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Transcript: The Briefing 06-12-14

The Briefing

 

June 12, 2014

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

 

It’s Thursday, June 12, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

 

Huge news out of California this week when a Los Angeles judge ruled the teacher tenure laws in California are a form of discrimination against the poor—children especially in impoverished situations who are stuck in schools with inferior teachers. The state of California like so many other states actually recognizes a right of children to a quality education. And in the state of California, Judge Rolf Treu of the Los Angeles District Court ruled that California’s teacher tenure law actually makes that kind of education impossible for many impoverished children, especially those in inner-city schools. The decision was somewhat shocking and it is also very sweeping. It strikes down all of California’s tenure laws, setting up an eventual battle that will surely reach the California Supreme Court.

 

And in an odd twist, it was a decision that was celebrated by many on both the cultural and political right and also on the left. There is common cause in California on the right and the left against tenure laws. The state’s teacher tenure laws are so extreme in California that teachers can gain tenure after only between 18 months to 36 months of teaching, and once they have that tenure, they are almost impossible to fire; regardless of whether or not they’re actually able to perform as teachers in the classroom. California’s one of the states that has the last-in, first-out provision, which means that in a time of financial constriction when teachers have to be let go or teaching positions are reduced, the teachers who are let go are the most recently hired, regardless of whether or not they are the better teachers. Theodore Boutrous, who was the attorney for the plaintiffs in this case, said, “This is going to be the beginning of a series of these lawsuits that could fix many of the problems in education systems nationwide.” He went on to say, “We’re going to roll them out to other jurisdictions.” It’s very interesting that in this case Theodore Boutrous had the assistance of former US Solicitor General Ted Olson. He is one of the attorneys that pressed for the legalization of same-sex marriage and won the decision on the Proposition 8 case at the United States Supreme Court just this past June. Lyndsey Layton, the reporter for The Washington Post, summarized the decision in these words:

 

A Los Angeles judge Tuesday struck down teacher tenure and other California laws that offer job security to educators, a decision that is expected to trigger widespread challenges of teacher job protections nationwide.

 

The teacher tenure law in California is just slightly more radical than that which is found in most states, and it’s the kind of law that has been demanded by teacher unions. One spokesman for such a union, Dennis Van Roekel—he’s the president of the National Education Association—he claimed that the “lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.” That’s the kind of argument the teacher unions have used over and over again, but it’s now falling on deaf ears; in this case, not only on the political right, but also on the political left. This is going to be a particularly stressful issue for the Democratic Party where, in the most recent Democratic National Convention, at least one out of five and perhaps one out of four delegates to the Democratic National Convention were actually members of one or another of the teachers unions.

 

But the common cause between the right and the left on this case have to do with the welfare of students—students trapped in underperforming schools and underperforming neighborhoods and teachers who are also underperforming in the classroom. A very revealing statement was offered in The Washington Post by Randi Weingarten, identified as president of the American Federation of Teachers (one of the teacher’s unions). Weingarten said that the lawsuit “focused on the relatively small pool of grossly ineffective teachers, estimated at 1 to 3% of California’s 275,000 public school teachers,” and Weingarten says it ignores other factors that affect the quality of education, especially for poor children.

 

Now let’s look at the math here. In this case, Randi Weingarten claims that the lawsuit focused on, again, the relatively small pool of grossly ineffective teachers. Now notice the threshold here is not ineffective nor even largely ineffective, but the term Weingarten used was actually “grossly ineffective,” and we can only ponder how ineffective grossly ineffective is. But the percentage that Weingarten gave was that these grossly ineffective teachers are only—he used the word only here—about 1 to 3% of California’s 275,000 teachers. Now 1% would then amount to 2,750 teachers; 3% would represent more than 8,000 California public school teachers. That’s 8,000. And The Wall Street Journal also reports that the actual cost of removing even one grossly ineffective teacher ranges between $250 and $400,000, making it virtually impossible.

 

The Christian worldview affirms that the worker, in the words of the Scripture, is worthy of his hire. A man or a woman hired for a job is worthy of the salary so long as the job is being done. But the Christian worldview does not in any way suggest that anyone is due a salary or income for a job that is not done, much less for a job that is done at such a low level that it is described as grossly ineffective. The protection of those who have these jobs by the teacher unions is an atrocity, and yet it’s been an atrocity that has been routinely politically defended in terms of state legislatures and in other political arenas, but now this single judge in Los Angeles may have turned the tables on this entire equation. At the very least, everyone expects that this case will work its way up to the California Supreme Court. And if nothing else, Judge Rolf Treu of Los Angeles has made very clear what the issues actually are. This is going to make it far more difficult for any other judge or any other court to cavalierly and carelessly rule that teacher tenure has support when the children are clearly suffering.

 

Next shifting to the state of Colorado, The Washington Times reports that a Christian Baker, who was just recently ordered by Colorado Civil Rights Commission to abide by a judge’s order and make cakes for same-sex partners, said, “No, that’s not going to happen.” In this case, Jack Phillips, who is the owner of a company known as Masterpiece Cake Shop, said, “I’m not going to make cakes for same-sex weddings. That violates my First Amendment speech and my duty as a Christian abiding by my Savior.” We’ve given attention to this case before and especially in the earlier event when the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that Mr. Phillips simply had to make cakes for same-sex weddings, but now a judge has affirmed that commission’s decision and this man now finds himself in a very serious situation. He has the choice basically of going out of business or of complying with the commission’s order. Judge Robert Spencer with the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts ruled that he must serve same-sex couples. Similar cases and decisions have been handed down in states like New Mexico and Arizona and Washington State having to do with florists, cake bakers, and wedding photographers. What unites all three of these is that they are involved in expressive professionalism. In other words, they’re using artistry. They’re making a statement. And now these states or state commissions are requiring these companies and the people who work for them to violate their own religious and Christian consciences in order to have to serve same-sex weddings. We’ve been following these cases with great interest, but what makes the case in Colorado so interesting right now is a statement that was made by Mr. Phillips’ attorney Nicolle Martin. Nicolle Martin said that the order that Mr. Phillips is now supposed to abide by not only requires him to serve same-sex couples against his religious convictions, but—note this very carefully—also to take sensitivity and anti-discriminatory training.

 

Now what does that mean? That means that this man, having been found in violation of Colorado’s anti-bias legislation, now being forced by a commission and affirmed by a judge that he must serve same-sex couples and offer professional services to same-sex weddings, he’s now being told that he must also undergo sensitivity and anti-discriminatory training by the thought police. This is a form of ideological control. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from the Soviet Union or from another communist country. It’s not the kind of thing that you would even contemplate would be possible in the United States of America, but now it’s a reality in our state of Colorado. And furthermore, it’s also a reality in many other settings, such as most especially the American college and university setting where students can be required to undergo the same kind of so-called sensitivity or anti-bias or anti-discriminatory training by the thought police.

 

Moral revolutions like the one we are now experiencing progress step-by-step. Some of these steps are small; some of the steps are large. Some are noticed; some are not noticed. This is the kind of step that needs to be noticed very carefully because now this man is not only being told by the commission and now by a judge that he must serve same-sex couples and use his professional artistic expertise to be employed in same-sex weddings, he’s being told that he must agree with and undergo training by the thought police in an effort, a very clear and subversive effort, not only to change his actions, but to change his mind. That’s a very ominous development and one that threatens not only this cake baker in Colorado, but every single American citizen.

 

All too often news articles and headlines pass your view and you have to wonder if the story could possibly be true, but in many cases they actually are. Such is the case with articles that recently ran in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal having to do with how certain countries, especially European countries, are beginning to rethink how they contemplate and calculate their GDP, or gross domestic product. That is the single most important economic indicator. That’s the number that people point to both within and without the nation or the economy in order to point to the basic health. It’s also the basic comparative figure such that when you look at countries in terms of their GDP, you measure growth or constriction by the various levels of the GDP reported overtime. That’s what makes the story so interesting.

 

First of all, for USA Today, reporter Trish Regan tells us that the mafia has long been one of Italy’s biggest businesses and now it’s about to get some credit for it. This is GDP served Italian style. As she writes:

 

Italy is changing how it calculates its gross domestic product, a measurement of the overall economy, to include black market activity — everything from prostitution to illegal drug sales to smuggling and arms trafficking. Economists predict illegal sales will add 1.3 percentage points to GDP this year.

 

So in very plain terms, what Italy proposes to do is to count illegal activity, everything from prostitution to gunrunning, in its GDP because it doesn’t want to lose that economic information. But you could also say it doesn’t want to lose the ability to brag about the additional 1.3 percentage points; something that politicians would look to with tremendous favor. As reporter Trish Regan acknowledges:

 

By including the black market, for which there are no concrete ways to measure and accurately determine value, the Italian government will be able to manipulate its GDP numbers in a way that’s bound to open it to criticism and agitate its Northern [European] neighbors. Simultaneously, investors will learn to dismiss, or at least, discount, Italy’s statistics, since they won’t be regarded as “real.”

 

Well of course they won’t, but as USA Today also reports:

 

The reason Italy is becoming creative with its accounting is because it wants to (and the European Union needs it to) improve its appearance.

 

But just days after that story ran in USA Today, a similar account ran in The Wall Street Journal. Josh Zumbrun reports:

 

New methods of measuring economies sometimes raise eyebrows. Even more so when they involve prostitutes and mounds of cocaine. The U.K., Ireland and Italy are among the nations now moving to include illicit doings when tallying their gross domestic product.

 

Now this story tells us that it’s not just Italy; it’s Britain, Ireland, and other nations as well. Zumbrun tells us:

 

The [United Kingdom] could add as much as $9 billion to the value of its GDP by including prostitution and about $7.4 billion by adding illegal drugs.

 

Those are just by current estimates. Not to be outdone, Italy will include smuggling as well as drugs and prostitution. Both changes will begin, according to The Wall Street Journal, later this year. And not surprisingly, other nations in Europe are also poised to fall in line with the European Union call to standardize and broaden GDP’s. The Wall Street Journal account also gives the political context.

 

Some European countries have extra incentives to inflate the size of their economies. In addition to bragging rights, a higher GDP helps keep a nation’s debt and deficits within the EU’s prescribed targets.

 

Also in the United Kingdom, you have the report that it will estimate consumption of at least six drugs: crack cocaine, powder cocaine, heroin, cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines. Officials there will first calculate the number of drug users based on crime surveys and then multiplied by an estimate of the average amount of drugs consumed per user.

 

If this sounds like insanity to you, you’re absolutely seeing the situation in right and rational terms. What about prostitution? Zumbrun reports:

 

For prostitutes, the statisticians will begin with an estimated tally of on-street prostitutes from the London Metropolitan Police and an estimate of off-street prostitutes from a nongovernment group that studies violence against women and girls. The number of prostitutes will be assumed to rise or fall along with the male population.

 

I’m not even going to read the rest of this formula. It is simply evidence of insanity.

 

One major economic authority in the United Kingdom, Thomas Costerg, who’s with the bank known as Standard Chartered, says that even as governments try to do this, the effort simply will not work. They’re trying, he says, just to fudge the numbers. The problem, as he points out, “as you can get very theoretical and there could be some side effects, including the rising skepticism of statistics in the general population.” You figure? This rising skepticism is otherwise known as common sense.

 

And there’s another point from the Christian worldview to make very clear here. When a government tries to use this kind of calculation in order to add the economic energy from these kinds of illicit and sinful activities to the gross domestic product, the government then has the incentive to make sure that these numbers continually rise in order to meet further growth and economic expectations. That’s a very perverse picture. It’s a picture, however, of what happens when people begin to try to do anything to fudge the figures, and, in this case, there appears to be an easy way out for these countries: simply include illegal activities from drug sales to gunrunning to just about anything including prostitution. This is a sign of a very sick society and the very fact that this is being taken seriously is evidence that the sicknesses is spreading, not just in Italy but throughout the European Union.

 

Finally, I came across an amazing statement made by Senator John McCain when he was speaking at an event celebrating the life of Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State. Back when John McCain was a prisoner of war in the notorious Hanoi Hilton, Henry Kissinger came to negotiate the end of the Vietnam War, including the release of those POWs. The North Vietnamese offered the early release of John McCain, and that would’ve been something that would’ve been an enormous propaganda gain for the North Vietnamese since John McCain was well known as a political prisoner and a prisoner of war because his father was a well-known naval admiral. Henry Kissinger refused to allow the release of this one American prisoner of war, John McCain, who had not only been imprisoned, but tortured during his time in that awful North Vietnamese prison. And in his speech for Henry Kissinger, John McCain thanked the former Secretary of State for not allowing his release before the rest of his fellow prisoners of war. It’s an amazing statement. Senator McCain said:

 

For several years, a long time ago, I struggled to preserve my honor in a situation where it was severely tested. The longer you struggle with something, the more you come to cherish it. And after a while, my honor, which in that situation was entirely invested in my relations and the reputation I had with my fellow POWs, became not just my most cherished possession, it was my only possession. I had nothing else left.

 

When Henry came to Hanoi to conclude the agreement that would end America’s war in Vietnam, the Vietnamese told him they would send me home with him. He refused the offer. “Commander McCain will return in the same order as the others,” he told them. He knew my early release would be seen as favoritism to my father and a violation of our code of conduct. By rejecting this last attempt to suborn a dereliction of duty, Henry saved my reputation, my honor, my life, really. And I’ve owed him a debt ever since.

 

So, I salute my friend and benefactor, Henry Kissinger, the classical realist who did so much to make the world safer for his country’s interests, and by so doing safer for the ideals that are its pride and purpose. And who, out of his sense of duty and honor, once saved a man he never met.

 

In a day in which there are all too few testimonies to character and honor, that is one of the most astounding testimonies I’ve ever seen. A man who had been tortured by the North Vietnamese thanks the former American Secretary of State for not facilitating his early release because it would’ve cost him his honor. That remarkable testimony was given this past June 2nd at an event honoring Henry Kissinger on his 90th birthday. That statement was deeply moving to me, and I believe it will be equally moving to you.

 

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 we’re taking questions right now for the new season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition that will begin in late summer. Just call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Baltimore, Maryland, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.