Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Briefing

May 23, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, May 23, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

After Supreme Court ruling on sports betting, groups look to cash in on potential windfall

Sometimes, stories in the news tend to come from the right and the left, from near and far. Some of them may appear to be small but upon reflection, they loom large. What binds them together and makes them large? The fact that they reveal just how moral change takes place within a culture. They look small until you step back and ask the question, how could this have happened? Where will this lead? What does this mean?

Consider the fact that it was just last week that the Supreme Court of the United States struck down federal legislation that had prevented 49 out of the 50 states from legalized betting on sports. Sports at every level. Sports at the collegiate level, and sports at the professional level. But the Supreme Court struck down that legislation and the headlines immediately said that now sports betting would be legal in all 50 states. That may be so or it may not be so. More specifically, what took place in that decision by the Supreme Court was an upholding of the principle of Federalism. That federal legislation struck down by the Supreme Court is unconstitutional didn’t actually govern or regulate sports betting in any state. Instead, with the exception of the state of Nevada, that legislation had stated that it was the intention of Congress in a bill signed into law by the President of the United States, that 49 out of 50 of the states were forbidden by their state legislatures to regulate or to authorize or to govern sports betting.

Now if that sounds like a strange piece of legislation, what you have there is an example of Congress legislating by not legislating. That’s the reason it was struck down by the Supreme Court. The Federal government could conceivably govern sports betting in the states, and especially at the national level but it did not seek to do so. Rather, it simply said that the states could not do so. But that bottom line in the headlines saying that the Supreme Court had now made it possible for legal sports betting in all 50 states, even though that was not the real effect of what took place last week, it may indeed be the long term effect.

But what I want to look at today are two different headlines out of thousands of similar headlines that come in the aftermath of that Supreme Court decision. For example, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, here’s a headline for you. Sports betting excites media firms. And then, in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, another headline, “Tribes seek their share of jackpot in betting”. So these two stories I’ve chosen in order to illustrate how moral change takes place. And in this case, just how quickly it takes place. We are just barely a week after that decision by the US Supreme Court and already big business and the states and certain Native American tribes are working hard to make certain they get in on the action. And they’re not alone. This same ambition represents many who are behind and in leadership of the big professional sports leagues. And behind them, not very far, will be collegiate athletics as well.

When it comes, for example, to defending the logos on shirts, and even specific language, those state schools and their athletic associations are zealous in making sure the school and its team gets their fair share of the pie. At least that’s how it’s described. You can count on the same argument coming when it comes to sports betting. The report in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal tells us that major media companies in the United States figure out they’re going to be big, big winners in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision. The reporters tell us immediately, “Media companies think they may have hit the jackpot with the Supreme Court’s ruling on sports betting”.

So how would it be a jackpot for media firms? Because they take in advertising. And they are looking for a jackpot of advertising concerning legalized sports betting. The Wall Street Journal understands the business world and they help us to understand just what this means to one sector of that business when the reporters write and I quote, “The ruling has media and advertising executives envisioning a world in which more viewers tune in to live televised sporting events and follow more sports coverage in great detail. Those more engaged fans, we are told, would then attract advertising dollars, including those of gambling companies themselves.” The story goes on to say, “media companies are already tossing around programming ideas and ways to incorporate more stats and betting options in their digital platforms. The change, we are told could even inflate the value of leagues, teams, sports media properties, and sports TV rights.” Later in the article is this big moral lesson that comes in a statement from Turner Broadcasting President, Donald Levy, “when disruption and change happens, it’s an opportunity.” There’s the big world view lesson. When disruption and change happen, it’s an opportunity. You can count on the fact that someone is going to be eager to take that opportunity and note that this article came just within days and hours of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Chief Advertising Officer for CBS, Joanne Ross, said that if gambling on games is legal, it could mean a return of what the paper describes as the ad spending bonanza from fantasy sports companies and that was a bonanza that was ruled by many to be illegal, thus they lost the advertising dollars but needless to say, if sports betting is now legal, back will be fantasy sports and beyond that, betting on the sporting events themselves.

So, the big media companies see a disruption. And in the disruption, they see an opportunity. At least on NBA franchise owner said that the decision by the Supreme Court had at least doubled the value of his franchise. But then you can count on the fact that others are going to be certain and determined they get in on the action. And this includes the states. Watch this very, very carefully. And it also includes historic Native American tribes that have a constitutionally and legally privileged position when it comes to many forms of gambling.

The New York Times article that appeared yesterday is by a team of reporters and they began by saying, “State officials from California to Connecticut spent last week maneuvering for control of the tens of billions of dollars in projected revenue from sports betting. And joining them was another group of powerful and familiar gambling operators aiming to claim their piece of the action, American Indian tribes.” The next paragraph, “For three decades federal legislation has allowed the tribes to operate casinos dominated by slot machines and blackjack tables, now after a ground breaking Supreme Court decision cleared the way for states to allow betting on sports, industry experts say what may become a years-long fight over control of sports betting will hinge on the fine print of a series of gambling agreements between state governments and Indian tribes.”

What’s most important here is not the fine print for us. The big lesson for us is the fact that immediately after the Supreme Court decision, let’s use the word that the Turner Broadcasting Executive used, right after this disruption there are disruptors who are flooding the market. And not only that, getting ready to flood the courts. They want their part of what is now described by the New York Times as revenue that will be calculated in the tens of billions of dollars. One piece of news that was included in this New York Times article is the fact that it is believed that right now, that is before the Supreme Court decision, already in annual terms, American’s are illegally betting 150 billion dollars a year. That’s 150 billion dollars a year in illegal betting. Right now. So the next thing to watch is going to be, how many politicians, especially in these states are making the argument immediately, we have to make sure we protect our interests and our citizens get their own benefit from all of this revenue. And you’re going to hear the argument, we don’t have to raise taxes, we can just look to revenue from this kind of expansion of betting and gambling.

And then I’ll go on to say that you will hear the argument shift shortly thereafter to what kind of legislation should be put into place and what kind of regulations and protections we are promised will be put into place to make sure that this expanded betting and gambling will do the least amount of harm to the society. Of course, that’s exactly what you hear every time one of the states or legal entities begins to expand gambling. But it’s a monster that can’t be stopped. Once you let it out of its cage, it becomes omnivorous and furthermore, even the people who said they would never support betting, find themselves arguing merely over what kind of betting and gambling expansion is going to be allowed?

Gambling, as has often been pointed out, is just a form of regressive taxation. It’s just a form of taking money from citizens without acknowledging that it is in effect, a tax. But behind all those betting tables and slot machines behind all those casinos and now expanded sports betting, there will be the revenue collectors. Those from the states and other government entities who are going to be collecting revenue and that revenue is going to feed the other omnivorous beast, which is the ever increasing government.

Part II

Why a certain brand of feminist ideology won’t be satisfied by anything less than a comprehensive victory

Another very interesting headline came, also in the New York Times, this time, on the opinion page Sunday. The article is by Jessica Valenti, the title of the article, The Myth of Conservative Feminism. Now, that’s going to be an interesting little article. It’s rooted in the fact that on Monday, Gina Haspel, became the first woman to serve as the Director of Central Intelligence. She’s often referred to as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Gina Haspel, I would think, would then become a very significant figure in the history of American women in public roles and public office. After about 30 years and the CIA’s clandestine service, she has become the first woman who is the director of the nation’s most visible and historic and important intelligence gathering agency, the CIA.

But Jessica Valenti’s article in the New York Times is sending the signal that even though Gina Haspel is a woman, she can’t be a feminist. The argument made by Valenti is this, Gina Haspel may be a woman, but she’s the wrong kind of woman. Valenti wrote in her Times piece quote, on Thursday, Gina Haspel, President Trump’s choice to lead the Central Intelligence Agency was confirmed by the senate, making her the first woman in that position that same day Fox News announced that Suzanne Scott would be the company’s first female chief executive. She continues, “there is a distinct lack of feminists celebration over these women ascending in these roles. An absence”, she says, “that republicans have criticized as hypocrisy, shouldn’t we feminists be pleased by these shattered glass ceilings?”, but then Valenti continued by saying that the appointment of both Scott and Haspel was ground breaking in what she called the literal sense.

She went on to say that in the feminist sense, this isn’t anything to be celebrated at all. She wrote this “feminism isn’t about blind support for any woman who rises to power. The real political duplicity here is republicans continued efforts to co-opt feminist language while actively curtailing women’s rights.” She goes on, “Conservatives appropriating feminist rhetoric despite their abysmal record on women’s rights is in part a product of the President’s notorious sexism. Now more than ever,” she says, “Conservatives need to paint themselves as women friendly to rehab their image with female voters. The reason,” she says, “they’re able to claim feminism at all is a bit more complicated because feminists themselves, myself included, help to enable it. Before Walmart sold feminist tee-shirts and celebrities embraced the cause, we worked to make feminism more accessible.”

So, what we’re really looking at here, as we’re thinking in world view analysis, is the fact that ideology turns out to be more powerful than just about anything else. And in this case, it is a particular ideology that claims all of the real estate that is involved in the word, feminist. So Valenti’s argument is that even though it might be historic and ground breaking, in a literal sense, that the CIA has its first woman director, in the larger ideological sense, there’s nothing here to celebrate. Why? Because the administration in which the nomination was made, is not pro-abortion. That means it can’t be feminist, according to Valenti. She makes the argument that if this ground breaking event doesn’t come with the full affirmation of everything, that the ideological feminist demand, then it’s really no advance at all. It’s just camouflage. It’s nothing more than political window dressing.

Just to make this point clear, the scare quote found in the print edition of this article by Valenti are these words, “The movement, meaning feminism, isn’t about blind support for any woman in power.” No, it’s about support and celebration for certain women in power. You might say this is just one opinion piece but it appeared in the Sunday edition of the New York Times and it is an argument that is actually quite demonstrably wide spread. It’s the argument that indicates that ideological feminism isn’t really going to celebrate women in positions of influence and authority. Only the right kind of women. And what that tells us is that as we are watching changes in a society, ideology is the main fuel. It’s the food of revolution. That’s what we see her. Valenti also recognizes that her understanding, her brand of ideological feminism isn’t for everyone. She says it herself, “the truth is that while feminism need not be complicated, it’s a movement for social economic and political justice, it’s not for everyone.” But her definition of feminism it makes clear, is not only a demand for full abortion rights, under any circumstance. It’s a demand for a specific immigration policy.

Four policies that range across a political spectrum that tells us, feminism in this new intersectional age, is never merely about what’s good for a woman. Or for women. It’s a political ideology that is all encompassing. And if you don’t accept that ideology, then feminists are not going to celebrate even when the CIA has its first woman as director. Not only that, but a woman who worked all the way from the inside. Entering at the low rungs of the CIA, and working for three decades through its clandestined service, before being recognized with very wide bipartisan intelligence support in order to be the CIA Director. But I’ll go one step further and say that the big issue behind this article really is abortion. That’s the big issue. And if a woman is appointed head of the CIA, with abortion having absolutely nothing to do with her appointment, if the President who appointed her is known for pro-life decisions and policies, then she can’t be a feminist victory. So, what we see here is that a certain brand of feminist ideology won’t be satisfied with anything less than a comprehensive victory. And what we also see is that the main issue, lurking not just in the background, but in this article in the foreground, is abortion.

Part III

Secularism and the new understanding of human rights: Why human dignity must be rooted in concrete, objective truth

But next, I turn to yet another article on a very different issue but following on the same theme. This one appeared also in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. This is in the opinion page. It’s by Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize winning economist, who is also a regular liberal columnist for the New York Times. The headline of this article, “What’s the matter with Europe?” Listen to how he begins the article, “If you had to identify a place and time where the humanitarian dream, the vision of a society offering decent lives to all its members came closest to realization, that place and time would surely be Western Europe in the six decades after world war two.” He continues, “It was one of history’s miracles. A continent ravaged by dictatorship, genocide and war, transformed itself into a model of democracy and broadly shared prosperity.” He continues, this is really important, I quote, “indeed by the early years of this century, Europeans were in many ways better off than Americans. Unlike us,” says Krugman, “they had guaranteed health care which went along with higher life expectancy. They had much lower rates of poverty. They were actually more likely than we were to be gainfully employed during their prime working years. But now,” he says, “Europe is in big trouble.”

He goes on to sight the trouble. It’s the rise of populism, right wing political movements, it’s economic instability, its’ huge economic crises, including what he identifies as part of the crisis, which was the conversion of the economy to the dependence upon the Euro. But what you have here is a song of lament for what he sees as the eclipse of the European project. He even uses that term. He puts European project in quotation marks. He explains why he thinks the project is failing. “I would suggest however, that there is a deeper story here. There have always been dark forces in Europe as there are here. When the Berlin Wall fell, a political scientist I know joked,” he said, “now that eastern Europe is free from the alien ideology of communism, it can return to its true path, fascism.” He says, “We both knew we had a point.” He goes on to write, “What kept these dark forces in check was the prestige of a European Elite committed to democratic values. But that prestige,” he says, “Was squandered through mis-management and the damage was compounded by unwillingness to face up to what was happening.”

Now, what’s so important here? Well on the one hand, it is really interesting to see that here you have columnist for the New York Times, an economist who’s won the Nobel Prize, who does admit that the European project he celebrates, was orchestrated by elites. But that’s not true only in Europe. It’s true in the United States as well. Elites are always in control of the culture, virtually by definition. But what’s really vital from a world view perspective to understand is that in this article, Paul Krugman, who after all, did win the Nobel Prize for economics is seeing in the current European moment, a loss of the European project. And he and others within the elites clearly saw Europe, especially from the period from the 1950’s forward as the great hope of humanity. He’s now asking what’s the matter with Europe? What’s missing from his analysis? Well, what’s missing is “what’s the matter with Europe?” What’s missing from his article is what he doesn’t see because he takes it for granted. The great European project that he celebrates, the decline of which, he now so laments was an explicitly and very comprehensively secular project.

What we have seen in Europe since the end of World War II is an attempt to try to build a civilization and beyond that, a massive welfare state, on a unitary society that holds two very important moral ideals, including ideas of human dignity but provides no foundation whatsoever for why anyone should hold to those moral values. What’s missing from his analysis, he’s after all asking the right question, what’s the matter with Europe? What’s missing from his analysis is the understanding that that secular dream behind what he calls the European project was destined to fail because you can’t simply hang moral judgements, moral values and human rights in the air. They have to be based upon something concrete and objectively true. You can’t say that we need to treat human beings because we way so. You’re going to have to make the argument eventually that human rights depend upon human dignity. And human dignity has to be granted in something other than merely what one human being will recognize in another.

One thing we need to note, and we need to note this for our own thinking as well, is that it is entirely possible to ask exactly the right question but to be unable to get to the answer because of what we do not and will not see. The weakening European project that brings so much concern from Paul Krugman was represented by the fact that the new European government, known as the European Union, would not even agree to recognize in its historical statement about the background of Europe, that Christianity had even ever had a part or an influence in shaping Europe? But of course, the European civilization that gave birth to the modern age was explicitly and pervasively Christian, as we think about its world view, it’s understanding of the cosmos and furthermore it’s understanding of human rights. The new understanding of human rights that we celebrate, especially in the modern age, did not come from a vacuum. And they were not hung in the air. They were established upon the fact that we know from scripture that every single human being is made in God’s image and thus we are to recognize a dignity in every single human being. And we are to understand that that dignity implies certain God given rights. Just think about the language of the Declaration of Independence.

We need to take care about this intellectual temptation ourselves. We need to be intellectually honest, we need to press ourselves and each other. What is obvious that we are missing even when we ask the right question? Paul Krugman is a big advocate of government funding, of high taxation, of government intervention in the economy. He’s a big fan of the welfare state. But in his article, at least implicitly, there’s another acknowledgment, and that is the fact that prosperity actually doesn’t bring human happiness. That prosperity itself, cannot be an adequate foundation for human rights and human dignity. He laments the fact that what he sees as bad economic decisions have led to a crisis. An economic crisis that is also a political crisis, indeed, what many would call a crisis of legitimacy. But I think what is implicit in his article, though he never seems to acknowledge it, is that if you fix the economic problem, you would still have the massive incalculable moral problem.

But as I come to the end of The Briefing, I want to go to the very end of Paul Krugman’s article. In the last two sentences, he uses some vocabulary, on word in particular, that reflects what is absent from his article. And my guess is that he used the word without the slightest bit of self-consciousness. See if you hear it. Here is the last two sentences, “The point is that what’s wrong with Europe is in a deep sense, the same thing that’s wrong with America. And in both cases, that path to redemption will be very, very hard.” What we need to watch is that Paul Krugman uses the word redemption in an entirely secular sense and that’s the main point. And this is where Christians understand that even though Paul Krugman in his own way, asked exactly the right question. In his last sentence, he pointed to the answer by using exactly the right word. There is a yearning for redemption that shines through even in an article that supposedly has nothing to do with it at all.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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