Friday, March 1, 2019
Friday, March 1, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, March 1, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Talks between U.S. and North Korea break off: How the underlying motives of the Korean dictator revealed themselves in summit meeting
The second summit meeting between the president of the United States and the dictator of North Korea ended with the talks breaking off without an agreement. Even though a signing ceremony for an agreement had been previously scheduled. This meant that the President of the United States was willing to walk away from the talks when they did not appear to be heading in a productive direction. There is a lot to this controversy, a lot to the picture. There is indeed a lot to the optics. One of the criticisms directed towards president Trump by the foreign policy establishment in the West is that he had granted an undeserved legitimacy to the regime of Kim Jong Un and North Korea, by allowing the Korean dictator to stand beside him, effectively on equal ground in photographs. Behind the leaders, the pageantry of their respective flags ,with the flag of the United States of America flying on an equal basis with the flag of a communist dictatorship, the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.
Again, a major criticism that was directed towards President Trump by the foreign policy establishment of Western nations, particularly within the United States, but it is very significant that even as there were huge concerns that President Trump was absolutely determined to get an agreement at any cost, the president defied those predictions by walking away from the conversations when in his words, it became very clear that North Korea was primarily concerned with relieving itself of economic sanctions without taking any concrete acts towards demilitarization, most importantly, denuclearization. The immediate background to the talks is a certain desperation on the part of the North Koreans and tremendous anxiety in the watching world as tensions had been escalating in recent years between the United States and its allies, and the nation of North Korea. The issue, most importantly, was the North Korean development of two different technologies. The first was nuclear weapons, and the second was inner ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
By early in 2018, military experts had indicated that North Korea had achieved a certain ability in both of these areas, the ability to construct workable nuclear weapons and the ability to launch inter-ballistic missiles that could reach not only American allies and assets in the Pacific, but potentially even the heartland of the United States of America itself. All of this led to huge tensions between the two leaders, President Trump and the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un. This spilled over into fairly ludicrous exchanges of words and insults, but then President Trump announced that there would be a summit meeting between the two nations. The first was held last June. The meeting over the last several days in Hanoi between the two nations was the second promise to summit meeting, and that is the meeting that ended with a break off in talks, or at least a walking away from the discussions by President Trump and the American delegation.
But it is also important to recognize that it wasn't a coincidence that the conversations were taking place there in Hanoi. That, of course is the capital city of a nation that had been for years at war with the United States of America. It is also a nation that continues to be run by an effective dictatorship, an autocracy, but at the same time, even as Vietnam is now operating under the rule of its communist party, it has also entered into the world economic system, and in doing so, has tremendously enriched the nation and its citizens. That stands in dark contrast to the absolutely crushing, almost unbelievable poverty of North Korea during the successive generations of the Kim Dynasty. We also need to understand the deep worldview implications of what is going on, especially in North Korea. North Korea as a regime emerged out of the end of World War Two. Japan had conquered and occupied the Korean peninsula, and with the end of World War Two, and the surrender of Japan, Korean independence movements quickly began, but those movements were divided between movement in the North and movement in the South.
That also had a great deal to do with where the interest of the respective allies would be concentrated. There was no doubt in the late 1940s that North Korea was very close to the influence of the USSR, the Soviet Union, and the nation of North Korea emerged as a client state of the communist government in Russia, and also of the patronage of the Chinese, eventually of the Chinese Communist Party after the Chinese Revolution. That happened just about the same time as the emergence of North Korea. South Korea was far more influenced by the United States and other Western democratic allies, and it developed eventually into a democratic nation, and if you look at satellite images of the Korean Peninsula, you see all you need to see in a nighttime image, because South Korea is ablaze with energy and with light. North Korea, one of the most impoverished regimes on earth, that nation turns up black, almost as if it were an open ocean, with just isolated dots of light.
The contrast between the poverty in the north under communism and the relative prosperity of the South under capitalism and freedom, it is there for anyone to see who will dare to look at that kind of nighttime satellite image. But in worldview dimensions, we also need to look at the meaning of the Kim regime itself. It was founded by Kim Il Sung. He was the man that was basically chosen in exile in the Soviet Union to lead the new communist movement in North Korea. He effectively became a dictator who would rule with an iron hand for 46 years, between 1948 and 1994, but what made North Korea different from any other communist or socialist regime on earth was the fact that from the very beginning, it was established as a family dynasty. That wasn't true in the Soviet Union. It isn't true in communist China. It really isn't true in any other socialist or communist nation, but it certainly is true in North Korea.
North Korea has had only three leaders, all of them totalitarian dictators. They represent grandfather, son, and grandson. Following Kim Il Sung upon his death in 1994 was his own son, Kim Jong Il. He ruled from 1994 to 2011. Both the father and the son had an absolute to determination to try to develop nuclear weapons, because they believed that the possession of, and the threat of using nuclear weapons, was the only credible threat that North Korea could hold over against Western military action. When Kim Jong Il died in 2011 his son, Kim Jong Un, became the dictator, and he has ruled from 2011 to the present. There is again, the passage of a dynasty in this communist nation from grandfather, to son, to grandson. This royal dynasty in effect is buttressed by an entire worldview, a theology in effect, that deifies the Kim family, and furthermore develops a cult personality unlike anything achieved, so far as it is known, throughout human history. That would include even the cult around Adolf Hitler in the Third Reich.
The North Korean ideology is stalwartly atheistic, so much so that it is a capital crime to be found even with a New Testament or a fragment of the Bible in North Korea. There is absolutely no personal liberty and that would include absolutely no religious liberty. It is, put simply, the most oppressive regime on earth. The official ideology behind the Kim family is a theology called Juche, which leads to the cult of personality. Around the family and especially these three male leaders is an entire theological mythology, including a creation myth, including the fact that on what is designated as a holy mountain, we are told that the Kim dynasty has emerged as an almost superhuman, if not supernatural dynasty. We are told that creation itself rejoiced with the birth of successive generations of the Kim family, and that the nation itself only has personality and meaning in so far as it as personified by the male leaders of the Kim family.
The cult of personality is further buttressed by the fact that when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il died, they were both appointed to eternal posts in the government. Kim Il Sung, or example, was appointed eternal general secretary. That, again, after his death. Article 10, Clause 2 of the North Korean Constitution, adopted in 2013, states that the party, and the revolution, and the nation must be continually led and carried out by the bloodline of the Kim family, associated with the holy mountain. But we also have to fast forward a bit to the summit meetings that have been held between the United States and North Korea, to understand that it's not just nuclear weapons that has brought about to this equation. It is also the fact that the citizens of North Korea are increasingly restive, and that includes most importantly the elites of the society who basically owe their very elite status only to the Kim family. This has led to an unusual level of loyalty, such as is only found in totalitarian regimes with a cult of personality, and if there is any analogy, it would be to a similar kind of omerta, or loyalty, found amongst those in organized crime.
All of this is beginning to break down simply because the economy is not working. It has never worked, because communism itself has never worked, but the North Korean regime worked at least a bit better when it had the wealthy patronage of the Soviet Union, but that has not existed for decades now. If the North Korean regime is going to continue in power, Kim Jong Un knows that he is going to have to do something to alleviate the poverty. He is going to have to do something to rejuvenate the economy. That's going to require the lifting of the sanctions that the United States and its allies have put in place given the nuclearization of North Korea. But the Kim regime is thus facing a very clear decision. It can have the nuclear weapons that it believes are necessary to the regime's cult of personality survival, or it can have some kind of economic engagement such as Vietnam, but it cannot simultaneously have both.
This is where I'll turn to a very important piece of analysis offered in the Wall Street Journal by James Freeman. He points out that the central question is, “What Does Kim Want?” As the subhead in the article says, “The Trump sales pitch depends upon persuading the ultimate crime boss to go legitimate.” The analogy made by Freeman is brilliant and it's right. When you're looking at North Korea, you are looking at a rogue regime. You're looking at a nation that plays completely in conflict with all the rules of international discourse and relationships, international economic relationships. By its own self-definition and decision, North Korea is a pariah regime, and the Wall Street Journal analysis is exactly right. President Donald Trump is at least offering the opportunity for the regime to go legit, if the Kim Dynasty makes that decision, but as Freeman points out, it's really, really hard for someone whose entire existence has been based in the equivalent of organized crime to decide all of a sudden to go legit.
That's a very good analogy to the problem now faced by North Korea, and faced by the world dealing with North Korea. As Freeman writes about President Trump, "He is trying to sell a murderous thug on the benefits of becoming a law abiding citizen.” In Hanoi, there were no credible signs that the dictator was moving in that direction, so the President of the United States did the walking. It took courage for President Trump to walk away from those talks without the agreement that he had so hoped to sign, but we should be thankful for that courage. We should be thankful the President of the United States walked away from the dictator because the dictator showed his true stripes. Regrettably, human history doesn't offer too much hope for seeing very many crime bosses walk away from a life of crime.
House bill offers single-payer, universal healthcare, but there’s more at stake than what meets the eye
Meanwhile, back in the United States, a political drama within the United States House of Representatives. As the Democratic Party slides further into an open advocacy of socialism, the New York Times, Robert Pear reports, "Divided Democrats offer single-payer health bill." As Pear tells us, "Denouncing the profit motive in healthcare, more than 100 House Democrats rallied on Wednesday around a bill to replace most private health insurance with a national single-payer system, Medicare for all."
Pear went on to say that the chief sponsor of the bill representative, Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, said it would cure “a deep sickness within our for-profit systems of healthcare," but says Pear, “the bill highlights Democrat split over health policy going into the 2020 elections.” We need to pause for a moment and recognize, before we look at the specifics of the legislation that was initiated Wednesday, we are talking here about a form of socialized medicine. If there was any question about that, then the sponsor of the legislation made the truth abundantly clear by denying what she called the for-profit system of healthcare. Let's just consider for a moment the use of that word “for-profit”, or just “profit.” That insinuates that somehow, profit has no place in medical care, or in the entire healthcare system.
But it's one thing to say that knowing that it will instantly seem to resonate with some Americans. It's a lot easier to defend that, not when it can be easily demonstrated that as much as a for-profit model can lead to economic inefficiencies and imbalances, a non for-profit model leads to even greater inefficiencies. It would also shut down the healthcare system and the innovations that have come from that system, that has been the wonder of the world, even as Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the cost of health care, and in that sense, understandably so. The big question is, would Americans want the payoffs of not having a for-profit healthcare system with the choices that come to Americans by that system, and would they like for the government, the same government that runs programs they don't like, to take over their health care? Furthermore, would they want to pay for the healthcare that is promised because as anyone who understands economics or even just the objective reality of the world must know, nothing comes for free, especially when it's offered for free.
I turned to Robert Pear's article precisely because it appears in the New York Times an article that's basically for some kind of innovation that would lead to greater government control of the healthcare system. But he writes, "Supporters of the bill under which health care would be available to all Americans without premiums, copayments, deductibles, or similar charges, did not say how much it would cost or how they would pay for it.” This is one of our most recent examples of politics at its worst, and you can have both Democrats and Republicans play this game, but increasingly Democrats are not only playing the game. This is the only game they are playing, offering to provide the American people with healthcare at no cost, no premiums, no copayments, no deductibles, nothing, but how much will it cost? They don't know. How are they going to pay for it?
That's not even included in the legislation, but Pear also points out that in the state of California, in 2017, America's most populous, and arguably most democratically controlled state, tried to figure out if the state could move to a single-payer system. But even California backed off because as the Los Angeles Times tells us, it was estimated that the annual cost of implementation was estimated at $400 billion. That's $400 billion, which is actually double the state's budget, which is to say absolutely, ludicrously impossible. Here you also have to note that the citizens of California, its political leaders understood, were not going to be willing to pay the taxes to pay for a free medical healthcare system. It's not free. It wouldn't be free, and arguably it will be even more expensive under government control. But now we do need to look at the specifics of the legislation proposed on Wednesday.
As Pear tells us, the highlights include this. It would be unlawful for a private health insurer or an employer to provide the same medical insurance benefits as the new program, so your choice, or your employer choice, or your set of choices about healthcare, all of that will be gone. The government would decide it for you. Secondly, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would establish a national health budget specifying the total amount to be spent each year. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, that means government allocated and ultimately government rationed healthcare. Then we are told the doctors who are practicing on their own would be generally paid on a fee for service basis, but that's also going to be set by the government. Hospitals, nursing homes, and community health centers would receive quarterly lump sum payments, and the federal government for the services they provide. Again, all of this under the control of the federal government. The government would specify, get this now "optimal staffing levels for physicians" and would also set standards for the ratio of registered nurses to patients at hospitals and nursing homes.
Notice the big problem that's going to come here. Later, we are also told that the legislation could well lead to lower salaries for medical professionals. How in the world is the federal government, if it tries to control costs by lowering the salaries of physicians and other healthcare professionals, going to provide those very healthcare professionals and doctors who they then are going to supposedly assigned by ratio, facility by facility. It is a recipe for unmitigated disaster, and then furthermore, we are told that the health secretary would directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers. Again, there's a certain logic to that, and even some Republican plans would offer the ability for the government to be involved in some way, but we also have to recognize that our system, with all of these new drugs and medical innovations, has come because there have been people willing to invest in all kinds of experimental drugs and treatments, in the hope that they might one day be profitable.
Without that profit motive, there is no incentive for these drug companies and medical technology firms to continue to press the envelope. We actually depend on them doing so. We're also told that for up to five years, the federal government would provide financial assistance to workers in the health insurance and healthcare industries who lose their jobs, or experience other economic dislocation as a result of Medicare For All. That's a strange acknowledgement of the fact that there will be a lot of dislocation, and it is also a warning, in the very wording of the legislation, that something's going to go awry that could well lead to a lot of healthcare professionals and medical personnel being unemployed. How is that supposed to work? Then ideologically, as you get to the worldview implications of what is at stake here, understand that the legislators who put this bill forward, and that includes over 100 Democrats, they included in the legislation, the elimination of the federal law known as the Hyde Amendment.
That law, adopted by a bipartisan majority in 1976, is premised upon the fact that it would be immoral to confiscate taxes from the American people and then violate the consciences of tens of millions of Americans by using that taxpayer money to pay directly for abortion. You'll notice that this legislation explicitly nullifies the Hyde Amendment, meaning that if this Medicare for All legislation were to become law, it would also include coerced taxpayer funding for abortion on demand.
One basic worldview insight that is important to this analysis is understanding that health care is so comprehensive, and involves so many different issues, that if you can gain political power to revolutionize the medical healthcare system, then you can revolutionize a significant portion of the society at the same time. Given the centrality of healthcare to so many questions, you can effectively use this leverage, as you see here with the removal of the Hyde Amendment, to serve other moral and political causes. In this case, the pro-abortion cause. This bill doesn't merely represent a new proposal for socialized medicine. It represents a new proposal for the culture of death, gaining further ascendancy in the United States of America.
Religious unbelief is actually belief: New Portland law proves America isn’t as secular as some would think
Finally, an interesting story coming out of Portland, Oregon. The Huffington post headline is this. Portland bans discrimination against atheists and agnostics. Carol Kuruvilla reports that Oregon's biggest city is the second in the United States, it is believed, to extend nondiscrimination protections to nonreligious people. As she reports, the Portland, Oregon City Council has approved a measure extending civil rights protections to atheist, agnostic, and other nonreligious residents. The council's unanimous vote this past Wednesday ensures that nonreligious people are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation. Commissioner Amanda Fritz in Portland said, "By passing this ordinance, we're sending a message that we value nonbelievers, and affirm that protections of our civil rights code extends to them. With this declaration, perhaps more nonbelievers will feel less fearful of being themselves in the open."
This really isn't about civil rights for atheists and agnostics. There's no documentation in any of the accompanying media coverage of the fact that any atheist or agnostic has been discriminated against. What this is really representing is an effort to further normalize and platform non-belief in the context of the United States of America, where non belief is still a minority position. According to Commissioner Fritz, the only other US city to adopt similar protection is Madison, Wisconsin. That's one of those university towns which is extremely liberal, far more liberal than the surrounding state of Wisconsin. Technically, the big change that comes with this ordinance is that non-belief is accorded the same stance as religious belief. Remember, of course that non-belief is supposed to be an alternative to religious belief, but when it comes to civil rights, the nonbelievers want to have the very same protections as religious believers.
The context in Oregon is important. As the Huffington post reports, Oregon has a particularly large population of religious nones, N-O-N-E-S. In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that about 31% of surveyed adults in Oregon said they were unaffiliated. That is an extraordinarily large percentage throughout the United States. It's about 10% lower the norm, about 20% of adults. The story goes on to tell us the number of nones is even higher in Portland. A 2015 study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 42% of surveyed Portland residents said they were religiously unaffiliated. Oddly enough, responding to this legislation with a Christian worldview, Christians should understand that there is a point to be made, that religious unbelief is actually a form of religious belief. That's very consistent with the Christian affirmation that made in the image of God, we are all inescapably theological creatures. Even those who claim to be unbelievers really are not those who believe in nothing. They just believe in something other than biblical Christianity, or for that matter, legally defined, any other form of organized or recognized religious belief.
Looking at the math, by the way, it's really hard to believe that 42% of the citizens of Portland really needed civil rights protection against the other 58%, but I'll leave it for those in Oregon to do the math. The most important thing for us to recognize is that this is a sign of the times about an increasingly secular America, but it is also ironically enough, an indication once again, that secular America, insisting on its secularism, by its very arguments turns out not to be quite so secular as secular America would have us to think.