blacklist

Contradictions

Responding to a request for comment, a YouTube spokeswoman said the company wants to promote “authoritative” sources in its search results, but maintained that YouTube is a “platform for free speech” that “allow[s]” both pro-life and pro-abortion content.

YouTube’s full comment:

YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our Community Guidelines, which prohibit things like inciting violence and pornography. We apply these policies impartially and we allow both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Over the last year we’ve described how we are working to better surface news sources across our site for news-related searches and topical information. We’ve improved our search and discovery algorithms, built new features that clearly label and prominently surface news sources on our homepage and search pages, and introduced information panels to help give users more authoritative sources where they can fact check information for themselves.

In the case of the “abortion” search results, YouTube’s intervention to insert “authoritative” content resulted in the downranking of pro-life videos and the elevation of pro-abortion ones.

A Google spokesperson took a tougher line than its YouTube subsidiary, stating that “Google has never manipulated or modified the search results or content in any of its products to promote a particular political ideology.”

However, in the leaked discussion thread, a member of Google’s “trust & safety” team, Daniel Aaronson, admitted that the company maintains “huge teams” that work to adjust search results for subjects that are “prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content” – all subjective terms that are frequently used to suppress right-leaning sources.

He also admitted that the interventions weren’t confined to YouTube – they included search results delivered via Google Assistant, Google Home, and in rare cases Google ’s organic search results.

In the thread, Aaronson attempted to explain how search blacklisting worked. He claimed that highly specific searches would generate non-blacklisted results, even controversial ones. But the inclusion of highly specific terms in the YouTube blacklist, like “David Hogg cant remember his lines” – the name of an actual viral video – seems to contradict this.

Aaronson’s full post is copied below:

I work in Trust and Safety and while I have no particular input as to exactly what’s happening for YT I can try to explain why you’d have this kind of list and why people are finding lists like these on Code Search.

When dealing with abuse/controversial content on various mediums you have several levers to deal with problems. Two prominent levers are “Proactive” and “Reactive”:

  • Proactive: Usually refers to some type of algorithm/scalable solution to a general problem
    • E.g.: We don’t allow straight up porn on YouTube so we create a classifier that detects porn and automatically remove or flag for review the videos the porn classifier is most certain of
  • Reactive: Usually refers to a manual fix to something that has been brought to our attention that our proactive solutions don’t/didn’t work on and something that is clearly in the realm of bad enough to warrant a quick targeted solution (determined by pages and pages of policies worked on over many years and many teams to be fair and cover necessary scope)
    • E,g.: A website that used to be a good blog had it’s domain expire and was purchased/repurposed to spam Search results with autogenerated pages full of gibberish text, scraped images, and links to boost traffic to other spammy sites. It is manually actioned for violating policy

These Organic Search policies and the consequences to violating them are public

Manually reacting to things is not very scalable, and is not an ideal solution to most problems, so the proactive lever is really the one we all like to lean on. Ideally, our classifiers/algorithm are good at providing useful and rich results to our users while ignoring things at are not useful or not relevant. But we all know, this isn’t exactly the case all the time (especially on YouTube).

From a user perspective, there are subjects that are prone to hyperbolic content, misleading information, and offensive content. Now, these words are highly subjective and no one denies that. But we can all agree generally, lines exist in many cultures about what is clearly okay vs. what is not okay. E.g. a video of a puppy playing with a toy is probably okay in almost every culture or context, even if it’s not relevant to the query. But a video of someone committing suicide and begging others to follow in his/her footsteps is probably on the other side of the line for many folks.

While my second example is technically relevant to the generic query of “suicide”, that doesn’t mean that this is a very useful or good video to promote on the top of results for that query. So imagine a classifier that says, for any queries on a particular text file, let’s pull videos using signals that we historically understand to be strong indicators of quality (I won’t go into specifics here, but those signals do exist). We’re not manually curating these results, we’re just saying “hey, be extra careful with results for this query because many times really bad stuff can appear and lead to a bad experience for most users”. Ideally the proactive lever did this for us, but in extreme cases where we need to act quickly on something that is so obviously not okay, the reactive/manual approach is sometimes necessary. And also keep in mind, that this is different for every product. The bar for changing classifiers or manual actions on span in organic search is extremely high. However, the bar for things we let our Google Assistant say out loud might be a lot lower. If I search for “Jews run the banks” – I’ll likely find anti-semitic stuff in organic search. As a Jew, I might find some of these results offensive, but they are there for people to research and view, and I understand that this is not a reflection of Google feels about this issue. But if I ask Google assistant “Why do Jews run the banks” we wouldn’t be similarly accepting if it repeated and promoted conspiracy theories that likely pop up in organic search in her smoothing voice.

Whether we agree or not, user perception of our responses, results, and answers of different products and mediums can change. And I think many people are used to the fact that organic search is a place where content should be accessible no matter how offensive it might be, however, the expectation is very different on a Google Home, a Knowledge Panel, or even YouTube.

These lines are very difficult and can be very blurry, we are all well aware of this. So we’ve got huge teams that stay cognizant of these facts when we’re crafting policies considering classifier changes, or reacting with manual actions – these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but admittedly are also not made in a highly public forum like TGIF or IndustryInfo (as you can imagine, decisions/agreement would be hard to get in such a wide list – image if all your CL’s were reviewed by every engineer across Google all the time). I hope that answers some questions and gives a better layer of transparency without going into details about our “Pepsi formula”.

Best,

Daniel

The fact that Google manually curates politically contentious search results fits in with a wider pattern of political activity on the part of the tech giant.

In 2018, Breitbart News exclusively published a leaked video from the company that showed senior management in dismay at Trump’s election victory, and pledging to use the company’s power to make his populist movement a “hiccup” in history.

Breitbart also leaked “The Good Censor,” an internal research document from Google that admits the tech giant is engaged in the censorship of its own products, partly in response to political events.

Another leak revealed that employees within the company, including Google’s current director of Trust and Safety, tried to kick Breitbart News off Google’s market-dominating online ad platforms.

Yet another showed Google engaged in targeted turnout operations aimed to boost voter participation in pro-Democrat demographics in “key states” ahead of the 2016 election. The effort was dubbed a “silent donation” by a top Google employee.

Evidence for Google’s partisan activities is now overwhelming. President Trump has previously warned Google, as well as other Silicon Valley giants, not to engage in censorship or partisan activities. Google continues to defy him.

Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. You can follow him on TwitterGab.ai and add him on Facebook. Email tips and suggestions to [email protected].

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