Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

NYT Throws Broder Under the Tesla

corpnews As any experience with the MSM confirms in spades, automobiles, despite the times, remain the #1 source of advertising revenue. They are also the keystone commodity in the overall operation of corporate capitalism. Hence, is it any surprise the The New York Times has publicly scolded John M. Broder for daring to do an actual report, rather than a standard MSM advertorial “car review” — on the experience of using a $74,200 “electric” car?

As DbC noted in our last post, Broder took delivery of his Tesla S and used it to see if Tesla had indeed fulfilled its promise of creating an infrastructure that would facilitate “a speedy electric-car road trip between here [Washington D.C.] and Boston.” As Broder reported, this promise remains a huge lie. The actual trip required long waits for charges and repeatedly refraining from normal use of the car.

Readers can read the charges and answers for themselves. The main digs against Broder are 1) that he failed to leave his test car plugged in overnight, and 2) that he didn’t stay around for a full charge (which would have taken several hours) on an emergency charging stop imposed by the lack of charge after a cold, unplugged overnight stay in Groton, Connecticut.

Of course, Broder’s mission was to test the Tesla promise of easy travel based on its East Coast “Supercharger” stations, not to see if his trip was possible by any means whatsoever, or with a dozen footnotes.

After getting flak from Tesla “Chairman, Product Architect & CEO” Elon Musk, in the form of special pleading and attempts to change Broder’s question, here is the final verdict of The TimesFlak Catcher Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan:

Did he [Broder] use good judgment along the way? Not especially.

Wow! That is not a small rebuke in such a form from such a boss in such a trade. One hopes Mr. Broder knows some good employment lawyers…

Meanwhile, Sullivan’s weighing of this issue confirms, once again, the importance of the filters that operate in MSM journalism. In explaining her attack on Broder, Sullivan admits the special lengths to which she felt compelled to go on on one particular side of this question:

I’ve also had a number of talks with my brother, a physician, car aficionado and Tesla fan, who has helped me balance what might have been a tendency to unconsciously side with a seasoned and respected journalist – my own “confirmation bias.”

Funny, that: Her self-described “bias” is to trust a seasoned and respected journalist. Her professional, deeeply considered “corrective” is to give great weight to an over-privileged pro-car, pro-Tesla ideologue!

One might wonder how many anti-car activists Ms. Sullivan drew into her consideration here…

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“Safety Issues”

grind

In a statement, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland stressed vigilance: “Even as we celebrate [yes, he said "celebrate"] the progress we’ve made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year.”

“The safety issues” of which Administrator Strickland speaks? “Those” would be the automobile itself, would “they” not?

As for “the progress we’ve made in recent years,” that is otherwise known as the Great Recession.

Look for a huge spike in U.S. traffic deaths in 2012. Should be another lesson in Big Brotherism when they make that jump official.

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ratcig This past week, Ford Motor Company scion Bill Ford hosted a dinner “for a small group of journalists at the Detroit auto show.”  The purpose?  To burnish Ford’s green claims, of course.

Highlights [via Automotive News]:

Ford has been thinking about “how we’re going to have mobility in a world of urbanization and 75 percent of the world’s population living in cities. We’re going to have 4 billion cars and 9 billion people by midcentury.

There are currently just over 1 billion automobiles, counting cars, trucks, and buses, on the planet, btw.

So, ROFL on that one.

Meanwhile, Bill Ford also told the assembled reporters that cars-first transportation isn’t like selling nicotine:

“I never wanted us to be like the tobacco [companies], where our employees would have to apologize to their family and friends for working there. If that happens, we are not going to get the best and brightest.”

It’s an interesting contrast, isn’t it? If Ford’s products are freedom vehicles and wonder machines, why this apparent slip into cigarette talk?

Perhaps it’s because Ford knows the numbers are rather comparably large and the deaths equally stupid. In the USA, lung cancer now kills about 160,000 people a year. If one assumes that tailpipe exhaust accounts for 25% percent of air pollution deaths and auto use accounts for 10% of deconditioning deaths, cars snuff out about half that amount every year.

And, of course, the era of war over access to tobacco-friendly climes has passed. Now, if there is to be a World War III, does anybody doubt it will instead have rather more to do with what goes into gas tanks?

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The Wages of McKibbenism

ostrich Tom Zeller, Jr. is Arianna Huffington’s “senior energy and environment writer.” Here is Mr. Zeller’s take on the meaning of the Keystone XL ruse:

This debate pits rich and powerful fossil fuel interests, which, for both good and ill, have shaped and dominated the last century of American economic, industrial and political life, against a growing swell of citizens who insist that it’s high time — for the sake of the planet and everyone who breathes — to turn the page and support cleaner alternatives.

Wrong — radically wrong — at both ends, Tom.

First of all, not only is the Keystone XL scuffle a minor issue to the ruling class, that ruling class is absolutely not organized around “fossil fuel interests,” as if the system is just randomly corrupt. In reality, we live under corporate capitalism. As such, the most important systemic and practical factor is maximum salable waste, not the random promotion of one or another “bad apple” industry. The ultimate problem — the one that makes fossil fuel interests so crucial — is cars and the geo-spatial sprawl they engendered. The oil companies are certainly a major part of the automotive industrial complex, but they are secondary, not primary, in it. The point, to the overclass, is to find a way to keep selling 10 million new cars every year. Change that, and oil becomes a minor issue. Fail to even mention it, and oil is certain to keep flowing in present patterns, Keystone or no Keystone, until there’s no more oil left.

Second, what cleaner alternatives? The so-called “electric” car, pathetic as it is, is actually running on hydrocarbon combustion and nuclear fission. If you are going to paint “cleaner alternatives” to oil as so readily doable, then you are obliged to offer evidence of their viability. Of course, you can’t, because your suggestion there is even more dishonest than the silly idea that the Keystone XL project is somehow vital to the national interest and/or the human future.

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A Trainer for the Hall of Mirrors

ted_trainer_pic With allies like these, who needs enemies? Today’s addition to the DbC Hall of Mirrors hails from Australia. He is Ted Trainer, “environmentalist and author.” Apparently, he’s about as smart as he looks:

Many on the left would share your concern for sustainability but would question your focus on “consumerism” and “affluence”. Most working class people have little choice about housing, transport, car usages or buying product that have been produced in harmful ways. Your response?

Yes it’s true that most people are locked into consumer society due to faulty systems and structures that, for example, force people to drive to work. But I do insist that the demand for affluence is a key driver of today’s major global problems.

As such, the main target, the main problem group is not the corporations or the capitalist class. They have their power because people in general grant it to them. The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general.

The problem is people in general! Wow.

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rail_tear Politics in this plummeting empire would have to improve substantially to become merely surreal.  As it stands, they are wildly anti-real.

Consider the fact that Zerobama is in mildly warm water for leaning on the Ford Motor Company to yank a television ad bragging about Ford not taking government bailout money.  Zerobama, bailer-out of not just the automotive corporations but the whole array of for-profit medical operators, and self-conscious (and highly effective) pitchfork deflector, might or might not have sent a letter to Ford asking it to suppress its ad.

In response, the far-rightists are now trying to turn that possible act into political hay.

The issue at the heart of the matter, meanwhile, is how much validity resides in the pulled ad, which apparently ran as follows:

The Ford commercial was the first time an automaker had made the message part of a national ad campaign.

The ad is part of Ford’s “Drive One” campaign to win over consumers from other brands. In it, a Ford owner, identified only as Chris, says, “I wasn’t going to buy another car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that’s standing on their own: win, lose, or draw.”

The proposition here (and its amplification by the R wing of the ruling duopoly) is a moderately clever and completely typical move:  No mainstream politician, Ford and and the Rs know, is either permitted or inclined to mention the fact that cars-first transportation would not exist, were it not for huge annual flows of public preference and subsidy.  The annual cost of road-building alone is larger than the entire automotive bailout program was, and also far larger than the portion of the bailout loans that will not be recouped.

We won’t go into details about the portion of the nation’s police, court, and hospital costs caused by cars-first transportation.

Suffice it to say that the notion that any car-related capitalist is “standing on its own” is simply Orwellianly and petulantly deluded and dishonest.  Only in America, as they say!

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prius-in-the-sky Led by Stepin Fetchit Obama, the overclass has just concluded another round of MPG charades. This time, they have reached a “deal” purportedly “requiring” car capitalists’ new-vehicle fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Given Big Money’s de facto ownership of politics in the United States, this is essentially an act of self-policing, so, of course, this “deal” is next to meaningless. As Automotive News reports, there already are two yawning loopholes.

First:

The Detroit 3 won a major exemption for their highly profitable full-sized pickups. The administration’s corporate average fuel economy proposal, details of which still must be worked out, would exempt full-sized pickups from any fuel economy increases from the 2017 model year through the 2019 model year, automotive representatives said.

Second:

Even for regular passenger cars, “the plan for 5 percent annual increases could be changed if a midcourse review, planned to begin in 2018, determines that it would adversely affect industry costs and vehicles sales.”

The main point of the whole endeavor, in the opinion of DbC, is actually not any kind of serious public control over miles-per-gallon. MPG is going to increase with or without any such “deals,” given the realities of Peak Oil. The real point of this kabuki is perpetuating a key mis-perception of reality: the notion that the energy efficiency of automobiles is merely a matter of human intentions and political checks-and-balances. Could MPG ever be 100, 200, 300, 500, 1,000? “Sure, if only the conservatives would wake up and smell the coffee, yes.” That’s the intended message for greens and liberals.

Of course, as DbC has always maintained, like everything else in the known universe, automobiles are subject to the laws of physics. As such, 3,000-pound metal boxes carrying humans at highway speeds can only ever get so efficient. Indeed, after a century of intensive corporate R&D and lavish public subsidy, it is DbC‘s position that existing cars are much closer to the asymptote of maximum efficiency than capitalists and liberal greens acknowledge.

If you doubt this claim, take a look at this excellent post by the extremely helpful analyst Tom Murphy. Murphy’s estimate of the actual top limit of highway MPG for cars that are usable under the cars-first conditions that prevail in the USA? 56 MPG.

Do you think the type of basic-physics analysis done by Murphy is unknown to the powers-that-be? That it’s a mere coincidence Murphy’s estmimate is almost exactly the promised ultimate MPG figure?

If so, I can still get you that excellent deal on the Brooklyn Bridge…

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Sanctimonious Fleas

flea One of the many threats to progressive human survival is the mindless verbiage of most of those who now pass for greens.

Case-in-point? This amazing tripe on “energy shaming” from Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk:

What Saves Energy? Shame

Just about every North American knows that we live as large as Las Vegas when it comes to consuming oil, electricity or natural gas. We are the world’s fattest and laziest energy consumers (and our growing corpulence reflects this bitter truth). But, hey, we can’t stop snacking, let alone employing more energy slaves.

We are also procrastinators. If we can put off insulating the attic or saving for a rainy day, we’ll do so. Like healthy dining, energy conservation typically closes a thousand eyelids and gets put off till tomorrow. We are a mañana species and our high-octane living embraces inertia the way TV watchers love couches.

Some of us consume [question for Nikiforuk: some don't? Do tell...] but most of us are addicts.

After taking his turn thoughtlessly perpetuating the word “consumer” and snapping off such huge and baseless insults to ordinary people, does Nikiforuk suggest politicizing capitalism, democratizing economic decisions, or reconstructing social infrastructure? Nope. Instead, he’s a fan of hanging up signs in hotels and inserting more paper into electric bills!

OPOWER, an energy efficiency software company based in Virginia, whose political neighbor (West Virginia) removes the tops of mountains to make electricity for iPods and the like, applied that concept to electricity billing. It paired up with utility companies to create a bill that showed power users how their flicking and switching compared to that of their neighbors.

If scaled nationwide, a program like this could reduce U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electric power by 0.5 per cent.

Yes, good luck with that. Elitist technocratic shaming to solve less than one percent of the problem. ROFLMFAO.

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Just Desserts

challenger_crash In my experience, as addled and manipulated as we are, ordinary Americans are not actually as stupid and corrupt as many leftist critics claim.

One bit of evidence in support of this?

Remember those atrocious ads for the inexcusable muscle car, the Dodge Challenger?

Not working!  As reported in Automotive News:

Chrysler poured significant dollars into the 2011 model. The front and rear suspensions were re-engineered to improve handling and ride. And, the new standard 3.6-liter V-6 produces a 55 horsepower boost over the much criticized 3.5-liter V-6.

A winning combination, right? Not so. I expected sales to catch fire this year. They haven’t. Sales are up only 15 percent over the dismal year-ago period. But May sales dropped 11 percent.

Dodge’s 21st Century pony car is averaging just 3,355 cars per month, hardly a sales momentum that can justify a future redesign. During the January through May period, Dodge sold 16,777 Challengers.

As for the two other pony cars [read: teenage-themed gas guzzlers] on the market, Chevrolet sold 40,275 Camaros in the same period, and Ford tallied 30,206 Mustangs.

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legend First, we had Kurt Cobb saying that the public “agreed to allow the private automobile to become the dominant form of transportation.”

Today, we find James Howard Kunstler, after properly berating President Zerobama for his craven dishonesty on energy policy, saying that “President Obama is merely reflecting the foolish obsession of the public,” whom Kunstler claims “refuse to even think about anything else” other than keeping cars-first transportation going.

How does Kunstler know what the public refuses to contemplate?  Has there ever been any serious choice offered or even mentioned?  Of course not.  From the moment the private automobile entered the historical scene, corporate capitalists have refused to permit robust democratic discussion of basic transportation policy options.

Personally, if I believed that the American public had zero willingness to think about changing our transportation order, I would certainly not be wasting my time and yours writing about it.

As it is, I hope I live to see the day when a social movement for progressive survival puts somebody in high office who offers the first honest assessment of transportation choice in American history.  The powers that be, after all, are suppressing that for a reason. The facts, when known, are pretty damned radical.

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