Christian Democracy is dedicated to St. Joseph the Worker. The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols.

Racing to the Bottom Across the Pacific

President Obama wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to go into effect before he leaves office, but he is encountering opposition from within his own party, as well as from trade unions and environmental groups. [1] The concern is that the TPP, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), will result in factory closures and job losses.  

The president thinks that’s just silly. The criticism is out of date, he says, because the new agreement will contain strong protections for labor. “You need to tell me what's wrong with this trade agreement, not one that was passed 25 years ago,” he says. 

It may seem like he makes a good point, but there is a problem: the public doesn’t know what is going to be in the TPP. That’s because the negotiations are secret, even from Congress. So the president is saying that people shouldn’t criticize the TPP because they don’t know what they’re talking about, while at the same time depriving any of the TPP critics of the information necessary to gain the knowledge he demands.

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has said that this secrecy is necessary in order to “preserve negotiating strength,” and also to “encourage our partners to be willing to put issues on the table they may not otherwise….” [2] In other words, there are those involved in the negotiations who have something to hide, and it is critical that this information be hidden even from our elected representatives.  

With such machinations going on, the president, and Mr. Kirk, shouldn’t be surprised that there are those who smell a rat. The odor has only been enhanced by proposed provisions that have come to light through the efforts of Wikileaks, and concerns have been raised about such things as a proposal that would allow corporations to sue nations for diminution of potential profits due to government regulations in international tribunals, and rising costs of medicine brought about by TPP created difficulties in introducing generic drugs. [3]  

But the disclosure of what was meant to be secret isn’t necessary to know that the TPP will have an adverse effect on American working people. What all of these trade agreements accomplish, from NAFTA to this one, is the acquisition of cheap labor outside of the United States by American companies. The Office of the United States Trade Representative informs us at its website that a major goal of the TPP is “to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to goods and services trade and investment, so as to create new opportunities for our workers and businesses and immediate benefits for our consumers.” [4] In other words, trading partners with the United States under the TPP won’t have to worry about the U.S. imposing tariffs to protect American workers, and will be able to take advantage of their own cheap labor as they access the American market. What’s more, American companies will be able to utilize the same advantage by moving their facilities to other TPP countries.

Tariffs have not been a major part of American policy for some time, and the idea of protectionism is anathema to the devotees of the free trade, which has nearly risen to the level of a civic religion. So we have to go back some time in American history to find an American president espousing the principle. To this end, President William McKinley will do nicely:  

Under free trade the trader is the master and the producer the slave. Protection is but the law of nature, the law of self-preservation, of self-development, of securing the highest and best destiny of the race of man. [It is said] that protection is immoral.... Why, if protection builds up and elevates 63,000,000 [the U.S. population] of people, the influence of those 63,000,000 of people elevates the rest of the world. We cannot take a step in the pathway of progress without benefiting mankind everywhere. Well, they say, ‘Buy where you can buy the cheapest’.... Of course, that applies to labor as to everything else. Let me give you a maxim that is a thousand times better than that, and it is the protection maxim: ‘Buy where you can pay the easiest.’ And that spot of earth is where labor wins its highest rewards.” [5]  

The free trade ideology, when it is put into practice, is ultimately self-defeating. Its tendency is to put a downward pressure on wages. But that, in turn, reduces the size of markets, because fewer and fewer people can afford what is produced. If the United States continues its free trade policy, the effect will be to further impoverish working people at home, and exacerbate the poverty of working people elsewhere. 

Jack Quirk

Lie for Me or I Won't Be Your Friend

Back in the 1970s your humble servant was a late night attendant at a self-serve gas station. In addition to gas, oil, transmission fluid, and such, we sold a number of snack items, including gallon-sized cans of potato chips.

One evening two young men came into the station. One paid for the gas he had just pumped, and the other grabbed one of the large potato chip cans. The one who was paying for the gas told his buddy to steal the potato chips. Because a theft conducted in such a manner would be so brazen, I thought he was kidding.

I was wrong. Surprised to see that they were actually driving away with the potato chips, I stopped their car as they were leaving. I asked them if they were going to pay for the potato chips they had taken. They responded that they had taken no potato chips. I pointed out the large potato chip can in the back seat of their car which was in plain view. They denied the presence of any potato chip can, and insisted that I must have been “high.” It became apparent that the police would have to be called.

There was a lesson I learned from that experience, other than the obvious one that I should consider taking people at their word when they say that they’re going to steal something. There are people in the world who, for whatever reason, will look you in the eye and deny a plain and unambiguous reality that is apparent to everyone involved in the discussion. Unfortunately, sometimes governments will also do this.

A few days ago Pope Francis used the word “genocide” to describe the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks 100 years ago. [1] That should be uncontroversial given that as many as 1.5 million people were killed in the massacre. [2] But it is controversial for the simple reason that the Turkish government denies that a genocide ever happened, and this in the face of the fact that everyone knew it was going on while it was taking place.

“Before World War I, Americans knew exactly what had occurred. During the 1890s, American reformers launched a human-rights campaign to protest repeated massacres of the Armenian people. In September 1895, the New York Times headlined a story as ‘Another Armenian Holocaust.’ During 1915, that paper published 145 articles about the mass murder of the Armenian people, describing the massacre as ‘systematic, ‘authorized’ and ‘organized by the government.’ In 1918, Theodore Roosevelt called it ‘the greatest crime of the war.’

“The rest of the world also knew what had happened. In May 1915, the Allies conceived of the term ‘crimes against humanity’ to describe the Ottoman government’s massacres of the Armenian people. When the Polish jurist Raphael Lemkin coined the term genocide in the 1940s, he said that his definition was based on what the Armenian people had suffered.” [3] 

Referring to the slaughter as genocide has been a political issue for years, and U.S. administrations from both parties have refused to use the term out of deference for Turkey, a NATO ally. [4] Turkey has spent millions lobbying Congress on this issue and takes the position that the massacre doesn’t meet the legal definition of genocide because, it claims, there was no deliberate plan to eliminate its Armenian population.

When President Obama ran for president in 2008 he promised to reverse this perverse abstention. “Armenian genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence,” he said. “The facts are undeniable. An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.”

But now the White House has announced that the President will not use the term when he commemorates the deaths on Friday. White House officials are defending this as necessary to maintain Turkey’s cooperation with U.S. involvement in the Middle East. In other words, unless the United States denies reality, Turkey will cease acting as an ally, even though it is a member of NATO. 

Turkey’s denial of the genocidal nature of the Ottoman actions against the Armenians is simply absurd. The decision of the American administration to acquiesce to the absurdity is craven. Suppression of truth cannot be justified in terms of pragmatism. Whatever short term inconveniences may attend angering the Turkish government by stating a simple fact, the United States, in the long term, doesn’t need an ally that refuses to face reality. NATO doesn’t need a member like that either. 

Jack Quirk


Beyond Economics

In the Acts of the Apostles we read about the way the first Christians in Jerusalem lived out the Gospel:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. (Acts 4:32-35)

This ideal was not always lived out in the earliest days of the Church, but it is still a good ideal. Though it might appear to be socialistic to our modern eyes, it really transcends economic systems. Anyone in any system can give to the support of those less fortunate.  

It is not required that everything be given away, but it is required that material goods are prioritized properly. We should have enough to cover the basic necessities, with enough left over for some fun. We should donate what we can afford to the poor and other worthy causes. That is not a just a nice thing to do; it is our responsibility as Christians. 

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Of Entropy and Confusion

1 And the earth was of one tongue, and of the same speech.
And when they removed from the east, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar, and dwelt in it.
And each one said to his neighbour: Come, let us make brick, and bake them with fire. And they had brick instead of stones, and slime instead of mortar.
And they said: Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven: and let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building.
And he said: Behold, it is one people, and all have one tongue: and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs, till they accomplish them in deed.
Come ye, therefore, let us go down, and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another's speech.
And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city.
And therefore the name thereof was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries.

—Genesis 11:1-9

This is called the Tower of Babel story, even though it refers specifically to “a city and a tower.” The story might very well have been inspired by the Etemenanki, which was a ziggurat build in ancient Babylon, and dedicated to the god Marduk.

In any event, Babylon becomes a biblical way of referring to the existing world power. Thus we read in the First Epistle of Saint Peter that he is writing from “Babylon,” as opposed to a direct reference to Rome [1], and in the Apocalypse of Saint John we find an unmistakable reference to Rome with the words, “Babylon the great, the mother of the fornications, and the abominations of the earth,” sitting on “seven mountains,” or the seven hills of Rome. [2]

Great cities, great empires, great nations, are established with permanence in mind. But they eventually fall apart, they eventually crumble, because, it seems, that political organizations are subject to a kind of entropy. One point of the Tower of Babel story might well be that the disintegration of human political structures is inevitable. As speculative as this idea may seem, it is buttressed by the story of the foundation of the Church at Pentecost, where the language confusion of Babel is reversed. [3] The Church is also intended to be permanent, but, unlike purely human political structures, its permanence will be achieved; “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” [4] 

Now the current world power is the United States. We often hear that it is the only “superpower,” and there is evidence enough that it is so. But, like Babylon, like Rome, like every other political structure erected by humanity, its ultimate disintegration is inevitable.

It is not hard to make the point that signs of the demise of the United States are already visible. There is a growing wealth gap, combined with a rise in indifference, indeed, at times, outright hostility toward the impoverished. Our political arena has become a hotbed of invective, where rational dialogue is nearly impossible. In the face of serious national concerns we have turned on each other. Congress itself is so divided that its ability to act is seriously compromised, and there are some members of Congress who have willingly shut down government operations and have threatened to bring about a default on the public debt. The family is becoming a relic as 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce [5], 41% of children are born to single mothers [6], and it is commonplace for fathers to abandon their children. Half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion. [7] The United States initiated an attack against Iraq in 2003 in clear violation of international law [8], and American politicians are now agitating to do the same against Iran. Meanwhile, America’s foreign adventurism drains the public treasury, inciting politicians to threaten and effect cuts in aid to the country’s most vulnerable, including military veterans who were used in that very foreign adventurism. In sum, we seem to be a nation that has lost its collective mind.  

Still, for the Catholic, it is impermissible to simply watch passively as the nation disintegrates. The Catechism tells us that “[i]t is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom.” [9] Political and social action is particularly the duty of the Catholic laity. “This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity ‘to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.’” [10] 

Since Catholic social and political action is to “be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church,” it is to be hoped that by that means some of the permanence of the Church can be infused into the political structure, and thus forestall the operation of that structure’s inherent entropy. The directions to be taken should be clear, because the social Magisterium of the Church is not ambiguous. We must, as best as we can, reverse the confusion of Babel with the clarity of Pentecost.

Jack Quirk


The Christ Attitude

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul encourages us to have the same attitude as Christ, and goes on to describe what that attitude looks like: 

“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

Think of what that means, and consider whether you would you do it. I want you to imagine the unimaginable: that you are a member of the Holy Trinity, and that you live a life of unimaginable love and peace. You look down at humanity, and you see that they are a real mess. Hatred, lust, and sin abound. You say, “I have to help these people!”

Now I would send a check, and then return to the peace and love of the Trinity. But the Son of God emptied himself of all the wonderful things God is and has, and became a helpless baby. He went from being Almighty to becoming a baby that needed to be fed and changed.

But there is more: he became a helpless baby in a poor family. His dad was a carpenter. He lived in a one horse town called “Nazareth.” For about three years he had a remarkable ministry, but then he was cruelly killed by the power structure in Judea. Then, on Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead in the event we have just celebrated. 

In the story of the Passion we see examples both of people who had the same attitude as Christ, and those who didn’t. One group of people who didn’t was the crowd. The crowd went from loving Jesus on Palm Sunday to crucifying him on Good Friday. Sometimes we are that fickle. We love Jesus when convenient, but when things don’t go our way we desert him.

Another way the crowd showed they didn’t have the attitude of Christ was when, given a choice, they chose Barabbas over Jesus. How often do we make bad choices and choose sin over the Lord?

Simon the Cyrene seems to have made a good choice. Even though he was drafted to help Jesus, it appears that Jesus made an impression on him. Apparently, Simon converted, and brought his family along with him. And so we read in the Gospel of Mark that “Rufus” and “Alexander” were the sons of Simon, and their mention in the Gospel shows that they were known to the Christians of that time.

Simon was changed by his association with Jesus. That should be the goal of all of us. How will you learn to have the same attitude as Christ?

Father Mike Van Cleve

Father Mike is a priest for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.