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Newsletter: Today: Free speech guardian or censor?

In Vietnam, Facebook has repeatedly censored dissent, becoming an accomplice in the government’s intensifying repression of pro-democracy voices, critics say.

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Free Speech Guardian or Censor?

Facebook professes to protect free expression except in narrow circumstances, such as when it incites violence. But in some countries, including Cuba, India, Israel, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey, it routinely restricts posts that governments deem sensitive or off limits. Nowhere is that truer than in Vietnam.

The popular platform has enabled government critics and pro-democracy activists to bypass the communist system’s strict controls on the media. But in the last several years, Facebook has repeatedly censored dissent in Vietnam, trying to placate a repressive government that has threatened to shut it down otherwise, The Times found.

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Dozens of Vietnamese activists, human-rights advocates and former Facebook officials say the company has blocked posts by hundreds of users. It has also barred Hanoi’s critics — including a Southern California-based opposition group — from buying ads to boost readership and has failed to stop pro-government trolls from swamping the platform to get dissidents’ posts removed. Instead of using its leverage as Vietnam’s biggest media platform to hold the line against censorship, Facebook has, in effect, become an accomplice in the government’s intensifying repression of pro-democracy voices, critics say.

‘They Are Children of God’

Pope Francis has given his most explicit endorsement of same-sex civil unions yet as pope, breaking new ground in the Roman Catholic Church’s acceptance of gay faithful. Francis, who has long taken a more socially progressive view than his predecessors, said gay people should not be deprived of family life because of their sexuality. He drew a line between marriage, which often involves religious consecration, and civil unions, which afford couples full legal rights.

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“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis, 83, said in an interview in the documentary “Francesco” — his papal name in Italian — which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival.

Though beloved by the poor, the marginalized and many others for whom he advocates, Francis — the first Jesuit pope — is reviled by archconservatives and traditionalists who accuse him of “diluting” the church’s “purity.” His support for civil unions will further anger his conservative foes already irritated by his push to give communion to remarried divorcees.

Captive in His Own Information Bubble

In tonight’s debate, President Trump faces a daunting task he’s made vastly more difficult. He trails Joe Biden in national polls. More than 40 million Americans already have voted, choosing Biden by nearly 2 to 1, according to the USC Dornsife poll’s tracking of the race. That leaves Trump with a shrinking pool of people to try to persuade — if that is even his goal.

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Trump has long seemed to believe he can win reelection solely with voters who already support him, and that stance has shaped his campaign, even as most voters consistently tell pollsters they disapprove of how he’s doing his job. Lately, as he relitigates old grievances and attacks, he appears trapped in the information bubble he has created around himself and his base.

As Iran and Russia seek to influence the U.S. election, they are counting on an information bubble of another kind. They’ve obtained voter registration information and are sending disinformation to Americans ahead of election day, U.S. intelligence officials and the FBI warned in a hastily announced news conference — another reminder of the shadow game that surrounds this year’s campaign.

More on the Election

— Former President Obama castigated President Trump as he hit the campaign trail for the first time in person in Philadelphia to stump for his former vice president, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

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— In 2018, five dozen Democrats were elected to the House on a promise to shake up Congress and enact ambitious social reforms. They were noticeably younger, more female, less white and more outspoken than their predecessors. Now they face reelection with no major legislative achievement to their credit.

— Senate Democrats planned to boycott Thursday’s vote in the Judiciary Committee on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, according to a source familiar with the plans, but their protest ultimately won’t slow down her confirmation.

— A judge has refused to order the California Republican Party to disclose information about its ballot drop box program to state officials. The decision doesn’t prevent Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra from returning to court over the matter but marks a significant victory for GOP officials.

A Scorched Fire-Prevention Budget

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As wildfires have exploded in the West, the U.S. Forest Service knows what it will take to prevent them. The trouble is, it can’t afford to pay for those efforts.

In Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest, the federal agency has more than 250,000 acres worth of unfinished projects aimed at preventing catastrophic wildfire that are on hold because it doesn’t have enough funding. Throughout California, Oregon and other western states, the Forest Service has a growing backlog of millions of acres of forest management projects that are ready to go, requiring only funding and manpower to complete.

Residents and officials in towns near forests like Deschutes are taking their own measures, like pruning trees and banning wood-shake roofs. But their progress is held back by their neighbors. Track the progress of California’s wildfires with our map.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Decades before social media was invented, The Times was looking for a way to get information out faster. It was 1943, the middle of World War II, when the company erected an updateable billboard on Wilshire Boulevard.

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The board advertised The Times, but it could be used to share the latest headlines with drivers, according to an article that ran in the paper on Oct. 23. It featured a rendering of a Times front page “30 times its actual size” with three-foot letters that spelled out a headline, updated each morning at 6 a.m.

A billboard shows an enlarged version of the L.A. Times front page with the headline "ALLIES DRIVING ON ROME."
Oct. 22, 1943: The first of a series of giant Los Angeles Times billboards showing daily headlines 30 times their actual size. The headlines were changed every morning at 6 a.m.
(Los Angeles Times)

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CALIFORNIA

— Los Angeles has hired an outside law firm to investigate allegations that Rick Jacobs, a longtime political consultant to Mayor Eric Garcetti, sexually harassed an L.A. police officer who served as a bodyguard for Garcetti.

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— Juan Rayford and Dupree Glass were sentenced to life as teens for a shooting they say they did not commit. Sixteen years later, they are walking free. But should the Los Angeles County district attorney have reviewed their convictions earlier?

Group homes are a godsend to the would-be homeless in Los Angeles, but a menace to the Fire Department, whose strict codes result in citation after citation for home operators.

— There were at least 269,000 K-12 students in California experiencing homelessness at the end of the 2018-19 school year — enough children and teens to fill Dodger Stadium five times over, a UCLA report said.

— California has largely staved off a new surge in coronavirus cases that has sparked alarm elsewhere in the country. Health experts credit Gov. Gavin Newsom’s overhauled system but worry that upcoming holidays could encourage super-spreader events. Meanwhile, California has cleared the way for massage and tattoo parlors to reopen.

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NATION-WORLD

— In 2017, Nigerian activists created a Twitter campaign to pressure government and police officials to disband the controversial police unit known as SARS. Now, #EndSARS has resurfaced and sparked a social media movement.

— Thousands of accusers have filed sexual abuse claims against the Boy Scouts as a deadline looms in its bankruptcy. The number dwarfs filings against Catholic archdioceses in similar cases, suggests a far broader abuse problem than had been recognized and could drastically reshape the group, plaintiffs’ lawyers say.

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Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, Justice Department officials announced Wednesday.

— It’s a beetle that can withstand bird pecks, animal stomps and even being rolled over by a Toyota Camry. Now scientists are studying what the bug’s crush-resistant shell could teach them about designing stronger airplanes and buildings.

— Plastic recycling in South Korea was already in crisis. The pandemic is pushing it to the brink, with a surge in discarded plastic and no one to take it.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— Two women who lost their brothers to addiction have teamed up for a podcast that tackles deadly stigmas head on, with humor.

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Netflix’s “Rebecca” adaptation found its Manderley in a U.K. estate that has played some of the most famous homes in film, including Wayne Manor, Windsor Castle and Croft Manor.

— Can filmmakers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard change how Hollywood hires talent? Their Los Angeles-based startup Impact Creative Systems is trying to with a new app.

— You won’t see the Charlie Brown TV specials on network TV this year. Apple+ has acquired the exclusive rights for titles including “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

BUSINESS

— Less than seven months after Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman launched Quibi to remake the business of short-form video, the closely watched streaming service is shutting down, having failed to attract viewers willing to pay to watch its shows, people familiar with the matter said.

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Halloween is the biggest season of the year for sweets and sugary snacks. Will the pandemic hurt the candy-industrial complex?

SPORTS

— The World Series is now even at one, after the Dodgers fell behind early in Game 2 and ultimately lost 6-4.

— Any way you slice it, third quarters have been a nemesis for the Chargers.

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OPINION

Purdue Pharma’s settlement doesn’t begin to make up for the harm it caused by undertaking unethical and illegal machinations to boost sales of its addictive signature drug OxyContin and unleashing a deadly, nationwide opioid crisis, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— A federal bankruptcy judge’s decision to let Exide Technologies abandon its shuttered battery recycling plant in Vernon only compounds the injuries the plant inflicted on the surrounding community, the editorial board also writes.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Dozens of American diplomats and spies believe they’ve been targeted with mysterious microwave weapons, in some cases on U.S. soil. Now that a CIA investigation has suggested Russia could be responsible, the victims of what have been dubbed the “immaculate concussion” are left wondering why the Trump administration hasn’t done more. (GQ)

— There are more people out there pretending to have earned military honors than you might think. These are the detectives who track them down. (The New Yorker)

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ONLY IN L.A.

Five of L.A.'s most lauded taqueros and taqueras will take part in Taqueando, a taco pop-up series downtown. Starting Thursday, a rotating lineup of chefs will serve tacos out of the former Church and State restaurant space in the Arts District. Organized and curated by James Beard Award-winning writer Bill Esparza, the five-week series is designed to be a pandemic-friendly spinoff of his taco festival that premiered last year. First up will be Poncho Martinez of Poncho’s Tlayudas, who will cook for three nights — first tinga tostadas, then his signature tlayudas on Friday and finally Sierra Norte Zoogocho-style lamb barbacoa tacos on Saturday.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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