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Joint Investigation Team on MH-17: Why the case is still open

A disregard of Russian technical evidence, a failure to produce US evidence, and a heavy reliance on social media, video, radio intercept, and eye-witness evidence originating from Ukraine, leaves the case open.

Alexander Mercouris

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As widely anticipated the so-called Joint Investigation Team (JIT) investigating the circumstances of the shooting down of MH17 delivered a preliminary report on Wednesday 28th September 2016 which said that MH17 was shot down by the east Ukrainian militia from a location near the town of Snezhnoe with a BUK missile supposedly smuggled to them from Russia.

This theory has been in circulation since almost immediately after MH17 was shot down.  It relies heavily on social media reports and videos of a BUK missile launcher supposedly being moved around eastern Ukraine.  Some of this evidence is also backed by claims by eye-witnesses, and radio intercepts.

The first point to make about the investigation that published these findings on Wednesday is that its instigator is Ukraine.

Ukraine as the country in whose airspace MH17 was shot down has the right to set up an inquiry to look into the facts of the tragedy, and that is what it did.  It also invited a selected group of other countries to join its inquiry, and that is what happened. 

That Ukraine is the instigator of this investigation is confirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2166 of 21st July 2016, whose paragraph 4 reads as follows:

“(The Security Council) recognises the efforts under way by Ukraine, working in coordination with ICAO and other international experts and organisations, including representatives of States of Occurrence, Registry, Operator, Design and Manufacture, as well as States who have lost nationals on MH17, to institute an international investigation of the incident, and calls on all States to provide any requested assistance to civil and criminal investigations related to this incident.”

(bold italics added)

In other words this is a Ukrainian investigation which certain other countries, namely the  Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia – all allies of the US and of Ukraine – were invited to join, and which they agreed to join. 

Contrary to some claims, this is not an investigation set up by the Security Council, which merely “recognised” Ukraine’s intention to set it up. 

Russia was not invited to join the investigation, and has played no role in it. 

Reports say it was the Ukrainians who carried out most of the field work, and who produced most of the evidence.  The nature of the evidence presented on Wednesday confirms that this is so.  It is the sort of evidence that could only have come from Ukrainian sources.

The countries which agreed to join the investigation were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement which gave Ukraine the right to veto publication any findings of the investigation.  The fact Dutch officials have taken the lead in presenting the findings of the investigation and appear to have played a significant role in it, should not obscure the fact that it was Ukraine that set up the investigation, and which mainly conducted it.

At the time the investigation was set up Ukraine was or ought to have been a suspect in the case.  MH17 was shot down in its airspace at a time of armed conflict. Its military possess the means to shoot aircraft such as MH17 down, and there was at the very least a possibility that they might have shot it down.

Any investigation set up by a suspect in a case in which the suspect continues to play a major role by definition cannot be impartial or independent. This investigation therefore is not impartial or independent.  The fact certain countries agreed to join an investigation set up by Ukraine in such circumstances amounts to a presumption on the part of those countries of Ukraine’s innocence and of others’ guilt.  The fact the report adopts Ukrainian political language (for example the east Ukrainian militia are called “separatists”) is a sign of this.

The report is therefore best understood as what it actually is: a presentation of the prosecution case in the case Ukraine wants to bring against the people it accuses of shooting down MH17.  What has happened is that Ukraine has brought in the help of outside countries – first and foremost the Netherlands but to a certain extent also the US – to lend its case credibility and to strengthen some of its technical aspects.

A  separate investigation into the tragedy was also carried out by the Dutch Safety Board, which reported last year.  This investigation was conducted under the aegis of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. 

This investigation also receives mention in Resolution 2166, whose preamble reads in part as follows

“Stressing the need for a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines, noting in this regard the crucial role played by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in aircraft accident and incident investigations, and welcoming the decision by ICAO to send a team to work in coordination with the Ukrainian National Bureau of Incidents and Accidents Investigation of Civil Aircraft in this investigation, following a request for assistance by Ukraine to ICAO and others”.

The Dutch Safety Board investigation said that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile but failed to identify the precise launch point, and did not name those responsible for launching the missile. 

It is often claimed that the Dutch Safety Board was prevented by paragraph 3.1 of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (which says that “it is not the purpose of this (investigation) to apportion blame or liability”) from identifying the launch point and from saying who was responsible for the launch of the missile.  This is to confuse the question of “blame and liability” – which depends on circumstance and intention – with the wholly separate question of cause.

The Dutch Safety Board decanted the question of the location of the launch point and the identity of those responsible to the team that reported on Wednesday.  It is difficult to avoid the feeling that this was done because as the Dutch Safety Board investigation was carried out under ICAO rules the Russians were parties to it and had a right to submit evidence and receive and comment on the findings.  By contrast since the Russians have no role in the investigation which reported on Wednesday, they were frozen out of its work. 

I have discussed the Dutch Safety Board report at length.  Briefly in my opinion it suffered from two fundamental flaws. 

The first was the failure to discuss the verified presence of Ukrainian BUK missile launchers in the area where MH17 was shot down.  Here is what I had to say about that

“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.”

The second arguably even more fundamental flaw was the way the evidence of Almaz-Antey, the Russian company which manufactures the BUK missile system, was misrepresented

“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.”

Almaz-Antey has pinpointed the launch site not in the 320 square kilometre area from where the Dutch Safety Board says the missile was launched, but from a different area near the village of Zaroshchenskoe near Shakthorsk where Russian military satellite imagery has shown a Ukrainian BUK missile launcher present at roughly the time of the tragedy.

The investigation team which reported on Wednesday has repeated and compounded these flaws. 

It has nothing to say about the Ukrainian BUK missile launchers, whose presence is not acknowledged.  As for Almaz-Antey’s evidence about the launch point being Zaroshchenskoe, that was summarily dismissed by Wilbert Paulissen, the Dutch chief investigator, with these words

“From the wealth and diversity of the other evidence gathered by the JIT, we have no doubt whatsoever the conclusions that we’re presenting today are accurate and that conclusion is that on 17 July flight [2014] MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile, shot from farmland in Pervomaiskiy and the system was brought in from the Russian Federation territory and then returned to the Russian Federation afterwards.”

This fails to address the scientific basis of Almaz-Antey’s evidence.  Instead what Paulissen is in effect saying is that because his team has a “wealth and diversity of other evidence” they feel they can just ignore it.

As to what that “wealth and diversity of other evidence” is, that became all too clear during the presentation on Wednesday: a mixture of social media reports, intercepted radio communications, videos, and eye-witness testimony, all of which must ultimately come from Ukrainian sources, and most of which has been in the public domain for a long time.  Scientific evidence is discussed in the report but barely featured in the press conference and goes unmentioned in most Western media reports.  As Almaz-Antey somewhat acidly commented

“In today’s event the JIT presented the conclusions it has arrived at so far. In the course of the presentation the technical aspects of the investigation were not touched upon. Practically none of them was mentioned.”

Almaz-Antey continues to complain that its expert advice – unparalleled in this field – is going unheeded

“As early as in May, when the documents were turned over to Dutch experts, we understood that they were unlikely to be used for certain reasons. That is why the Russian side sent classified documents to the International Technical Commission on July 29, 2015 and submitted the main characteristics, which correspond to a model used by Almaz-Antei. The commission did not take account of that document.”

Almaz-Antey also says that because its evidence is being ignored the entire model of the tragedy upon which the team is working is wrong

“the entire model was from the outset built for only one version that the missile flew towards the airliner [i.e. from the Snezhnoye settlement].  The full-scale experiment as well as all the previous and subsequent experiments made the Almaz-Antey experts to conclude that the Dutch version of a missile exploding on a head-on course was unreliable. There is a whole number of factors, the unreliable damages in the first place, which prove that.”

This has been the consistent pattern from the earliest days of the tragedy.  The Russians have made public and have provided both teams of investigators – the Dutch Safety Board and the investigators who reported on Wednesday – with reams of technical evidence including scientific tests, satellite imagery and radar pictures.  The fate of this evidence is however to be either misrepresented or ignored.

Meanwhile the US, which immediately after the tragedy claimed to have evidence that pinpointed the location of the missile launch, and which said it was in “militia controlled territory”, refuses to make public the evidence upon which it made that assertion. 

The team on Wednesday claimed the US concurs with its finding the missile was launched from militia controlled Snezhnoe and has provided a statement that supposedly explains the reasons why it on the basis of the evidence in its possession it came to this conclusion.  However since the US has not disclosed the evidence upon which this reasoning is based there is no way to corroborate this.   Instead we are asked to accept that the fact the US has shown its evidence to Dutch intelligence (which agrees with its analysis) is corroboration enough.

In a bizarre twist the US is now actually saying that it is the findings of the team which are corroborating its assertions

“The Team’s interim findings corroborate Secretary Kerry’s statement in the days following the tragedy that MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile fired from Russian-backed, separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.”

(bold italics added)

Whilst it is difficult to know quite what to make of this, on the face of it it suggests that the claims the US made in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy about the launch point were not as conclusive or as factually based as the US led everyone to think they might be.  Why if they were would they need the team’s “corroboration”?

Regardless of that, the current position is that whilst the Russians provide a deluge of technical evidence, and the US publishes none, the team which reported on Wednesday bases its conclusions principally on information originating from Ukrainian sources.  This of course includes the eye-witness, radio intercept, video, and social media evidence etc.

Most of this evidence has already been in the public domain for some time, where it has been vigorously contested.  There is for example much argument about the interpretation of some of the radio intercept evidence, much of which does not seem to be very conclusive, and which is capable of being interpreted in different ways.

Some more nuggets of evidence were produced on Wednesday, but I have no doubt they will be quickly contested as well. 

To get a flavour of what is coming, consider the dispute over which party was in control of Zaroshchenskoe, the village near Shakhtorsk from where Almaz-Antey says the missile that shot down MH17 was launched. 

The team on Wednesday supported longstanding Ukrainian claims that on the day of the tragedy Zaroshchenskoe was under militia control.  Since they base their findings on information the Ukrainians give them they could hardly do otherwise.  The claim incidentally appears to be largely based on a radio intercept from June 2015, which would be almost a year after MH17 was shot down.  One might have expected more weight on such a subject to be placed on Ukrainian military records.  Regardless, this claim has been strongly disputed by others who have produced a mountain of evidence which they say proves that Zaroshchenskoe was in fact under Ukrainian control. 

Realistically there was no possibility that a team set up by Ukraine would implicate Ukraine, and no possibility Western leaders and the Western media, with their credibility on the line, would ever press for a truly independent inquiry that might have come to that conclusion.

At this point it is worth reiterating that the presentation on Wednesday does not have the status of a court judgment or a board of inquiry report.  Instead it is a presentation by prosecutors of parts of the case they intend to bring in the (unlikely) event of a criminal case being brought against those they accuse of shooting MH17 down.  That by definition makes the presentation provisional and open to challenge, and especially given Ukraine’s involvement accounts for its structural bias.

If the claim by the team the militia was responsible for shooting down MH17 was a foregone conclusion, have we nonetheless learnt anything new from the evidence they have provided?

Until this evidence is thoroughly and independently examined I cannot say.  However I have to say I doubt it.  None of the new evidence presented on Wednesday looked to me especially compelling.  Radio intercept evidence is always subject to interpretation, eye-witness evidence is rarely reliable, and despite the team’s earnest protestations that the video evidence is reliable, there have been too many cases in the past where that has turned out to be not so.  As for the technical evidence, that is being fiercely challenged by Almaz-Antey, whose expertise in this field is unmatched. 

The fact that the Western media’s reporting of the presentation on Wednesday was so understated – none of the British newspapers made it anything close to a headline story – suggests that they too found the case they heard less than compelling. 

I suspect part of the problem was that so much of this evidence was already known – and was already known to be hotly contested – that in the end it could not be completely persuasive.

The key problem however is that the most important evidence of all simply wasn’t there. 

This is the evidence the US says it has which supposedly pinpoints the launch point, and which in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy the US claimed proved it was the militia which launched the missile that shot down MH17.

Not only does the US continue to refuse to publish this evidence, but it has never given a really satisfactory reason why it refuses to do so. 

If the evidence is so highly classified that it cannot be released – as is often said (though not to my knowledge on the record by US officials) – then the US should never have spoken of it at all.  By doing so the US foreclosed the possibility of a truly open-minded inquiry whilst denying the militia the possibility to refute what is said to be the strongest evidence against them.

There is also the problem that the US has in the past published evidence when it suits it.  The US for example did so in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war. That evidence turned out to be wrong, a fact which means that few today are prepared to take US claims about its evidence on trust, something the US seems to struggle to understand. Certainly relying on another NATO intelligence agency – in this case Dutch intelligence – to give the US’s evidence its support will convince few people.

Regardless, given that the US has a previous history of releasing this sort of evidence, it needs at the very least to provide a satisfactory explanation of why it is not doing so now if it is going to persuade the doubters.  This is especially so given that the very high stakes in this case make it difficult for many people to believe the US would not have found some way to publish at least some of its evidence if it really wanted to.

In the absence of this evidence the sort of evidence that came from the team on Wednesday looks too much like an attempt to piece together a case that was supposed to have been already proved in the days immediately after the tragedy to convince the skeptics and still the doubts.  The selective way in which some of the facts were presented in what ultimately was the prosecution’s presentation of its case, and the State Department’s rush to claim the team’s findings corroborate its original assertions (rather than the other way round) is only going to reinforce those doubts. 

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Fusion GPS founder trapped in legal jeopardy, bets on Democrat midterm win to bury Russiagate hoax (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 135.

Alex Christoforou

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Fusion GPS researcher Nellie Ohr and ex-FBI official James Baker are set to testify before Congress, but Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson is taking the Fifth.

The man at the center of the Russiagate hoax, Glenn Simpson, headed the espionage/PR smear firm Fusion GPS, which ordered the discredited and fake Trump ‘dossier’, which John McCain handed to the FBI, and which Buzzfeed News published as actual news.

Simpson has a lot of explaining to do, and now appears trapped in his “under oath” lies.

Simpson had previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that he never met with DOJ official Bruce Ohr, husband to Fusion GPS researcher Nellie Ohr.

Simpson also stated under oath that he never discussed with Bruce Ohr the Steele dossier prior to the October FISA application, which was used to spy on Carter Page and kick off the ‘Russiagate hoax’.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the legal jeopardy entangling Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson. Republicans are close to breaking the ‘Russiagate hoax’ wide open, but Simpson is betting on delay tactics, and a subsequent Democrat midterm House victory, to save his ass from prosecution, and bury his involvement in a brazen attempt to discredit and remove an elected US President.

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According to Zerohedge, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson may be in “real legal jeopardy” over inconsistent testimony given to Congress regarding his involvement in a massive counterintelligence effort against then-candidate Donald Trump, including the infamous Steele dossier.

Speaking with Fox News Maria Bartiromo, John Ratcliffe (R-TX) said…

“I’m not surprised that Glenn Simpson is taking the Fifth.”

“He probably should. He’s in real legal jeopardy. Very clearly someone is not telling the truth.”

Via The Daily Caller… 

Simpson, who investigated the Trump campaign on behalf of the DNC and Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, informed Congress on Thursday that he will plead the Fifth to avoid speaking with members of the House Judiciary and House Oversight & Government Committee in an interview set for Tuesday.

“The reason for that … is that Glenn Simpson had previously testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee that he never met with Bruce Ohr or discussed with Bruce Ohr the Steele dossier prior to the October FISA application in 2016 or the 2016 presidential election,” said Ratcliffe, a member of the House Judiciary panel.

Via Fox News ‘Sunday Morning Futures’

Via Zerohedge

Ohr told the Judiciary and Oversight & Government Reform Committees in an August 28 interview that he met with Simpson in August and December of 2016 to discuss Fusion GPS’s opposition research into Donald Trump.

Bruce’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was hired by Fusion GPS for the anti-Trump effort at the time.

Simpson, however, told a different story to the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017, when he said that he hadn’t been in contact with anyone from the DOJ or FBI until after the election. While he did acknowledge meeting with Bruce Ohr (meetings which would result in Ohr’s demotion), Simpson never disclosed his wife’s employment.

“Ohr, who has been demoted twice since December, was also in frequent contact with Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier. Steele, a former British spy, was hired by Fusion GPS in June 2016 to investigate the Trump campaign’s possible links to the Kremlin.

Steele met with the Ohrs on July 30, 2016, a day before the FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump team. Ohr met just after with FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe.” – Daily Caller

Following the 2016 election, Steel and Ohr met over a dozen times, despite the FBI having blacklisted Steele for improper media disclosures concerning his work.

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Hillary and Holder are hurting Democrat Party with their rhetoric

Democrat-written opinion piece points out the fact that the party has radicalized so much it has left its own supporters behind.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News ran an opinion piece written by Douglas E. Schoen early Sunday. It points out how radicalized the Democrat Party has become, and it is noteworthy because Douglas Schoen is a Democrat himself. He writes (emphasis added):

As Democrats campaign for the Nov. 6 midterm elections, they have plenty of legitimate criticisms to level at President Trump and Republicans who control the House and Senate. But Democrats were hurt in recent days by amazing and disgusting comments made by Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

As a Democrat, I want my party to win as many seats as possible in the House and Senate and to capture as many governorships and other state offices as it can. But the Clinton and Holder remarks do not advance that effort – they hurt it.

Former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Clinton said Tuesday that “you cannot be civil with” the Republican Party because it “wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about.” She added that “if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”

But even worse than Clinton’s comments were those of Eric Holder, who said at a recent campaign event in Georgia that Democrats should abandon the advice of former first lady Michelle Obama, who said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention that her party and mine should respond positively to negative attacks from the GOP.

Mrs. Obama said that “when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

Holder argued just the opposite, saying: “When they go low, we kick them. That’s what this new Democratic Party is about.” He later said he wasn’t advocating violence – not literal kicking.

I beg to differ with both Clinton and Holder.

The only way the Democrats can regain the majority in either or both houses of Congress is by being civil, and pointing out the differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issues.

This is the real issue that should govern elections. Rather than the politics of popularity, one needs to consider policy points and which side offers points that are actually achievable, believable, concrete, desirable and specific. Calling President Trump and his administration names does not offer any constructive dialogue on policy matters.

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Conservatives and Trump supporters know this and it is precisely because of this that Donald Trump won the White House.

While the mainstream media (and here we can include Fox News largely) tried every possible way to ridicule Donald Trump’s candidacy, the people that actually listened to what he had to say found him very impressive on policy as much as his ability to speak as the voice of the people. The recent hysteria around Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court was hysteria up front, driven by real policy fears from the deep core of liberals, as they know that this Justice is likely to form an effective wall against liberals ramming their agenda through the courts since their efforts fail legislatively so often.

Mr. Schoen continues:

As a centrist Democrat, the issue that strikes me most is the degree to which the national debt and the deficit are now out of control.

America faces uncertain and unstable times financially. Yet we are seeing a Republican-controlled Congress that has largely failed to do anything besides provide tax cuts for major corporations and the wealthiest individuals. This is by no means certain to have fundamentally altered the path of the economy or to provide economic growth.

Put another way, what the Trump administration has failed to do is to fix health care and cover pre-existing conditions more fundamentally; lead America in a fiscally responsible way; and pass tax cuts that help the average American. The Trump tax cuts have driven up the national debt and endangered funding for programs that benefit millions of people in our country.

So, here are policy points. Now we can begin to have a debate. Is Mr. Schoen right, or wrong in his information? This is far different than name-calling!

Democrats have long argued the need for a centrist agenda that focuses on:

  • Providing health-care benefits – whether private or public – to all Americans to cover expansively all pre-existing conditions.
  • Protecting the environment from the policies of the Trump administration that have only encouraged –and I dare say exacerbated – environmental degradation and climate change.
  • Promoting a pro-growth, inclusive agenda that seeks to put working people first, and the interests of Washington insiders and economic elites second. President Trump claims that he is doing this – he calls it “draining the swamp” – but this has not happened.

There is no justification for the angry rhetoric of Clinton and Holder, which only feeds into Republican claims that Democrats are an angry mob that can’t get over Clinton’s loss to Trump two years ago.

And Holder looks particularly bad because he was once the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, yet now sounds like he is effectively advocating what appears to be either illegal activities, or metaphorical initiatives that run counter to our traditions and our politics.

Hillary Clinton has said she won’t run for office again, but Holder has said he may run for president in 2020. Whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be needs to be a responsible and respectable opponent – not one who calls for kicking the GOP or for incivility.

We should have learned from the Senate confirmation hearing for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh that resisting for the sake of resisting doesn’t work. In fact, Democratic attacks on Kavanaugh may well have backfired, recent polls show.

The Democratic Party itself is lost now, without a message, a direction, a strategy, or agenda to confront a Republican Party that is seen as in many ways as having let the American people down.

We need change – but it must be constructive change. This Democrat believes that the comments that Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton made are wrong, counterproductive, and deserve to be rejected by the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Perhaps Fox News ran this opinion piece because Douglas Schoen is the first rational Democrat contributor to say anything in some time. However, it also appears that Mr. Schoen is a minority in his own party. It is a greatly logical approach to argue policy, as he has and as anyone who really understands American government should. But it is unclear as to whether the bulk of the Democrat Party even has reasonable people remaining.

If they do, it may well be that they are being betrayed by their party’s increasingly leftist and radical positions. The Party apparatus seems focused, but it also seems to have left people like Mr. Schoen behind.

Who knows? Maybe that will bring them into the Trump camp.

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Patriarch Bartholomew lifts anathemas on schismatics in Ukraine (VIDEO)

Most of the Orthodox world is in strong opposition to this move by Patriarch Bartholomew, whose motivations seem not to be of Christ.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The biggest news in the Eastern Orthodox world in recent times occurred on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, lifted the anathemas against two schismatic Ukrainian Churches and their leaders, paving the way to the creation of a fully independent Ukrainian national Orthodox Church.

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This announcement was given in English and is shown here in video with the textual transcript following:

“Presided by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Holy and Sacred Synod convened for its regular session from October 9 to 11, 2018 in order to examine and discuss items on its agenda. The Holy Synod discussed in particular and at length, the ecclesiastical mater of Ukraine in the presence of His Excellency Archbishop Daniel of Pamphilon and His Grace Bishp Ilarion of Edmonon, Patriarchal Exarchs to Ukraine, and following extensive deliberations decreed (emphasis added):

First, to renew the decision already made, that the Ecumenical Patriarchate proceed to the granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine;

Second, to re-establish at this moment the stavropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Kiev—one of its many starvorpegion in Ukraine that existed there always;

Third, to accept and review the petitions of appeal of Philaret Denisenko and Makary Maletich and their followers who found themselves in schism not for dogmatic reasons, in accordance with the canonical prerogatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to receive such petitions by hierarchs and other clergy of all the autocephalous Churches. Thus, the above mentioned have been canonically reinstated to their hierarchical or priestly rank, and their faithful have been restored to communion with the Church;

Fourth, to revoke the legal binding of the Synodal letter of the year 1686, issued for the circumstances of that time, which granted the right through economia to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev elected by the clergy-laity assembly of his eparchy, who would commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first hierarch at any celebration, proclaiming and affirming his canonical dependence to the Mother Church of Constantinople;

Fifth, to appeal to all sides involved that they avoid appropriation of churches, monasteries, and other properties as well as every other act of violence and retaliation so that he peace and love of Christ may prevail.”

There are a few things that must be said about what this declaration is not before we get to the matter of what the points of actually are. The point of reference is the strict letter of the text above itself.

  • This is not a granting of autocephaly (full independent self-rule status) like the fourteen universally canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in the world. However, it is a huge step towards this status.
  • As far as Constantinople is concerned, Filaret Denisenko, the leader and “Patriarch” of the “Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church” and Makary, the “Metropolitan” of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church”, and all their faithful are now restored to communion. The statement says that this applies to “The Church” which may be trying to state that these two men (and all the faithful that they lead), are now in communion with the entirety of canonical Orthodoxy, but more likely, this may be a carefully worded statement to say they now are in communion with Constantinople alone.
  • There is an official call for the cessation of the violence directed against the Moscow Patriarchate parishes and communities, who are the only canonically recognized Orthodox Church in Ukraine, and who are also the largest by far in that country. The Kyiv Patriarchate and Uniate (Roman oriented) Greek Catholics in Ukraine have gone on record for seizing MP church properties, often by force, with neo-Nazi sympathizers and other radical Ukrainian nationalists. So this official call to cease the violence is now a matter of public record.

However, the reaction has been far less civil than the clergy wished for.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: “Expressing his view of the Moscow Patriarchate, Poroshenko added, “This is a great victory of the God-loving Ukrainian people over the Moscow demons, the victory of Good over Evil, the victory of Light over Darkness.”’

Perhaps this is the reason Metropolitan Onuphry of Ukraine (exarch under the Moscow Patriarchate) has been labeled an enemy of Ukraine and is now receiving death threats. Very civil.

Poroshenko’s statement is all the more bizarre, considering that it has been Ukrainian ultra-nationalists that have been violently attacking Moscow – related parishes in Ukraine. This has been corroborated by news sources eager to pin the blame on Russia, such as the U.K. Guardian.

The Union of Orthodox Journalists, based in Kiev and supportive of the Moscow Patriarchate, has been under intense cyber attack since October 11th, when the EP’s announcement was issued.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Chancellor, Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary: “What happened at the Synod in Istanbul yesterday shocked the entire Orthodox world. It seems the Patriarchate of Constantinople is consciously embarking on a path of schism in world Orthodoxy. Patriarch Bartholomew ignored the calls of the Local Churches to convene a meeting of the primates to work out a common and conciliar solution to the Ukrainian Church issue and unilaterally made very serious but erroneous decisions. I hope the Orthodox world will give this action an objective evaluation… Having received the schismatics into communion, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make them canonical, but has himself embarked on the path of schism. The schismatics remain schismatics. They did not receive any autocephaly or tomos. It seems they have lost even that independence, although non-canonical, that they had and which they always emphasized.”

Metropolitan Rostislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia:“The Orthodox world recognizes the only canonical primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church—His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine. This fact was repeatedly mentioned and confirmed by the primate of the Great Church of Christ His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on behalf of all present at the Synaxis of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches that was held in Chambésy (Switzerland) from January 21 to 27, 2016. Therefore, any attempt to legalize the Ukrainian schismatics by the state authorities should be strongly condemned by all the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches.

Patriarch Irinej of Serbia wrote two letters to the Ecumenical Patriarch, advocating that the provision of a new autocephaly is possible only with the consent of all local Orthodox Churches. According to Sedmitza.ru (Translation by Pravoslavie.ru),

“In these letters, it was very clearly stated that the granting of autocephaly cannot be the prerogative the Patriarchate of Constantinople alone, that new autocephalies must be created only with the consent of all the Local Orthodox Churches, as the Holy Synod of Antioch also said in its recent statement.”

Pat. Irinej also warned the Patriarchate of Constantinople against making such major decisions unilaterally, because “it will not bring harmony and peace to the Ukrainian land, but, on the contrary, will cause new divisions and new schisms.”

The Holy Synod of Antioch, the oldest Orthodox Church, and actually the very first place where the disciples of Christ were even called “Christians” weighed in on the issue as well and they had several things to say:

“The fathers examined the general Orthodox situation. They stressed that the Church of Antioch expresses her deep worries about the attempts to change the boundaries of the Orthodox Churches through a new reading of history. She considers that resorting to a unilateral reading of history does not serve Orthodox unity. It rather contributes to the fueling of the dissensions and quarrels within the one Church. Thus, the Church of Antioch refuses the principle of establishing parallel jurisdictions within the canonical boundaries of the Patriarchates and the autocephalous Churches as a way to solve conflicts, or as a de facto situation in the Orthodox world.

To summarize, this move by Constantinople is not being warmly received by many, many people. Most of the local Churches are on record giving their reaction to this process. In brief, here is the list most of the Local Churches and a one or two word summary of their reactions.

Patriarchate of Georgia: Unilateral action is wrong; Constantinople and Moscow must cooperate and find a solution together.

Patriarchate of Jerusalem: recognizes Ukraine as a canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church alone, as do all other local Churches

Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa: The Church does not bow to politicians. Moscow-led church is the only canonical Church in Ukraine.

Archbishop of Cyprus: Decries the Ukrainian situation but offered to mediate a discussion between Moscow and Constantinople

Bulgarian Patriarchate: Interference of the State in Church affairs leads to serious and negative consequences for both.

Polish Orthodox Church: Metropolitan Sawa called for a council of Orthodox ruling hierarchs to discuss this situation.

Estonian Orthodox Church: Condemns Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

Greek Archdiocese of America: Supports Constantinople’s actions in Ukraine.

The Orthodox Church of Greece (Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus quoted): “Schismatics, as we know, are not the Church, and communion with them is forbidden by the Divine and holy canons and the Apostolic and Ecumenical Councils. Why then this persistence of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in recognizing schismatics as an autocephalous Church? To provoke schisms and divisions in the one universal and Apostolic Church of Christ?”

Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR): Ceased commemoration of Constantinople, ceased concelebration with Constantinople.

This issue has also rocked the secular geopolitical world.

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