The Briefing 11-10-14

The Briefing 11-10-14

The Briefing


November 10, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Monday, November 10, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Nomination of Loretta Lynch as new Attorney General significant political decision 

Last week’s wave election that swept Republicans into the leadership the United States Senate; into many of the nation’s gubernatorial ; and fundamentally reshaped the national political equation is also leading to a reshaping in the White House and at the senior level. Pres. Obama on Saturday appointed Loretta Lynch – she is currently the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and Brooklyn as the Attorney General of the United States. The incumbent Attorney General, Eric Holder, had announced his resignation shortly before the election.

Now before we even look at Loretta Lynch, one of the things to understand is that there is usually this kind of reshaping in the aftermath of a midterm election – that is, a reshaping in the Executive branch. There  are any number of reasons for this – in the first place, if the resignations were planned before, they largely do not take place until after the election to avoid senior resignations becoming an issue in the election itself. Furthermore, the president often has to respond to just what took place on Tuesday; a changed political situation in which there is a new need for senior leadership to work with new leadership in Congress, and also the signal to the nation turning something of a new leaf in terms of the Executive branch. In naming Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General of the United States, Pres. Obama appears to have done just that. The incumbent Attorney General, Eric Holder, who announced his resignation prior to the election, was a major flashpoint for controversy in the Obama Administration. A major advocate of civil rights law, he was also a highly polarizing figure charged with abusing as well as using the authority of his office. And that office, by the way, is defined as the chief law enforcement officer for the United States of America.

In nominating Loretta E. Lynch to this position Pres. Obama appears to be leaning into experience, and the kind of experience that is likely to serve him well. Loretta Lynch is currently, as I said, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. That is seated in Brooklyn; responsible for the chief criminal and civil prosecutions for the federal government in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island. Needless to say that is a major law enforcement position in the United States, and is one that she is held not once but twice.

She was first appointed US Attorney by Pres. Bill Clinton, serving from 1999 to 2001 after lengthy service as a prosecutor in that office. Then she was appointed to the same position in May 2010 by Pres. Barack Obama. Her resume is very similar to others who held the position; she graduated from Harvard College and later from Harvard Law school. The 55-year-old prosecutor – if she is confirmed by the United States Senate – would be the first person in almost 200 years to rise from being a US Attorney directly to being Attorney General of the United States.

So what does that signal? It signals that unlike most Attorneys General in the history of the United States, Loretta Lynch is primarily being appointed for her experience –  not primarily for her political experience. And given the fact that Loretta Lynch will almost surely need widespread Republican support for her nomination to succeed, it’s likely the President Obama decided to appoint someone who has just the kind of experience that both parties in Congress are likely to respect.

There’s a big political question here to be settled, that question is this; which Congress will hold the hearings and will eventually vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as the new Attorney General? Pres. Obama signaled that he hopes the hearings will happen quite soon and the confirmation come speedily. That would mean the current United States Senate in its lame-duck session under the continuing Democratic leadership. But if Pres. Obama really wants widespread bipartisan support, he should probably wait to call for those hearings after the first of the year with the seating of the new Congress, and with the opportunity for a new Senate and the Senate leadership to take some ownership of this very important confirmation process.

Given important constitutional role of the Attorney General of the United States, this is a series of confirmation hearings and this is a vote that should have the very wide attention of the American people, and especially of Christians.

One key issue sure to arise in terms of these confirmation hearings, regardless of whether held in December or in January is this; where will this nominee to be Attorney General stand on crucial issues of religious liberty? That’s a big question hanging over the nation and certainly also over these hearings.

2) Supreme Court takes new Obamacare case, a further referendum on execution of the law

And in terms of major constitutional issues, on Friday the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it will be taking up a new court case having to do the direct challenge to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Many Americans and certainly the Obama Administration a believed that that act’s constitutional crises were behind it – but not hardly. And the fact that the Supreme Court has decided to take this case is a very ominous sign for the Obama Administration, but it’s also raising a host of fascinating and unavoidable constitutional issues for the nation’s highest court. As Adam Liptak of the New York Times reports,

“The case concerns tax subsidies that currently help millions of people afford health insurance under the law. According to the challengers, those subsidies are being provided unlawfully in three dozen states that have decided not to run the marketplaces, known as exchanges, for insurance coverage.”

He goes on to say,

“If the challengers are right, people receiving subsidies in those states would become ineligible for them, destabilizing and perhaps dooming the law.”

Now, let’s just look at the issue for just a moment. In terms of the actual legislation – that is the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress without a single Republican vote back in 2010 – that act explicitly said the coverage is limited to those states that have established exchanges. There’s no language in the law allowing for any other means of coverage for people within those states. The Obama Administration decided go ahead and decide to cover them as if they had exchanges, but that’s a huge ‘as if.’ Now recall the numbers here. We’re talking about three dozen states – that’s a majority of the states – that have not set of these exchanges. And yet the Affordable Care Act legislation was operating within their states even without the exchanges even though there was no provision for this in the law.

Now regardless of whether one is for or against the law – regardless of whether one is Republican or a Democrat – this is a huge constitutional question. Can the Executive branch of government continue in terms of its own interpretation of the law even when the explicit language of the law makes no provision for that executive action? That is a huge question, and it’s a question not only for 2014 in the Affordable Care Act, it’s a question for the future the nation and the prized separation of powers the stand at the very heart of the United States Constitution.

Responding to the fact that the court announced it was going to take the case on Friday, Josh Earnest – who’s the White House Press Secretary said,

“This lawsuit reflects just another partisan attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act and to strip millions of American families of tax credits that Congress intended for them to have…[he went on to say] We are confident that the financial help afforded millions of Americans was the intent of the law and it is working as Congress designed.”

Well, there are two important things to note in the White House spokesman’s statement. In the first place, the statement itself is rather unusual when it’s addressed to this context. Usually, the White House will be very careful about using this kind of language, knowing that the nine Justices of the Supreme Court are going to be reading the newspaper. This is a pretty direct political challenge to the nation’s highest court coming from the White House. That in itself is somewhat unusual.

Secondly, in making his statement Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, basically admitted – he says so explicitly – that the administration is operating on the basis of its interpretation of the intent of the law, not on the basis of the explicit words themselves. Is that legitimate or is that illegitimate? That is a question only the Supreme Court of the United States will decide.

And when hearings are held before the United States Supreme Court both sides will have their say. Speaking for the other side is Scott Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma, who said that the administration,

“cannot ignore the plain language in a statute and rewrite laws with which they disagree. [He said], This Supreme Court review will provide Oklahoma and the 35 other states that did not establish state-based exchanges with immediate and conclusive clarity as to their rights and obligations under the A.C.A. so that the states may make appropriate health care policy decisions.”

Scott Pruitt, I should note, is a member the Board of Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

It is expected that the case will be heard in either February or March, and once again – don’t be surprised – the eventual decision is likely to come down in the very last days of June.

Finally, on this issue Christians need to remember that our Constitution’s separation of powers is deeply rooted in the founders’ understanding of sin. Of human sinfulness, and of the fact that human sinfulness tends to attract power unto itself. That’s why, given human depravity – given the fact as Lord Acton said, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – the founders of this nation and the framers of our Constitution put in the separation of powers to avoid any one branch of government becoming autocratic. And they did not do so because they feared a specific person; it is because they understood human nature. And that’s another reason Christians should watch this kind of case with very deep interest.

3) Terrorists utilize major symbol of modern world for evil in Jerusalem car attacks

The specter of international terrorism has been known for using the very latest technology. ISIS, or the Islamic State, as it calls itself, is now infamous for using the technology of social media in order to make its propaganda points not only to its own people but to the watching world. And furthermore, there been very ominous reports of terrorist cells getting control of very high technology weapons, leading to the fears among many Western intelligence services that these international terrorists may soon have guided missiles or drones that could wreck havoc far beyond where the terrorists are themselves residing. And that’s what makes the story coming out of Jerusalem this past week all the more ominous and all the more concerning. Because the story that came out of Jerusalem in recent days is not of terrorists using advanced weaponries – the weaponries of late modernity –  but rather using one of the central artifacts of the modern age; the automobile as a weapon of warfare, as a weapon of terrorism. Jodi Rudoren, reporting for the New York Times from Jerusalem reports that about a month ago “Palestinian drivers plowed into Israeli pedestrians, killing three and injuring more than 20.”

This has now been followed by copycat attacks. As Rudoren reports,

“One cartoon circulating on social networks on Thursday [of last week] depicted the car is the barrel of an automatic weapon, [the Arabic caption underneath], “Revolt and resist, even by your car.” Another showed an odometer with the slogan, “Oh, revolutionary, use more gasoline, so we can have Palestine back.” A third simply had a vehicle in the red, white and green of the Palestinian flag hitting two men with Jewish stars on their black hats.”

As Rudoren reports,

“The new campaign called for a “run-over intifada,” apparently inspired by episodes , [when there was another one of these car attacks.]”

This new round of attacks has led many people in Israel to wonder if this is a third intifada, that is a third violent Palestinian uprising. There are, of course, haunting parallels to the use of the automobile; back in September 11 of 2001 it was airplanes – another one of the chief symbols of modernity – that were weaponized in terms of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and the attempted attack on the White House itself. The use of airplanes is scary enough, but the use of automobiles – weaponizing the automobile – reaches a whole new level of terror, given the fact that there so many thousands in Israel and millions on the road worldwide.

Is this a new intifada? Well, mixed signals are coming from Palestinian authorities themselves.

“President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said clearly in an Israeli television interview last week [says the New York Times], “We are not interested in an intifada.” But Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council and a leader of the first intifada… said “To me, when I say intifada, I mean a general status of public opinion and public readiness to engage in resistance actions…[he went on to say] If we follow that definition, we are definitely at a new stage.”

The news coming out of Jerusalem certainly points to the fact that there is a new face on international terrorism. Maybe better put, a new mask on an old face. First it was the airplane, now the automobile. The point being sent is quite easily understood; no one is safe.

4) North Korea releases Americans jailed for dangerous act of propagating Christian teaching

In other big news over the weekend, news came on Saturday that North Korea had released two Americans it had been holding in custody accusing them of trying to subvert the North Korean state. As David Sanger reports,

The release of the two came after the release days ago of a third, and it came in this case after James R. Clapper, Jr –  that’s the director of national intelligence of the United States – went to Pyongyang as the personal representative of the President of the United States. Now, you might expect the political background of this is very interesting. The United Nations is considering taking major political and legal action against North Korea for human rights abuses. It appears that these releases are timed to try to put North Korea in a better standing with United Nations. Furthermore, there is a great deal of conversation going both ways about what this may mean in terms of relationships between United States and North Korea.

But the bottom line of all this is; there is no relationship. That was made abundantly clear. It was even made clear by the White House,that indicated that it was under a blackout of communication with its own national intelligence director when he was in North Korea. Furthermore, why exactly did the North Korean autocratic government release the three? No one may know, because the North Korean state is by definition inscrutable. Its intentions are often impossible to decipher.

But one thing Christians need to understand is that two of these three who were released had been charged and held within North Korea’s gulag system precisely for their witness to Jesus Christ. In the case of the first it was for leaving a Bible in a hotel room. In the case of the second, Kenneth Bae, he was released after been held for two years after having been detained on charges of using an evangelical organization known as Youth With a Mission in order to preach against the North Korean government, and according to the Times, planning a “religious coup d’état.”

Now he was not planning a religious coup d’état in a political sense, but any Christian looking at the nation of North Korea has to hope that there will be a toppling of that regime not only for the good, the flourishing, and the freedom of the people there but also for the freedom of preaching the gospel. After a brief show-trial Kenneth Bae had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on a farm. But now three Americans, Jeffrey E Fowle and Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller are home and they’re home by the direct action of the United States government, and due to the visit – in the case of the last two – of the director of national intelligence. Did he indeed add to our intelligence knowledge of North Korea? Maybe only he knows. But as the New York Times also reported North Korea is holding thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of political prisoners up in its vast gulag system. How many? No one actually knows – but many of them are in prison for similar kinds of crimes. Simply thought crimes. Crimes against the paranoid state of North Korea.

As the New York Times also reported,

“South Korea seized upon the release of the Americans to urge North Korea to free a South Korean missionary held there. In May, North Korea sentenced Kim Jong-uk, a Baptist missionary, to life in a labor camp for allegedly trying to build underground churches in the North [where the government has condemned such religious activities as an attempt to sabotage its rule].”

The missionaries also convicted of spying and other various “antistate crimes” –  that according to the North Korean news media. One final Christian worldview observation; the North Korean regime is indeed paranoid. Seriously, extremely paranoid. But when it comes to its opposition to Christianity, we might say that the North Korean government is at least on this one issue thinking rather clearly, because there is no worldview more directly at odds with the worldview of that paranoid state than the worldview of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5) 25th anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall points to the power of words

Finally a major anniversary of a monumental event in world history happened yesterday. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Wall fell – or lease began to fall – on November 9, 1989 when hundreds and then thousands of East Berliners began crossing into West Berlin. The background to this is itself one of the most tragic stories the 20th century.

It was in 1961 that the wall was built. It was erected as the East German government, under the direction of the Soviet Union, decided to imprison its own people – certainly in the city of East Berlin by erecting a wall. And not just a wall, but a fortified wall and a weaponized wall. Over the course of the days before the erection of the wall roughly 1,000 East Berliners per day had been pouring into West Berlin, leaving the repressive governments of the Communist East for the Democratic freedom of the West. This was a huge embarrassment to the East German government; to the larger Soviet bloc, and furthermore to the entire experiment – the deadly experiment – of world communism in the 20th century.

The Soviets began putting pressure on the East German government, the East German government began putting pressure on Berlin officials. Eventually the hemorrhaging of their own citizens fleeing their own regime became so embarrassing they decided they had to do something, and that something was the erection of a wall. And that wall became one of the ugliest symbols of Communist tyranny in the 20th century. And it was a deadly symbol. Between 1961 and 1989, at least 5000 East Germans attempted to escape over the wall. The estimated death toll ranges from 136 to more than 200. Most of those killed trying to escape – to get over the wall or under the wall – were young men, teenage boys who were doing the very best to escape Communist tyranny but were killed either by electrocution or by one of the landmines or by cold-blooded outright shooting.

In typical communist style the East German authorities had directed the wall calling it the “anti-fascist protection rampart.” In West Germany it was simply known as the Wall of Shame. In the rest of the West, known as the Berlin wall a symbol truly of communist infamy.

The question of exactly why the Berlin Wall fell when it did is a raging historical question that has prompted many arguments and analyses. The most interesting of which has recently come from author Mary Sarotte in her book entitled “The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall.” Her very respected argument now based upon thorough research on materials that it only recently become available makes very clear that the argument that it happened by accident is actually a compelling historical argument. It turns out that at a news conference before the fall the wall a top Communist Party official East Germany, Günter Schabowski, bungled the announcement of what were intended to be merely looser travel regulations.

Not used to scrutiny by a free press,[ reports Marcus Walker of the Wall Street Journal] he couldn’t deal with rapid-fire questions from international journalists—and gave the false impression that the Wall was open.

“The result [says Walker] was chaos at Berlin border crossings, where crowds of East Germans pressed the guards—who were as confused as everyone else—into opening some of the gates. Faced with a peaceful internal uprising, a brutal regime lost its nerve and authority…”

Later in the same news conference, the Communist official was asked a fourth question. That question had to do with when the looser travel regulations would become available to the East German people. He said, “To my knowledge that is immediately, without delay.” East Germans then began to rush the wall, the soldiers at the wall lost their nerve to shoot their own fellow citizens, and the rest is history.

But there’s another very important aspect of this it should also have Christian attention and that is the power of words. In some cases, presidential words. The cover story the weekend edition of USA Today reminds us of two American presidents who confronted the ugliness, the terror, and the murderous nature of the wall, and called in their own way for the wall to come down.

The first was Pres. John F. Kennedy, who stood at the wall when it was still fairly new in 1963 and declared ‘ich bin ein Berliner,’identifying not only the people of West Berlin but those of East Berlin as well. Identifying himself and the American people with the cause of freedom for all Berliners, for all Germans, for all peoples.

24 years later, standing almost the same spot Pres. Ronald Reagan declared ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ This led Rick Hampson of USA Today to ask what “Whatever happened to the kind of inspirational presidential oratory that helped bring down that wall — and Soviet communism?”

It’s a very good question. Hampson reminds us that Kennedy’s most famous words were not in the final draft of his prepared text – he basically ad-libbed the most famous words from the foreign-policy legacy of his presidential administration. When it came to Pres. Reagan’s line –  oh, it was in the address but his own speechwriters didn’t want their nor did his foreign-policy advisers.

Writing about the importance of words Rick Hampson writes,

“Today, when President Obama’s rhetoric seems unable to stop aggression in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the two Berlin speeches demonstrate the power of words to influence world affairs, as well as their limits.”

Each, he says of the speeches “was a tightrope walk.”

Mary Elise Sarotte, author of the book The Collapse I mentioned just a moment ago, was quoted in USA Today as saying that these two presidential speeches were major detonations that eventually help to contribute to the fall of the Wall. Interestingly these pages also reveal a basic faith the both of these presidents; representing two different generations and two different parties. Both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan held the faith that Communism could not survive. They had the faith that the Berlin Wall would eventually come down.

Shortly after the wall fell was the words of Pres. Ronald Reagan tht began to resonate throughout not only the West but also the East. As for Pres. Reagan, Hampson reports from Reagan’s own autobiography that looking back in the speech he said, “I felt in anger well up in me, and I’m sure the anger was reflected in my voice when I said those words.” And what were those words Pres. Reagan said

“Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization — come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”

Years later, after the fall not only of the Berlin Wall but also the Soviet Union, that last leader ofthe Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, said that he hasn’t really been moved by Reagan’s words. He said, “We were not impressed. We knew Mr. Reagan’s original profession was actor.”

Well Mr. Gorbachev may wanted to dismiss Pres. Reagan’s words, but those words really did matte. And the greatest evidence of that, is not just the fall the Wall, but the fact that in the immediate aftermath of that fall, the video clip of Pres. Reagan’s words was playing not only in West Berlin but also thoroughly in East Berlin as well.

Finally while we’re considering the importance of the fall the Berlin Wall –  while also considering the importance of words on to point to a set of words spoken long before John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan spoke at the Wall. As a matter fact, I want to point to a set of words that were spoken before the Wall even existed by one who saw it coming. And yet so far as I can see, no one in the mainstream media has drawn attention to these words, which certainly need to be remembered on this 25th anniversary. The words weren’t spoken in 1963 nor 1987 – the words are spoken of March 5, 1946 when Winston Churchill just shortly out of office as Britain’s Prime Minister came to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and gave a speech in the presence not only of the assembled guests there, but also the President of the United States Harry Truman. In that speech in defiance of so many who refused to see reality, Winston Churchill declared,

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line [said Churchill lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

In that speech the former British Prime Minister (and later also again Prime Minister) was declaring what many in the West refuse to see and others refuse to say; that Communist tyranny was just that, and that what Churchill called an Iron Curtain had indeed descended across Europe as a mighty scar. The Berlin Wall would simply come as a very small graphic physical representation of the Iron Curtain, and we need to note that the fall of the Berlin Wall was not enough. The Iron Curtain itself had to fall. And on this 25th anniversary we need to remember the words of another Briton who understood the importance of words, the poet Rudyard Kipling, who ended one of his poems with these very profound words; “Lest we forget, lest we forget.”

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Nomination of Loretta Lynch as new Attorney General significant political decision 

Loretta Lynch, a Nominee for Attorney General, Is Praised for Substance, Not Flash, New York Times (Stephanie Clifford)

Obama seeks speedy confirmation for AG nominee Lynch, USA Today (David Jackson and Kevin Johnson)

2) Supreme Court takes new Obamacare case, a further referendum on execution of the law

Justices to Hear New Challenge to Health Law, New York Times (Adam Liptak)

3) Terrorists utilize major symbol of modern world for evil in Jerusalem car attacks

In Jerusalem Unrest, Signs of a ‘Run-Over Intifada’ for the 21st Century, New York Times (Jodi Rudoren)

4) North Korea releases Americans jailed for dangerous act of propagating Christian teaching

Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, Released by North Korea, Are Back on U.S. Soil, New York Times (David E. Sanger)

5) 25th anniversary of fall of Berlin Wall points to the power of words

Germany marks anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall, USA Today (Angela Waters)

Did Journalists’ Questions Topple the Berlin Wall?, Wall Street Journal (Marcus Walker)

JFK, Reagan words helped bring down Berlin Wall, USA Today (Rick Hampson)

The Sinews of Peace, (Winston Churchill)



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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