July 10, 2020

A moratorium on political ads may be coming to Facebook this fall.

Facebook is considering imposing a ban on political ads "in the days leading up to" November's presidential election, Bloomberg reported on Friday. As of now, the idea is "still only being discussed," the report says.

Facebook has long faced criticism for its decision not to fact-check political ads, something CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended by saying that "people should decide what is credible, not tech companies." Last year, more than 250 Facebook employees signed a letter arguing that this policy "allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."

Facebook is now facing an ad boycott from companies urging it to crack down on hate speech and misinformation, and an independent audit concluded this week that it "has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression."

According to Bloomberg, part of the reason the potential ad ban hasn't been decided upon is that there's still some concern it "could hurt 'get out the vote' campaigns, or limit a candidate's ability to respond widely to breaking news or new information." The New York Times is also confirming the news of the potential ban while cautioning that it's still possible Facebook will decide against it and "continue with its current political advertising policy."

Facebook previously announced it would let users opt out of seeing political ads altogether, with Zuckerberg saying last month, "for those of you who've already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you."

Brendan Morrow

10:54 p.m.

With more than 516,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, California has reported the most infections of any state, but Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday said there is some hope on the horizon.

In June and July, the number of cases in California surged, following an ease in lockdown restrictions. Over the last two weeks, the state saw an average of 121 deaths every day, with 214 reported on Friday — a 21 percent increase over the previous record that had been set on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

However, the number of hospitalizations statewide has gone down about 10 percent over two weeks, and ICU admissions have fallen by 5 percent. Newsom also said the state has greatly increased its testing capacity, and the share of positive COVID-19 tests has dropped to 7 percent. This rate is "not where it needs to be, and it's still too high," Newsom said, but it's "good to see this number trending down, not trending up."

Newsom credits the small improvements to people being required to wear masks, social distancing, and the "very, very difficult" decision to shutter bars and prohibit indoor dining. There are 38 counties on the state watchlist, including every county in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area, and Newsom said everyone needs to stay vigilant, as "we can quickly find ourselves back to where we were just a few weeks ago, a month ago." The virus, he continued, "is not going away. It's not just going to take Labor Day weekend off. It's not going to take Halloween off, the holidays off." Catherine Garcia

9:27 p.m.

President Trump expressed his displeasure Monday evening with Nevada lawmakers voting to automatically send mail-in ballots to all registered voters, telling reporters he will sue to block the new law.

The legislation was approved on Sunday, and Gov. Stephen Sisolak (D) signed it into law on Monday evening. Trump, who in April said mail-in voting "doesn't work out well for Republicans," claimed on Twitter Monday morning that the Nevada lawmakers conducted an "illegal late night coup" and the "Post Office could never handle the Traffic of Mail-In Votes without preparation. Using COVID to steal the state. See you in Court!"

During a press conference later in the day, Trump repeated his assertion that the U.S. Postal Service does not have the infrastructure necessary to handle an influx of mail-in ballots, and said he plans on having the lawsuit blocking Nevada filed Tuesday. Trump was asked whether he would issue an executive order on mail-in voting, and responded incorrectly: "I have the right to do it. We haven't gotten there yet. We'll see what happens."

Several state election officials have said they will expand mail-in voting to keep voters safe during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say voter fraud is very rare, especially when there are proper safety measures in place, and a study released earlier this year found that universal vote-by-mail does not benefit any political party. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

The Apple fire in Riverside County, California, which has burned more than 26,400 acres and is only 5 percent contained, was ignited by a malfunctioning diesel vehicle, fire officials announced on Monday.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement that on Friday evening, the vehicle released burning carbon from its exhaust system, which sparked the fire in Cherry Valley, an unincorporated town about 75 miles east of Los Angeles. Anyone with any information on the vehicle is asked to contact authorities.

The blaze has spread across hillsides and up the side of Mount San Gorgonio, destroying one home and two outbuildings. Nearly 8,000 people have been evacuated, and so far, no injuries have been reported. There are more than 2,300 firefighters on the scene.

"Much of the fire activity is being driven by the record-low moisture content of the vegetation in the area combined with high temperatures and low relative humidity," fire officials said on Monday afternoon. "These conditions are contributing to active fire behavior both day and night." Catherine Garcia

7:41 p.m.

On Monday, Israeli jets struck several Syrian military targets, including intelligence-collection systems, observation posts, antiaircraft artillery facilities, and command and control centers, the Israeli army announced in a statement.

The army said this was in response to the Israeli military foiling an attack early Sunday, after troops spotted four suspected militants from Syria attempting to drop explosive devices along a security fence in the Golan Heights region; they were fired on by Israeli troops and aircraft and killed.

"The Israel Defense Forces holds the Syrian government responsible for all activities originating from Syrian soil, and will continue operating with determination against any violation of Israeli sovereignty," the army stated.

Last week, Israel said Hezbollah militants attempted to cross into its territory from Lebanon, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the group's sponsor, Iran, is trying to cause chaos by "entrenching its military in our region." Hezbollah denied being part of the operation. Catherine Garcia

6:41 p.m.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday he is hopeful that the six coronavirus vaccine candidates now in their third phase of clinical trials will be effective, but warned that there is "no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be."

Until there is an approved vaccine, the world must follow "the basics" of disease control, he said, which involves testing, isolating, tracing, and quarantining, as well as social distancing, regular hand washing, and wearing masks. "The message to people and governments is clear: Do it all," Tedros added.

On Jan. 30, the WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency, and at the time "there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths outside of China," Tedros said. Today, worldwide there are 18.1 million COVID-19 cases, with more than 690,000 people dying of the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. Catherine Garcia

5:43 p.m.

A Department of Homeland Security intelligence report leaked to The Nation has some experts skeptical of the department's motives.

The report targeted several left-wing American activists who the department would normally be prohibited from gathering intelligence on unless they had reason to believe the individuals were operating on behalf of a foreign power. The people named in the report, many of whom have identified with far-left causes, do have connections abroad — they traveled to Syria in the past and fought against the Islamic State alongside Kurdish factions like the YPG, PKK, and the Peshmerga.

The U.S., of course, considers ISIS an enemy, so it may seem surprising the U.S. government would focus on people who volunteered to fight against the terrorist group, but critics argue the Syria connection could be a ruse to root out potential antifa members. (Some of the individuals denied membership in antifa, which does not necessarily operate in any organized capacity to begin with.)

The report eventually appears to conclude there is no evidence of a "centralized effort to give marching orders to returning antifa-affiliated" U.S. residents, but either way, the briefing didn't sit well with everyone. "They targeted Americans like they're Al-Qaeda," a former intelligence officer in the department with knowledge of the operations told The Nation. "They were essentially violating people's rights like this was the '60s." Read more at The Nation. Tim O'Donnell

4:31 p.m.

The Philadelphia Phillies and Miami Marlins received some encouraging coronavirus-related news Sunday and are likely return to the field soon, but things aren't going as well for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals have had 13 members of their clubhouse — seven players and six staff members — test positive for the coronavirus. The team had its its weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers postponed, and will no longer travel to Detroit for the next slate of games against the Tigers. That makes them, along with the Marlins, who have had 18 players test positive, and the Phillies, who paused play out of caution but do not appear to have an outbreak, the third team to miss at least a week of baseball games during the young season.

Despite the possibility of cancellation, MLB still isn't planning to pause the season overall, and teams like the Cardinals, Phillies, and Marlins, will seemingly do what they can to make up as many games as possible, even if they don't play a full 60-game season.

While the baseball situation is bleak for St. Louis, the players and staff are — more importantly — in good condition, exhibiting either "light" or no symptoms, general manager John Mozeliak said. Tim O'Donnell

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