“Issues of Enormous Importance”

fatal crash For reasons I will explain in my forthcoming book, Courting Carmageddon: Capitalism and Transportation in the United States, manufacturing and selling automobiles is roughly as heedless of and harmful to public health as manufacturing and selling nicotine-delivery devices.  Car crashes alone have killed more than 2 million U.S. residents in the past half-century.

Of course, thanks to their physical size and complexity and their enormous infrastructural and convenience implications, cars are far more important to corporate capitalists than cigarettes ever were.  Hence, they are also far more off-the-table in terms of public debate and defense.

I say all this as background to news that Mazda is now asking the Supreme Court to shield it from liability for disregarding state-level vehicular safety laws that exceed the federal regulatory standards administered by the always half-hearted (and oxymoronically named) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In explaining its appearance as a friend of Mazda, the Alliance of Automobile Manfacturers explains:

“This case raises issues of enormous importance to auto manufacturers,” said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The fear, he said, is that federal regulations will be “superseded” by a patchwork of state laws on personal injury claims.

As Automotive News explains its own headline on this story, the enormously important issue is whether automotive manufacturers can continue to deploy “less-than-best” products.

Suggestion: Compare the institutional urgency of this issue against the claims about manufacturing standards and corporate concern made in car advertisements.

Slight gap there, no?

And is there any doubt what the eventual ruling will be in the age of Citizens United?

Note also:  It isn’t just car capitalists, of course:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, food producers and makers of children’s products have weighed in on Mazda’s side.

Museum Piece

Saturday, I linked to Nissan’s stunningly dishonest attempt to make buying a $33,000 coal-burning 2.75-ton metal, plastic, and lithium contraption for fetching groceries look like an act of concern for the planet and its endangered species.

That particular trick exploits the well-meaning but lazy and woefully under-informed.

Meanwhile, while watching a football game this weekend, I encountered this other car-pushing tactic.  If this society survives cars-first transportation, our grandchildren will one day guffaw in disbelief at the militant interlocking stupidities in this stinking propaganda turd:

This ad targets the completely and proudly uninformed.

Capitalist Roaders

beinjing jam

Under its state capitalist regime, China has certainly managed to capture a serious chunk of the world’s wealth.  Unfortunately for China and everybody else, thanks to the imperatives of the economic system its market-Stalinist overclass has adopted, it has also managed to build its way into the cars-first dead end.  Apparently, there has been a 9-day-long traffic jam in the Beijing suburbs this summer…

More Addict-Talk

Obummer’s first National Security Strategy is out.  Turds aplenty, including this one:

The United States has a window of opportunity to lead in the development of clean energy technology. If successful, the United States will lead in this new Industrial Revolution in clean energy that will be a major contributor to our economic prosperity. If we do not develop the policies that encourage the
private sector to seize the opportunity, the United States will fall behind and increasingly become an
importer of these new energy technologies.

We have already made the largest investment in clean energy in history, but there is much more to do to build on this foundation. We must continue to transform our energy economy, leveraging private capital to accelerate deployment of clean energy technologies that will cut greenhouse gas emissions,
improve energy efficiency, increase use of renewable and nuclear power, reduce the dependence of
vehicles on oil, and diversify energy sources and suppliers. We will invest in research and next-generation
technology, modernize the way we distribute electricity, and encourage the usage of transitional fuels,
while moving towards clean energy produced at home.

Someday, they’ll invent a magic pill that will cure our dependence. Until then, we promise we’ll keep waiting for that pill, while doing what we do. What pill will it be? From what will it be made? Well, whatever it is, it’ll be just great, we’re sure.

What’s this even doing in a document about military posture, you might ask? Well, of course, until that pill comes out, we may have to break into a few more houses…

Barackie and Georgie, Sitting in a Tree…

bushobama In his 2006 State of the Union speech, George W. Bush “admitted” that “America is addicted to oil.”

Today, Barack H. Obama, speaking in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion, concurred with the now-official diagnosis of what ails the nation:  “We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy.”

This, of course, is utter poppycock, at both ends.

The object of addiction is cars, not oil.  Automotive engines burn 71 percent of the petroleum used in the United States. And certainly at least another 10 percent of the country’s oil-use goes into manufacturing cars and car parts and facilitating related services, plus the making of asphalt for automotive roads.

So, remove the cars, and 80 percent of the oil demand disappears.

And — of course —  Bush and Obama also mis-identify the addicts.  Not only do the rich buy far more cars and use far more oil, but they are the primary beneficiaries of the corporate economy, which is intractably addicted to selling millions of new automobiles each and every year in the USA and elsewhere.

I’m tempted to say this strategic misdiagnosis is knowing.  Yet Bush is a famous moron and Obama seems to have spent his entire adult life figuring out how to fuse himself with corporate interests and capitalist dogmas, so perhaps not.

Either way, though:  Being told oil, rather than cars, is “our” problem is like having your internist tell you you have a bad cough, when you actually have lung cancer.  The longer we deny the facts, the lower our odds of decent survival.

As always, Obama is a very major obstacle here, not any kind of change-bringer.  Indeed, it’s noteworthy that Obama’s purported diagnosis of the problem is actually weaker and more dishonest than Bush’s.  Bush “admitted” that oil, all oil, was the issue.  Obama says it’s merely “foreign oil.”

This Guy is Smart?

By now, it’s been abundantly revealed why our current president admires Ronald Reagan: affection for fairy tales.

To wit, this amazing piece of Reaganesque wishfulness in President Obama’s 2010 Earth Day speech:

obama fairy tale

Think about it: roughly a century and a half ago, in the late 1850s, the Seneca Oil Company hired an unemployed train conductor named Edwin Drake to investigate the oil springs of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Around this time, oil was literally bubbling up from the ground — but nobody knew what to do with it. It had limited economic value and often all it did was ruin crops or pollute drinking water.

Now, people were starting to refine oil for use as a fuel. Collecting oil remained time consuming, though, and it was back-breaking, and it was costly; it wasn’t efficient, as workers harvested what they could find in the shallow ground — they’d literally scoop it up. But Edwin Drake had a plan. He purchased a steam engine, and he built a derrick, and he began to drill.

And months passed. And progress was slow. The team managed to drill into the bedrock just a few feet each day. And crowds gathered and they mocked Mr. Drake. They thought him and the other diggers were foolish. The well that they were digging even earned the nickname, “Drake’s Folly.” But Drake wouldn’t give up. And he had an advantage: total desperation. It had to work. And then one day, it finally did.

One morning, the team returned to the creek to see crude oil rising up from beneath the surface. And soon, Drake’s well was producing what was then an astonishing amount of oil — perhaps 10, 20 barrels every day. And then speculators followed and they built similar rigs as far as the eye could see. In the next decade, the area would produce tens of millions of barrels of oil. And as the industry grew, so did the ingenuity of those who sought to profit from it, as competitors developed new techniques to drill and transport oil to drive down costs and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Now, our history is filled with such stories — stories of daring talent, of dedication to an idea even when the odds are great, of the unshakeable belief that in America, all things are possible.

The childishness and/or dishonesty in this story is, as the kids say, epic.

Petroleum is petroleum. As James Howard Kunstler explains this elementary point:

Oil is an amazing substance. It stores a tremendous amount of energy per weight and volume. It is easy to transport. It stores easily at regular temperature in unpressurized metal tanks, and it can sit there indefinitely without degrading. You can pump it through a pipe, you can send it all over the world in ships, you can haul it around in trains, cars, and trucks. You can even fly it in tanker planes and refuel other airplanes in flight. It is flammable but has proven to be safe to handle with a modest amount of care….It can be refined by straightforward distillation into many grades of fuel…and innumerable useful products….It has been cheap and plentiful.

Petroleum exists in the Earth’s crust in finite amounts. Thanks largely to overclass-imposed cars-first transportation policies, half of the planet’s supply is now, a mere 150 years after Titusville, gone, having been churned and burned into energy, heat, plastics, chemicals, and various forms of pollution.

But, instead of telling the truth about our energy situation and attacking the root of the problem, the supposedly smart change-agent-in-chief would have us believe that desperation (a mighty interesting analogy/admission, no?) and American-ness are somehow going to work their magic and not just rescue the present order, but bring it a new dawn.

If this weren’t a grave threat to my child and yours, I’d laugh and say “Good luck with that.” As it is, though, Obama and the Democratic Party are huge obstacles to sanity and survival and the major social and technological changes on which they depend.

Mugyenyi and Engler on China’s Replication of Cars-First Policy

Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler, who are apparently writing the same book as me, have a highly valuable report on today’s Counterpunch.

traffic jam Apparently, China’s Stalinist-capitalist ruling class has quite consciously copied the American system/unchecked corporate capitalism’s somewhat more bumbling but still tightly logical pursuit of cars-first transportation as a pillar industry:

According to Mugyenyi and Engler:

The Chinese government understands, in the words of The Economist, that “the car industry more or less invented modern industrial capitalism.” Which is why, according to The Financial Times; “China’s car-centred model of development has been a mainstay of economic growth in recent years…the spin-off benefits from burgeoning car sales have been enormous. Each car requires several thousand parts, hundreds – if not thousands – of suppliers, roads, car parks, driving schools, petrol stations and other service industries.”

For the past 75 years the automobile has been the number one source of capitalist profit. An industry with a voracious and varied appetite, automakers are among the leading consumers of copper, aluminum, plastics, iron, lead, rubber, textiles, vinyl, computer chips and steel. 9 of the world’s 10 biggest corporations in 2007 were car and oil companies (Walmart, the largest, is highly dependent on the private automobile).

The Communist Party has worked vigorously for China to join this capitalist heaven. In 1994, the auto industry was named one of five “pillar industries” by the government. “The Chinese government wants to emulate America’s rise to industrial glory by making the car industry a pillar of economic growth,” noted The Economist.

So, it looks like the USA and China, through car-induced energy waste and oil war, are going to be the center stages on which the human race will either make it or break it in this pivotal century.  Killing cars-first is an absolute requirement, and hence a very high priority, for those of us living in the belly of these beasts.

Keep an eye out for Mugyenyi and Engler’s book, Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to Economic, Social and Environmental Decay, which Yves Engler says will be out in 2011.

My own book, Courting Carmageddon: Capitalism, Transportation, and the Approaching Collapse of the United States, should appear around the same time, from Monthly Review Press.