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.

Government Motors Indeed

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!

Of Asymptotes and Asininity

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…

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 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.

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.

Phony History

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.

Fight or Die

class-struggle 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.

“It’s time to let go of the car culture so we can rid ourselves of its myriad ill effects,” Cobb urges.

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?

The Unmentionable Ossuary

ossuary My great friend Douglas Pressman, who once escorted me into an ossuary located in the Czech Republic, conveyed this news item from the mighty USA Today:

Road accidents — not terrorism, plane crashes or crime — are the No. 1 killer of healthy Americans traveling abroad, a USA TODAY analysis of the past 7½ years of State Department data shows.

About 1,820 Americans, almost a third of all Americans who died of non-natural causes while abroad, have been reported killed in road accidents in foreign countries from Jan. 1, 2003, through June 2010. On average, one American traveler dies on a foreign road every 36 hours.

This, of course, is peanuts compared to the number of people killed here and around the world by cars when not on vacations or buying or spying junkets.

But it highlights the fact that our overclass simply suppresses rational public discussion of automotive death and dismemberment.

There were 2,996 people killed by the 911 terrorist attack. That is one-eleventh the number of people killed in U.S. car crashes in 2009, a year hailed by NHTSA officials and even Ralph Nader as a wondrously safe annum automobilis.

Despite their centrality to our transportation order and to ordinary people’s actual lives, the costs and dangers of cars-first transportation remain entirely “off the table” in our corporate capitalist, market-totalitarian society. Some deaths sell, and some don’t.

Nader, the Number Fudger

Ralph Nader is not, and never has been, a serious critic of cars-first transportation.

For a few paragraphs, he came close. In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader opened by calling “the automobile tragedy” “one of the most serious of [all] man-made assaults on the human body” and suggesting that its proper solution involved “the great problem” of “how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology.”

What readers of Unsafe quickly learned, however, is that by “the automobile tragedy,” Nader meant not the dominance of the automobile as a mode of travel, but merely its lax regulation. The evil, in Nader’s telling, lies not in the machine itself, but merely in its sloppy, unsupervised implementation.

As to the “economic interests” behind the scenes, Nader has never explained them in any detail, preferring instead to suggest that the existence of a toughened-up National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency Nader helped cajole into existence, could, despite the telling inclusion of the word “Highway” in the organization’s very moniker, someday be enough to dispose of the problems they create.

Alas, things have just taken a major turn for the even-worse with Ralph (for whom I thrice voted, btw) on this crucial topic.

In an essay titled “Safer at Most Speeds,” Nader calls on us to “celebrate some goods news.” The good news at hand, in Ralph’s view? Only 33,808 people died in automotive collisions last year in the United States!

33,808 deaths?  Good news?  WTF?

But wait. Not only does Ralph ask us to “celebrate” that our technologically optional, ecologically insane, but capitalistically bountiful transportation order is still killing a 9/11’s worth of people every month in its crashes alone, but he adds insult to injury by inexcusably exaggerating the contribution made by safer cars.

In reporting the basic numbers in question, Nader says this:

Since 1966 when the motor vehicle and highway safety laws were passed by Congress—led by Democrats but with significant Republican support—the fatality rate dropped from 5.49 percent (50,894 lives lost) to 1.13 percent in 2009 (33,808 lives lost.) This large live-saving reduction occurred while absolute vehicle miles traveled increased more than threefold in those intervening decades.

Now, of course, any skilled reader ought to see this and immediately ask: “Percent of what, Ralph?”

It turns out that the baseline for the percentages Nader reports is the official NHTSA tactic of reporting automotive fatalities as a number of deaths per 100 million miles driven in the United States.

As Nader certainly knows, this is seriously deceptive.  What matters in judging the comparative danger of driving is not properly described by dividing total deaths over all the miles driven by everybody.  Such a statistic says nothing about the source of the total number of miles being driven.  Is the population growing while everybody drives the same amount as always?  Or are people also driving more and more miles per year?  Without incorporating those facts into the comparison, it remains impossible to assess what really matters, which is the changing risk of death for the average driver driving the average number of miles.

And, as Nader surely knows, the plain fact of the matter is that the average number of miles driven annually per U.S. driver has risen by about 50 percent since the early days of the NHTSA.

What that means is that the relative fatality decline Nader and the NHTSA (and the automotive-industrial complex) would have you celebrate is not nearly as big as he and they would have you believe.

Think about it: If your chances of getting killed by any activity drop fivefold, but you spend fifty percent more time doing the potentially lethal activity in question, you are not five times safer than you once were. More like three.

Shame on Ralph for helping obscure this elementary reality.

And that, alas, is hardly all.

Another problem with trumpeting the official “safety” stats is that these are not only intentionally bogus, but deal only with killings and only with crashes.

In reality, as the great Ralph Nader again knows full well, for every person killed in a car crash, there is at least one other who is severely injured, suffering life-shattering disabilities. As the authors of one study explain, “Persons injured in these crashes often suffer physical pain and emotional anguish that is beyond any economic recompense. The permanent disability of spinal cord damage, loss of mobility, loss of eyesight, and serious brain injury can profoundly limit a person’s life, and can result in dependence on others for routine physical care.”

And what about things like air pollution and obesity?

As “absolute vehicle miles traveled increased more than threefold,” automobiles had to become three times less polluting than before merely to keep air quality the same for a burgeoning population. That has arguably happened. But so what? Aren’t we still willfully sacrificing many more thousands of lives a year to this other inherent aspect of “the automobile tragedy?”

And, finally, isn’t there a pretty serious connection between the exorbitant amount of time Americans spend sitting in cars and the growing epidemic of weight-gain in the society? Recent studies suggest that as many as 400,000 Americans die each year from the worsening imbalance between caloric intake and burn-off. Even if cars-first travel accounts for only ten percent of that problem, that would mean another 40,000 annual deaths are caused by the phenomenon Nader wants us to celebrate.

The fact of the matter, of course, is that not only do automobiles remain a supreme danger to life and limb in the United States, but, in the age of peak resources, they are simply an outdated pipe dream. This planet cannot for much longer sustain the daily use of hundreds of millions of 2-ton metal-and-plastic grocery fetchers, profitable monstrosities that spend 95 percent of their lives parked.

It is certainly true that individual cars have become somewhat safer to operate and breathe near. How much of that is due to the NHTSA and how much due to the simple globalization of the auto industry, which presses car makers to comply with more standards and offers buyers more choices, remains highly debatable. The answer is probably “some of each.”

But to call for any kind of celebration of matters automotive at this point in human history is simply unconscionable. Save the party for the day when we finally begin a serious public analysis of our dire and rapidly worsening transportation conundrum and the economic power structure driving us toward Carmageddon.