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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Remember this? “President Obama is expected to deliver a speech on oil and energy issues on April 20, the anniversary of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill,” so let’s petition him to mention Peak Oil!
What’d we get?
Peak Oil was certainly not mentioned, and neither was the anniversary of the oil rig explosion — because there was no speech!
There were, however, these 3 powerful and impassioned paragraphs in a press release.
President Zerobama and the green establishment are teaming up to push the notion that federal tax breaks for oil companies are at the heart of our mounting energy problems. The claim is that eliminating $4 billion dollars in special tax write-offs for petroleum corporations will somehow allow “alternative” energy production to gain an equal footing and, thereby, yield viable new energy supplies that can replace present flows.
It would be hard to find a more ridiculous piece of demagogy than this, even in our age of truly shameless counterfactual lies.
The main lie here is the ulterior one: the implication that “clean energy” is just waiting to burst forth, if only we would give it a chance. The reality, of course, is that all the “alternatives” being pushed are: a) already being heavily subsidized by the public; b) old; and c) hopeless.
It’s also hugely silly, of course, to pretend that ending a $4 billion tax loophole is a serious act in the scale of things. Not only would the subject corporations be exceedingly likely to find new ways to favorably re-shift their already loophole-riddled tax bills, but Exxon alone reports official profits of $9.25 billion for just the fourth quarter of 2010.
As the supposed progressives waste everybody’s time with such magical thinking, the oil corporations are preparing themselves and their shareholders for maintaining their privileges as host societies plunge into a future of extraordinary misery.
With a left like this, who needs the right?
The ruling ideology, distinctly including its academic manifestation, holds that automobiles are freedom machines and social equalizers. Cars-first transportation “unites [Americans] across class, racial, ethnic, and religious lines as few other aspects of our society can,” alleges Rutgers University transportation engineer James A. Dunn.
Of course, this familiar incantation is about as counter-factual as you can possibly get.
The claim, as DbC has explained before, doesn’t even hold water at the level of automotive usage. There, the rich enjoy the luxuries and choices, while the poor scrape, suffer, and go without. The distribution of cars, if one bothers to actually look at the uncontroversial facts, is one of the least equal categories of “consumer” goods.
The much more significant link between automobiles and social stratification, however, enters at the level of business ownership and the question of who benefits from selling cars. If you examine the institutional facts here, you discover that cars-first transportation is — literally — lifeblood to the investing class. Without it, the enormous privileges and prerogatives its members continue to enjoy, despite the times, would be in severe jeopardy.
If you doubt this link between cars and the upward flow of surplus wealth, consider the news that one of the major proponents of the latest, just-announced Obamian cave-in — the extension of greatly reduced estate tax rules — was none other than the National Association of Automobile Dealers. In the middle (or is it still the beginning?) of Great Depression III, you might think that NADA would favor measures to equalize income and wealth at least a little. After all, despite the inequities on the matter, it is commoners who buy most of the cars.
So why did NADA instead lobby for further extending the supply-side cap on estate taxes, a rule which overwhelmingly benefits the already-rich and, thereby, deprives the masses? As Automotive News reports:
WASHINGTON — In a victory for auto dealers and Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed on a tentative tax-cut package that would head off a huge increase in the estate tax.
The agreement yesterday, which still has to be approved by Congress, would set a maximum estate-tax rate of 35 percent for two years with an exemption of $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples.
“This (proposal) will help restore consumer confidence and speed economic recovery,” the National Automobile Dealers Association said in a statement today.
The NADA and other groups pushed for the estate-tax rate in the proposal as an alternative to the Obama administration’s plan earlier this year for a 45 percent rate with an exemption of $3.5 million per person.
The average net worth of an auto dealership was $2.2 million in 2009, according to NADA data, suggesting that most dealerships would not be subject to any estate taxes under yesterday’s proposal.
About half of all U.S. dealerships are second- and third-generation family businesses, NADA spokesman Bailey Wood said.
In other, more honest words, car dealers are capitalists, and, as such, they always place themselves first, because they can and are used to it and believe they deserve it. “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people,” as one radically misinterpreted social critic once observed of the first principle of all overclasses, clearly remains the maxim of “the masters of mankind.”
This amazing piece of short-sightedness, of course, is but the tip of the iceberg. The automotive industrial complex remains a pillar of corporate capitalism and its drive to maximize and maintain overclass wealth flows. Automobile dealerships are small potatoes inside that order. As always, across the whole system, even when its own interests are close and easy to see, today always trumps tomorrow for our self-described “entrepreneurs.”
And, in the real world, that’s cars for you: Heedlessness machines and social polarizers.
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