Global Issues

A Primer on Fast Track Trade Authority for People of Faith

Image via pogonici/

Image via pogonici/

t’s also one of the most divisive political issues on the Hill right now. Here’s why: The notion of "fast tracking" trade deals with almost no congressional oversight has led to the creation of odd alliances — putting the Democrats and Tea Party in one camp (against), and the Republicans and Obama Administration (for) in another. Pro-business Republicans are long time supporters of free trade, while members of the Tea Party are against most anything that would allow the President to usurp legislative authority. As for Democrats, they argue that the TPP would allow multinational corporations to undermine labor safeguards, civil rights, environmental protection and healthcare, and derail urgent efforts at fighting climate change. Organizations typically aligned with President Obama are against him here: labor unions, environmental groups, and even traditionally non-political groups have fought hard against Fast Track and the TPP.

Indeed, the potential harm from the trade deal seems to leave few interest groups untouched. To provide just a few examples, Doctors Without Borders has called the TPP the "worst trade deal ever," claiming that it will cause millions to lose access to life-saving medicines; left-leaning Global Exchange has pointed to the increasing number of sweatshops such a framework would lead to; and the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation has expressed its belief that the TPP would put overly restrictive controls on the internet. And we’ve already seen our political leaders weaken standards for protection against human trafficking and child labor should the trade deal move forward.

These are all compelling arguments, and they are ones faith groups are making as well.

Ending the Embargo on Affordable Health

IN OAKLAND, CALIF., schools and other nontraditional sites host health clinics that provide both primary care and preventive health services for area residents, many of whom are uninsured.

In south Los Angeles, mental health professionals have created programs based on nutrition and group exercise, along with peer-to-peer education about the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Community groups, faith-based organizations, schools, and health providers are coming together in Albuquerque, N.M., to enroll hundreds of children in Medicaid and start neighborhood walking groups—part of an effort to break down walls between health-care providers and their patients

The U.S. health-care system is known for treating advanced-stage illnesses with expensive therapies that are often not accessible to those without health insurance. So if these low-cost, preventative programs in Oakland, LA, and Albuquerque don’t sound like the typical U.S. approach to health, you’re right: These and other community-based efforts trace their inspiration to the remarkably successful health system built by the nation of Cuba.

That inspiration, and the U.S. initiatives that have followed, have been nurtured by the California-based nonprofit Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, known as MEDICC. Through guided trips to directly observe Cuba’s health system, MEDICC aims to help those working in underserved communities in the U.S. learn about the Cuban model, where quite limited health-care expenditures in a decidedly low-income population manage to provide universal care and health outcomes that rival those in the U.S.

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July 2015
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Ugandan Priest: LGBT People Are Fleeing for Kenya to Avoid Rampant Discrimination

Photo courtesy of HBO / RNS

A still from “Vice” episode, “A Prayer for Uganda.” Photo courtesy of HBO / RNS

A growing number of LGBT Ugandans are fleeing to neighboring Kenya to escape violence and persecution, a Ugandan Catholic priest says.

People are beaten, raped, evicted, and dismissed from their jobs because of their sexual identity or orientation, the Rev. Anthony Musaala said during a talk at All Saints Catholic Church as part of a monthlong visit to the United States and Canada.

Even associating with or advocating for LGBT people may spur discrimination, he said.

Pope Aims to Be ‘Messenger of Peace’ in Bosnia

Photo via Brian Pellot / RNS

A banner advertising the pope’s visit to Bosnia hangs in Sarajevo as people pass below. Photo via Brian Pellot / RNS

Pope Francis has promised to be a “messenger of peace” during his day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 6, but despite excitement in the country there are doubts the visit will have a lasting impact.

When the pope touches down in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s capital, Sarajevo, it will have been nearly two decades since a bloody three-year conflict came to an end.

Israeli Soldier’s Ham Sandwich Nearly Lands Him in Military Prison

Photo courtesy of Nitr via Shutterstock / RNS

Photo courtesy of Nitr via Shutterstock / RNS

A U.S.-born Israeli soldier who brought a ham sandwich to his army base was initially sentenced to 11 days in a military prison before a media frenzy prompted the Israel Defense Forces to drop all disciplinary measures.

In a rare apology, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz wrote on Facebook: “We were wrong. The IDF will continue to keep kosher on the one hand, but will not probe a soldier’s sandwich on the other. There are tensions in Israeli society and there are different stances and opinions. There is room for everyone in the IDF.”

More Catholics, but Fewer Receiving Sacraments: New Report Maps Changing Church

Photo via beboy /

Photo via beboy /

A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.

And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.

Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released June 1 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world. It wraps the United States, Mexico, and Canada in with Central and South America as simply the Americas.

Christian Teachers in Northern Kenya Stage Walkout Because of Terrorist Fears

Photo via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Students at Iftin Primary School in Garissa, Kenya. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

Recent attacks by Somalia’s al-Shabab Muslim militant group have forced the closure of dozens of schools in Kenya’s north, as Christian teachers refuse to work because of security fears.

The crisis follows the massacre of 148 Christian students at the Garissa University College in April. The predominantly Muslim region relies on Christian teachers for its schools, but those teachers have been singled out by the terrorist group because of their faith.

“Teachers left and did not report back, so some schools have since closed down,” said Roman Catholic Joseph Alessandro of the Garissa Diocese.

Vatican Looks to Reform Its Media Operations, Add Multimedia

Photo via UK in Italy via Flickr / RNS

Lord Christopher Patten during the XXII Pontignano Conference. Photo via UK in Italy via Flickr / RNS

The Vatican is dragging its media machine into the 21st century, promising to promote social media and streamline its fragmented services with the help of a former BBC executive.

Lord Christopher Patten, former chairman of the BBC Trust, on May 27 outlined reform plans nearly a year after being appointed chief of the pope’s media committee.

Addressing journalists at St. Patrick’s church in central London, Patten highlighted “wasteful” duplications of media services at the Vatican and said modernization was imperative.

India’s Christians Concerned about Growing Attacks on Religious Minorities

Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Women protest in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, after a nun was raped in Kolkata, West Bengal. Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Each day, children on their way to Mount Carmel School pass through gates under the watch of armed security guards, and now city police officers who stop there on government orders after a nearby Catholic convent and school were broken into.

The vandals stole money, tampered with security cameras, and ransacked the principal’s office on Feb. 13.

The crime itself was relatively minor, but it rippled through other Christian schools. The attack was the sixth this year in an ongoing series targeting Christian communities and schools across India.