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August 9, 2017
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An article published in July by two close associates of Pope Francis in a Vatican-vetted Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, has caused waves in the American Catholic Church. The article accuses ultraconservative Catholics — including White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon — of gradually forging a reactionary political alliance with evangelical Christians that's now supporting President Trump's agenda, including a "xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations."

The Catholic right, already feeling under siege by Pope Francis, portrayed the July 13 article as a thinly veiled shot across the bow from the pope himself, and on Monday, leaders of Trump's evangelical advisory board requested a meeting with Francis to address "efforts to divide Catholics and Evangelicals." On Tuesday, an executive vice president and editor at Fox News, John Moody, jumped into the conversation. He began his op-ed by reporting that somebody brought a dog to mass last Sunday, drawing this conclusion: "Dogs may be going to church, but the universal Roman Catholic Church is going to the dogs." Then he got down to the meat of his displeasure:

Under Pope Francis, the church has abandoned many of its bedrock positions on issues like divorce and homosexuality in favor of a "why not?" attitude. Francis has scolded people for being rich, sided with illegal immigrants, and suggested the church should be a refuge for the poor.

He has sidelined conservative cardinals, installed like-minded allies in key jobs, taken personal control of the Knights of Malta for defying him, and generally sent the signal that behind his amiable smile and humble talk lurks a radically liberal agenda. [Moody, Fox News]

Pope Francis isn't much of a liberal, and his views on social issues like immigration, the environment, and aiding the poor don't really deviate from his more conservative predecessors, as The Week's Matthew Walther explains. (Nor do his views on abortion and gay marriage, for that matter.) And Catholic social teaching is drawn from the teachings of Jesus. Moody offers a warning to the pope anyway: "Francis can run the church any way he wants. But demonizing conservative American Catholics is a risky business. They have deep pockets and long memories." One more thing they share in common with elephants? You can read Moody's op-ed at Fox News. Peter Weber

1:07 p.m. ET

Aside from the occasional bodega cat, you don't typically get to see much wildlife living in New York City. Brooklynites minding their own business on Tuesday afternoon, however, got a special treat in the form of an inexplicably loose cow:

It was unclear where the cow came from, or how it ended up on a soccer field. For his (her?) part, the cow did not seem too concerned about the situation as it moseyed around Prospect Park, observed by curious onlookers, an ABC 7 New York helicopter, and New York's finest, who clearly had no idea what to do when called in to respond to a rogue cow.

Realizing that all good things are wild and free, the internet rooted for the cow, just as it did for the llamas, bobcat, and blimp before it:

Hopefully this story ends better than it did for Lefty the deer, although at the time of publication, the cow appears trapped in a dugout. Watch the Park Slope cow live via ABC 7 New York. Jeva Lange

12:50 p.m. ET

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, rejected President Trump's claim that the FCC could shut down a network that broadcasts "fake news."

"Under the law, the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content," Pai said at an AT&T forum Tuesday. "The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment."

Trump tweeted criticism of NBC on Wednesday, after the network reported that he had called for a tenfold increase of the nation's nuclear stockpile, and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had called Trump a "moron." Reuters reports that Democrats had been pressuring Pai to make a statement against Trump's threats.

Pai's silence drew criticism, but at Tuesday's event, he opposed the president's suggestion in no uncertain terms. Pai, who was appointed by Trump, was sure to point out that it's "not within the FCC's jurisdiction to handle fake news."

Politico notes that Pai did not mention Trump by name, focusing his response on his role as chairman, rather than specifically denouncing the president's Twitter tirade. Summer Meza

12:00 p.m. ET
Facebook.com/Venmo

More than two million U.S. retailers will accept Venmo payments online starting this week. Shoppers will be able to use Venmo, the mobile app that makes person-to-person payments, to pay for purchases made on participating retailers' mobile websites. The funds can be deducted from either their existing app balance or linked bank accounts and credit cards.

PayPal Holdings, Inc., which acquired Venmo in 2013, is hoping the move will capitalize on the app's younger demographic, enticing retailers with the chance to get to know shoppers over the embedded social feed where users may share information about their transactions.

PayPal wants retailers to see Venmo as an "entirely new way for merchants to increase awareness and open new purchase opportunities," the company said in a statement. "Merchants can reach a new audience of shoppers, many of whom skew millennial and engage with Venmo multiple times throughout the day."

Any mobile site that accepts PayPal is now open for business through Venmo, meaning that retailers from Lululemon Athletica to Foot Locker to Forever 21 can now be paid with the typically emoji-laden transactions.

Venmo processed $8 billion in payments in the second quarter of 2017, and the company thinks its app's ease-of-use has the potential to boost sales for retailers. Venmo will be charging merchants fees for processing its payments, and CNBC reports retail purchases will be covered by PayPal's purchase protection scheme, allowing users to receive refunds in case of any mistakes in an order. Summer Meza

11:13 a.m. ET
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has had a tough go of it in eight months as America's top diplomat, Jason Zengerle wrote for The New York Times Magazine. As the boss at Exxon Mobil, Tillerson was the "ultimate decision-maker," as he told reporters in July — a post quite different from the one he occupies now, serving President Trump as his foreign policy leader.

Or, as Tillerson puts it, "accommodating" the president, whose whims change often — and often on Twitter. "I take what the president tweets out as his form of communicating, and I build it into my strategy and my tactics," Tillerson told Zengerle. "I wake up the next morning, and the president's got a tweet out there. ... Okay, that's a new condition. How do I want to use that?" Tillerson added: "Our strategies and the tactics we're using to advance the policies have to be resilient enough to accommodate unknowns, okay? So if you want to put [Trump's tweets] in an unknown category, you can. ... But it doesn't mean our strategies are not resilient enough to accommodate it."

The tense relationship between Tillerson and Trump has undercut the secretary of state in external affairs — such as his efforts to mitigate this summer's Gulf states crisis — and in internal proceedings, like how one of Tillerson's preferred candidates for deputy secretary of state was axed by Trump for his opposition to the president during the campaign. The frustration also occasionally leaks out in meetings, Zengerle reports:

According to a former administration official, in private conversations with aides and friends, Tillerson refers to Trump, in his Texas deadpan, as the dealmaker in chief. And in meetings with Trump, according to people who have attended them, he increasingly rolls his eyes at the president's remarks. [The New York Times Magazine]

Read the full report on Tillerson's struggles at State at The New York Times Magazine. Kimberly Alters

10:57 a.m. ET

A Massachusetts pet supply company owner claims he was "duped" by the White House into appearing in the background of a photo of President Trump signing an executive order on health care. "I want to say strongly and clearly: I do not support this executive order," wrote Dave's Soda & Pet City owner Dave Ratner. "I had absolutely no clue he was adding all the onerous changes. I was duped, I am an idiot. I did not vote for Trump and I am not a Trump supporter."

Ratner said he was invited to the White House because of his involvement with the National Retail Federation, but that White House officials had not fully revealed what Trump would be signing:

We have long supported an effort that would give small businesses more flexibility in purchasing health insurance and we were told that a ceremony would announce that Associations could now provide members with group insurance rates (making health insurance more affordable for our employees).

It was obviously an error in judgment to believe the White House that this was the only change they would be announcing. Many of the other changes in the executive order are likely to make it harder for local residents to get affordable health care — the exact opposite of what I was hoping for when I went to Washington. [Dave Ratner, via MassLive]

Read the full letter at MassLive and check out the photo — with Ratner second from the left — below. Jeva Lange

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10:56 a.m. ET
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Portugal began three days of national mourning Tuesday for the victims of the wildfires that have spread across the Iberian Peninsula. At least 37 have died in Portugal, as well as four across the border in Spain.

Monday night rain and cooler temperatures helped to bring fires under control, but officials are blaming more than just the weather for igniting the blazes. Iberian officials said investigators are looking into suspected arson to explain the strength of the fires.

"We are ready to extinguish fires, but we are not ready for arsonists," said Spanish Environment and Agriculture Minister Isabel Garcia Tejerina.

Frustration is mounting as the last of the wildfires are extinguished, as many question why the Portuguese government was unprepared for such an event. Portugal has had a rough year; another set of wildfires killed more than 60 people just months ago.

CBS reported that Portugal reduces its firefighting force by half in October, when peak wildfire season comes to an end. Now government officials are hearing sharp criticism from opposition parties, who say the country should have been prepared for the late-season heat wave and high winds that spread fires over the nation's landmass.

Spain's Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the regional president of Galicia, echoed the sentiment, referring to the fires as "terrorist acts" in a tweet Monday. "A day like yesterday is not the result of chance," he wrote. Summer Meza

10:29 a.m. ET
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The FBI had already uncovered evidence of bribery and kickbacks in the United States that benefited the Russian nuclear industry prior to a controversial 2010 uranium deal between the Obama administration and Moscow, The Hill reported Tuesday, citing FBI and court documents.

The 2010 Uranium One deal involved the Hillary Clinton-headed State Department and Committee on Foreign Investment's approval of the partial sale of a Toronto-based uranium mining company to Russia's atomic energy corporation, Rosatom. It is unclear if the FBI or Justice Department told members of the committee about their findings before the members unanimously approved the partial sale.

Lawmakers, at least, were kept in the dark. Former House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said: "Not providing information on a corruption scheme before the Russian uranium deal was approved by U.S. regulators and engage appropriate congressional committees has served to undermine U.S. national security interests by the very people charged with protecting them." Rogers added, "The Russian efforts to manipulate our American political enterprise is breathtaking."

Documents indicate that the FBI was already aware that the head of Rosatom's U.S. arm, Vadim Mikerin, was involved in extortion. Additionally, Russian nuclear officials reportedly "routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow," The Hill writes based on "eyewitness" accounts and documents.

The implications are long-lasting. As The Hill adds:

The connections to the current Russia case are many. The Mikerin probe began in 2009 when Robert Mueller, now the special counsel in charge of the Trump case, was still FBI director. And it ended in late 2015 under the direction of then-FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired earlier this year. [The Hill]

Read the full report at The Hill. Jeva Lange

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