Archive for October, 2017

Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt On Fake News, Russia, And “Information Warfare” — “I did not understand that these systems can be used to manipulate public opinion.”

October 31, 2017

“One of the things I did not understand,” says Schmidt, “was that these systems can be used to manipulate public opinion in ways that are quite inconsistent with what we think of as democracy.”

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Eric Schmidt Meets With Sen. Cory Booker on Capitol Hill

Ever since the 2016 presidential election, Alphabet, the tech giant that owns Google, has been under intense scrutiny to acknowledge its role in trafficking the Russia-backed disinformation campaign that potentially helped shape the outcome. In some of the most unequivocal comments yet, the company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, recently acknowledged to Fast Company that the search giant didn’t do enough to safeguard its services against Russian manipulation.

“We did not understand the extent to which governments–essentially what the Russians did–would use hacking to control the information space. It was not something we anticipated strongly enough,” Schmidt said. “I worry that the Russians in 2020 will have a lot more powerful tools.”

Schmidt’s comments, from an August 30 interview published as part of a new Fast Company feature about how Alphabet is grappling with digital threats such as fake news and disinformation, offers a preview of how Google may frame its testimony before the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees this week.

Public criticism and government scrutiny of leading technology companies is mounting, and they are being asked to deliver a full accounting of the ways Russia leveraged their services, in addition to how they, directly or indirectly, assisted in those efforts. Yet inside Alphabet, there is a sense among some top executives focused on these challenges that the company does not owe the public a mea culpa.

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In a range of interviews late this summer, these executives said that Alphabet was actually ahead of the curve on these issues compared to their Silicon Valley counterparts. “Some of the problems that are being created are being created because the [tech] companies aren’t fixing them,” Schmidt told Fast Company. “There are now teams [inside Alphabet] looking at the technology behind information warfare. Not in the military sense–I mean in the manipulation sense.”

In the weeks following these conversations, there has been a stream of revelations detailing how vulnerable technology companies were to the proliferation of Russia-linked propaganda leading up to the presidential election. Just this month, the New York Times reported that the Kremlin-backed news organization RT exploited YouTube and its close relationship with the Google-owned video network to spread propaganda, and the Washington Post reported that Google has found evidence that Russian operatives intending to peddle disinformation spent tens of thousands of dollars through ads on Google’s platforms such as its search and Gmail products.

Google is actively examining these findings. “We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries,” Andrea Faville, a company spokesperson, said in a statement.

Some of the research on the problem of fake news is being handled by Jigsaw, a think tank-like subsidiary previously known as Google Ideas. Founded by Schmidt and Jared Cohen, a former State Department policy staffer who worked under Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, Jigsaw’s leaders consider the group an early warning system for potential threats to Google, and say they first started exploring disinformation in the context of Russia’s response to Euromaidan, the wave of anti-government protests in Ukraine in late 2013 and early 2014.

“We’ve been looking at the exercises the Russians were doing in terms of disinformation and misinformation to shape that environment for years,” says Scott Carpenter, another former State Department official who now serves as Jigsaw’s managing director and also acts as a liaison with teams at Google and other Alphabet subsidiaries.

Still, it wasn’t until October 2016 that the group assisted in launching a tool specifically to address fake news in the United States. Called Fact Check, the service is embedded in Google News and labels articles using criteria such as whether they include opinion or highly cited reporting. “Before the election, people were like, ‘What the fuck do you need a fact checker for?’” Carpenter recalls. “And then they were like, ‘Oh my god, we have Fact Check! Look! We did it! Google! In Search! Before the election!’”

Google, in response to growing public criticism since that time, has created initiatives to address the problem of fake news. In April, the search giant announced an effort to tweak its algorithm, codenamed “Project Owl,” to stop “the spread of blatantly misleading, low-quality, offensive, or downright false information” polluting its search results, as engineering VP Ben Gomes said in a company blog post.

Despite these moves, a handful of policy experts and former White House and State Department officials told me that Alphabet–like Facebook and Twitter–is not moving fast enough nor investing the appropriate resources to police its platforms. Jigsaw, for example, has just 60 employees, only a fraction of whom are actually working on issues related to disinformation. “To be blunt, Silicon Valley has lived in a libertarian fantasy world with all this ‘Don’t Do Evil’ shit for the last 10 to 20 years, and there is a realization starting to come over Washington that it’s a real uncontrolled industry,” says Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the liberal think tank American Progress focused on U.S.-Russia geopolitics, who previously served on former Secretary of State John Kerry’s policy planning staff.

But Cohen, who serves as Jigsaw’s CEO and is also a senior adviser to Schmidt at Alphabet, says the company can’t solve the fake news problem immediately. Rather, they are taking a more deliberate approach. “I always tell the team that we’re not reactive, otherwise, one year we’d be working on Ebola, and another year we’d be working on fake news,” says Cohen. Adds Carpenter, “[We’re] trying to tackle this question of fake news but in a way that we think makes sense, not like, ‘Ah! The house is on fire! We need to do something about it!’ Forget about doing anything [yet]; we need to understand what’s actually happening [first].”

Toward that end, in June, Jigsaw sent a team to Macedonia to understand why the Balkan country has become a haven for producing a disproportionate amount of the world’s fake news. “We want to look at what we call ‘networked propaganda,’ the idea that fake news is part of the information food chain that spreads online,” Carpenter says. “How does the food chain work? How does it spread from offline to online back to offline? What are the distribution channels?” Schmidt adds that Alphabet has “gotten very interested in misinformation, how misinformation works, and how it manipulates people. These are areas that are new to me.”

Schmidt and Cohen say one of their biggest concerns going forward is the erosion of truth. That is, as agents of disinformation become more adept at spreading propaganda, there’s the potential that even the tech- and media-savvy will find it increasingly difficult to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake. “You could be interacting with a bunch of people online, believing you’re talking to Bernie Sanders or Trump supporters, but really, you’re talking to three guys outside of St. Petersburg,” Cohen says. “It really oversimplifies it to just say this is a fake news problem. We talk about it in terms of ‘digital paramilitaries.’”

Schmidt, likewise, references the dangers of “mechanized” fake content on YouTube (say, a video of Hillary Clinton with manipulated audio and visuals to make it sound and look as if she’s confessing to one of the many conspiracy theories orbiting her), and warns of the increasing role bots might play in the national discourse as their interaction skills improve. “How many Twitter accounts are real people versus non-real people? It’d be useful to know if the thing tweeting at and spamming you was a person or not,” he says. “And in Facebook’s case, they’re working hard on this, but how would you know that it was a computer that was spreading viral fake news?”

“One of the things I did not understand was that these systems can be used to manipulate public opinion in ways that are quite inconsistent with what we think of as democracy,” Schmidt continues. “So that’s a really interesting problem, that Google and particularly Jigsaw should be pursuing, whether with fake news sites or more subtle things. Just using the Russians as an example–although plenty of other governments can do this–how would you feel if that stuff gets stronger? Would you be worried about it?” Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be essential to addressing these challenges, he explains, but “it remains to be seen whether some of these algorithms can be used to prevent bad stuff.”


Related: Alphabet’s AI Is Slowly Getting Better At Flagging The Internet’s Worst Trolls


In such a tense political climate, the Jigsaw team is exceedingly hesitant to talk about President Donald Trump, out of concern they might come across as partisan. (Schmidt is in a particularly precarious position, having advised the Clinton team on their election tech, according to hacked campaign emails published by Wikileaks.) Jigsaw research head Yasmin Green–who was born in Iran and could be affected by Trump’s latest travel ban–explains that it makes more strategic sense for the company to focus on the larger problem. “With disinformation, we care about organized [state-sponsored] networked propaganda. If you become consumed with the politics or the actor, you’re really missing the opportunity,” she says. “Our mandate is to protect people from threats, and that’s why, publicly, on the record, it’s not appropriate for us to talk about our political leanings.”

But this week’s congressional hearings are intended to help the government deal with more immediate digital threats, and to hold the tech world accountable for its part in disseminating disinformation during the previous election. Earlier this month, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that would require internet companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter to disclose more information about political ads purchased on their digital platforms. More stringent regulatory requirements may not be far behind.

When the topic of government intervention came up in my conversations with Carpenter, he stressed that an effective regulatory solution would require input from the private sector. “The only lever government has to pull is policy, and the problem with policy is it takes a long time to develop and negotiate,” Carpenter says. “If there is going to be a regulatory framework that would come out of looking at something like fake news, how in the world are those people [in government] going to understand what’s actually happening on the internet if we don’t? It’s impossible. So if we can help understand it, then we can help educate policy makers, and we can also take some prophylactic steps beforehand so we can obviate the need for something that’s very cumbersome.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Alphabet, its subsidiaries, and competitors.

“[In the coming years,] there will be a lot more pressure–a moral sense of obligation–on Silicon Valley to [solve] these problems,” former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fast Company recently. “I hope they’re willing to fix them, because the worst thing that can happen is that the government just starts regulating things it doesn’t understand.”

Alphabet agrees with that viewpoint. And when Google’s information security director Richard Salgado and general counsel Kent Walker appear at the Senate committee hearings this week, they are likely to frame their responses around the idea that the tech companies themselves are best-suited to resolve these problems. “We support efforts to improve transparency, enhance disclosures, and reduce foreign abuse. We’re evaluating steps we can take on our own platforms and will work closely with lawmakers, the FEC, and the industry to explore the best solutions,” Faville, the Google spokesperson, said in a statement.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ask the government to solve all these problems–they don’t have the resources,” Schmidt told me. “The tech industry–and I’m including Google and YouTube here–has a responsibility to get this right and not be manipulated.”

To some observers, it’s difficult to comprehend why the public should rely upon the same technology companies that created–if not perpetuated–these problems to now fix them. “Our government doesn’t have the lawyers to understand what’s going on, they can’t afford the technologists, and they’re five steps behind, which means, fundamentally, these tech companies are operating by themselves and are frequently telling the government, ‘Hey, here’s what needs to be done.’ Usually, those people are just going to be caring about their own profit motive, and that’s a horrible place to be in,” says Ian Bremmer, founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “My personal view is that I don’t have a lot of trust for a lot of these organizations.”

But others caution against engaging in too much finger pointing on this issue. Antony Blinken, the former deputy secretary of state and national security advisor under Obama, who now advises Alphabet and Facebook, contends that the problem ultimately lies with Russia, not Silicon Valley. “The [tech] platforms have to do better to defend against malicious actors, but let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees: the problem is Russia and other actors who use our openness against us, not the platforms,” Blinken says. “The biggest mistake we can make is to get into a circular firing squad with government and the tech companies. The only winner in that scenario is Russia.”

https://www.fastcompany.com/40488115/alphabets-eric-schmidt-on-fake-news-russia-and-information-warfare

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Vastness of Russian Fake News “Massive” Social Media Giants Now Confess — More than We Ever Dreamed

October 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Paul HANDLEY | Russian fake-news operations were able to reach millions of Americans in an effort to spread discord across US society using the networks of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US internet giants go before Congress on Tuesday with new data showing the success of Russian fake news operations, the day after bombshell indictments in a US probe of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.

Google, Facebook and Twitter were reported to be armed with information showing many millions of Americans were exposed to the fake news, far more than previously thought.

The new data, revealed in testimony leaked late Monday ahead of the hearings in Congress, is expected to give the broadest picture yet of the Russian effort to spread discord across US society.

It comes as the first indictments in a US probe into Russian attempts to sway the 2016 presidential elections were reverberating through Washington.

One of three indictments unsealed by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller revealed early contacts between Kremlin-linked figures and a former advisor of President Donald Trump’s campaign.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Tuesday the US accusations of election-meddling were being made “without one piece of evidence.”

The scope of Russian use of US social media to spread divisive messages is expected to figure prominently in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, and House and Senate Intelligence Committees Wednesday.

Leaked testimony by three companies shows that Russian activities were far greater than they had previously reported.

– Huge fake news challenge –

Twitter has found that nearly 37,000 automated “bot” accounts with Russian links generated 1.4 million tweets that were seen by a potential 288 million people in the three months before the November 8, 2016 presidential election, according to a source familiar with its planned testimony.

Facebook says some 126 million US users, a potentially huge portion of the voting public, may have seen stories, posts or other content from Russian sources, media including the Wall Street Journal and Recode reported.

The top legal officials from all three are expected to face intense questioning on how they plan to counter such operations, which analysts say were part of a broader effort last year to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

“Foreign governments like Russia -? in the 2016 election cycle -? were deeply involved in manipulating popular social media websites with misinformation to sow discord among Americans,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

“The manipulation of social media sites by terrorist organizations and foreign governments is one of the greatest challenges to American democracy and a significant threat to our national security in the 21st century.”

– Twitter blocking Russian media –

But all three social media firms face the difficult challenge of keeping their platforms open, in order to avoid accusations of censorship and bias, and not becoming the curators of truth in society.

The three have already begun taking measures to try to screen out manipulative Russian content. Researchers have identified efforts in the past year that aimed to make white Americans angry at blacks, to hurt the image of feminists, and other such targeting that may have hurt Clinton and helped Trump.

Twitter announced last week it would no longer accept advertising from Russia Today and Sputnik, two Russian government-backed media groups that allegedly hone their stories and news placement for political impact.

“This decision was based on the retrospective work we’ve been doing around the 2016 US election and the US intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government,” Twitter said.

Google said Monday it had found “some evidence of efforts to misuse our platforms during the 2016 US election by actors linked to the Internet Research Agency in Russia.”

“We’re committed to finding a way to stop this type of abuse, and to working closely with governments, law enforcement, other companies, and leading NGOs to promote electoral integrity and user security, and combat misinformation,” the company said.

by Paul HANDLEY

Ukraine says it warned Facebook of Russia fake news in 2015

October 31, 2017

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Social media site denies it failed to act on complaint about Moscow’s ‘propaganda war’

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By Hannah Kuchler in San Francisco and Roman Olearchyk in Kiev
FT

The Ukrainian government says it warned Facebook and US officials years ago that Russia was conducting disinformation campaigns on its platform including account takedowns and fake news, as the impact of social media on politics comes under the spotlight.

Dmytro Shymkiv, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, told the FT that it warned Facebook and US officials about “aggressive behaviour” from Russia spreading disinformation on social media in an “information propaganda war” in 2015.

In a meeting with Gabriella Cseh, Facebook’s head of public policy for central and eastern Europe, and Thomas Myrup Kristensen, head of the Brussels office, Mr Shymkiv said the Ukrainian government expressed concern about the spread of made-up stories, which later became known as fake news.

“We shared with them some of our concerns that the problem of fake news spreading and the influence of behaviour is very worrying,” he said.

“I think Facebook was warned about what might happen with respect to the situation that unfolded in the US,” he said. “Their response was: ‘We are an open platform, we allow everybody the possibility to communicate’. That’s all I got.”

Evidence of Russian meddling ahead of the US election has raised questions over tech companies’ seemingly flawed knowledge and control of what happens on their platforms.

On Tuesday representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are due to appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism on Tuesday, the day before the companies face a grilling from the Senate intelligence committee.

Both committees will ask how Russian figures were able to use the platforms to interfere in US politics — and what the companies will do about it. The companies already have laid out plans to improve transparency in their advertising systems.

Twitter will say it believes the Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency was behind 2,752 accounts, far more than the 201 accounts it originally linked to Russian election-focused activity, according to a person familiar with the company’s testimony. All these accounts have been suspended and their details handed to the committee investigators.

Facebook will say that political content published by Russian-based actors was shown to 126m Americans in the two years before the US election, according to the prepared testimony. The social network found the Internet Research Agency set up about 120 Facebook pages that posted 80,000 times and bought 3,000 adverts.

A report by Oxford Internet Institute describes Ukraine as one of the first countries to face a “serious disinformation crisis” and on the “frontline” of “numerous disinformation campaigns”.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine president, wrote to Facebook to ask them to open an office in his country so the content moderation could be done by Ukrainians, as he worried Russians were making the final decision on what posts and accounts to take down.

But Facebook refused, explaining it did not have an office in Russia and was taking down accounts because of hate speech, including using racial slurs against Russians.

Facebook said it did not discuss fake news with Ukraine. Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice-president of public policy for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, said he personally oversaw the team that travelled to Kiev twice to meet the Ukrainian government. Mr Shymkiv said they met once.

“The conversations they had in 2014 and 2015 were about our handling of reports by Russians to get Ukrainian content taken down from our platform, not about fake news or attempts to spread messages,” Mr Allan said.

“The content reporting behaviour we observed at the time bore no resemblance to information operations we observed in connection with the 2016 US election. The Ukrainian government has more recently raised the issue of fake news with us but this was only in 2017 after the US election,” he added.

Facebook also met with media to talk about the issue.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and chief executive, was forced to address Ukrainian account takedowns in an online town hall he held in May 2015. The top 20 questions were all from Ukrainians, the top question got 45,000 likes. Many complained their accounts were being flagged as committing hate speech, just to take them offline.

“There’s been a bunch of content that has been posted that violates the rules we have around hate speech . . . some of these posts included ethnic slurs against Russian posts,” he said. “I looked into it personally and I stand by that we did the right thing according to our policies.”

Ruslan Deynychenko, one of the co-founders of StopFake.org, a non-governmental organisation set up in Ukraine in early 2014 to debunk Russian fake news, said Ukrainians had warned the west that this was a “very potent weapon”.

https://www.ft.com/content/c63d76d4-bd1e-11e7-b8a3-38a6e068f464

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, November 1, 2017 — Feast of All Saints — “Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.”

October 31, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints
Lectionary: 667

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Reading 1 RV 7:2-4, 9-14

I, John, saw another angel come up from the East,
holding the seal of the living God.
He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels
who were given power to damage the land and the sea,
“Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees
until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”
I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal,
one hundred and forty-four thousand marked
from every tribe of the children of Israel.  After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:”Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”All the angels stood around the throne
and around the elders and the four living creatures.
They prostrated themselves before the throne,
worshiped God, and exclaimed:”Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might
be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me,
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”
I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.”
He said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”

Responsorial Psalm  PS 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6

R. (see 6) Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
The LORD’s are the earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it.
For he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD,
a reward from God his savior.
Such is the race that seeks him,
that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
R. Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-3

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure.

Alleluia MT 11:28

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
And I will give you rest, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 5:1-12A

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:”Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”
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From Abbot PhilipThe Gospel from Saint Matthew today gives us what we call the Beatitudes.  The sayings of Jesus reflect what it is to follow the Lord:  poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ.  This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!

The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God.  We must follow Jesus with all of our strength.  When we fail, we must get up and start again.  Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

https://christdesert.org/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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1 NOVEMBER, 2017, Wednesday, All Saints
BEING AND BECOMING SAINTS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ REV 7:2-49-14JN 3:1-3MT 5:1-12 ]

“Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?”  (Apoc 7:13).  This question demands an answer from each one of us.  Because the answer that we give indicates how we understand ourselves, our origin and destiny in life.  And unless we know, the celebration of All Saints Day will have no relevance in our lives.

Now if I ask ‘who are the saints’, the answer that most people would give is that they are those who have lived their lives in such a way that they have arrived at sainthood.  And this means that we are all in the process of becoming saints.  All Saints Day therefore is a celebration not only of those who have become saints but all of us who will become saints at the end of our journey.  However, such an answer is only partially correct.  It starts with the fact that we believe that we are sinners even before we were born.  Now this is not really true, and even contradicts scripture.

St John tells us that we are already the children of God because of His love that He lavished on us.  Regardless of the fact that we are baptized or not, it would not be really wrong even to say that all of us are God’s children by the mere fact of our coming into existence in this world.  After all, do we not believe that God is the Father of all humankind and not just Christians?   To be born into the world means that we share in the very being and love of God.   This is implied also in the answer given by one of the elders to the question that I quoted from Apocalypse at the beginning of this homily.  He said, “These are people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.”   Now, how can they wash their robes white again unless their robes were white before?  Unless you narrowly interprete these texts as referring to those who were baptized. If that were so, then it means to say that the unbaptized cannot be saved.  But this would not be in harmony with what the Church has taught us with regard to the salvation of the unbaptized.

However, one might raise the problem of original sin.  Isn’t it true that the Church teaches that we are all born with original sin?  This is undeniably true both theologically and existentially.  It is our own experience that everyone of us shares the sinful nature of Adam and are under the influence of the situation of sin in the world when we are born.  But let us also not forget that corollary to the doctrine of original sin, there is the doctrine of original justice.  What the Church wants to say also is that even before we were born, God has in His eternal plan meant for us to be saints.  In other words, our original nature before we were born is already saintly.  But somehow things have gone wrong from the very beginning.  In other words, all of us have had a bad start.

What are the implications that we can draw from this premise.  Firstly, the fact is that we are already saints even before we came into the world.   The problem is that from the moment we were born, we forget that we are actually saints.  We have forgotten about our real nature, namely, our sainthood.  This, then, is the difference between the baptized and the unbaptized.  The baptized understands and knows that their real nature is their sainthood, whereas those who are unbaptized do not know.  In the words of John, the unbaptized are those in the world who refuse to acknowledge God as their Father.

Secondly, since we are already saints, since our very being is already sainthood, it means to say that in history, our sainthood is coming to be.  That is to say that in history, the saint in us is being unfolded concretely.  It is in history that we work out and manifest the sainthood in us.  We are just like the seed that already contains the tree in us.  And the tree is nothing else but the externalization of the seed.  Unfortunately, due to our fallen nature and our forgetfulness of our nature as saints, we live unsaintly lives, contradicting our very being.

For this very reason, Jesus, who is the true God and true man, offers us His blueprint on how we can recover our essential nature, which is to be both divine and human like Him, although differing ontologically. In fact, this is what John said:  “we are already the children of God, but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him.”    And what is His blueprint for us?  It is spelt out in the beatitudes.  It is His program of life and for life.  The beatitudes help us to form a vision of life that is a Godly vision.  They are meant to help us to see ourselves, others, success and sufferings in the right perspective.   They will be the ways in which we will purify ourselves to be like Christ, as John tells us; and the way in which our tainted robes can be washed clean.  They are the necessary stages and process to help us to return home, namely, to our original nature even before we were born.

However, it is not enough to say that we were already saints before we were born.  To be purified does not mean simply to return to square one.  In that sense, we must also maintain that while it is true that our very being is saintly, and that we need to realize that sainthood in history, we must also in the same vein say that we can become saints.  In other words, we can become more than what we originally were.  In this sense, we are all becoming saints.  Sainthood, like love, can grow.  To become saints is similar to growing in love.  We cannot say that our love is no longer capable of growing at any point of time; so likewise in our sainthood.  We can become more and more like God.  And this would be an endless process and journey.  But this journey of becoming more and more saintly is not a frustrating process because it is not an implication that we are lacking fulfillment but simply pointing out the fact that we are capable of being enriched further and move on to a higher plane of life and love in God.

Yes, as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, let us remember that we are celebrating the fact that we are already saints and that we are historically living out this sainthood on earth.  But more importantly, we are also celebrating the hope and the reality that we are called to greater heights in saintliness, by joining the communion of saints in fellowship and love which will lead us to ever greater and more enriching love now and for all eternity.  Finally, it means that in love and fellowship, we truly become more and more in God,  who ultimately is the one who can sustain and fulfill us completely.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Homily for the November 1st – Solemnity of All Saints

by Fr. Tommy Lane

It is quite amazing that we who have faith and believe we will live forever can sometimes allow ourselves to be influenced or contaminated by the unspiritual viewpoint of western culture. We could have heaven on earth, but sometimes we create hell on earth. In my last parish in Ireland I said a number of times in homilies that the programs on TV do not reflect who we are. Who are we? St. John answers that beautifully in our second reading:

we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

We are not usually portrayed as spiritual beings in this fashion on TV. There is always somebody in some trouble. The TV does not reflect our deepest reality described by St. John in our second reading.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. (1 John 3:1)

If we know who we are, we will know how to act. If we know who we are, we will know how to act.

The Solemnity of All Saints today reminds us of who we are and what a bright future can be ours. As we celebrate today all the saints, both those canonized and those who are unknown, we are joyful that they have reached the goal of life, heaven. They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us.

The saints encourage us in our own struggles because like us they also endured struggles, they grew from strength to strength, they matured in the Lord as they grew in years. We also see this journey of growth in the great people of the Bible. We could think of Abraham whom Genesis tells us pretended his wife was his sister because he was afraid but Abraham grew to become our father in faith. Moses had a speech impediment and had murdered and protested against being called by God but he led his people to the Promised Land. In the Gospels Peter is impulsive and doesn’t want the Lord to suffer but in Acts he is totally transformed and considers it an honor to suffer for the Lord. Interestingly in Acts even Peter’s shadow is a source of healing, something which is not said of Jesus in the Gospels. Obviously Peter’s Formation Adviser was out of this world!

The journey of growth in the great people of the Bible is also seen in the canonized saints. The Curé of Ars struggled with learning while in seminary but so many pilgrims went to Ars to confess to him that by 1855 there was a daily service of two horse buses between Lyons and Ars, and two other buses met the Paris train at Villefranche. The railway station in Lyons even had a special ticket office for people going to Ars, so many were the pilgrims.

St. Thérèse wrote in her autobiography that after the death of her mother, “I, once so full of life, became timid and retiring, sensitive to an excessive degree. One look was enough to reduce me to tears.” (Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Third Edition pp34-35) She went on to become the Little Flower of Jesus whose relics even stopped the traffic on Fifth Avenue New York because so many people came to venerate her, and three million people venerated her relics during their visit to Ireland in 2001, the same number of people who attended Papal Masses in Ireland in 1979.

St. Augustine struggled with impurity in his youth. As a teenager he was influenced by the loose living of his companions. When he was studying in Carthage he decided to take a mistress. He was such a scoundrel that he even once said to his mother St. Monica that there would be no problems between them if she gave up her faith! He underwent a conversion in Milan and went on to become a priest at the age of 36 and a bishop at the age of 41, and was Bishop of Hippo in North Africa for 35 years. One example of the influence Augustine has on the Church is that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are more quotations from St. Augustine than from any other writer.

St. Ignatius of Loyola had a colorful past before his conversion. In 1515 Ignatius and his brother Pedro Lopez were arrested and prosecuted for nocturnal misdemeanors that were outrageous. Ignatius says up to his twenty-sixth year he was given to worldly vanities. He was proud, sensuous, and driven by violent and powerful impulses, he demanded adventure and glory. But after his conversion he noticed that day dreaming about the saints brought him joy but not worldly matters. And thus gradually he developed the rules for discernment of spirits and established the Society of Jesus. He established a college in Rome for young men entering the Society of Jesus and also set up colleges in Jerusalem, Cyprus and Constantinople. At his death in 1556 the Society of Jesus had 1000 members with 100 houses throughout the world. We see this same journey of growth in the lives of all the saints.

(In another homily I discuss the growth of St Francis from his colorful past.)

The saints remind us of who we really are, the reality described by John in our second reading:

we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

Not only the saints’ lives but also their writings are precious gifts of grace to us to remind us of who we are and the glory that God is offering to us. We could think of St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul with this beautiful excerpt:

“Charity is the most excellent way that leads to God. I finally had rest…I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was burning with love. I understood that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places, in a word, that it was eternal! Then in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: O Jesus, my love, my vocation, at last I have found it, my vocation is love!” (Chapter 9, Clarke 194)

We treasure the Confession of St. Augustine with its words,

“You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

We treasure the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the writings of all the saints. Although the saints had much room for growth early in their lives by the end of their lives we see that they were living the beatitudes of our Gospel today (Matt 5:1-12). Therefore they give encouragement to us as we are aware of our need for further growth. The saints were happy because they were poor in spirit, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful and clean of heart. Among the saints we venerate in a special way the martyrs. As our first reading from Revelation states:

These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14)

They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us. We know that they are praying for us.

We hope and pray that all those near and dear to us who have departed are already or will be numbered among the saints and so we pray for them especially during this month. I conclude with our second reading:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)

http://www.frtommylane.com/homilies/years_abc/all_saints4.htm

Odinga blasts Kenya election re-run, plans more protests

October 31, 2017

AFP and The Associated Press

© Simon Maina, AFP | Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga addresses the media at the Wiper Democratic Movement headquarters in Nairobi on October 31, 2017.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-31

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday criticized an election re-run in which President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner, saying it should be scrapped in favor of yet another vote and that the opposition would continue to protest.

Odinga‘s first public comments since election results were announced Monday suggested that Kenya‘s political and ethnic tensions are unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. The opposition leader, who boycotted the Oct. 26 vote, hinted that his supporters could appeal to the nation’s highest court to nullify a presidential election for the second time since August.

“We shall see to it that we conduct a free, fair and credible presidential election as ordered by the Supreme Court,” Odinga said. “It’s in our best interests that we do so sooner rather than later.”

View image on Twitter

At last @RailaOdinga arrives to deliver his post-boycott, post-election plan for “the way forward”

The court invalidated the Aug. 8 election in which Kenyatta was declared the winner after finding what it called “irregularities and illegalities.” Kenyatta has said he expects legal challenges to the latest election, which he won with an overwhelming 98 percent of the vote because he faced no significant challenge.

The opposition also plans “economic boycotts, peaceful procession, picketing and other legitimate forms of protest,” said Odinga, emphasizing that demonstrations would be peaceful.

However, his supporters have often clashed with police in Nairobi slums and opposition areas in western Kenya since the latest election. At least nine people have been killed. The opposition accuses security forces of using excessive force, while the government says Odinga’s camp has incited violence.

“If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government,” Odinga said Tuesday.

ODINGA ADDRESSES FOLLOWERS: ‘WE REJECT THE SHAM ELECTIONS’

The unrest has highlighted divisions that continue to roil East Africa’s economic hub.

Also Tuesday, business and religious leaders pleaded for calm in a country weary of tension. The head of a Kenyan business association, Nderitu Mwangi of the Hood Group, said companies have suffered big losses because of the turmoil.

The vote has left the country “grossly divided along ethnic and political lines,” The National Council of Churches of Kenya said.

Kenya’s election commission has said the turnout of registered voters in the Oct. 26 election was about 40 percent, compared with roughly twice that in the August balloting. Odinga remained on the ballot and still got 73,000 votes, or just under 1 percent. In August, he received 45 percent to Kenyatta’s 54 percent.

Voting did not take place in two dozen of Kenya’s 290 constituencies due to opposition protests, although the election commission cited an election law that says final results can be announced if the outcome is not affected by the tally in areas that didn’t vote.

ODINGA CALLS RE-RUN UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Odinga, who is from the Luo ethnic group, and Kenyatta, who is a Kikuyu, also faced off in a 2013 election similarly marred by allegations of vote-rigging. The opposition leader also ran unsuccessfully in 2007, and ethnic-fueled animosity after that vote killed more than 1,000 people and forced 600,000 from their homes.

(AP)

The CME May Have Just Opened the Floodgates for Institutional Money to Pour Into Bitcoin — Bitcoin Hits New All-Time High

October 31, 2017

Bloomberg

By Camila Russo

 Updated on 

 No automatic alt text available.

Bitcoin is spiking to a record after CME Group Inc. said it’s planning to launch bitcoin futures as the move could open the floodgates of investors who have been standing on the sidelines as bitcoin soared over 500 percent this year.

The cryptocurrency jumped as much as 5.2 percent to $6,416.39 after the CME said it will start offering trading the derivatives in the fourth quarter. Futures will be settled in cash based on a bitcoin index that CME started calculating in November.

The move comes after the Chicago Board Options Exchange said in August it’s exploring bitcoin derivatives opportunities, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in July registered cryptocurrency trading platform LedgerX as the first federally regulated cryptocurrency derivatives exchange and clearinghouse.

With bitcoin futures becoming mainstream, the next logical step seems to be a bitcoin exchange-traded fund, as the Securities and Exchange Commission had cited the lack of derivatives as one of the reasons for rejecting approval of the funds. ETFs and derivatives are likely to make bitcoin trading a lot more palatable for hedge funds and mutual funds, as the instruments will allow them to hedge for the digital asset’s volatility and avoid some of the hassles of investing in bitcoin directly.

Includes video:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-31/bitcoin-futures-could-open-to-floodgates-of-institutional-money

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Bitcoin Hits New All-Time High as CME Group Announces Futures Trading

Bitcoin Hits New All-Time High as CME Group Announces Futures Trading

Bitcoin has hit new all-time price highs on its ninth birthday today as CME Group announces futures trading.

Investors still celebrating the weekend’s record-breaking $6,300 have little to fear this Halloween as renewed momentum coming from CME takes Bitcoin within reach of new heights.

The move appeared broadly expected Tuesday even without the news, analyst Tone Vays and investor Max Keiser both predicting imminent peaks.

According to data from Bitcointicker, Bitcoin advanced 2.1 percent in the 24 hours to press time to hit $6,300.

Chart

The latest surge, which began late last week, initially pulled major altcoins along with Bitcoin, but the trend has since faltered.

Bitcoin Cash, in particular, has reversed the top of its gains which saw the fork hit multi-week highs approaching $500.

https://cointelegraph.com/news/bitcoin-hits-new-all-time-high-as-cme-group-announces-futures-trading

Beijing seen poised for fresh South China Sea assertiveness

October 31, 2017

Reuters

By Greg TorodeBen Blanchard

U.S. sees China in ‘retrenchment’ on move toward market economy

October 31, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States believes that progress with China on a range of trade issues has been increasingly difficult and Beijing appears on a “trajectory of retrenchment,” a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday.

Briefing reporters ahead of President Donald Trump’s Nov. 3-14 Asia trip that will include a stop in Beijing, the official said Trump will insist in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping that more balance is needed in U.S.-Chinese trade relations.

Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

Suicide bomber attacks Kabul’s diplomatic zone, four dead — Suicide bomber believed to be as young as 12

October 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Rateb NOORI | Afghan security personnel investigate the site of the suicide bombing

KABUL (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) – A suicide bomber believed to be as young as 12 struck Kabul’s heavily fortified diplomatic quarter on Tuesday and killed at least four people, showing that militants can still hit the heart of the city despite tighter security.

It was the first attack targeting the Afghan capital’s “Green Zone” since a massive truck bomb ripped through the area on May 31, killing or wounding hundreds, and prompting authorities to strengthen protection.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which follows a spate of suicide assaults by Taliban and IS insurgents on security installations and mosques in recent weeks.

A Western security source told AFP the attacker appeared to have been targeting workers leaving an Afghan defence ministry facility inside the heavily protected zone.

“The suicide attack was carried out by an underage bomber, a boy we think 13 or 15 years old, killing at least four and wounding over a dozen more civilians,” interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told AFP.

He added that the casualty toll could change.

A police spokesman said the attacker may have been as young as 12.

Defence ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said the attacker “made it through the first checkpoint but was stopped at the second checkpoint and detonated.”

“We don’t know the target but it happened a few metres from the defence ministry’s foreign relations office. There were no casualties to our personnel,” Waziri said.

– ‘Horrible scene’ –

“I was 100 metres away when the explosion happened and as I ran towards the site I saw several people lying in blood — one had been hit in the head and was moving. It was a horrible scene,” an eyewitness told TOLOnews.

Another witness told AFP: “A lot of people were dead and injured and there was no one to carry them away.”

AFP reporters heard a loud explosion around 4:00 p.m. (1130 GMT) just as workers would have been leaving their offices to go home, followed by the sirens of emergency services.

Many injured people were carried from the scene of the blast, put into ambulances and police pickup trucks and driven away.

The attack struck the heart of the city’s diplomatic area, where many embassies and the head offices of major international organisations including NATO’s Resolute Support mission are located.

The last major assault in Kabul was on October 21 when a suicide attacker hit a busload of Afghan army trainees, killing 15.

On October 20 a suicide bomber pretending to be a worshipper blew himself up inside a Shiite mosque during evening prayers, killing 56 and wounding 55.

Over the weekend Taliban insurgents, some wearing night-vision goggles, killed 22 Afghan policemen in separate attacks on checkpoints.

Security in Kabul has been ramped up since the May 31 truck bomb that went off on the edge of the Green Zone near the German embassy, killing 150 people and wounding 400 others.

Special truck scanners, barriers and permanent and mobile checkpoints have been rolled out across the city.

by Rateb NOORI

Bob Mueller’s Sideshow

October 31, 2017

Nunes’s Intelligence Committee plods on with the real Russia investigation.

President Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17.
President Trump’s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The best way to think of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Monday-morning indictments is as a compliment—backhanded as it may be—to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.

Like the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes and his committee have been investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Unlike the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes has unearthed hard evidence about both Russian influence on the election and domestic spying on Trump campaign officials. And if the committee gets the documents it has been demanding for months about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of the salacious Christopher Steele dossier, this week may end even more explosively than it’s begun.

Right now that’s hard to imagine, given how Washington has been overwhelmed by Monday’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates, as well as news that another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Though a court will determine whether Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, surely it is worth noting that those charges, serious as they may be, have little to do with what Mr. Mueller was supposed to be investigating when he was named special prosecutor, to wit: “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.”

Meanwhile Mr. Nunes and the Republicans on his intel committee plod on. They do so in the face of mockery and contempt from the Beltway press corps, and sabotage and obstruction by Democrats, especially those on the committee. The obstruction includes a manufactured ethics charge against Mr. Nunes that has deliberately been kept unresolved in the House Ethics Committee as part of an effort to keep a cloud hanging over Mr. Nunes so long as he continues to ask real questions about not only the Russians but our own government.

So what has Mr. Nunes’s committee found? Turns out that in the Obama years, especially in 2016, officials made many requests to unmask the identities of Americans, including Trump campaign officials, who were caught up in foreign surveillance.

When asked about it by PBS’s Judy Woodruff back in March, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice claimed she was “surprised” and told Ms. Woodruff “I know nothing about this.” Under oath before Mr. Nunes’s committee, Ms. Rice’s memory returned, and she admitted of unmasking senior figures in the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile the committee learned that Ms. Rice’s colleague at the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power, had made hundreds of unmasking requests. During Ms. Power’s appearance before the committee, she oddly claimed others were doing much of the asking—even though her name was on these requests. Did anyone outside the House committee think to ask why a Democratic White House was so free with such sensitive info in an election year?

Then there’s the Russian question. The Steele dossier is at the heart of the narrative that Mr. Trump had colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Now the same people who pushed this narrative have lost all interest in the document that helped fuel it. When two of Fusion’s three partners invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than reveal who paid for the dossier, it looked as though we might never find out.

But the committee didn’t give up. It subpoenaed Fusion’s bank records, ultimately forcing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to acknowledge they had paid for the dossier, notwithstanding earlier Clinton campaign denials. On Saturday the committee announced a deal over Fusion’s bank records it said would “secure the Committee’s access” to what it needed for its investigation.

Big questions remain for the FBI. The main one requires a simple yes-or-no answer: Did the FBI use the information in the Steele dossier to spy on Trump campaign associates? If so, did it first verify the information in the dossier?

And why would the FBI want to pay for more information from a man doing opposition research for Mrs. Clinton?

Here’s another way to put it: As all eyes remain on Special Counsel Mueller and the men he’s indicted, it may be well to pay more attention to a much-maligned committee on Capitol Hill. Because after months of stonewalling and the public intervention of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the FBI has agreed to provide the documents Congress asked for. Mr. Nunes’s office confirms that the FBI documents it has long sought are supposed to arrive this week.

Messrs. Manafort and Gates may well be guilty of everything they’ve been charged with. But this week, thanks to a congressional committee’s persistence, we may find out the answer to what surely is a much more combustible question: whether a presidential campaign was able to leverage opposition research based on Russian disinformation to bring about an FBI investigation into its rival’s campaign.

Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

Appeared in the October 31, 2017, print edition.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/bob-muellers-sideshow-1509402576