Kevin Drum

Here's What Ben Carson Means When He Talks About Political Correctness

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 12:25 PM EDT

Here is Ben Carson on Wednesday:

At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Carson noted that many people believe a situation like what took place in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's could never happen in America. "I beg to differ," Carson said. "If you go back and look at the history of the world, tyranny and despotism and how it starts, it has a lot to do with control of thought and control of speech."

At a press conference after the speech, reporters asked Carson who he thinks is like Adolf Hitler in the U.S. "I'm not going to go into that that. I think that example is pretty clear," he responded, without elaborating.

Carson hastened to add that he wasn't referring to Barack Obama. No siree. Someone else. But not Obama. Wink wink nudge nudge.

In any case, this provides a good opportunity to highlight Carson's views on political correctness. When Donald Trump talks about it, he's using it in the usual throwaway sense we're all familiar with. He wants to be able to talk about immigrants being rapists or women being shrill and ugly without everyone getting on his case. Others have in mind trigger warnings and other campus fads. But when Ben Carson talks about it, he means much, much more. It is the core of his worldview, so it's worth understanding what he means by it. Here is Amy Davidson:

In his most recent book, “One America,” he writes that agents working against this country’s greatness include the political-correctness police, who use “faux hypersensitivity” to take power away from the majority of Americans....Political correctness, Carson says, is used to keep conservatives from invoking slavery or Nazism, both of which he cites freely. (“Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery”; “We live in a Gestapo age.”)

He wonders if Obama will cause the elections to be cancelled: “He’s sitting there saying, ‘These Americans are so stupid I can tell them anything.’ ” Trump, the businessman, tells Americans how the financial system is rigged against them. Carson, the brain surgeon, tells them how they are being denied knowledge.

This explains why, at the New Hampshire event, he's talking about "control of thought and control of speech" for seemingly no reason. In fact, Carson believes that liberals are deliberately making it impossible for conservatives to talk about the truly important issues that are destroying America. Keeping everyone cowed and silent is the first step to tyranny, which is why he thinks incipient Hitlerism is something to be taken seriously. Here he is explaining this view last year, before he was running for president:

Political correctness is antithetical to our founding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Its most powerful tool is intimidation. If it is not vigorously opposed, its proponents win by default, because the victims adopt a “go along to get along” attitude. Major allies in the imposition of PC are members of the media, some of whom thrive on controversy and others who are true ideologues.

....The American people must learn to identify and ignore political correctness if we are to escape the bitter ideological grenades that are destroying our unity and strength. Political correctness is impotent if we the people are fearless. Let us emphasize intelligent discussion of issues and leave the smear campaigns to those with no constructive ideas.

Carson talks incessantly about political correctness, and he's been doing it for a long time. It is, he believes, the method by which the populace is kept too intimidated to object when liberal policies lead to moral decay and the eventual downfall of the country. You will hear him talk all the time about not being afraid to speak up, and when he does it's more than just a normal political stemwinder urging people to get involved and vote. He believes that political correctness today is the equivalent of brownshirt terrorism in 1933, and he believes that this is what brought Hitler to power in Germany. Whenever you hear Carson talk about either "political correctness" or "mind control," this is what it means to him.

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Vatican: Pope Francis Barely Knew Who Kim Davis Was When He Met Her

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 11:11 AM EDT

I don't really care all that much about whether Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, but my sister is fascinated by the whole story. So this is for her. Earlier today, the Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, said that Davis was basically part of an hour-long press-the-flesh session and Francis barely even knew who she was:

“Pope Francis met with several dozen persons who had been invited by the Nunciature to greet him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City,” Father Lombardi said.

He added: “Such brief greetings occur on all papal visits and are due to the pope’s characteristic kindness and availability. The only real audience granted by the pope at the Nunciature was with one of his former students and his family.”

....At the Vatican on Friday, a spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, said the invitation had been extended by the office of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the nuncio, or envoy, in Washington, not from Rome....Father Rosica said of the controversy: “I would simply say: Her case is a very complex case. It’s got all kinds of intricacies. Was there an opportunity to brief the pope on this beforehand? I don’t think so. A list is given — these are the people you are going to meet.

As usual with the Catholic Church, previous popes continue to have long arms even after they die or retire. It turns out that the papal nuncio, a culturally conservative guy who's loyal to the former Benedict XVI, decided to invite Davis. The current pope apparently had no idea this would happen and may not have even known who she was. Basically, Davis was ushered in for her 60 seconds with the pope, who blessed her, gave her a rosary, and then moved along to the next person in line. It would be wise not to read too much into this.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in September

| Fri Oct. 2, 2015 10:51 AM EDT

The American economy added 142,000 new jobs last month, 90,000 of which were needed to keep up with population growth. This means that net job growth clocked in at a lackluster 52,000 jobs. The July and August numbers were revised downward by 59,000 jobs. The headline unemployment rate stayed steady at 5.1 percent, partly because the number of unemployed workers was down, but partly because half a million people dropped out of the labor force. Hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees were flat, though weekly earnings were down at an annualized rate of 3.6 percent.

This is a pretty weak report. It's not a disaster, but it suggests just how fragile the economy remains. A stronger dollar and weakness in China are likely taking a toll. We keep waiting for liftoff, but it never seems to come. We continue to dog paddle along.

Here's Why I Doubt That Hillary Clinton Used a Private Email Server to Evade FOIA Requests

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 9:49 PM EDT

Thanks to the endless release of her emails, we've learned something about Hillary Clinton that hasn't gotten much attention: As near as I can tell, she's sort of a technology idiot. She asked her aides for information that she could have Googled in less time than it took to ask. She needed help figuring out how to use an iPad. She didn't know her own office phone number. She used a BlackBerry. She had trouble operating a fax machine. She was unclear about needing a WiFi connection to access the internet.

In other words, when Fox News reporter Ed Henry asked whether Clinton's email server had been wiped, and she answered, "What, like with a cloth or something?"—well, that might not have been the sarcastic response we all thought it was. She might truly have had no idea what he meant.

As for setting up a private server with just a single account in order to evade FOIA requests, it looks as though she's genuinely not tech savvy enough to have cooked up something like that. She probably really did just think it sounded convenient, and nobody stepped in to disabuse her of this notion.

So what was the deal with FOIA? I don't know, and I suspect we'll never know. But I'll say this: there were obviously people at State who knew that Hillary used a private server for email. The folks who respond to FOIA requests are responsible for figuring out where documents might be, and in this case it was just a matter of asking. Apparently they didn't, which is hardly Hillary's fault. The alternative is that they did ask, and Hillary's staff flat-out lied to them and said that she never used email. You can decide for yourself which sounds more plausible.

POSTSCRIPT: After writing this, I decided to do some Googling myself to check a few things. And it turns out that I'm not, in fact, the first to notice Hillary's technology foibles. Just a few weeks ago, Seth Meyers did a whole late-night bit about this.

The World Economic Forum Delivers a Report Card on the US Economy

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 3:35 PM EDT

So how's the ol' US of A doing under the free-market-hating presidency of the socialist Barack Obama? Probably badly, I'll bet. Let's see what the World Economic Forum has to say. Their latest set of competitiveness rankings came out today, and among countries with populations over 10 million, the US was....

First. How about that? But it was probably even better before Obama took over, wasn't it? Let's see. In 2009 we ranked #1 among big countries with a score of 5.59. This year we're #1 with a score of 5.61. That's hard to fathom. But there you have it. Our competitiveness in the global free market seems to have improved a bit during Obama's tenure. I wonder if Fox News will bother reporting this?

Let Us Now Praise Authentically Stiff Politicians

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 1:49 PM EDT

Brendan Nyhan thinks we spend too much time yakking about which candidates are "authentic" and which ones aren't. For example:

George W. Bush and Al Gore were both born into powerful political families, but were perceived very differently. Mr. Bush successfully reinvented himself as a down-home Texas ranch owner despite being the son of a president with elite New England roots, while Mr. Gore was widely mocked as a phony who grew up amid wealth and power in Washington, especially when he invoked his childhood work on his family’s Tennessee farm. Again, one simple explanation for the disparate treatment they received is that Mr. Bush was a better political performer.

I would remind everyone that Brad Pitt gets paid millions of dollars for doing a very good job of pretending to be authentically charming. The ability to feign authenticity is called "acting," and it's a lucrative profession if you're good at it.

Was Al Gore authentic? Hillary Clinton? Mitt Romney? Sure. Gore is genuinely sort of wonkish and stiff. Hillary is earnest and cautious around people. Romney is careful and detail-oriented. That's authentically who they are. If they studied up and adopted a hail-fellow-well-met persona, everyone would think they were authentic, but they'd just be pretending.

If you prefer politicians who are bluff and emotional in public, just say so. If you can't stand being around people who natter on about policy and guard their private lives, say so. But cut out the "authentic" nonsense. That's not what this is about.

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Should Democrats All Quit the Benghazi Committee?

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 12:16 PM EDT

Following Rep. Kevin McCarthy's candid boasting about how the House Benghazi committee has been a great tool to take down Hillary Clinton—an admission being furiously rowed back as we speak—Rep. Adam Smith suggested that maybe it was time to call a spade a spade:

The committee is a joke and I think Democrats ought to call it what it is and say we're not going to participate in this anymore. And that's my initial reaction. I'll listen to my leadership on this and perhaps they will again have greater wisdom, but it just has been an embarrassment.

This is a possibility that's long intrigued me, but I can't make up my mind if it would be a good decision. On the plus side, letting Republicans meet all by themselves would pretty dramatically make the point that this is little more than a partisan boondoggle. On the minus side, losing access to the committee's materials would prevent Democrats from fighting back whenever Trey Gowdy or his staffers decide to leak a partial transcript to the New York Times.

Decisions, decisions. Maybe everyone should resign except for Elijah Cummings, who wouldn't actually attend most hearings but would still retain the minority's access to committee materials.

It would be interesting to see what happens if Democrats did this. But I suspect it's the kind of thing that sounds better to a blogger with nothing on the line than it does to the actual Democratic leadership in the House.

Let's All Take a Nice Deep Breath Over Russia's Airstrikes in Syria

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 11:28 AM EDT

One of Josh Marshall's readers says something this morning that I've been meaning to say but haven't gotten around to. It's about the Russian airstrikes in Syria:

First, the actual deployment is very small. In terms of the airwing, it is roughly the equivalent of what the non-U.S. coalition members have flying over Iraq and Syria, keeping in mind that the U.S. is still flying the majority of sorties now. The Russians are armed with non-precision munitions, meaning the likelihood of civilian casualties is high.

....Moreover, anyone who has been following Russia's military modernization program closely over the past five years or so knows that the Russian military is unlikely to be able to sustain this kind of deployment in the long run....This means that over time, the mission is unlikely to accomplish much more than propping up Assad and preventing his collapse, which appeared imminent and explains the rapidity of the deployment.

....When it comes to formulating a U.S. response to this new development, time is the biggest advantage we have. The shine will soon wear off of Putin's move. It looks bold and confident now, but it is actually a bluff and in part a diversionary one at that....The U.S. bargaining position will be much stronger when Putin's gambit is revealed to be the empty bluff it is.

I'd make a broader point. Like clockwork, every time another country hauls out its military—the Egyptian airstrikes in Libya, Jordan's airstrikes against ISIS—American conservatives go wild. Why can't Obama commit to that kind of serious action? But also like clockwork, this routinely ignores the fact that (a) the military action they're admiring is pretty small, and (b) Obama is already doing the same thing on a much bigger scale.

Yes, yes, I know: we should arm the Syrian opposition. Spare me. That empty shibboleth aside, we're already bombing Syria. We're already bombing ISIS in Iraq. We already have thousands of boots on the ground. We've already put together an international coalition. We're doing ten times what Putin is doing and we've been doing it for over a year. If you have serious criticisms of the tactics we're using, fine. But Vladimir Putin is the Donald Trump of world leaders: he gets swooning admiration from conservatives because he knows how to play the media. I sort of admire the bang for the buck he gets on the world stage from his flamboyant gestures, but that's about it. He's entered the Syrian conflict in a small way, four years after it began, and only because he was in danger of losing his last tenuous toehold in the Middle East. And for that he gets 24/7 coverage on Fox and CNN.

Do you know how many military bases the US has in the Middle East? Nearly two dozen. Plus the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. Plus a whole bunch of close allies. And we're supposed to be quaking in our boots because Putin hastily upgraded a single aging base in Latakia under pressure from his sole remaining ally? You're kidding, right?

For Sale: The Ritual Experience of Handling and Interacting With Something Physical

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 10:42 AM EDT

Hipsters rule the world:

Underneath the staggering 32.5% decline in revenues for CD sales according to RIAA’s 2015 mid-year stats, there is one stunning figure: vinyl’s revenues have grown 52.1% over the last year.

Kept alive by hip audiophiles, vinyl’s resurgence—partially thanks to Urban Outfitters—has been nothing but impressive of late, raking in $226 million in the first half of 2015. That’s more than ad-supported streaming services like Spotify, which took in $162.7 million in the first half of 2015. Paid streaming services like Spotify Premium still monetize better than both, taking in $477.9 million in revenue.

I guess it's time to haul in my old turntable from the garage. I think I paid about $150 for it 1978, which in today's dollars is, oh, about $73,000 or so. Right? I mean, it's a real record player from the days when we played records because that's what music came on, and an antique like that gives your vinyl an authentic sound. Let's see. How does Ethan Wolff-Mann put it? Oh yes: "Vinyl offers consumers a ritual experience they value, handling and interacting with something physical." And that, my friends, is why my garage is worth a fortune. I shall start accepting bids shortly.

Bestselling Historian Explains US Foreign Policy: "Obama Is Prone to Submitting to Males Who Act Dominantly in His Presence"

| Thu Oct. 1, 2015 12:53 AM EDT

Here is Arthur Herman writing in National Review about geopolitical realities in the age of Obama:

If Vladimir Putin is the dominant alpha male in the new international pecking order, Barack Obama has emerged as his highly submissive partner.

There are various reasons why we are being subjected to the humiliating spectacle of an American president, so-called leader of the free world, rolling over on the mat at Putin’s feet.

Of course, there have been signs for years that Obama is prone to submitting to males who act dominantly in his presence. Who can forget his frozen performance with Mitt Romney in the first presidential debate in 2012....We’ve seen it in his interactions with China’s president Xi Jinping; his strange bowing and scraping with the Saudi king; and his various meetings with Putin, including the last at the United Nations on Monday where a tight-lipped Obama could barely bring himself to look at the Russian president while Putin looked cool and confident—as well as he should.

For every aggressive move Putin has made on the international stage, first in Crimea and Ukraine in Europe, and now in Syria, our president’s response has been largely verbal protestations followed by resolute inaction. Why should Putin not assume that when he orders the U.S. to stop its own air strikes against ISIS in Syria, and to leave the skies to the Russians, he won’t be obeyed?

But there’s more to Obama’s passivity than just pack behavior....

Seriously, what kind of adult talks like this? Or thinks like this? How can a historian, of all people, explain a moment in history as a serial dominance display between chimpanzees? I'm not even sure what the right word for this is. It's not just childish or puerile, though it's those things too. Disturbed? Compulsive? Unbalanced? I'm not sure. This is a job for William F. Buckley.