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Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the
Internal Revenue Service to investigate a Los Angeles church that used
its Web site and the social networking site Twitter to urge congregants
to support a candidate for public office.
Oasis Church posted a statement on its Web site noting that a church
official, Alex Jones-Moreno, was seeking reelection to the Greater
Wilshire Neighborhood City Council. It asked church members to vote for
"Oasis Church's appeals might have been innovative, but they still
violate the law," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United. "Federal law bars churches and other tax-exempt
non-profits from electioneering. The IRS should crack down on these
In advance of the election, the church Web site said, "Did you know
the Neighborhood City Council Elections are May 13th? Our very own Alex
Jones-Moreno, Director of Social Justice, is running for reelection? We
are asking everyone who attends, serves, gives or is a part of Oasis
Church to please cast your vote for Alex Jones-Moreno during the
upcoming elections. Having Alex elected will help us better serve our
community. Being a part of the Neighborhood City Council is extremely
important as we continue to grow and look to secure a future venue for
our church family."
The message has since been removed from the church's Web site, but a
similar one was later posted that read, "Our very own Alex Jones-Moreno,
Director of Social Justice, is running for reelection. We are asking
everyone who attends, serves, gives or is a part of Oasis Church to
please cast your vote for Alex Jones-Moreno during the upcoming
On Election Day, the church sent eight messages through Twitter
urging members to vote for Jones-Moreno. After the election, the church
sent a final "tweet" taking credit for Jones-Moreno's victory.
Federal law prohibits tax-exempt entities, including houses of
worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. In a letter
sent to the IRS yesterday, Americans United asked the tax agency to
investigate Oasis Church's intervention in this election.
"I believe these Web postings and Twitter messages are evidence of a
clear pattern of Oasis Church's deliberate intervention in a partisan
election with the aim of electing Jones-Moreno," wrote Lynn in the
letter. "They appear to constitute a violation of federal law."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
"We trusted the government not to screw us," said Edward Snowden. "But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."
With this week marking 10 years since whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed information to journalists about widespread government spying by United States and British agencies, the former National Security Agency contractor on Thursday joined other advocates in warning that the fight for privacy rights, while making several inroads in the past decade, has grown harder due to major changes in technology.
"If we think about what we saw in 2013 and the capabilities of governments today," Snowden told The Guardian, "2013 seems like child's play."
Snowden said that the advent of commercially available surveillance products such as Ring cameras, Pegasus spyware, and facial recognition technology has posed new dangers.
As Common Dreams has reported, the home security company Ring has faced legal challenges due to security concerns and its products' vulnerability to hacking, and has faced criticism from rights groups for partnering with more than 1,000 police departments—including some with histories of police violence—and leaving community members vulnerable to harassment or wrongful arrests.
Law enforcement agencies have also begun using facial recognition technology to identify crime suspects despite the fact that the software is known to frequently misidentify people of color—leading to the wrongful arrest and detention earlier this year of Randal Reid in Georgia, among other cases.
"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data."
Last month, journalists and civil society groups called for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of spyware like Pegasus, which has been used to target dozens of journalists in at least 10 countries.
Protecting the public from surveillance "is an ongoing process," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "And we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children's lives and beyond."
In 2013, Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was broadly monitoring the communications of citizens, sparking a debate over surveillance as well as sustained privacy rights campaigns from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Fight for the Future.
"Technology has grown to be enormously influential," Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. "We trusted the government not to screw us. But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power."
Last month ahead of the anniversary of Snowden's revelations, EFF noted that some improvements to privacy rights have been made in the past decade, including:
"Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we've seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies' ability to collect data... or regulate biometric surveillance, or close the backdoor that allows the government to buy personal information rather than get a warrant, much less create a new Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community's overreaches," wrote EFF senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia, executive director Cindy Cohn, and assistant director Andrew Crocker. "It's why so many cities and states have had to take it upon themselves to ban face recognition or predictive policing, or pass laws to protect consumer privacy and stop biometric data collection without consent."
"It's been 10 years since the Snowden revelations," they added, "and Congress needs to wake up and finally pass some legislation that actually protects our privacy, from companies as well as from the NSA directly."
Fox News brought on a contributor with a history of downplaying the dangers of secondhand smoke and dismissing climate science to tell viewers that particulate matter is "innocuous."
As smoke from massive wildfires in Quebec blanketed much of the eastern U.S., forcing millions to stay indoors as state governments issued code-red air quality alerts, a longtime shill for the fossil fuel and tobacco industries falsely told Fox News viewers late Wednesday that there is actually "no health risk" associated with inhaling such polluted air.
"Look, the air is ugly, it's unpleasant to breathe, and for a lot of people, they get anxiety over it. But the reality is there's no health risk," Steve Milloy, a senior policy fellow at the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, told Fox's Laura Ingraham. "We have this kind of air in India and China all the time—no public health emergency."
Milloy, who has long worked to spread disinformation about climate science and the health risks of secondhand smoke, neglected to mention research showing that air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths per year in China, India, and worldwide.
Watch Milloy's remarks:
\u201cLaura Ingraham - Steve Milloy, a lobbyist, to talk about the thick smoke over the Northeast. He's worked as a consultant for Philip Morris\n\nMilloy also believes\n\nSecondhand smoke doesn't cause cancer\n\nDDT should make a comeback\n\nHuman activity has no affect on climate change\u201d— Decoding Fox News (@Decoding Fox News) 1686205124
A 2021 study by researchers at Harvard University, the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester, and University College London directly attributed more than 8 million deaths in 2018 to fine particulate pollution (PM2.5).
But Milloy insisted Wednesday that "this doesn't kill anybody, this doesn't make anybody cough, this is not a health event."
"Particulate matter is very fine soot. It's just carbon particles—they're innocuous," Milloy said, pointing to unspecified EPA research. "There's nothing in them. They have no effect."
The EPA website says, to the contrary, that "particulate matter contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems."
"Some particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream," the EPA notes. "Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health."
Investigative journalist Amy Westervelt observed in response to Milloy's Fox appearance that he "has been trying to recast air pollution—particularly PM2.5—as innocuous for decades, since he was working for Big Tobacco."
"Why is particulate matter such a big deal for his coal and fossil fuel clients? Because regulating it means regulating fossil fuel combustion," Westervelt added.
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus added that "air pollution is literally the 4th highest cause of death globally."
"Every year 9 million people die due to air pollution made worse by fossil fuels," Holthaus tweeted. "The fossil fuel industry knows this AND they lie about it so they can keep making money off of our suffering."
In a deep dive on Milloy's history last year, Westervelt noted that "one of his earliest jobs was running The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC), which was created by Philip Morris and their PR firm APCO in the 1990s to deal with the mounting evidence that linked secondhand smoke and, more broadly, indoor air pollution, to cancer."
"The secondhand smoke issue brought the tobacco industry together with lots of other industries that were worried about air pollution regulation—automotive, manufacturing, and, of course, fossil fuels," Westervelt wrote. "Which is how Milloy, working for the tobacco industry, became one of the first leaders of the climate countermovement."
Tens of millions of people on the East Coast of the U.S. are currently under air quality alerts, with some major cities classifying the conditions as "hazardous."
"Current NYC smoke levels pose a health risk for anyone outside," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
"The decisions being made in statehouses this year and next will help determine how the 2024 election is conducted," a new report warns.
Republican legislators in more than three dozen states have introduced nearly 200 bills this year that would make it easier for them to rig electoral outcomes, according to a report published Thursday.
A Democracy Crisis in the Making—compiled by the States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward—found that right-wing lawmakers in 38 states unveiled 185 bills from January 1 through May 3 that would enable legislatures to "politicize, criminalize, or interfere with elections." Of those proposals, 15 were enacted or adopted into law in 11 states while three others were vetoed by Arizona's new Democratic governor, Katie Hobbs.
Thursday's report—the latest update of an analysis originally published two years ago—makes clear that "the subversion threat is very much still alive." The number of "election subversion" bills introduced during the first four months of 2023 is roughly on par with the hundreds put forward in the early months of 2021 and 2022. Eventually, 56 of those anti-democratic proposals from the past two years became law in 26 states.
"Legislators are trying to make it harder for trusted election officials to do their jobs, and easier for partisan politicians to overturn the will of the voters."
Since former President Donald Trump launched his deadly coup attempt following his loss in the 2020 presidential contest, GOP-controlled states have enacted dozens of voter suppression laws and redrawn congressional and state legislative maps in ways that disenfranchise Democratic-leaning communities of color and give Republicans outsized representation, which could help the far-right secure minority rule for years to come.
In addition to impeding ballot access, Republican lawmakers are further undermining the country's procedural democracy by obstructing the administration of free and fair elections, the new report notes.
Researchers identified five forms of interference that increase the risk of "election subversion," which they defined as instances when "the declared outcome of an election does not reflect the true choice of the voters." The methods are:
"Legislators are trying to make it harder for trusted election officials to do their jobs, and easier for partisan politicians to overturn the will of the voters. While many may think this threat abated after the midterms, it most certainly did not," Maya Ingram, a senior policy development counsel at the States United Democracy Center, toldNBC News on Thursday. "In fact, legislators are coming up with new ways to interfere with elections."
Several Republican candidates who parroted Trump's incessant lies about President Joe Biden's 2020 victory lost in last year's midterms. But more than 210 others—including at least two who participated in the January 6 rally that descended into an attack on the U.S. Capitol—won congressional seats and races for governor, secretary of state, and attorney general, underscoring how election denialism is now entrenched in the GOP and poses a threat to U.S. democracy for the foreseeable future.
"The decisions being made in statehouses this year and next will help determine how the 2024 election is conducted," the report warns. "Many of these bills are designed to inject confusion and delays into the election process, which increases the likelihood of attempted subversion and can give rise to disinformation, further eroding public trust and confidence in election results."
"Although a few of the bills that we have tracked would explicitly allow state legislatures or other actors to overturn the will of voters—what we sometimes refer to as direct subversion—the vast majority do not," says the report. "Bills that indirectly make subversion more likely are far more prevalent. A more probable scenario is a relatively close election, followed by efforts to create confusion and doubt about the results. Partisan actors could then claim that the true will of the voters cannot be determined, and engineer the outcome of their choice."
Nevertheless, "this legislative session has seen an increase in bills pushed by election deniers that would nullify election results if certain conditions are met," the report continues. "These bills are closely related to some of the direct subversion bills that we've seen in the past, in that they would allow the will of the voters to be disregarded."
NBC News summarized how two pieces of recently unveiled legislation could wreak havoc:
Republican legislators in Texas proposed a bill—H.B. 5082—that would give state officials the authority to order new elections in counties whose populations exceed 1 million people if there is "good cause" to conclude that 2% of polling places ran out of ballots and did not receive replacements. Such counties—like Harris County, which includes Houston—are home to a large share of the state's Democratic voters.
Arizona Republicans introduced a bill—H.B. 2078—that would, if it is enacted, allow candidates, political party county chairs, and certain ballot measure state committees to request post-election investigations that, under the law, would result in audits by the secretary of state.
While such audits should, in theory, be straightforward affairs, critics of the Arizona bill, and bills like it, note that election deniers were on the ballot in secretary of state races last year in 12 states—including Mark Finchem in Arizona. While Finchem lost, the scenario prompted enormous concerns about how such an audit might be conducted with an election denier overseeing it.
"The decisions that states make today will determine how elections are run in 2024," Ingram told the outlet. "Even when these bills don't become law, they keep lies and conspiracy theories alive and sustain the election denier movement."
According to a survey conducted in early 2022 by the Brennan Center for Justice, one in six election officials nationwide have experienced threats related to their job, and 77% say they feel such threats have increased in recent years. This spring, the Brennan Center found that 11% of current election officials are "very or somewhat likely" to step down before November 2024.
The new report urges voters to "be awake" to the "persistent threat" of election subversion and calls on state legislatures to "focus their efforts on the nonpartisan administration of elections, protecting election officials, and respecting the will of the people."
"Until they do," it warns, "our democracy is still far too close to a crisis."