January 11, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, January 11, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Pride before a fall: Notorious criminal El Chapo recaptured after braggadocios interview
The news came just as the weekend began, and the news came from none other than the president of Mexico himself. President Peña Nieto announced that one of the most wanted fugitives in the world, Mexican drug lord Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, had been recaptured—fully six months after he broke out of a Mexican maximum-security prison. El Chapo has been notorious for a generation. Back in 1993 he also escaped infamously from a maximum security prison and one of the issues that has become clear is that he runs a massive infrastructure of drug trafficking that is so complex that he was able to spend $1 million in order to arrange his breakout from the prison six months ago, and he was able to hide himself. He was able also, it is now believed, to tap into international security and satellite information in order to keep Americans and others from being able to track his whereabouts even by satellites and by overhead flights.
What is also now clear is that Guzmán El Chapo, at least on his own terms, is ready to brag about the extent of his drug empire. He gave an interview to actor and director Sean Penn, and it was published in recent days in Rolling Stone magazine—more about the morality of that interview in just a moment. In the meantime, in the material that El Chapo gave to Sean Penn, he was very clear about the fact that he considers himself the major source of illegal narcotics and drugs in the world today. He said,Show Full Transcript
“I supply more heroin… cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats,” he said.
It is also, according to the New York Times, believed that his fortune is now worth about $1 billion and it has come with extreme violence. He is wanted in the United States for multiple charges of drug trafficking and murder. And the United States over the weekend moved to pressure the Mexican government to allow his extradition to the United States to be held for trial here. But that’s not the whole story. At least a part of that story is the fact that no one now believes that any Mexican prison is going to be able to hold El Chapo at least for long. The hope is that by putting him in American custody and putting him into one of the super max prisons he can be cut off from his financing and from his network of accomplices. But going back to the material that El Chapo gave to Sean Penn, it was very clear that he brags about being the most significant and high-volume drug chieftain in the world today.
At one point in the interview he described himself rather innocuously as a farmer, as if you were growing corn or beans. Ravi Somaiya, reporting for the New York Times, writes about how he bragged about the complexity of his escape from the prison. According to the New York Times,
“The story provides new details on his dramatic escape from prison last summer, when he disappeared through a hole in his shower into a mile-long tunnel that some engineers estimated took more than a year and at least $1 million to build. The engineers, Mr. Penn wrote, had been flown to Germany for specialized training. A motorcycle on rails inside the tunnel had been modified to run on the low-oxygen environment, deep underground.”
In a form of understatement, the New York Times reported that,
“Mr. Penn’s account is likely to deepen the concern among the Mexican authorities already embarrassed by Mr. Guzmán’s multiple escapes, the months required to find him again, and his status for some as something of a folk hero.”
Clearly, there are many moral dimensions to this unfolding story, but at least one of them is something rather unexpected. And that is the discovery that actor and director Sean Penn had been actively involved, as a matter of fact, can only be described as an accomplice of Mr. Guzmán, in terms of getting his story out. The moral players in this particular drama include Mr. Penn, Rolling Stone magazine, and Mr. Guzmán himself. But El Chapo had everything to gain by his manipulation of his own image in the public square, and it now appears that Rolling Stone magazine and Sean Penn are morally complicit, if not in his escape, then in his hiding from authorities, and it’s also clear that there are many legal issues now to be faced. On Sunday morning, the White House Chief of Staff refused to speculate as to whether or not the White House would move for some kind of criminal investigation or charges against Sean Penn.
But the big lesson from a Christian worldview is this, in a fallen world there will be a great deal of economic activity that is directly involved in sin and in an entire network to expand sin and to capitalize on sinful opportunity. That’s what we’re seeing here in the case of El Chapo. He has built what amounts to a shadow government, a shadow paramilitary, a shadow moral universe for himself—all funded by the fact that there are so many people around the world willing to pay so much for illegal drugs and narcotics. We’re looking at the reality that he could not have accomplished this alone, but there was required an entire apparatus of support in order to make his organization work, to offer protection to its employees and agents, to help Mr. Guzmán, El Chapo, to escape and then to hide him.
One of the most humbling realizations that comes to us is that an enormous percentage of the world’s economic activity—its total economic activity—is devoted to those who will capitalize on sin and on sinfulness, and will turn sin into an opportunity for profit and for vast commercial enterprises. Finally, there are indications that it was El Chapo’s pride, his arrogance, that actually led at least in part to his capture, and that might also bring the Rolling Stone interview with Sean Penn very much into question. It could be that El Chapo’s ego that led him to desire this biopic interview was actually the ego that betrayed him and made him vulnerable. That too would be a lesson from the Christian worldview.
Historic Powerball jackpot reveals states' economic exploitation of citizens
Shifting to the United States, that brings us to a story that many people would consider unrelated, but actually is very much related, when it comes to sin as a major driver for economic activity. There are reports from Reuters that the jackpot for the Powerball game in the United States may now exceed $1.3 billion by the time the next drawing is held on Wednesday night. According to mathematicians, even with millions upon millions of Powerball tickets sold in recent months, only about 75 percent of all the mathematical permutations in terms of the numbers had yet been registered, leaving the fact that about one quarter of all the possible number combinations has not even been accounted for. One-point-three billion dollars—that would amount to the largest single payout of any lottery in history and the largest lottery in any terms in North America—$1.3 billion dollars.
The Powerball game involves 44 states plus Washington D.C. and two U.S. territories. It is the logical conclusion of the expansion and concentration of government-sponsored lotteries in the United States. For many, many years lotteries were illegal in the United States of America. They were rightly considered to be incentives towards immoral behavior; and furthermore, they were rightly understood to be a form of oppression against those who were the most economically vulnerable. But in the last several decades, cash-strapped states have decided that they needed income; and either unwilling or unable to raise taxes in terms of legitimate income, they turned to the false promise of lotteries. And by the way, there’s a very clear illustration of why there are diminishing returns to the states. When just a couple of states had lotteries, those lotteries were incredibly lucrative. When only a few states had lotteries, there was less lucrative incentive to the states, but they still packed an enormous economic power. But as more and more states threw themselves into the lottery business, the lotteries state-by-state became less profitable. In order to find new ways of expanding and deepening profits, they turned to the Powerball idea, concentrating the promise of a lottery, and sharing the income that would come from offering a vast, very attractive—almost irresistible—jackpot that would draw additional betters into buying lottery tickets.
From a Christian worldview perspective, the problems in this are legion. They are massive. We need to understand that the state is putting itself in the position of economically exploiting its own citizens. As one major economist famously remarked, a lottery is basically a tax on the stupid. The reason for that is quite simple. The mathematical odds against winning are so insurmountable that American mathematicians are losing metaphors for comparison. Back in 2012 and 2013, one mathematician noted that the odds of winning the Powerball lottery then—when it was about $600 million, roughly half of what it’s expected to be on Wednesday—the chances then were less than the chance of being killed by a coconut falling on one’s head. Now we’re talking about an estimated jackpot by Wednesday night of $1.3 billion, and the Powerball system is ready for record sales over the next 2 to 3 days.
It’s really interesting to note that what we’re looking at here is a virtual parable right before our eyes. We’re watching not only the state—that is the government—turn to exploit its own citizens, but we’re also watching citizens making irrational moral decisions in terms of buying Powerball tickets. Another insight is the fact that the news media and the government speak of “playing a game,” of “playing” the Powerball game. But it’s not a game, It’s big business. We’re talking about massive billions of dollars that governments are taking from the most vulnerable of their citizens in order to enrich their state coffers, and they’re doing so with the most crass and manipulative advertising imaginable. One of the things that many economists have noted is the fact that most lottery sales, and most lottery sales outlets, are actually in the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in American cities. Governments are targeting the most economically disadvantaged, knowing that they are most likely to buy lottery tickets because they feel they have very little to lose and because they are easily persuaded that there is at least a possibility, albeit a very small possibility, that they will all of the sudden strike it rich.
Writing in Florida yesterday for the Palm Beach Post, Lawrence Mower writes,
“The odds are so abysmal that it’s hard to find any lifetime event with odds that compare to Powerball’s 1-in-292 million chance.”
As he wrote,
“Being struck by lightning once in a year, at odds of 1 in 960,000, seems like a virtual certainty by comparison.”
Let me go back to the current odds. The current odds are that a buyer of a Powerball ticket has a one in 292 million chance of winning the lottery. Those chances are so small that it is irrational to spend real money to buy a Powerball ticket, much less to delude oneself into believing one is playing a Powerball game. And the economic impact is not at all equal. Considering case one, a relatively well-off suburbanites who buys a Powerball ticket just on a lark, just in the chance that spending a few dollars that might otherwise be spent for a grande latte, might actually lead to some kind of lottery award. But if the ticket doesn’t win, there’s no great loss—there’s no great damage economically speaking. But compare that to case two, and that is someone who’s economically disadvantaged, and someone who sees the vain attraction of the lottery as so powerful that that individual will take money that should go to rent or for food or other basic necessities, and will instead spend that money for lottery tickets in the vain hope of all the sudden striking the jackpot.
By the way, there are all kinds of explanations for why people do the irrational, including the irrational of buying a Powerball ticket. But one of the most interesting arguments comes from Natalie Jacewicz and Emily Benson writing in California for the San Jose Mercury News when they wrote,
“That lottery fever sweeping the country in anticipation of Saturday night’s record $900 million Powerball drawing? Scientists have a name for it: dopamine.”
They then explain,
“It’s the brain chemical associated with reward, pleasure and addiction. And it’s digging into Californians’ pockets at a maddening pace this week when the state lottery expects to sell $60 million in Powerball tickets — 10 times what it sells on a typical week.”
This is an interesting argument, and it’s an argument that ought to have our attention. It also ought to come with something of the ring of the familiar, because we’ve heard this argument used before. We’ve even heard the word for the chemical use before, “dopamine.” That’s a word that has been used by some trying to explain the addictive nature of pornography. Viewing pornography tends to lead to the release of dopamine, this pleasure chemical in the mind, especially in the male mind. Dopamine has also been blamed for many other behaviors, but this gets to a point very crucial for the Christian worldview. Even if dopamine plays a part, that doesn’t remove the morality from the equation. It doesn’t remove moral responsibility. It does help to explain how that in a fallen world, even our bodily chemicals—even the chemicals in the mind—can be altered by our behavior in such a way that in turn they alter our behavior.
There is no way we can blame the phenomenon of the lottery on dopamine, but it is interesting to note that even those who are following chemicals in the brain can trace the fact that there is an immediate reward that is released in the brain when some people buy a lottery ticket. And that, according to some experts, including those cited in this news article from California, that explains why at least some people do what is irrational, buying lottery tickets with no rational hope of any return. But that’s actually, when we think about it, yet another parable of sin. It just points to the fundamental reality that in a fallen world, we are in a sense hardwired to believe a lie rather than the truth—sexual lies, lottery lies, economic lies, and political lies. But the most dangerous lies are always the lies we tell ourselves, and that’s what people who buy a lottery ticket with any real hope of winning the jackpot are really doing. They are lying to themselves, and they’re also being lied to by a government, and the moral responsibility for this picture is writ large across the entire culture.
Planned Parenthood endorses Hillary Clinton in desperate move to protect abortion biz
There was another massive and very revealing development over the weekend in the United States. Planned Parenthood—the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Political Action Committee—for the first time in the 100-year history of Planned Parenthood has endorsed a presidential nominee candidate, in this case, former Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is big news because Planned Parenthood is by this act indicating a certain form of moral and political desperation. Amy Chozick, writing for the New York Times on Friday tells us Planned Parenthood,
“Planned Parenthood, which has become an ideological minefield in the 2016 presidential election, said Thursday that it would endorse Hillary Clinton — its first endorsement in a presidential primary in the nonprofit’s 100-year existence.”
Last night Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination. The story is so big because this is the first time that the Planned Parenthood organization has offered an endorsement in the middle of a nomination race. There’s no question that Planned Parenthood would endorse the eventual Democratic nominee. But why would Planned Parenthood step in now? Why would they step in when all of the major Democratic candidates in the race—and basically there are only two, that is Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—are highly unequivocally committed to Planned Parenthood and to abortion rights. There has to be some answer. Actually the New York Times offers the answer, and this is really important, because this is in the context of a news story—not in any sort of political analysis or editorial comment—this is from a news report in the New York Times. The New York Times writes,
“The Clinton campaign has functioned almost as a marketing arm for Planned Parenthood, featuring a section on its official website titled ‘17 times Hillary Clinton stood with Planned Parenthood,’ Facebook messages and Instagram posts with the hashtag #StandwithPP.”
There is another piece of interesting news in the New York Times coverage by the way. We are told that Cecile Richards—that is the President of Planned Parenthood—has a daughter who was on the Hillary Clinton campaign staff. Many Americans may not know or have forgotten that Cecile Richards herself is the daughter of the late Ann Richards, the Democratic governor of Texas, later defeated by Republican candidate George W. Bush. Explaining this unprecedented endorsement in the nomination process, Cecile Richards said,
“Everything Planned Parenthood has believed in and fought for over the past 100 years is on the ballot…”
—speaking of course of the 2016 presidential race. And there is no question that in one sense, Cecile Richards is right, and those who believe in the sanctity of human life would agree with her on this point—everything is on the line in the 2016 presidential election when it comes to the sanctity of human life. Most centrally, what’s on the line is not just the future of the White House and House of Representatives and the Senate, but the future of the United States Supreme Court. That is now the big question when it comes to the sanctity of human life in the United States.
This article points to that deep fundamental divide in the American worldview between those who characterize abortion as merely a woman’s right to choose and basically deny any personhood or moral value to the unborn child whatsoever, and on the other hand, those who believe—and rightly believe—according to the scriptural worldview that abortion is the intentional murder of an unborn human being made in the image of God. There is no real way to bridge those two worldviews. That’s how deep that divide is in the American heart and in the American mind—as we would say—in the American worldview.
That’s a very sobering understanding, and those of us who are committed to the full sanctity and dignity of human life have to face the fact that millions and millions of our neighbors believe that the unborn child has no basic moral value whatsoever, no inherent dignity, no sanctity of life. It should tell us a very great deal that the New York Times says,
“…the Clinton campaign has functioned almost as a marketing arm for Planned Parenthood.”
It tells us something that Planned Parenthood has violated 100 years of precedent to endorse a specific Democratic candidate at this point in the race. It tells us a great deal that Hillary Clinton is glad to receive this nomination from Planned Parenthood and that Planned Parenthood now feels the urgency of offering this endorsement.
DNC Chairwoman eyes stakes of upcoming election, laments liberal complacency on abortion
The deep divide in America over abortion showed up in another interesting place over the weekend in the interview that closes the pages of the New York Times Magazine. The interview is with Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz—she represents the 23rd District that is congressional district from Florida, and she is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. In this interview she is asked the question,
“Do you notice a difference between young women and women our age in their excitement about Hillary Clinton? Is there a generational divide?”
Representative Wasserman Schultz then responded,
“Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”
What is Representative Wasserman Schultz really saying here? The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee is saying that even liberal young women are simply too complacent when it comes to the issue of abortion. That tells us how abortion itself and what are characterized as abortion rights stand at the very center of the liberal worldview. So much so, as a matter of fact, that abortion is all Representative Wasserman Schultz offered when asked that question as to the divide between older and younger women in the Democratic electorate. That, chillingly, tells us a very great deal.