Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

“As the father of a daughter who just turned 16, any new technology that makes driving safer is important to me,” he said.

Driving, inherently massively dangerous, remains beyond question, even against such a supposedly sacred standard.

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The least surprising possible news from today’s New York Timess:

New legislation to pay for transportation is a priority for both parties because the nation’s Highway Trust Fund is nearing insolvency. Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary, has said the trust fund could begin “bouncing checks” by this summer. That would force a halt to construction projects around the country, officials have said.

Note the equivalence between “transportation” and “the nation’s Highway Trust Fund.”

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ev-lemon As he labors to further reduce corporate taxes, Zerobama is asking his own marketing targets fans to petition him!

We petition the Obama administration to:

Create Fast Charging Network for Wide Scale Adoption of Electric Vehicles

Fast charging stations should be installed every 50 miles across the United States Interstate Highway System. These chargers will allow electric vehicles such as the Chevrolet Spark, Nissan Leaf and other vehicles to be recharged to 80% capacity in 20 to 30 minutes. This will allow drivers of electric vehicles the freedom to travel throughout the entire US without fear that they may run out of power.

There are huge societal benefits from switching to electric vehicles including reduced pollution, noise and dependence on foreign oil.

Created: Jul 23, 2013

Love the mention of specific corporate products right there in this oh-so-authentic expression of spontaneous popular democracy! And those “huge” benefits? You mean like a forest of new coal-burning plants to make the electricity for this suicidal (and probably physically impossible) proposed network of “fast” — attention plebeians: “20 to 30 minutes” to partially refuel a car is now fast! — chargers?

Orwell couldn’t make this stuff up. Super-boondoggles as “solutions.”

Luckily, this “petition” seems to be harvesting only about 10 signatures a day. People aren’t as stupid as the overclass (and a great many would-be greens) presume.

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Given global warming’s impact on established farming patterns, the federally mandated diversion of a huge chunk of the United States corn crop into automotive gas tanks is under some unusual scrutiny. If present, late-stage trends hold and the estimates are correct, the corn-to-ethanol mandate will require using about half of this year’s crop on cars. Among the assured impacts of that will be sharply higher food prices and increased rates of malnutrition in areas of the world where food access is unreliable.

Under such circumstances, any decent, democratic society would obviously recognize the foolishness of the corn-to-cars rule and cancel it without delay.

The left-liberal blogosphere is rightly abuzz over the fact that such recognition and cancellation are not only not being done now, but appear to not be in the cards at all. Indeed, President Obama has gone out of his way to travel to none other than Iowa to appear to be taking sides with beleaguered corn farmers as he upholds the corn-to-cars mandate.

Amid some attempt at sorting through the “debate” over the topic, which pits corn farmers and ethanol refiners against the (usually vilified) oil industry and hunger activists, the overwhelming opinion on the left is that the failure to cancel the corn-to-cars mandate is some combination of mistake or scam, a failure of insight and honesty in national government. More generally, that mistake/scam tends to be explained, in this piece by George Monbiot, as a matter of the rich world versus the poor world, with “the rich world” being defined as all of us who reside in automobile-intensive societies, as if cars-first transportation is of equal importance to all of us “rich worlders.”

Even those who have a great deal of useful information about energy use tend to talk in such “Oops, we did it again!” terms. Consider Robert Bryce, whose piece today on Counterpunch explains the practical implications of the corn-to-cars rule, but then chalks it all up to bumbling and simple corruption:

Last year, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of the Swiss food giant Nestle declared that using food crops to make biofuels was “absolute madness.”

He’s right, of course. But what is so maddening about the madness is that all of this was so easily predictable. The leaders in Congress who foisted the ethanol scam on the American people should have known that droughts happen, that corn crops cannot, will not, grow to infinity.

The only question is whether the feckless bureaucrats in the Obama administration and their willing enablers in Congress will finally put an end to the ethanol madness.

Feckless madness?

Such naive analysis forgets that cars are the lifeblood of the entire corporate capitalist order, and the “biofuels” ruse is vital to preserving the strategic lie that cars-first transportation is sustainable on planet Earth. It also forgets, as somebody once said, that some portion of the role of politicians is to serve as the executive committee of the overclass, i.e., to make decisions that preserve the conditions required to keep profit-making maximal and maximally secure for all business factions.

Obama is certainly a sell-out, but the world “feckless” simply doesn’t apply to this highly skilled and calculating social climber. As he himself admitted, he is the main pitchfork catcher for the status quo, and he knows it. That’s where the money for elections and wealthy retirements comes from.

Cancellation or even suspension of the corn-to-cars rule is certainly a matter of contesting interest groups and pressing social concerns. But, at the larger level, even a temporary withdrawal of the ethanol mandate would constitute a very bad precedent within overclass-owned political marketing operations, aka government and public policy as we now know it. Without complete freedom to push cars-first transportation above all else, the system enters a zone of serious potential risk. Allowing any consideration — including ballooning food prices and mass starvation — to become a higher priority, even for one year, than that freedom is something close to anathema for the powers-that-be.

Hence, DbC hereby predicts that the Obama (and Cameron) strategy of preserving the corn-to-cars mandate while raising food aid expenditures will continue to win the day, unless and until the public enters the scene and demands a change.

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Kibbles in Bits

obiepipes In one of the least surprising pieces of news you’re likely to hear, Zerobama spiked Bill McKibben today.  Obummer went to Cushing, Oklahoma and, posing in front of stacked pipes, announced he is expediting construction of the southern segment of the much publicized Keystone XL oil pipeline. Once that happens, what would you say are the odds the northern section gets blocked by McKibben’s windmill tilters? Only slightly better than those of McKibben admitting he has been multiply wrong in this whole tempest in an irrelevant teapot, I’d say.

Speaking of being epically wrong, here is McKibben’s latest analysis of the meaning of today’s move by Zerobama:

It’s clear that the power of the oil industry drives political decision-making in America–that’s why we need to go after them directly. The first step is an effort to remove the subsidies that they and the rest of the fossil fuel industry enjoy. 350.org is helping coordinate protests at Ohio State University this afternoon, where students will call on President Obama to stop Keystone XL, fracking, and other “extreme energy” projects

As ever, McKibben makes nary a mention of the actual reason for the centrality of the oil industry — cars-first transportation policy. “Doc, I’m worried I might have lung cancer.” “Not to worry,” assures good Dr. McKibben, “we’re going to stop that chronic cough of yours!”

Alas, mere superficiality and woefully erroneous target selection are not enough for McKibben. Having been clearly slapped down, he now promises to squander further political energy pursuing a blend of gestures both hopeless — stopping Keystone and fracking — and simply absurd — taking away a small tax subsidy from one of the planet’s most profitable industries and suggesting that will somehow change a damned thing.

What a flippin’ nightmare.

Fortunately, it looks like the Occupy proto-movement might be heading in the proper direction, albeit rather timidly. Check out the plans for April 4.

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A DbC Apology

oiled bird I apologize to DbC readers. At the height of the Macondo Prospect blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, I said the following about the idea that President Zerobama would start listening to sanity about energy and ecology. “Nothing,” I then predicted, “could be more threatening to the continuance of corporate capitalism. There will be much hand-wringing, a few monkey trials, and another toughening of the regulations. Then deep-water drilling will resume in full. Nothing else is possible, barring a major social upheaval.”

Mea culpa: There have been neither monkey trials nor major new rules. And the partial pause lasted 15, not 6, months. Until yesterday, when the pre-Horizon Deepwater course was re-adopted:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday announced its proposed five-year plan for offshore oil drilling, which calls for opening new areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

MSNBC reports:

The sales off Alaska, where native groups and environmentalists have objected to drilling, would be the first since 2008. And they would [include the] Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which Interior officials called a “frontier” for drilling.

In the western and central Gulf,…the proposal puts all unleased acreage up for sale.

By the way, the semi-major social upheaval going on has been essentially silent about energy and ecology.

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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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Cave You Can Believe In

Nobody denies that domestic U.S. petroleum production passed its peak 40 years ago and has zero chance of ever regaining it. That, of course, has no impact on mainstream reporting and politics, where everybody plays the game of implying that some secret stash will be unlocked and return the United States to carefree cars-first living.

In the least surprising news of the month, Zerobama, the most fraudulent of all modern U.S. Presidents (a major competition, I know, but one he easily wins), is now officially piling onto this remarkably dishonest game, having just announced, in his unchanging didactic techno-smarm, that he’s caving in to demands to further deregulate domestic oil and natural gas drilling.

The only effect of this latest item of complete conventionality will be to raise the level of ecological destruction that accompanies the ruling institutions’ perpetuation of the nation’s massively unsustainable transportation infrastructure.

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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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