News media that were obsessed with whether bishops might refuse John Kerry communion because of his support for abortion rights seemed to miss an important story in late June about the Vatican's instructions that Catholics may vote for pro-choice politicians -- as long as they're supporting the pol for other reasons.

Nathan Newman noted at www.nathannewman.org that Vatican officials clearly told the bishops that voters are free to support pro-abortion politicians without sinning, if they support them for other policies. In his report on the Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians (usccb.org), Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick wrote: "As many of you know, Vatican officials offered both principles and advised caution and pastoral prudence in the use of sanctions ... It is important to note that Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger makes a clear distinction between public officials and voters, explaining that a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil only if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion. However, when a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted if there are proportionate reasons." Ratzinger is the Pope's prefect of doctrine.

Newman commented, "Essentially, the Vatican's official position is that abortion IS NOT an issue that trumps every other issue politically. By the logic of this statement, the Vatican is saying that if a politician is pro-choice, but supports many other priorities of the church, it is quite reasonable for Catholic voters to support them over a politician who is pro-life, but fails to support Catholic doctrine on many other issues."

The vast majority of US bishops made clear after their June 14-19 closed-door meeting in Denver that they want little to do with the notion of denying Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians, Joe Feuerherd noted July 7 at the National Catholic Reporter website (natcath.org). In what may be seen as a pointed reference to Republican efforts to enlist the Catholic clergy for partisan purposes, McCarrick told the bishops, "We must speak the truth, but we must not allow ourselves to become used in partisan politics either by those who dispute our teaching on life and dignity or those who reduce our teaching to a particular issue or partisan cause." Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler reported that among those who expressed a view, the bishops were opposed to refusing Communion by a margin of roughly 3-1 but on a vote of 183-6 they approved a document that left the decision to deny Communion to "the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles."

The declarations could be read as a rebuke to Bush, who reportedly pressed the Pope to bring the bishops into line and get them actively preaching against Democrats. Now those bishops who suggested that a vote for pro-choice pols was a sin find themselves out on a limb -- and bishops don't like to be out on limbs, particularly if they'd like to become archbishops or cardinals. The bishops' conference statement makes it much easier for practicing Catholics to justify a vote for Kerry and other pro-choice Democrats who otherwise are much closer to the church's line on other social, economic and pro-life issues. This also will be a relief to progressive priests and nuns who don't want to preach against Democrats. The Catholic vote is considered a key in the battleground states -- particularly the Northeast, Midwest, Southwest and Florida. Loss of abortion as a Democrat-killer for Catholics would put a big crimp in GOP plans.

BAPTISTS RAP BUSH CAMPAIGN. The Bush-Cheney campaign's ham-fisted attempt to use church rosters for partisan purposes also offended the Southern Baptist Convention, the Associated Press reported July 3. "I'm appalled that the Bush-Cheney campaign would intrude on a local congregation in this way," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The bottom line is, when a church does it, it's nonpartisan and appropriate. When a campaign does it, it's partisan and inappropriate," he said. "I suspect that this will rub a lot of pastors' fur the wrong way." The Bush campaign defended a memo in which it sought to mobilize church members by providing church directories to the campaign, arranging for pastors to hold voter-registration drives and talking to various religious groups about the campaign.

IT WAS A ROUGH FORTNIGHT for Bush and the press. First an uppity Irish TV journalist had the gall to interrupt Bush's rambling answers to pointed questions in an interview on the eve of his troubled trip to Europe, which resulted in a White House protest to the Irish TV network RTE (see "Pampered Bush meets real reporter," page 10). Then the only president we've got walked out of a press briefing July 8 rather than answer questions about his close relationship with indicted Enron chairman Ken Lay, Capitol Hill Blue noted July 9. Bush, visibly upset, stormed off the stage when reporters pressed him about the Enron exec, leaving Scott McClellan to deal with the questions. McClellan said it has been "quite some time" since Bush and Lay talked with each other, and he noted that Lay supported Democrats as well as Republicans, although Lay clearly favored the GOP, as he and his wife donated $882,580 to federal candidates from 1989-2001, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and all but $86,470 went to Republicans. The Lays gave $139,500 to Bush's political campaigns over the years, part of $602,000 that Enron employees gave to Bush's various campaigns, making Enron his leading political patron at the time of the company's bankruptcy in 2001. Lay also brought in at leat $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign, putting him in "Pioneer" status as one of the president's top fundraisers. (See "Kenny-Boy and George" and "Give back Lay's loot, George," page 13.)

COURT PANS LAX NUKE DUMP REGS. Critics of the plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev., claimed victory July 9 when the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency illegally set its radiation release standards for groundwater. The EPA set 10,000 years as the period during which radiation in the groundwater cannot exceed drinking water standards at the site's boundary, but the court ruled the Energy Policy Act requires that standards be consistent with the National Academy of Sciences' recommendations, which call for a tougher standard of 300,000 years or more. Public Citizen said the Department of Energy's own analysis shows the Yucca site cannot meet that standard. (See www.citizen.org.)

ECONOMIC RECOVERY MISSING. There was a shudder in the economic recovery July 2 as the Department of Labor reported only 112,000 new jobs in June, far short of the number needed to keep up with the growth of the labor force. Unemployment remained at 5.6% while underemployment in the form of involuntary part-time work, discouraged workers, and other marginally attached workers was 9.6%, far higher than the 7.3% in March 2001 when the recession began. The Bush administration promised that its 2003 tax cut package would result in the creation of 5.5 million jobs by he end of 2004 -- 306,000 new jobs each month. The Economic Policy Institute noted that job creation has failed to meet the administration's projections in 10 of the past 12 months. (See JobWatch.org.) Nathan Newman at nathannewman.org noted that the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank reported total hours worked actually fell in June. The July 3 Washington Post reported June declines in both the length of the average workweek and average weekly earnings. "The workweek, at 33.6 hours, seasonally adjusted, was the shortest since the department began recording the data in 1964. The workweek has touched that low before, including several months last year."

BENEATH THE HOODS. Many of the prisoners abused by US MPs at Abu Ghraib prisoners were common criminals, not terrorists, Newsweek (July 19) reported. Of 26 abused detainees whose cases were reviewed by Newsweek, 13 were there for offenses ranging from theft to rape. At least eight others were picked up as terrorists but were released without charges. Hussein Mohsen Matar, who MPs ordered to masturbate and rode on his naked back as he crawled on all fours, was an accused thief. Haqi Ismail Abdul-Hamid, famously menaced by a snarling dog, had kicked an Iraqi policemen and threatened to kill Coalition soldiers, but he was ordered released as a mental case. Satar Jabar's photograph, showing him hooded and wired up, has become familiar to Iraqis, who derisively call it "the Statue of Liberty." Far from being a dangerous insurgent, however, Jabar, 24, was an accused car thief. "Not only did military police torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, they often tortured the wrong prisoners," Julie Scelfo and Rod Nordland wrote.

US News reported July 9 that a review of 106 classified annexes to the report of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba shows abuses were facilitated -- and likely encouraged -- by a chaotic and dangerous environment made worse by constant pressure from Washington to squeeze intelligence from detainees. German TV reported that children as young as 12 years were abused in Iraqi prisons.

MPs on June 29 raided an Iraqi building belonging to the Iraqi ministry of the interior where prisoners were allegedly being physically abused by Iraqi interrogators. Iraqi officials admitted that around 150 prisoners taken in four days before in the first big Iraqi-led anti-crime and anti-terrorism operation in Baghdad had been physically abused during their arrest and subsequent questioning. One of the Iraqi officers told the London Guardian: "The American [MP] asked me why we had beaten the prisoners. I said we beat the prisoners because they are all bad people. But I told him 'We didn't strip them naked, photograph them or f**k them like you did.'"

Also in Iraq, the Associated Press reported July 9 that contrary to US government claims, the insurgency is led by well-armed Sunnis angry about losing power, not foreign fighters. US military officials told AP as many as 20,000 guerrillas have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of US troops that they cannot be militarily defeated. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has announced a law allowing it to impose martial law in troubled regions.

ELECTORAL COLLAGE. The GOP recruited former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka to run for the US Senate in Illinois after the party's nominee, former investment banker Jack Ryan, withdrew from the race in June because of a sex scandal. State Sen. Barack Obama is the heavily favored Democratic nominee but Dems feared Da Coach's entry could mix things up. According to UPI on July 12, Ditka told WGN-TV in Chicago, "I'm getting excited about it. I'm just thinking about it." But his wife has different thoughts, according to Politics1.com, saying that her 66-year-old husband was not prepared to run for the US Senate. She added, "I'd divorce him if he did." ... Maude Salinger, the niece of former JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger, has joined the Doris "Granny D" Haddock campaign as chief communications strategist for the New Hampshire Senate campaign (see GrannyD.com). ... The Bush-Cheney campaign and the US Chamber of Commerce apparently have low opinions of trial lawyers (unless they need one to get out of trouble) but the people apparently have a more favorable impression of trial lawyers. A Time poll reported July 9 that only 28.4% said being a trial lawyer negatively affects their opinion of Edwards while 54.8% said that background makes them think he fights for the average person. ... It was little noted in press reports on Kerry's tour of the rural Midwest in early July that on Day 2 he stopped to do some trapshooting with a 12-gauge shotgun. Not only did he underscore his respect for the rights of hunters, but he also hit 17 of 25 targets, which a longtime member of the club described as "really good" for shooting with an unfamiliar gun. ... Republican consultant Allen Raymond, former president of the Alexandria, Va.-based GOP Marketplace LLC, pleaded guilty in federal court to jamming Democratic telephone lines in several New Hampshire cities to prevent Democrats from getting rides to polls on the 2002 general election day. The Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, said an investigation into the telephone jamming continues. Outgoing Gov. Jeanne Shaheen narrowly lost to then-Rep. John Sununu in the Senate race.

Then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay in 2001 shook down Enron for a $100,000 contribution to his political action committee in addition to the $250,000 the company had already pledged to the Republican Party, Enron's top lobbyists in Washington advised corporate Chairman Ken Lay. The money was to be spent partly on "the redistricting effort in Texas," said the email, which surfaced in the federal probe of Enron, the Washington Post reported July 12. DeLay's fundraising helped produce Republicans control of the Texas House for the first time in 130 years and Texas congressional districts were redrawn to send more Republican lawmakers to Washington. But DeLay and his colleagues face criminal prosecution as Texas law bars corporate financing of state legislature campaigns. A lawsuit also seeks $1.5 million in damages from DeLay's aides and one of his political action committees -- Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC) -- on behalf of four defeated Democratic lawmakers. The House "ethics committee" also is considering a complaint against DeLay, but four of the five Republicans on the panel have received donations totalling $28,504 from DeLay's PAC over the past seven years, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Liberals' fears that George W. Bush might actually call off the elections were magnified when Newsweek reported in its July 19 edition that the Bush administration is reviewing a proposal to allow the postponement of the general election in case of a terrorist attack. DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the new US Election Assistance Commission, noted in a letter to the Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that, while a primary election in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election." Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was a GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call.

Sen. John McCain swallowed his pride and said in a 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign ad that Bush "has led with great moral clarity and firm resolve." McCain was slandered during the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary as Bush partisans, desperate to cut McCain down after his New Hampshire primary victory, suggested that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child and that he was not really a Vietnam war hero. BuzzFlash.com also noted that in December 2002 McCain said he had never had people break their word to him the way the Bush administration did. Water under the bridge now.

FLA. E-VOTE FLAWS. Florida is having problems with touch-screen voting machines, the Miami Herald reported July 9, the state but has not publicly acknowledged many of the flaws and doesn't have a plan in place to fix them. "The situation has led to a fractious relationship between Miami-Dade, the state and the touch-screen machine maker, Electronic Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb. At one point, a state Division of Elections email shows, Miami-Dade Assistant County Attorney Murray Greenberg threatened to sue the company -- and make it 'close up shop nationally' -- if more problems were discovered with the equipment that was certified as working two years ago," the Herald reported.

BUSH SNUBS NAACP. His feelings hurt by critical comments NAACP leaders have said about him, George W. Bush became the first president since Warren G. Harding in the early 1920s to refuse to meet with the civil rights group. At first the White House said Bush could not speak to the group meeting in Philadelphia July 10-15 because of "scheduling commitments," although he was campaigning in Pennsylvania at the same time. But in a newspaper interview he castigated the group's officers, who include President Kweisi Mfume and Chairman Julian Bond. "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically nonexistent," Bush said."You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me." Bond has accused Republicans of "playing the race card in election after election." He said they have "appealed to that dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality," and "preach racial neutrality and they practice racial division."

'CRAWFORD 5' CLEARED. A judge on July 9 dismissed all charges against five anti-war activists who were arrested last year in Crawford, Texas, on their way to George W. Bush's ranch. The five were jailed overnight in March 2003 and were convicted in February of violating the city's protest ordinance and fined $200 to $500. But McLennan County Judge Tom Ragland in Waco ruled the ordinance was overly broad and violated the First Amendment. The ordinance required 15 days' notice and a $25 fee before the police chief could issue a permit for a protest. Crawford officials have since amended the ordinance to require seven days of notice. "This is a great victory for free speech in the president's own backyard," said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "This decision guarantees that the free speech rights of other protesters will not be silenced by the city of Crawford." The five were stopped by a police blockade en route to the "ranch" and were not demonstrating at the time of their arrests, Harrington said.

MICROFILM SELF-DESTRUCTS. Microfilm of Bush's National Guard pay records that might have cleared up his mysterious absence in 1972 and 1973 were "inadvertently destroyed" in a freak accident, the Pentagon told journalists who filed a lawsuit seeking Bush's military records. Reporters had been trying to get the documents for nearly half a year, but hit roadblock after roadblock until they were informed that the microfilm existed. Then, two weeks later, they were told that the microfilm did not exist, which came as news to experts on military documentation. The chief of the Pentagon's "Freedom of Information Office" said any further information could be provided only through another FOI application. As Nick Confessore commented at prospect.org/weblog July 9, "The logical thing to do, of course, is for the president to release all the other records that could provide some evidence that he completed his duty. After all, he told Tim Russert, before a national television audience, that he would do so. But he went back on his word then, so why should we expect anything different now?"

HOUSE CUTS SMALL BIZ LOANS. The US House Appropriations Committee has cut small-business loans, technical assistance and entrepreneurial-development programs under the Commerce-Justice-State (CJS) spending bill, UPI reported June 26. Going along with President Bush's budget proposal, the CJS bill provides no funds for any of SBA's lending programs, including the 7(a), Microloan and New Markets Venture Capital programs. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., Ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, called the cuts "totally inadequate and absurd, considering small businesses are the main job creators and rely on these critical programs for their success." The measure goes to the Senate. While federal funding for microenterprise has decreased steadily over the past 3 years, microenterprises &endash;- the nation's smallest businesses -&endash; have played an increasingly large role in our nation's economy, the Center for Rural Affairs reported. Across the US, over 27 million micro-entrepreneurs account for 17% of all private employment.

RESOLVE MEXICAN TRUCK PROBLEMS. Serious safety and environmental concerns must be addressed before the border is open to long-haul Mexican trucks, Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen's Texas office, told Texas lawmakers July 7. Questions include the number of hours that Mexico-based drivers can remain on the road without a break, insurance carried by Mexico-domiciled carriers, the ability of US inspectors to check trucks and more. The US Supreme Court on June 7 ruled against Public Citizen and other groups who sued to stop Bush's order in 2002 to open the border after a closed arbitration tribunal established under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ruled that the trade agreement mandated that trucks from Mexico be granted access. The trade tribunal also ruled that special safety measures could be applied to ensure the safety of Mexico-domiciled carriers. Currently, short-haul trucks are allowed to cross from Mexico into the US and transfer their cargo onto long-haul US trucks. The Bush administration's move would allow Mexico-domiciled carriers to have long-haul access throughout the USA. Find Smith's testimony at www.citizen.org.

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