Tuesday, October 15, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, October 15, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Showdown Between the NBA and China: Why Are American Corporations Abandoning Conscience When It Comes to China?
It is a sign of our times that one of the primary dynamics now catching the world's attention is a showdown between communist China and the National Basketball Association, except on the side of the NBA it turns out to be not so much of a showdown. As we're looking at this particular dynamic, we come to understand a good deal about the realities of the global scene and also the realities of modern global capitalism. That's where the NBA comes in. It's especially important in this story because it is big business. It is gigantic business. It has a lot at stake.
Businesses and corporations around the world, but particularly of interest in North America had been looking to China as a massive new market. The fact is that the domestic market is largely saturated when it comes to many goods and that's true of other sectors of the economy as well. An economy wants to grow. A business wants to grow. And right now that growth is largely centered in hopes concerning China, China with its teaming hundreds of millions of people, China with its resurgent economy over the last several decades, China with its increased openness to a market of goods and services.
But on the other side of that you also have the reality that China continues as a totalitarian, dictatorial government. It is the reality that it is a one party state that brooks absolutely no argument or opposition. It is the fact that it is one of the biggest abusers of human rights in all of recorded human history. And it is the fact that it is increasingly assertive in military, economic, political, and cultural terms. All that comes together in this collision between the NBA and the Chinese Communist Party.
The story began to unfold days ago when one NBA general manager simply put up a tweet supporting the protesters in Hong Kong. So far as China was concerned, it was an act of subversive treason, unacceptable for anyone who's going to do business in China, because after all, doing business in China means doing business at the behest of the Communist party.
Over the course of the last several days, it has become clearly apparent that at virtually every level, the National Basketball Association is not exactly a profile in courage. The national media in the United States have looked at the business connections indicating that for example, even individual players, marquee players in the NBA, have a great deal at stake and a great deal to lose in China. We're talking about many players who have multi-million dollar contracts with Chinese entities, and if they're opposed by the Chinese Communist Party, all of that comes to an end.
And then we also have the NBA itself recognizing that its valuable Chinese franchise might be at risk trying to find some way to force an apology without it appearing to be an apology, a capitulation that wouldn't look like a capitulation.
And you also have the fact that at least one NBA team owner, Joe Tsai, he's the co-founder of Alibaba, which is a quasi-state business there in China, he actually went so far as to argue that the Hong Kong protestors aren't really about pro-democracy, rather they represent a separatist movement from China. That is the official propaganda coming from the Chinese Communist Party. Now it's coming from the owner of an NBA team.
John Branch writing on the On Sports column for The New York Times reminds us in a story with the headline that makes the point, “Sports and politics shouldn't mix, they've always mixed.” The point made in this article is that when you have the high stakes, the high visibility, and now the high money of modern sports is always political and sometimes that politics is apparent, sometimes it is more subtle.
But as Branch wrote, "The myth of sports sticking to sports died this week from self-inflicted wounds and a global outbreak of compromised values. In the end," he said, "it never had a chance even though some fans have trouble letting go of the idea. Memorial services," he means for the myth of sports sticking to sports, "were held at an NBA news conference where a reporter asked a timely question of two stars from the Houston Rockets.”
“The NBA has always been a league that prides itself on its players and coaches being able to speak out openly about political and societal affairs,” this according to the reporter who continued, “I just wonder if after the events of this week and the fallout we've seen, whether you both would feel differently about speaking out in that way in the future?” But at that point they were interrupted by a team representative who inserted that they were taking "basketball questions only." Just two days before the two players, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, had stood in front of reporters, as Branch tells us, and they had said, "We love China,” and they apologized after the team's general manager had expressed that support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.
This bears a very sad resemblance to the forced videos of confessions made by those who are held as prisoners of war in North Vietnam. They were forced to come before cameras and be recorded about their so-called crimes against the North Vietnamese people. And similarly now you have these NBA stars in the aftermath of this controversy looking into a camera and saying, "We love China."
Megan McArdle writing in The Washington Post got it exactly right with an article entitled "The spineless weaklings have shamed themselves and their country." She opened with her article, "There aren't enough synonyms for cowardly to capture the craven pusillanimity of America's corporate capitalists who have abjectly prostrated themselves before Chinese government censors. These spineless weaklings whose expense accounts tower over their atrophied consciences have shamed themselves and their country."
By the time you get to the end of Megan McArdle's article, she makes a point implicitly, if not explicitly. It cost the NBA, team owners, players, managers and others virtually nothing to make whatever trenchant criticisms and political points they want to make within the United States about the United States, and the NBA has become quite outspoken even as the media will say over and over again now famous for its "progressive" stands. Progressive put in quotation marks, at least by me, when it comes to many moral issues and political issues. But you'll notice the fact that in so doing, the NBA says, and it's individual members and owners and team managers say, "We are making moral judgments. That's what we're about in sports. We make moral judgements." Over and over again they've said, "We have to make moral judgments." Except in China, their moral judgment in the face of its human rights abuses, in the face of its autocracy and dictatorship looking into the camera and saying, "I love China."
At the very least, we should understand that if the NBA is saying about China, "It's not our business to make moral judgments," then at least be consistent to say, "It's not our business. We are incompetent to make moral judgments in China or in the United States." If you are morally mute before China, then at least have the decency to be morally mute in the United States.
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska wrote another article published in The Washington Post. Its headline is an even more ominous message. "China is waging war with U.S. businesses and it's winning." Senator Sasse wrote, "If you want to understand what's happening in the National Basketball Association, turn off Sports Center and pick up The Art of War. More than 2000 years ago, the Chinese General Sun Tzu wrote that, 'The skillful strategist defeats the enemy without doing battle, captures the city without laying siege, overthrows the enemy state without protected war.' That," says Senator Sasse, "is how the NBA lost its recent battle with China and it's how China has been beating Americans in the past few years."
Senator Sasse then went on to go back over the recent NBA controversy, but then he summarizes, "The NBA quickly surrendered. The league pushed Morey to apologize, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver followed suit." Senator Sasse then wrote, "The NBA has prided itself on free expression. Its players and owners have a well-earned reputation for speaking out on social justice in the United States. Sadly, it seems woke capitalism stops at the water's edge and this goes way beyond basketball. It's part of Beijing’s strategy of corporate encirclement straight out of Sun Tzu."
The Senator reported some newsworthy information when he writes, "China is making an example out of the NBA. The Global Times, the government's propaganda newspaper, warned western businesses that 'Global brands better stay away from politics.'" Senator Sasse continues, "In its typically threatening tone, the Communist Party laid it all bare. In the words of the Communist party mouthpiece, 'The biggest lesson which can be drawn from the matter is that entities that value commercial interests must make their members speak cautiously.'" That's not a veiled threat. It is a direct threat.
But the point being made by Senator Sasse is that the NBA isn't alone, even if it is hogging the headlines on this issue. For example, I hold in my hands an article from The New York Times in recent days with the headline, “After China Objects, Apple Removes App Hong Kong Protesters Use to Track Police.” The article is by Jack Nicas, and it's about the fact that Apple, in a development cited by Senator Sasse, has actually removed the app largely, if not exclusively, because of the overt political pressure coming from the Chinese Communist Party.
Apple trying to put its removal of the app in a more highfalutin moral context by arguing that it had been persuasively demonstrated to Apple's leadership that the app could be used to individually target police. But the reality is it is just an effort to break down the Hong Kong protesters and the pressures coming from mainland China.
Senator Sasse went forward to describe the means whereby China is winning. He says, "They are winning by co-opting American businesses." Giving another example related to sports, this time the network ESPN, Senator Sasse writes, "ESPN not only warned its employees to avoid talking about the Hong Kong protests, but it also described the pro-democracy protests as anti-government." So there you have perhaps the most influential sports network in the United States parroting the line of the Chinese Communist Party concerning the nature of the democracy protests in Hong Kong. If that doesn't scare us, I don't know what would.
In one key paragraph, Senator Sasse writes, "U.S. businesses must step up to the plate and aggressively confront China's intimidation campaign. And if they don't have the courage and integrity to fight back, American consumers should demand that our companies put basic human rights above profit margins. The U.S. government has a role to play too. Washington needs to stem the rising tide of Chinese intellectual property theft and cyber-attacks so that we can empower American businesses to take a tougher stand. If free and open society," said the Senator, "don't wake up to this geopolitical reality, we're going to be encircled before there's time to fight back."
As we so often note on The Briefing, what we see around us is a collision, a great combat of worldviews. Sometimes it's more overt, sometimes it's more subtle, sometimes it's over a local issue, limited to one community. But in this case we're talking about giant global businesses and geopolitics. The reality, however, is the same. This is a massive clash of worldviews. But what seems to be revealed is that many American corporations that in the United States say that they are absolutely committed to certain moral principles, they abandon those same principles when it comes to China.
And perhaps this ought to scare us too. China is considered to be the coming thing economically and North America, the going thing. Central to the claims of the Chinese Communist Party is that it represents the wave of the future. All of those global companies that are now practicing the art of capitulation are actually helping the Chinese Communist Party to make that very point.
American Medicine Shifts to the Left: The Underlying Factors that Have Caused a Worldview Transformation in the Medical Field
But next, while we're thinking about the clash of worldviews, we'll come back to the United States and a front page article that recently ran in The Wall Street Journal. The article's by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg. The headline, “Changes in Medicine Push Doctors to Left.” Now when we're thinking about moral change in the United States, we're looking at a change or shift in the worldview. We often look to headline controversies and miss, if we're not careful, what is going on beneath the surface. This is one of those articles, one of those perspectives into what is going on under the surface. In this case, under the surface in a very big way, in a fundamental shift that is now found in American medicine. Shifting to the left. What would that be about?
Well as the reporters tell us, "Doctors used to be America's quintessential Republicans. During the 20th century, most were high earning men who owned their own practices. They liked Republican support for curbing medical malpractice lawsuits and limiting government's role in healthcare. When Democrats proposed creating Medicare in the 1960s, the American Medical Association, the largest physician group then and now, opposed the idea with a campaign starring then actor Ronald Reagan."
But the social transformation of the United States in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s also led to the social and moral transformation of American medicine. Increasingly, doctors are not the owners of their practices. They are employees of vast medical networks and systems.
Furthermore, the economics of medicine looking at physicians, it has also been changing. As this report tells us, "Many doctors today start their careers with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt and little hope of earning the outsize incomes their predecessors did a generation ago." Here's what follows this most important quote: "The result is a fundamental leftward realignment of a politically powerful professional group, one that has been accelerated by recent politics, including doctor opposition to repealing the Affordable Care Act and unease some doctors express about President Trump. This phenomenon," says The Journal, "is changing where physicians choose to live and work, how they treat patients and how they influence the 2020 presidential race. It's part of a larger turn among white collar Americans towards the Democratic Party." That is towards the political left.
David J. Rothman, a Professor of Social Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons said, "More or less over a 20 year period of profession that was always thought of as rock ribbed Republicans has changed and tilted to the Democratic side." He went on to say, "That's a big deal."
But as we often discuss on The Briefing, it's not just who you are and where you were born or what you do for a living, the question is often where do you live? That turns out to make a difference. As The Wall Street Journal reports, "Doctors are clustering in big cities where other Democrats reside, exacerbating a shortage of physicians in rural areas. They are urging lawmakers to restrict firearm access and expand reproductive health services and some are backing Democratic proposals to create a U.S. single-payer health system."
Cited but not explored fully within this article is also the leftward shift, especially on moral issues related to sexuality and gender undertaken by the American Medical Association. As the article cites, it describes itself as a nonpartisan organization, however, "It ranks among the top 10 lobbying entities in Washington and spent more than $20 million last year according to the Center for Responsive Politics." And so it's not political except when it is political and it's political when it comes to dollars in at least 20 million different ways a year.
The article also cites something really interesting, telling us of research that indicates that new doctors, after their residency is completed, tend to move to practice where they can find an ideological fit. I don't know that I've ever seen that kind of statement made before. It is really interesting. It tells us that young doctors, having invested so much in their medical careers, are now deciding that they want to work where their worldview is most compatible and comfortable. That's why so many of them are moving to the urbanized sections of the United States that also tend to be overwhelmingly more liberal on social and moral issues.
What The Wall Street Journal doesn't track is something that we should think about very carefully and that is that we have also noted a massive worldview transformation of so much of modern medicine. Just consider the fact that when it comes to abortion, there are so many doctors who are avidly pro-abortion. Not all, but so many, including of course the rather infamous now former new president, until she wasn't of Planned Parenthood, a physician herself who made her identity as a physician central to arguments on behalf of America's largest abortion provider.
But then think about how many of the issues of our most pressing contemporary moral debate come down to the supposed authority of physicians and just consider how that has been transformed. Just think about, for instance, the denial of the so-called gender binary and how the authority for being liberated from the gender binary has been largely led by and defined by and defended by physicians. You see the same thing, an entire new arena of medicine and medical practice is opened up at the intersection of sexuality and the gender revolution. Just consider the fact that an entire new multibillion dollar opportunity now exists, especially if the insurance companies and the diagnostic authorities go along with the so-called gender reassignment surgeries and all the rest.
One of the things we need to go back and note is that in 1972 and in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association made their shift in just one meeting, a highly politicized development, from believing officially and holding officially that homosexuality was a disordered condition to making the new judgment after a new vote, that homosexuality was actually just a part of the normal human spectrum, what was not often noted at the time was that all of those policies were carefully written so that the medical professionals could have the right code diagnostically to have repayment from insurance companies for treatment and therapy.
There are also warnings in this article, especially for rural America, because we're being told here that doctors are now, for ideological fit, young doctors are increasingly moving to urbanized areas and concentrating in liberal cities. But the interesting thing in the article is the claim that many of these doctors are doing so against their economic interest. One doctor is cited as having been offered $350,000 to practice that particular specialization in a more rural part of the United States, but nonetheless, this young doctor decided that she would rather practice medicine at a far reduced salary in a major city where she could be more comfortable among those who agreed with her and fit her worldview and lifestyle expectation.
But this is where Christians are well reminded by the first story that sports are never just sports. In a fallen world, nothing is ever just that. And now we come to understand that medicine is never just medicine. Worldview issues are always there, always in the background, but increasingly, in all these cases in the foreground.
Streaming Services like Netflix Set Their Sights on Children: What Goes in the Eyes Reaches the Mind and Heart
But next, an article that ought to have the attention of American parents. It's not presented as an alarm at all, but only as an interesting cultural and economic development. Brooks Barnes is the reporter for The New York times with the headline, “Netflix Goes All Out to Wow Your Kids.” It's a big article on the front page of Sunday's business section of The New York Times and what it tells us is that there is now a massive and building battle for the eyeballs of America's children and teenagers. That's not only because of the income that comes by streaming entertainment now, but by the capturing of an audience that will be banked upon for the future.
The headline in this article is about Netflix going for broke, so to speak, when it comes to the battle to capture the attention of kids and teenagers. That tells us something about the intensity of this competition. Disney has its own new service that will debut on November the 12th known as Disney+, and there are any number of other alternatives as well. We are looking at a realignment of all of these streaming services, and at the end of the day, they're all trying to gain advantage and none of them particularly cares about anyone over the age of 40. All of them are ardently concerned with children and teenagers.
That's interesting, of course, because the parents are after all paying the bills. The streaming services are counting on that, but the children represent the future. How is Netflix getting ready for this battle? The Times tells us, It has quietly amassed an army of children and family creators and executives who have been stockpiling counter attack content. Sanjay Patel, a longtime Pixar animator has a series in the works for Netflix called Ghee Happy, about pint-size Hindu deities who meet at daycare." No, I'm not making that up. I'm reading that directly from The New York Times. “A Netflix series called Ghee Happy about pint-size Hindu deities who meet at daycare.” Patel is quoted in the article as explaining, "Nobody can skip childhood, not even the gods."
Another observer of the business said, "If you start looking at what people watch and why, the ways that people build habits and build trust, shows and movies for children and families are incredibly important to us."
It's also interesting that just in terms of the quantification later in this article we're told that about 60% of Netflix's global audience watches the services content for children and families and does so on at least a monthly basis.
It's also interesting for us to note that the target here when it comes to payment is families, which means parents. "Families are valuable streaming customers analysts say because they are reliable paying month after month instead of churning in and out based on what is available." The article continues, "Children's entertainment also comes with a potentially enormous bonus prize, sales of related merchandise." I don't think they meant to rhyme, but it does. "Netflix has started to explore consumer products. Super Monsters, a Netflix show about preschool witches and werewolves, has its own line of Halloween costumes." You have been told, you have been warned.
An interesting lingo entered the human vocabulary sometime over the past decade and that is the battle for eyeballs. That might sound a bit macabre, but the reality is that is a huge dynamic around us. A battle for eyeballs. That battle for the eyeballs didn't begin with streaming video. You could say that it's at least as old as television, but beyond that there's a battle for our eyeballs going on all the time. Even before television, billboard by billboard, advertisement by advertisement.
That's a good thing for Christians to know, for Christian parents to think about, but for all Christians to reflect upon. We are engaged in a massive war and one of the chief battles in that war is the battle for our eyeballs, but it's one thing for parents to recognize this and to reflect upon it consciously. It's another thing for adults, most importantly parents, to recognize there is, we are being told here, a massive battle for the eyeballs of our children.
And one of the implicit issues in this article is that an awful lot of families are just buying entertainment for the eyeballs of their children without much attention to the fact that the messaging doesn't stop at the eyeballs but goes directly to the mind and to the heart.
It was just considered something of a little illustration in this article telling us that Netflix is developing this series about pint-size Hindu deities who meet at daycare. Just unpack that in your worldview imagination for just a moment. It's just being mentioned here is just a minor illustration that in the battle for the eyeballs, Netflix is prepared to unleash upon children an animated series about pint-size Hindu deities who meet at daycare. Rewind that, every word of that. A just think about that — little Hindu deities about to show up in little screens just about everywhere directed to little eyes, and don't mistake this, little hearts and minds as well.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
Today in chapel at Southern Seminary, I'm going to be preaching a message very much from my heart entitled “Male and Female, Created He Them.” That will be streamed live at 10:00 Eastern time at www.sbts.edu/live.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.