June 6, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, June 6, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Gambling is hardly a new human enterprise. As a matter fact, archaeologists suggest that they have uncovered artifacts demonstrating that from the earliest epochs of civilization, human beings been involved in some form of gaming or gambling. But gambling is, from a Christian perspective, inherently problematic. As a matter fact, even secular analysts understand that there are diminishing returns to gambling, and that affects not only the society at large but the individuals whose money will be wagered in the gambling events. Two recent headlines have demonstrated the problematic nature of gambling. The first has to do with horseracing. And tomorrow of course in Maryland the Belmont Stakes will be run — the third event in thoroughbred racing’s famed Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby and the Preakness have already been run and the same horse that won those two races is the favorite to win the Belmont Stakes tomorrow. That horse of course is California Chrome. But the New York Times, in not one but two articles, is demonstrating the kind of corruption that is now routinely expected in terms of the highest echelons of thoroughbred racing in the United States. Juliet Macur writes:
Horse racing is still stumbling in its push to end drugs – that is not the drugging of jockeys but the drugging of horses.
One of the contemporary controversies has to do with the chemical Lasix given to some horses to enable them to run faster, but as the report in the New York Times makes very clear, these horses are being given all kinds of drugs including almost assuredly drugs that cannot even be detected. For example, it is known that at least some horses have been given cobra venom to dull their pain so that they can run faster, harder, and longer. As Juliet Macur makes clear in this article, this is having a severe negative effect on the horses.
She reports that:
On average 24 thoroughbreds have died each week during the year of 2012, and they have died at racetracks.
Furthermore, later in the article, she demonstrates the fact that most of the horses that are the age of those that will be running in the Belmont Stakes, ran in over 40 events back in the 1950s, but now the average only twelve. Macur then writes:
Because of lax drug testing rules, horseracing is failing all the bettors in this country who think have a fair chance of winning, just as it is failing the horses who love to run fast but are often pumped with drugs to do so.
She quotes Travis Tiger, Chief Executive of the world anti-doping agency who said concerning the United States:
I’ve been told that is the wild, wild West.
He went on to say:
It’s 1,000 times worse than anything we have seen because people in the sport can go out and bet on themselves. Our experience has shown that it’s impossible for anyone to both promote a sport and attempt to police the drug issue at the same time. There is a massive conflict of interest.”
Well that’s a massive understatement. The situation in thoroughbred racing is truly equivalent to letting the fox guard the hen house. You can’t have the people who are supposed to be preventing the use of drugs able to go out and benefit richly by using those very drugs.
But it is not just horseracing that is an opportunity for corruption when it comes to gambling — major media around the world are reporting that as the World Cup soccer competition is about to begin in Brazil, there are expectations that at least one-third of the soccer games leading up to the World Cup competition were fixed. That is not just slightly corrupted, but absolutely fixed and not as a rare event, but one out of three of all the worldwide soccer competitions that lead up to that ultimate event in Brazil. But we are also aware that that is not going to keep people from gambling on the World Cup. There are estimations that the total gambling money devoted to the World Cup could be well over $1 billion. In other words, even knowing that much of the competition is fixed doesn’t keep people from gambling. That is because gambling is not really a rational enterprise. Those who involve themselves in gambling really aren’t thinking it through in terms of the map, the statistics, the probabilities. Instead, they are actually operating on some kind of vain hope. They are just hoping that somehow the odds will be in their favor and they will win something.
And of course what you have here in addition is what the Bible warns as the disconnect between labor and reward. The hope for the kind of gain that is promised by gambling without labor without producing anything of value — without earning that kind of income is the very kind of thing the Bible says is a vain hope. It also points out that even if one wins, it is a corrupting win. The Bible also makes a very different point about gambling, and that is this — gambling like every other form of sin always fails to deliver on its promises. There are all kinds of evidences to this fact when it comes to gambling, from the fact that there are so many tragically fractured families, so many people who lose everything and ruin their family’s finances. It is no secret that if you go near a casino or other gambling facility you are likely to find a surrounding ring of pawn shops and other financial institutions, if you want to call them that, that cater to those who are desperate to be able to cover their gambling losses or even borrow money in order to gamble more. But the problem with gambling in the 21st century in America is that the entire society is complicit in the gambling. It puts government in the position of preying on its own people as governments do through the lottery in particular by localizing the lottery in selling the most lottery tickets in the most impoverished neighborhoods in virtually every state that has a lottery. Governments sell the idea of legalize gambling because of the promises of vast revenue that will come in the state coffers. Many times you will see states guarantee or at least pledge that the increased money — the massive revenue coming from the states take in the gambling golfers will go to causes that are supported by the public such as increased police protection or increased money for the schools.
That is why report by Alan Blinder, also published in the New York Times is so important. He goes to Tunica Resorts Mississippi where there on the Gulf Coast Mississippi a massive Harrah’s Casino closed this past Monday. It did so because of a massive falloff in business. That falloff in business is one of the testimonies in the common world to the fact the sin does not deliver on its promises. Once governments got in the business of legalizing gambling, neighboring states decided to do the same, and so these massive casinos and other gambling enterprises that were put together that at one-point thrived because there was no competition, they are now collapsing. And, as the New York Times now reports on the Gulf Coast Mississippi that the Gulf Coast to there in that state that it sold gambling as the way toward an economic and rich future. There are now no less than nine vacated casinos.
Anthony Lucas, who is a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and specializes in research on the gambling industry, told the Times:
“No one knew in 1993 or 1994 what it was going to be like and then Mississippi showed the world that it could be a viable industry, and that encourages everybody else that there is a possible way into the gate that they can compete.”
He went on to say:
“I think governments are generally receptive because, in a way, it is almost like attacks, but they do not get blamed for.”
But this kind of gaming revenue that comes to the states to gambling is not almost like attacks — it is precisely attacks, attacks in this case on those who are stupid enough to gamble away their income.
Going back to the horseracing scandal, Juliet Macur makes the point that even as many people will watch what appears to be the elegance and glory of thoroughbred racing, most people won’t be thinking about all of those dead horses nor the moral scandal surrounding the use of drugs on the horses they are watching race. And then think about those vacant casinos on the Gulf Coast Mississippi. Just think back to when those casinos opened and every community leader and elected politician wanted to stand in line to have a picture taken on opening day. You can well bet they will not have their picture taken in front of a vacant casino.
Earlier in the week, we reported on the controversy concerning the swap of prisoners between the United States government and the Taliban that led to the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. And as we saw earlier this week, there was an enormous controversy building about the wisdom, morality, and legality, even the constitutional authority, whereby this transfer had taken place. But now we know that the situation was even more complicated and problematic than we knew then. And it has become clear that those are the critics of this swap are not only President Obama’s political enemies, but many of his political friends.
A good number of Democrats in Congress, especially in the United States Senate, have registered their outrage, their concern, and their perplexity that the president involved himself in this kind of negotiation with terrorists and with this particular negotiation that led to the release of five senior Taliban figures in exchange for one American surgeon, who is himself in a very morally problematic position having been captured by the Taliban and then used a bargaining chip in this negotiation only after having deserted the United States Army.
Columnist Mark Sappenfield, in an article that is run in several leading American newspapers in recent days writes this:
President Obama negotiated with terrorists. He broke the laws that govern transfers at Guantánamo Bay. He has strengthened the enemies of the Afghan government that the United States is thought to establish with blood and treasure for a decade. Mr. Obama, he writes, has opened himself to all these charges with his decision to transfer five, high-level Taliban detainees from Guantánamo the Qatar Saturday in exchange for Sergeant. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
The obvious question on the minds of many is this: Why did President Obama, at this particular time, make this decision violating the will of Congress, perhaps violating the letter of the law and doing so in a way that has brought opposition not only from his political opponents but from his political allies.
There must be an explanation for this and of interest to us is the fact that he says the basis for understanding why President Obama did this is his worldview. Yet in the administration’s answers all these criticisms it becomes apparent that this weekend’s prisoner swap is about more than Sergeant Bergdahl. It is a statement of President Obama’s deeply held views about American foreign policy, which unapologetically see the world in innumerable shades of gray and are willing to challenge how the country has conducted itself internationally in the past.
And then to underline what’s at stake in terms of this transfer, Sappenfield writes:
The five Taliban men sent to Qatar after all, were not naïve foot soldiers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were precisely the sort of men for whom the Guantánamo detention camp was created. Taliban leaders ranging from provincial governors to government ministers to top military officials. In the past, even Democrats have questioned the wisdom of transferring these men out of Guantánamo something that has been discussed within diplomatic circles for years.
But on the side of the Taliban, what did they expect to gain from this, in addition to the five leaders they got back in this prisoner swap? Well, this is where it becomes very apparent in the reporting of Nathan Hodge of the Wall Street Journal that what the Taliban craves is publicity of being treated as a legitimate government. And that in essence is exactly what President Obama did, even over against the advice of many of the senior defense and foreign policy analysts. In this prisoner exchange, the Taliban not only got five of their senior leaders back, they also gained a huge win in terms of international publicity and public relations.
As Nathan Hodge documents, in this prisoner exchange that was caught on video, the Taliban are seen meeting with Americans on equal footing. And the Americans even having come to insurgent turf. In other words, it was a huge publicity coup for the Taliban.
Shifting back to domestic policy, yesterday’s front page of the Anchorage Daily News from Alaska read:
High School Exit Exam Ends. The text under the headline: About 3,300 Alaska students who failed since 2004 can now get diplomas.
The article is a very interesting example of what happens when a government assumes responsibility and then fails at fulfilling what that responsibility requires.
As Jill Burke reports for the Anchorage Daily News:
Back in 2004 the Alaska schools put in place a test of three-day series of tests that was to be undertaken by 10th graders in the state’s public schools. The 10th graders had to pass that test in order later to graduate. If they did not pass, they had two additional years in which they had the opportunity to pass the test and graduate.
All this was put in place because of complaints that too many students were graduating without basic knowledge and basic skills. But ten years later they decided to call off the entire enterprise, not because it works so well, but because it revealed that so many of Alaska’s public school students couldn’t pass the test. Not one time, not after a second try, not after a third try. And so here is a deeply instructive lesson in how government works — the government said, “We have to be held accountable. We have to have specific metrics, numbers by which we can be held accountable.” And once those numbers were as bad as they turned out to be, the government says, “We don’t want to ask the question anymore.” They don’t want the metrics they demanded and they are actually virtually apologizing to the people of Alaska by saying the 3,300 students that failed the exam since 2004 are now going to be given their diplomas anyway. It is very hard to put the words “government” and “accountability” together and make it stick.
Here is a prime example of just how unstuck those two words can become. The government put the tests in place in order to hold the schools accountable. Once the reports were so bad, the test scores so low over ten years, they decided, “Well we don’t want that kind of accountability so we will just call the whole thing off.”
Finally, we need to recognize that 70 years ago today, America and its allies launched the greatest invasion force in the history of humanity. The day has become immortalized over the past 70 years simply as D-Day. The allied invasion of the continent of Europe from the north came after three protracted years of deadly battle — tremendous frustration, gains, and losses. And yet by June of 1944, it was clear that an invasion was imminent. The United States and its allies tricked the Nazis into believing that the invasion would probably come at the Pas de Calais, but instead it came at Normandy, an intimidating spit of land with high cliffs, dangerous tides, and very heavy German defenses. Christians looking at the experience of human history come to terms with the fact that we cannot separate history and divine providence. There are mysteries here to be sure. We cannot disassociate what happens with the reading of providence that is to our advantage, but we can certainly look back and see without question that June 6, 1944 was one of the most crucial turning point days in all of human history. It is one of those dates that looked at objectively raises the question, “If that day had not gone as it did, where would we now be? How would we now live?” The scale of the invasion force absolutely staggers the imagination even now, 70 years later. 6,483 vessels were involved. 132,715 troops landed in Europe on that single day. There were 27,400 paratroopers alone.
The beaches are now immortalized in terms of American history and the history of our allies. They included Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The day was marked by various blunders miscalculations and successes, but at the end of the day it was very clear that the Americans and their allies have landed and that the valorous action undertaken by American and allied troops had not only surprised the Germans but also laid the foundation for the eventual German defeat.
Military historians remind us that most of those young men who hit the beach on June 6, 1944 were ages 19 and 20. They were private sergeants and junior officers. They were the first to hit the beach and as one American commander said to those as they landed on the beach, “Get off this beach as fast as you can because the only people left on the beach are the dead and those about to die.” There are still thousands of living veterans of D-Day as the day became known as the longest day as many call it who are alive among us today. But as that recounting of the age of those who landed on the beach now makes clear, even the youngest of those now alive are either 90 or just about to approach the 90th birthday. The vast majority of the veterans of D-Day have long ago died, and even as we have the opportunity to honor those now living among us, we recognize that when the 80th anniversary of D-Day rolls along in 2024, it is unlikely that many of them will be around to observe it with us.
The Christian worldview reminds us that military issues and military history are often complicated and they are often issues that are difficult to untangle. We recognize even as the great church father Augustine noted in the late fourth in early fifth centuries that the Christian soldier finds himself in an agonizing position, but there are times when the decision to fight is absolutely necessary, and the Allied defeat of the Nazi forces in 1945 was one of the most absolutely necessary moral acts in all of military history.
I close this edition of The Briefing marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day by reading the general orders issued on the early morning of that day by the supreme commander of the Allied expeditionary force, General Dwight David Eisenhower. He wrote:
Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied expeditionary force: You are about to embark upon the great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well-equipped, and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons ammunitions of war and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory. I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck and let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. Signed Dwight D Eisenhower.
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. Remember that last Saturday we released the final installment for the spring of 2014 for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. The new season will begin in late summer, and we are inviting you to call right now with your question in your voice. Remember the phone number is 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Seattle, Washington and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.