Friday, November 30, 2007

Who Attacks Libraries?

Rioters in France apparently do. The photos below are from Atlas Shrugs 2000:

The top picture is of a nursery school, and the bottom of a public library, in Villiers-le-Bel, a Paris suburb struck by rioting earlier this week. Ever since the 2005 Paris riots I have found it constructive to compare them to riots in American cities. They are different. American riots, before they degenerate into mere opportunistic looting (as the 1992 LA riots did after about 48 hours), tend to be exclusively tribal. Rioters are usually black, and they go out of their way to attack businesses owned by nonblacks (and avoid businesses owned by blacks), and even (in the LA case) to go to other parts of town to attack members of other groups (Korean merchants in this case). And they tend to concentrate on businesses, seen as exploitative and enriching others at their expense. Public facilities – schools and libraries certainly – are generally spared as far as I know.

But the French riots are different. Libraries and schools – the fundamental engines for preserving and transmitting knowledge – are actually targeted contemptuously. This is a disturbing feature of French rioting. It, along with attacks on organs of the state generally, suggests not mere tribal hostility but a fundamental rejection of the society around them and even the universal civilization that schools and libraries might be thought to represent, to which the rioters could belong if they wished to. Indeed, the idea of book burning has historically generated horror among Westerners, because it represents the destruction of knowledge itself (although French students apparently destroyed a number of irreplaceable historical artifacts when they took over French universities in 1968). What is going on in Paris is beyond mere anger – it is civilizational destruction writ small.

In addition, I am amazed, as I was in 2005, by the willingness and ability of rioters to attack police personnel and buildings. One police commander was beaten severely, and police stations were actually assaulted. This does not generally happen in American rioting, because the police are more than capable of fighting back with superior firepower. That the police can be attacked with such impunity also seems to be a grim portent of things to come if France does not get a handle on this problem. A phantom order has been restored for now, but this is going to get worse before it gets better.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Politics in its Place

Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan this last weekend. That was expected, but I was struck by what greeted him on Sunday and Benazir Bhutto when she returned several weeks prior, the huge crowds who went to the airport to greet them. In Ms Bhutto’s case, the crowds followed her all the way home until a suicide bomber struck her convoy, killing over 100 people.

A huge crowd of people showing up at an airport in an almost worship-like fever to greet a politician and even escort her home, particularly politicians with the corrupt background of Mr. Sharif or Ms Bhutto, is with a moment's reflection rather regrettable. It suggests a people whose destiny depends far too much on the question of who runs the government – a people, in other words, far too dependent on that government. During political season crowds greet candidates in America too, but it is not a permanent phenomenon, at least not in this near-hysterical way. But in far too much of the third world who the president is is a decisive question, because the president will have the power to make and destroy lives. A people who care that much about politics are a people who are not free precisely because they have to care, because politics is by definition so important that they must disrupt their lives to demonstrate angrily, to try to change the constitution yet again, to become even more ensnared in politics' fatal web of us-versus-them.

I would much rather live in a country where politics is an occasional necessary diversion from the more important stuff of life, from families, church, work, building social capital and reading good books. In that sense the rising tide of political anger among many of the most politically devoted in America is worrisome (even though we are not in the position yet of a Pakistan or a Venezuela). I am certainly not suggesting that the good society is one in which the people are apathetic about politics. I instead believe that a healthy society is one in which politics is placed in proper proportion, precisely because so much of life is unaffected by it. Alas, I suspect that in that respect we are not as healthy as we once were.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Noted Without Comment

From Bali Discovery Tours (hat tip: Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters):

Tempo Interaktif reports that Angkasa Pura - the management of Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport are concerned that the large number of additional private charter flights expected in Bali during the UN Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) December 3-15, 2007, will exceed the carrying capacity of apron areas. To meet the added demand for aircraft storage officials are allocating "parking space" at other airports in Indonesia.

The operational manager for Bali's Airport, Azjar Effendi, says his 3 parking areas can only accommodate 15 planes, which means that some of the jets used by VIP delegations will only be allowed to disembark and embark their planes in Bali with parking provided at airports in Surabaya, Lombok, Jakarta and Makassar.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hating the Hand That Feeds You

Mark Steyn writes up, as only he can, the latest round of war bombs – not those dropped by the U.S. military, but those coming out of Hollywood. There has been a series of movies depicting American military personnel, corporate and government officials, etc. as pure evildoers, and Mr. Steyn notes that, unsurprisingly, this is not the kind of thing Americans are keen to plunk down nine or ten dollars for.

As they say on Broadway, the audience doesn't lie, and, when they're trying to tell you something, it helps not to cover your ears. For all Mr. Berg's pains, The Kingdom was dismissed by the New York Times as "Syriana for dummies." That's to say, instead of explicitly fingering sinister Americans as the bad guys, it merely posited a kind of dull pro forma equivalence between the Yanks and the terrorists. It came out, oh, a week and a half ago and it's already forgotten in the avalanche of anti-war movies released since. There's Lions for Lambs and In the Valley of Elah and Redacted — no, wait, Rendition. No, my mistake. There's a Redacted and a Rendition — one's about American soldiers being rapists, one's about American intelligence officials being torturers. Every Friday night at the multiplex, Mr. and Mrs. America are saying, "Hmm, shall we see the movie where our boys are the torturers? Or the one where our boys are the rapists? How about the film where the heroic soldier refuses to fight? Or the one where he does fight and the army covers up the truth about his death?" And then they go see Fred Claus, which pulled in three times as much money as Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs on both films' opening weekend.

He later goes on to note the rise of corporations and their officials as conspiratorial bad guys in their own right, something I write about in my book. The Manchurian Candidate was about Frank Sinatra as the captive of sinister communists the first time, but the second time around it was a big transnational corporate monster pulling Denzel Washington’s strings.

To me the obvious question this phenomenon of Hollywood fat cats continuing to slam their own culture and society raises is, how can they make money doing this? Mr. Steyn asserts that they make it up “through the great churning trough of DVD revenue and cable licensing and overseas sales to Turkmenistani TV networks,” but that seems unpersuasive to me; continuing to crank out lousy anti-American movies that sink like anvils to the bottom of the culture seems like a very expensive indulgence. That leaves only the possibility that Hollywood decision-makers continue to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that one of the movies will succeed. That means that studios are run by dopes. That in and of itself wouldn’t surprise me, but it doesn’t say much for the efficiency of mass entertainment as an industry. It is one thing for individual artists to take shots at the culture that sustains them – that has been going on since the early Romantics. But for it to be affordable as a strategy for a giant multinational entertainment conglomerate is, I confess, an economic mystery.


Iowahawk, as usual, does this up better than I do in "BoxBux Sux as Stix Hix Nix Xmas Flix." Among the excerpts of his satire on Hollywood's mystification over the lack of success of anti-Christmas movies:

Star power was also unable to save Sundance Films' "Dialog On 34th Street," Writer/ Producer/ Director/ Star/ Costume Designer/ Makeup Artist Robert Redford's take on the Christmas quagmire. Just last month the film had a triumphant debut for Redford at Redford's prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where it brought home Best Picture and earned Redford the Golden Redford for his portrayal of a young, gauzily-lit rugged dissident intellectual cowboy filmmaker who exposes the lies told by a department store Santa Claus (Tom Cruise) to a cynical 7-year old girl (Meryl Streep). During its national weekend opening, however, it was only able to generate $7,425 in tickets sales, a figure which some industry analyst said would not cover the film's advertising budget, let alone the CGI and spackle cost for Mr. Redford's closeup scenes. The film may have also suffered from lukewarm reviews that faulted its overly cerebral tone, and 68-minute laptop dialog between Cruise and Streep.

Faring even worse was "The Midnight Polar Express," Searchlight's $250 million computer animation tale starring Reese Witherspoon as a mother whose children are falsely accused of naughtiness, abducted to the North Pole on a magical rendition train, and taken to Chrismo Island where they are iceboarded by a sadistic Santa's Helper (Sean Penn). Its five-day weekend take was an anemic $3216, or $1.47 per screen. While clearly disappointed in the results, Searchlight studio spokeswoman Renee Sachs said that the film would make up some of the shortfall through merchandising tie-ins, like the new MPE torture toy Happy Meal at McDonalds.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Democracy in Action (2)

So a major political party held a debate and bread and circuses broke out. The American Spectator gives us scenes from behind the scenes at the Democratic debate in Las Vegas:

Didn't these kids get the memo? CNN is cool, Daddy-O. Would a farce show up on campus in a tricked out sleek silver Airstream trailer to hand out free temporary tattoos, allowing students to decorate their bodies with bolder-than-Joe-Biden statements such as Independent Thinker and Express Yourself!? Or play bass heavy techno remixes of Charles Wright's -- yes, we have a motif -- "Express Yourself"? Or a progressive politics-friendly magnetic poetry wall allowing them to ponder both simple (Be Yourself, Pro-Truth, Peace Me, Everybody Hope) and slightly more complex (Want Love Not Republican, I Am a Proud Educated Minority) philosophical ideas?

Of course not! All these kids had to do was read the flashing words on the video screens around the Airstream: Politics=Your Future. Picture of Wolf Blitzer. CNN=Politics. Add it up, slackers. CNN equals your future. So what if hardly any of you can actually get into the debate or the masses of police, Secret Service agents and heavily armed SWAT men kept the candidates safely insulated from you and turned your campus into something resembling a scene from The Kingdom, minus the turbans?

Maybe some free T-shirts would win the crowd over? Two CNN employees climbed atop the Airstream. "Who loves this song?" one of them enthused into the mic, "Express Yourself," endlessly looped, blaring in the background.

"This song sucks!" someone shouted back.

Fine. Onto trivia for T-shirts. Which two presidential candidates are in favor of same-sex marriage?

"Ron Paul!" someone said -- too confidently, it turns out.

"Hillary!" No. "John Edwards!" Nope, you're thinking of his wife. Someone blurts out Kucinich and gets their shirt. No more guesses. "Sorry, guys, it's Mike Gravel," the CNN emcee says.

The article, which is well worth reading in its entirety, goes on to recount how CNN, seeking to brand itself as the hip place to get political news, tried to persuade the crowd that politics is cool and CNN is too. The crowd reacted mostly with angry indifference. It goes on to describe an assortment of professional protesters who also showed up at the debate, even as it is now turning out that the entire debate allegedly featuring actual questions from real citizens may have been scripted, yielding canned answers to canned questions. No candidate was in any danger of revealing anything to the American people about how he or she might govern.

Along the same lines, Jonah Goldberg argues that people who want to vote should have to pass a test, similar to ones that immigrants have to pass to become citizens, before being allowed to do so. He is irritated that “Every election year, the race comes down to ‘the undecideds,’ many of whom are undecided because they don’t pay attention, don’t much care, and are still vexed by the task of discerning the difference between Republicans and Democrats. These are our kingmakers?” I’m not sure I’d go as far as testing, the history of exam requirements to vote in the American South being what it is, but I understand the sentiment.

Efforts to increase voter turnout are now a staple of American politics among people who view democracy – elections – as the only component of the American civic model, ignoring the truly critical piece, limited government. Motor-voter laws, the
misguided efforts on campus to promote civic engagement, the opposition to voter-ID laws are all part of this. But this misses the bigger picture. I frankly don’t want people who have to be cajoled, entertained or led by the hand into the voting booth to vote. A good rule of thumb for a healthy society is that anyone who doesn’t actively seek out the vote probably shouldn’t be wielding it. There is no future for democratic governance if people have to be nagged into caring about it. What went on in Las Vegas is disturbing in more ways than one.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Why Animals Don't Have Rights

From KVUE-TV in Austin:
Next week the case of a strange crime pitting cat lovers against bird lovers goes to trial in Galveston. A noted birding expert is accused of killing homeless cats.

And at the San Luis Pass toll bridge where mostly they wait for cars, John Newland says he waits for justice.

Justice that’s been a year coming.

That's how long it's been since 11 News witnessed an encounter between Newland and noted ornithologist Jim Stevenson.

“I just wanted to make sure he wasn't killing more of my cats,” said Newland. “My cats.”

The confrontation came as Stevenson had just been arrested for allegedly shooting a cat living in a colony beneath the bridge and charged with a felony count of animal cruelty.

At the time, he told us he’d do whatever necessary to protect wild birds, especially endangered species.

(As I write this, the trial is being held and the case is with the jury.)

While the case itself revolves around whether a free-roaming cat nonetheless tended to by a human is wild (in which case killing it is not necessarily illegal), the case reveals the poverty of the concept of “animal rights.” One party, a cat-lover, believes that his cats’ right to life trumps that of the birds the other party favors.

But of course both parties cannot simultaneously have rights to life; nature will not put up with that. And so there is no way human law and logic could navigate a dispute like this and come up with an answer of whether any animal’s “rights” have been violated. And so instead the dispute revolves around a right unique, like all rights worthy of the name, to humans – the right to own property, including animals.

In recent years many pressure groups who oppose meat-eating, testing of cosmetics and medicines on animals before they are used on humans, etc. have used the word “right” liberally. But animals cannot have “rights” in the sense that we do – they cannot make the sorts of choices we make, they cannot sue to claim their rights, they cannot knowingly adhere to any social contract that parcels out rights and responsibilities. (Some humans, e.g. the severely disabled, admittedly cannot do these things either, but that is because of random chance, either genetic or due to an accident, shooting, etc; any state leaving them unable to assert or use rights could happen to any human who can do so. John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance,” even though it does not justify the welfare-state uses to which he put it, suffices to establish this.)

Cruelty to animals, up to a point, arguably ought to be a crime, but only because humans believe it to be so, not because the animals are invested with rights. If you drive during the summer and your windshield is full of dead bugs, you cannot be said to have violated the rights of any entity that could sensibly possess them. The lack of cognitive sophistication of such animals also makes it an infinitesimal crime at worst to kill them. The logic of rights is even more absurd when extended to, say, cobras, whose very nature can result in the cruel death of people. (On the other hand, the argument is vulnerable the closer we get to humanity - chimps, for example.) That aside, all we can do is arrange animals according to how much we object to their suffering in particular circumstances and depending on the animal, but that again is using human tastes to determine where animal rights begin and end, rather than asserting that the animals intrinsically possess them. Animal cruelty is wrong only because it upsets humans, not because the animals have rights of the sorts humans have.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Wal-Mart Could Really Improve Health-Care Benefits

The New York Times tells of Wal-Mart’s new willingness to increase its contribution to health benefits for its employees. As others have noted, whatever reforms to our health-care system emerge will not do much if they only happen one demonized employer at a time. But, in what the author obviously considers a throwaway line, a key to Wal-Mart really doing a lot for the health-care system is buried in the middle of the article:

In one sign of its success so far, the company has pushed down the price of 2,400 generic prescription drugs to $4 a month for employees, starting next year, a program that it offers, in more limited form, to its customers.

Now, the chain is even considering weight-loss clinics in its 4,000 stores and is toying with the idea of selling health insurance, hoping to finally bring coverage within reach of most Americans. (Emphasis added)

Like all producers, Wal-Mart is a seller of goods and services first and a buyer of labor services second. Jobs and wages are the tail, consumer demands the dog. But Wal-Mart is an unusually influential and powerful producer, because of its business model of constantly lowering prices. And here it could make a big difference, by revolutionizing the way health insurance is sold. Presumably, its plan would offer lower prices for the same services, but would also have higher deductibles and more resemble a catastrophic health-insurance model (the traditional one, and the expected one for an insurance product) rather than simply a plan to pay almost all the policyholder’s health costs, routine or unexpected. By selling health insurance the Wal-Mart way the company could do a lot for Americans who find health care expensive.

Alas, the insurance industry is one of the most regulated in the nation. It is no coincidence that industries such as insurance, pharmaceuticals and others that are the most regulated by government are those where public dissatisfaction is the highest. And so I suspect that any product that Wal-Mart offers will be nibbled to death by various pressure groups, substantially diluting its effectiveness. But the idea of health-care as an economic problem with an entrepreneurial solution is the way forward.


Monday, November 12, 2007


The Sydney Morning Herald carries a report about soccer rioting in Italy after a fan was killed by a police officer:
Italian police attempting to quell a brawl between rival football fans shot and killed a supporter of a Rome team, sparking riots in four cities and forcing the postponement of several matches.

Groups of youths burned police vehicles near Rome's Olympic Stadium and clashed with police firing tear gas in the northern city of Bergamo. Violence also was reported in Milan and the southern city of Taranto.

Top officials, from the President and Prime Minister to the Mayor of Rome, pleaded for calm. The Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, ordered an investigation into the shooting.

In Rome, youths brandishing metal bars and rocks attacked a police headquarters near the Olympic Stadium and used rubbish bins to block a nearby bridge. They smashed windows and traffic lights and torched a police vehicle and a bus.

Soccer hooliganism has long baffled Americans. We have sports-related violence too, but it is rarer; it has been twenty years since a night of destruction in Detroit after the Tigers won the World Series. Clearly, despite years of effort by law-enforcement authorities, fan violence (unlike, revealingly, violent crime more generally) is a bigger problem in Europe than the U.S.

It is tempting to blame soccer for this, but I think that is a mistake. Soccer and the tribalistic passions it generates are common around the world, but I suspect there is nothing intrinsic about the sport causing European hooliganism in particular. That hooliganism has attached itself to soccer is basically a function of soccer’s popularity; if volleyball were as popular as soccer there would be volleyball hooligans too.

The question of interest is why the hooligan lifestyle exists at all. Hooligans are generally young men in their teens and twenties who are basically full-time soccer thugs, who follow their teams (and national teams) from place to place, looking for opportunities to drink and to brawl with others of like mind but different loyalties.

What is the opportunity cost of such a lifestyle? Historically, young men in their twenties were expected to be supporting at least themselves and, more probably, their growing families. But of course the notion of self-responsibility itself is in decline in all Western countries, but particularly Western Europe, where the welfare state has taken away form individuals much of the basic obligations to provide for oneself. Don’t have a job? Unemployment benefits will look after you. Marry? Why, when a spouse is no longer needed for sustenance in old age, the state provides health care and retirement benefits, and single parenthood or absent fatherhood is just another indistinguishable lifestyle choice?

And so we are presented with the phenomenon of the idle young lad, missing either material or social pressures to settle down, get a job, become a man. If you want to understand hooliganism – young men brawling and rioting over a sports event with drearily predictable regularity – you need look no farther than the messages the surrounding society sends; therein the answer lies. Soccer is everywhere, but hooliganism is only in Europe. The mystery practically solves itself.


Friday, November 09, 2007

Belgium's Government of Ghosts

Most of the world has had little reason to notice, but Belgium has had no government since deadlocked elections on June 10. A dispute among the Dutch-speaking Flemish and the French-speaking Walloons (which Brussels Journal has been covering from a Flemish-nationalist perspective) has prevented a government with majority support from being formed. I am reminded of the time the U.S. government had a very partial shutdown during a dispute between President Clinton and the new GOP Congress during the former’s first term. During this time American society continued to function normally, and when late-night talk show hosts would mention that “the government is still closed” audiences would often cheer wildly.

And indeed in Belgium people continue to get up, go to work, love their families, buy and sell, go to cafes, and otherwise do the ordinary stuff of life. It raises the obvious question of why the Belgian government is even needed.

The question is a little unfair, because much of the most essential work is still being done. Checks for unemployment benefits, state health care, state retirement benefits and the like are still being cut. And this is perhaps the most disquieting aspect of the whole affair. Democracy, elections, candidates and all that hooey appear to have no effect on the day-to-day lives of Belgians. At least the elected portion of the government, and therefore presumably the elections that generated it, appear to be utterly unimportant to the Belgian people. Meanwhile, the government of apparently real consequence – the benefits-dispensing portion – goes on unaccountably and untouchably, leaving Belgians quiescent as long as the goodies keep coming in. The bottom line appears to be that there is a government for show, full of squabbling politicians, and a real government of civil servants and money dispensers, who have true control over people’s lives. The notion that the only part of the government that matters is the only one for which the election deadlock seems to be of no consequence does not seem proper for a truly free people, but perhaps we in the West crossed that bridge some time ago.


Seeking Alpha Market Analysis and The Daily Telegraph analyze the rising spread on Belgian government debt over German bonds, and infer that political deadlock is starting to have a cost for Belgian taxpayers. But, I suspect some Belgian politicians and citizens are saying, that is some other politician's problem down the road. Just keep the checks coming.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Totalitarian Century

“Children were starving, and their parents still had to give milk and eggs to the state."

- Lev Mischenko

This week is the 70th anniversary of the key event of the October Revolution, the Communist takeover of the Russian provisional government. (It is called the October Revolution because the Russians did not yet then use the Gregorian calendar.) It was a watershed moment for not just Russians and their neighbors, who suffered horribly from its consequences, but for large stretches of humanity victimized by the totalitarianism it ushered in.

Paul Johnson, in his book Modern Times, recounts the shocking sequence of events that led to nearly a century’s worth of unprecedented barbarism (the dates are in the old Russian Julian calendar):

- Russia begins in chaos, due to disasters on the front with Germany and a failed military revolt.
- Lenin returns to Russia in April, 1917.
- On October 24-25, Lenin forms a government, and Trotsky’s forces seize strategic locations all over St. Petersburg. Members of the provisional Kerensky government are chased out or imprisoned, many of them (unbeknownst to them) not long for this world.
- The press is immediately shut down, save for the Party’s own organs.
- In November, house searches are authorized, banks are seized, industries are taken over after sham elections of “Soviets.”
- On Dec. 7 the Cheka secret police are set up, including their own court system to administer people’s justice. They recruit thousands of willing cutthroats. Soon they are executing 1000 people a month for political crimes. (The czars in their last years only executed a couple of dozen a year.)
- Parliament meets on Jan. 5, 1918 and is forcibly adjourned by the Bolsheviks; its elderly speaker is physically removed from the stage by one of them. The next day it is padlocked.

Lenin went on to invent almost the entire apparatus of totalitarianism – the use of terror to intimidate the opposition, of the secret police to enforce the terror, the defining of entire classes of people as enemies of the state because of their unfortunate location in the Bolsheviks' ideological map of the world, the turning of people into nothing more than raw material to be used for the Party’s purposes. Stalin’s primary contribution was the addition of the show trial, and Hitler basically added little to the Lenin model he much admired, except to make it about religion and race instead of class.

The consequences are measured in uncountably high stacks of corpses. From the Soviet Union, the totalitarian model spread to Hitler’s Germany, to Mao’s China, to Castro’s Cuba, to Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the rest of Southeast Asia. Everywhere the basic model was the same – the lust for power combined with the brutal seizure of it and then the turning of the monopoly of violence on the enemies of the state. Man has always known brutality by government, has always known mass slaughter. But before Lenin he never knew the conscription of ideas into this kind of mass terror – the defining characteristic of the totalitarian regime, which justifies its atrocities not by resort to ethnic solidarity or theological or monarchical dispute, but in the name of a monstrously absolutist idea about justice and the natural course of history.

There is a natural arc to totalitarianism. First comes the thuggish seizure of power, then the use of barbarism tinged with ideological justification to wipe out any potential opposition real or imagined, then (round about 1955 in the Soviet Union, perhaps the early 1970s in China) unchallenged rule over an intimidated, terrorized population. It remains to be seen whether the models of political fear but economic space pioneered by the Chinese and exported to Vietnam and increasingly North Korea offer a way out; it certainly is not possible to have mass democide in a market economy, although less extreme elements of the totalitarian model may be consistent with it. Either way, it was Lenin’s model and Lenin’s century, and he is thus in a sense the worst criminal in human history. His body count was not the highest (although it was much higher than most know), but his innovations made the totalitarian century possible. President Putin of Russia, and evidently some citizens there, believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe of the century. But the people who saw it at its worst know better.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The "Corporate" Hook

There was a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates the other day, and one word (or variant thereof) showed up fairly often: “corporate.” Here is Barack Obama doing it first:

“And that, I think, is part of the job of the next president, is making Americans believe that our government is working for them; because right now, they don't feel like it's working for them. They feel like it's working for special interests and it's working for corporations.”

This statement was made, note, in response to a series of questions asked to Hillary Clinton about opening up the White House records from the Clinton Administration. It is, in other words, quite a bit of rhetorical distance to travel to squeeze the word “corporations” in.

Sen. Christopher Dodd was next, advocating a carbon tax to fight global warming. Now a carbon tax may or may not be a good idea, but what is striking is what Sen. Dodd always insists on calling it: a “corporate carbon tax,” a phrase he used three times. Now of course corporations are just pass-through vehicles, and a “corporate” carbon tax will eventually be parceled out to consumers, shareholders and workers. But economic literacy is no as widespread as one would like, and so this kind of hand-waving is distressingly popular. Interesting, Tim Russert did not think to ask the senator what the difference is between “corporate carbon” and the kind of carbon the rest of us emit.

Senator Edwards, the glibbest anti-corporate campaigner of them all, jammed the word in when talking about New Orleans after Katrina:

And contracts have been let to these multi-national corporations, instead of allowing the people of New Orleans to rebuild their own city.

The best thing that could be done to allow the people of New Orleans to rebuild the city is to completely crush the idea that the government will be their savior. In parts of New Orleans (and Mississippi) rebuilding is well-advanced, by free men and women acting on their own initiative. Vietnamese residents of New Orleans did just that (see here and even here of all places, for example) by explicitly deciding not to wait for government. But of greater interest here is the villain that Sen. Edwards here and elsewhere (with dreary frequency) invokes: “corporations.” More than any other candidate he tries to snag left-wing voters by repeated use of forms of this word.

In other contexts, other candidates have done the same. Sen. Clinton often talks about “corporate social responsibility,” by which she means running the firm in her interests rather than those of its owners. In each case, there is an attempt to depict some monolithic “corporate” interest (never mind that different kinds of corporations have different interests), and then to pit it against the “public” interest. This latter is unusually deceptive or dumb, in that almost any conception of the public interest – endangered squirrels and the people who really care about them vs. lumber and the people who really need it, today’s drug consumers vs. today’s drug producers and tomorrow’s consumers – is really a series of private interests that may or may not add up to 50% + 1. Margaret Thatcher famously said that there is no such thing as society, only individuals, a remark for which U.K. progressives under the sway of collectivist gospel never forgave her. And Madison and other American Founders took great care to think of society as a group of many factions, which have to be counterbalanced and set against one another so that liberty may be passed on to the next generation.

But increasingly candidates are having none of it. There are “corporations” – the doers, the producers, the innovators – on the one hand and there is “the public” on the other. It is a disturbing trend, a recipe for destructive zero-sum political conflict. and bears watching.