In an unintentionally hilarious piece today, The Washington Post scolds Hugo Chavez for having used “oil as a political tool.” Could there be a bigger possible ROFL? This, from the second newspaper of record in the United States, where cars-first transportation has always been the keystone in the reign of history’s richest and most powerful overclass?
In its report, the WP quotes an anonymous “industry executive” as follows:
“He’s done a lot to improve the lot of his people. He ruined the oil industry.”
That’s about the size of the task for all of us, isn’t it? Now, where is our Hugo Chavez?
Last summer, Jim Stutzman, owner of Jim Stutzman Chevrolet-Cadillac in Winchester, Va., lost a fleet order of 30 Silverados because the chairman of the general contracting company didn’t like GM’s government-funded bankruptcy. Stutzman says he had sold hundreds of fleet cars and trucks to the company since the late 1980s.
“He just felt like purchasing our products would have been supporting a decision that he was totally philosophically opposed to,” Stutzman said.
The company bought Ford pickups instead.
Questions for our principled general contractor:
1) What car corporation would be selling any of its products, if the public removed its willingness to provide free roadways, police services, courtroom time, and military protection of fuel sources?
2) Do you accept contracts to build things ordered by the public? Do your trucks travel to any of your job sites using free public roads? How do you sleep at night, man?
This is one of my early favorites from my dig into the history of capitalist dictation of transportation policy in the United States. As we at DbC know, the general public has never been seriously included in the making of said policy, except on the margins and after the main choices have been made. Certainly, there has not been a rich, sustained debate and menu of choices offered to ordinary citizens in the area.
The exhibit at left speaks rather clearly to what has instead happened. The image is a flyer issued in October 1947 by the National Highway Users Conference via its Highway Highlights trade magazine. The National Highway Users Conference was, of course, not in the least an authentic organization of actual highway users. On the contrary, it was one of the several front groups set up by the core corporate capitalists of the automotive-industrial complex. Indeed, guess who was President of the NHUC as of October 1947? The highway-user-in-chief just then happened to be one Alfred P. Sloan!
The humor and scandal in this flyer is the obvious falseness it reveals about the NHUC. On one hand, the purpose of the leaflet is to convince ordinary schmoes that “you and everybody else are highway users.” Meanwhile, not only is it patently absurd for a supposedly democratic, purportedly bottom-up advocacy group to have to tell its own alleged members that they fit into the group in question, but the flyer itself proceeds to acknowledge that the NHUC is composed not of individual citizens, but “organizations and companies which recognize [the] truth” that it’s either cars-first transportation or barbarism.
Such shameless, self-interested demagogy has always been the real engine of the “car culture” that thinkers across the political spectrum — without ever bothering to look at the actual evidence — have attributed to the spontaneous wishes and “national character” of the American masses.
It’s enough to make a cat laugh.
Of all the Big Lies surrounding it, none is greater than the long-running claim that the American public independently demanded and continues to insist upon cars-first transportation. In this official view, the remarkable speed and unanimity of governmental management and subsidy of the car’s reign are held to be signs of the overwhelming strength of the democratic will, rather than the clear primacy of overclass imperatives.
The problem, of course, is that there has never been anything resembling serious public debate of basic U.S. transportation policy since the perfection of the automobile in the early twentieth century. Search the historical record. None exists.
The insistence that governmental ramrodding of cars-first policies is democracy in action is, in actuality, a classic Big Lie. Who, to quote the car-pushing classical source, could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously? Since every policy is greased and every Congressional vote a landslide, who, indeed, would ever dare look into it?
If you doubt this interpretation, consider the latest piece of evidence:
In a move undoubtedly calculated to place the argument in the mouths of entities that can be portrayed as “small businesses,” the nation’s automobile dealers, according to Automotive News, are “taking over” the fight against the Zerobama Adminstration’s proposed (and already watered down) rules mandating scheduled increased MPG standards for new cars.
Auto News, citing Reuters, reports:
U.S. auto dealers are working to undo the Obama administration’s fuel efficiency agenda, replacing car companies that for years kept such mandates at bay with the help of allies in Congress.
The car industry is facing dramatic new standards that would double efficiency targets to 54 miles per gallon by 2025, under an administration plan unveiled in July and set to be officially proposed in the coming weeks.
Automakers have traditionally carried the torch for modest fuel efficiency mandates, arguing that aggressive targets could drive up vehicle cost, compromise safety, and limit consumer choice.
But car executives agreed to the ambitious targets during negotiations this spring, going along with an administration that rescued the U.S. industry from collapse in 2009. General Motors and Chrysler owe their continued existence to Obama, and taxpayers still own a third of GM.
Virtually all big automakers reluctantly agreed to the 2025 deal in the talks led by the White House, leaving dealers on their own to fight the new standards.
Dealers are backing a Republican measure that would remove the influence of federal environmental regulators and the state of California in establishing national mileage standards.
And how are the dealers packaging “their” efforts?
“This is a big jump, and we’d like to slow this process down and find out what’s working and what’s not,” said Dave Westcott, who operates two North Carolina showrooms and is an executive with a trade group behind the delay effort. “We’d like the public to be in control of what they would like.”
So, what, pray tell, is actual public opinion on this topic?
WASHINGTON (July 28, 2011)—Against a backdrop of sharp differences on a variety of current public policy issues, new polling by the Pew Clean Energy Program demonstrates strong support from American voters for immediate action on vehicle fuel economy.
In a national survey of 1,000 likely 2012 likely general election voters (interviews were conducted by telephone July 8-12, 2011 using a national registration-based sample conducted for Pew by the bipartisan polling team The Mellman Group, Inc. and Public Opinion Strategies between July 8-12, 2011), 91 percent of Americans agree that dependence on foreign oil is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” threat to U.S. security, with 61 percent indicating it is a “very serious” threat. These views cut across demographic and partisan lines, with 65 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents identifying dependence on foreign oil as a “very serious threat” to national security.
The polling results reinforce news reports of an ambitious proposed interim fuel economy rule agreement reached by the Obama administration, the auto industry and other stakeholders to improve fuel efficiency for cars and light-duty trucks in model years 2017-2025. The proposed standard is to be announced Friday, July 29, 2011.
The survey found 82 percent of respondents support an increased fuel efficiency standard of 56 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025, with 68 percent who “favor strongly.” Overwhelming majorities in every demographic subgroup support increased fuel efficiency to 56 mpg, including 70 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of independents.
Voters across all regions also backed increasing fuel economy to 56 mpg, with 80 percent in the Northeast, 85 percent in the Midwest, 77 percent in the South and 86 percent in the West. Further, 92 percent of Americans believe it is either “very important” (69 percent) or “somewhat important” (23 percent) for the United States to take action now to increase fuel efficiency.
If anything, since it excludes those not registered to vote and since registered voters tend to be wealthier and more conservative than the non-registered, these numbers are almost certainly an under-estimate of the actual state of public preference.
Such is the standard stuff of transportation dictatorship in America.
And for any who might construe this post as any kind of endorsement of Zerobama, let me remind you that the consciously accepted role of that operation is Pitchfork Catching. The proposed MPG rules, as I’ve said before, are a distraction. They were also built to be whittled down. No mainstream politician is allowed (or even inclined) to question, let alone threaten, the machine that lays the golden eggs.
Kurt Cobb is a good writer with many useful things to say, including in this recent post.
Alas, Cobb also seems to be among those still peddling the notion that cars-first transportation is a mere attitude, rather than an imposed institutional requirement of big business capitalism.
But what if “letting go” isn’t nearly enough? What if the powers-that-be will continue to dictate our transportation options, whatever our attitude? What if what we really have is not a shared “car culture,” but corporate capitalism, a.k.a., a globally dominant system of powerful interests and institutions whose primary function is to further enrich the rich? And what if corporate capitalism would implode without the economic stimulation that only cars-first transportation in at least the United States can provide? What then? Would it then be enough for the advocates of decent human survival to continue mistaking “letting go” of a cultural chimera for a genuine effort to rescue human progress from the jaws of historic defeat?
These vital questions seem never to have crossed Kurt Cobb’s otherwise incisive mind.
Interestingly and importantly, Cobb also seems never to have much pondered the conventional rotten history that undergirds both mainstream cant and prior leftist attempts at car-criticism: In Cobb’s mind, by some unspecified means at some unspecified time, “the public have [somehow] agreed to allow the private automobile to become the dominant form of transportation” in the United States.
When, pray tell, was that?
People have certainly purchased automobiles. They have certainly also failed to rebel against the huge, unwavering, unmatched public subsidies private cars have received from the moment of their invention in this paved-over nation-state.
But it is simply a falsity to suggest that there has ever been a serious debate on cars-first transportation in the United States. There has never been such a debate. Not even close.
Consider the last time a major “highway bill” (even the terminology tells you what you need to know) reached the floor of Congress: This was in 2005, four years after 9/11, amid exploding gas prices and clear descriptions of the near arrival of Peak Oil. The proposed bill demoted public transportation’s share of federal mobility monies from 20 to 18 percent — and promptly passed 503-12, with all 12 of the “nays” being cast by Republicans seizing a puffball chance to grandstand their alleged hatred of government. Not a soul — zero Democrats, not the “socialist” Bernie Sanders — raised a peep about the sheer unspeakable insanity of the decision. In early twenty-first century America, despite the headlines and whatever the actual (and unsolicited) preferences of Joe and Jane Sixpack might be, “highways bills” remain far more sacrosanct and “off the table” for debate than even military budgets. As they must. The reality they enable is simply too important to the profit-making system.
This situation is deadly serious, despite its continual non-discussion. This is not a game. We would-be rebels against it can no longer afford to suggest that transcending the automotive-industrial regime is anything less than a huge new call to old-fashioned class struggle. The overclass certainly knows this, and will certainly act accordingly. Isn’t it time we joined them and became as radical as reality itself?
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