Ah, the 120-Year-Old Question

thinking skeleton image

The New York Times today reports that urban officials around the nation are spending time rethinking transportation, now that SARS-CoV2 has hinted at what a wasteful clusterfuck cars-first transportation really is.

Here is what Randy Clarke, “president of Capital Metro, the Austin [Texas] public transportation system,” tells the Times he’s pondering these days:

“How do we make a system that’s more equitable and sustainable, and give people more options besides cars?”

That, of course, was the pertinent question roundabout 1902, when, a year-and-a-half before chartering the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford was gushing to his brother-in-law that “there is a barrel of money in this business.”

Or, somewhat more generously, in 1917 or 1918, during U.S. involvement in World War I, when automotive road construction had not yet triumphed as the master plan for our spaces and places.

Unfortunately though for Randy Clarke and his peers, by this point, no technocratic answer to this always-epochal (and still-never-democratically-asked) question exists. We have long since built our entire, continent-spanning society in such a way as to compel maximum automobile use. The facts now are very much on the ground.

If we are ever going to undo this still-heavily-sponsored (read: business-dictated) mistake, it is going to take a gigantic, aggressive, and clear-eyed Green New Deal. Nothing else stands a chance of making a meaningful difference.

Notes for Ocasio

rosie riveter image It is a crying shame that our recently-sanctified Constitution here in the USA makes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because of her youth, ineligible to be President.  Of course, this same foundational law also enshrines the over-representation of small states and sometimes puts election losers into the world’s most powerful office, so we have larger structural problems. There’s also the problem of the overwhelming dominance of commercial forces in what passes for civil society.

Nonetheless, the pursuit of a Green New Deal strikes DbC as perhaps the best new thing to arrive in American political life since the 1960s.

At this point, the core document in this new endeavor is this proposed Congressional Resolution.

To her credit, AOC includes transportation as a major element of the proposed GND.

There are, however, several aspects of the pertinent language that could benefit from further thought.

Here is the transportation passage in question:

The ‘‘Green New Deal mobilization’’…will require the following goals and projects….(H) overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in—

(i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing;

(ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and

(iii) high-speed rail.

FWIW, here are DbC‘s friendly criticisms:

1. “Transportation” in the United States means automobiles, which are the technology around which our corporate capitalist overclass has long (and extremely successfully) pushed us to build our whole society. Our main transportation problem is the reign of the automobile, the long-standing elite insistence on cars-first transportation policy and practice. Any imaginably adequate effort to address this reality must start by directly stating its existence.

2. The nation’s automotive fleet is now our #1 domestic GHG pollution source, having recently surpassed the electricity generation industry for that dishonor. As such, it belongs at the top of the list of reforms. This should be Item A, not Item H, on the GND project agenda.

3. There is no such thing as a zero-emission automobile. Not even close. “Electric” cars run mostly on coal, nuclear, and natural gas, and building a solar-and-wind-only grid capable of powering 250 million automobiles is almost surely impossible, and itself not a zero-emission undertaking. And this addresses neither the question of how “electric” vehicles are to be manufactured, nor their current status as haloware enabling exploding SUV sales.

4. Public transit and rail are extremely important aspects of any imaginably adequate reform of “transportation” in the United States; yet if they are pursued as mere add-ons to existing cars-first infrastructure and residential spreads, they will end up being mere palliatives, at best.

5. Any imaginably adequate reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions will require an end to cars-first transportation policy and practice here.

6. Ending cars-first transportation in the United States will require radical reconstruction of the entirety of our geo-social infrastructure, including big changes in the form and geographic distribution of our housing stock.

7. It will require way more than ten years to accomplish this necessary project.

8. It would be wise to start mentioning the Second World War along with the New Deal, since sufficient reconstruction will require that level of mobilization and that much public management of economic power.

9. You might also start mentioning Reconstruction I, since this proposed aspect of Reconstruction II offers immense promise for repairing the gigantic crimes inherent in the abandonment of Reconstruction I.

Don Quixote Triumphs Again

quixote and sancho panza Ah, McKibben…

One of the reasons democracy is so crucial is that, contrary to the beliefs of the US founders, it itself is a major check-and-balance.

350.org, you see, is not a democratic organization. It is a property of Bill McKibben and his donors and his carefully selected fans (whom I am tempted to call enablers).

Praising himself for going on “a gruelling tour,” our Man of La Middlebury now claims that “divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts.”

The series of specious claims about pertinent facts in this declaration is stunning.

So is the claim that fossil fuel divestment is a “major action” against the forces driving the planet to catastrophic climate change.

That, of course, is an extremely debatable hypothesis, not a clear fact.

The major counter-argument is that fossil-fuel divestment is a distraction and a detriment to effective movement against the core forces of destruction.

Are, as McKibben would have it, “the fossil fuel companies” really our main enemy, or are we up against something a great deal bigger, wider, and tougher than these important but perhaps secondary organizations?

Is trying to demonize “the fossil fuel companies” really a good way to raise the deeper issues that even McKibben admits need raising? Or is doing this actually a way of continuing to not talk about what really needs to be talked about, while also nurturing the dangerous fiction that we will somehow figure out how to run all our corporate capitalist stuff on wind and solar?

In a true grassroots social movement, all this would be openly discussed, decided, and reconsidered over time. In 350.org, however, we simply get what we are going to get, no debate, please and thank you.

Hmm…where have we heard that theme before?

Fake News

blind men touching elephant image The New York Times today features a front-page story suggesting that the oil industry is the main source of the Trump Administration’s suspension of pending rules requiring faster improvement of automotive fuel-economy standards. According to Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi, “it turns out that there was a hidden beneficiary of the plan that was pushing for the changes all along: the nation’s oil industry.”

This is rotten-appleism/liberal practicality/craven punch-pulling, mixed with patent hogwash.

Let’s start with the obvious unreality.

First, in Tabuchi’s telling, the oil industry was, at some time, a hidden opponent of rules reducing its own sales? ROFL. Pure balderdash.

It is also simply bad history to suggest that the idea of halting Obama’s CAFE rules originated with the petroleum corporations. The Trump Campaign was obviously planning such a move all along. And, contrary to Tabuchi’s claim that “[c]armakers, for their part, had sought more flexibility in meeting the original 2025 standards, not a categorical rollback,” the auto corporations have been every bit as early and eager as the oilmongers in their entirely welcome lobbying on this issue. They may have framed their wishes with a more careful eye to their public perception, but it is naive in the extreme to therefore make these dedicated devils look like angels in this string of pathetic events.

Which point brings us to the NYT‘s rotten-appleism: The oil industry is not the relevant villain in our shamefully under- and mis-discussed cars-and-energy crisis. The oil industry is huge and important and partially independent, but it is nonetheless a squarely subordinate part of the automotive-industrial complex, which is itself a deeply logical, probably indispensable component of corporate capitalism. To miss this institutional fact is to do damage to the possibility of its decent resolution, by passing off a mere symptom as the disease we need to cure.

As much as liberals and greens want it to be true, we aren’t going to sweet-talk or band-aid our way through our coming storms. Self-delusion will not cut the mustard.

Political Quiz

Q: When does the entire political establishment — both wings of the Business Party — ever achieve Congressional unanimity?

[Hint: Despite the disgusting near-misses on imperialism and illegal wars, it only happens on one topic.]

A: When public subsidies to cars-first transportation arise.

Consider the interesting exception represented by the 2005 passage, amid oil war and the onset of global warming, of SAFETEA-LU. The final Congressional vote there was 502 yea to 13 nay. The 13 nays were Republicans grandstanding their supposed opposition to public spending.

The point? There is zero coherent opposition to cars-first transportation in the United States, even at this extremely late date.

More Evidence of Public Concern

It has long been asserted, across the political spectrum, that the great American majority want cars, cars, and nothing but cars.

Among our social classes, that inflexible attitude is, in actuality, held only by the overclass, those “primary beneficiaries” (quoting business historian Alfred D. Chandler) of corporate capitalism, who are certainly very far from a majority of the U.S. population.

Despite a century of indoctrination by these vested interests, and notwithstanding the near total neglect of proper analysis and leadership from the would-be left, and notwithstanding the big swath of automotive insanity that admittedly exists within it, benighted car-lust is not held by the actual majority, meanwhile.

Evidence of this lack of ascribed unconcern abounds, if ones bothers to look for it. Here is one recent and imortant piece of actual thoughtfulness among the masses:

safety survey results

If McKibben Ruled

windmill-tilt He sees production of “millions and millions of electric cars and buses” as the road to a sustainable future. That this outrageous claim does not instantly disqualify him from his perch atop what passes for a green movement speaks volumes about the weakness and subjection of that tendency, as well as about the depth and power of automotive delusions in this most propagandized of nation-states.

Tellingly, Señor McKibben chose The New Republic magazine as the venue for announcing his proposed plan for perpetuating cars-first transportation. Yes, let us rally the Blue Dog Coalition in support of one of history’s three worst inventions!

Are They Stupid or Evil?

cliff-drive They know what’s happening, even as they insist we keep speeding for the cliff:

“Electric motors are good for acceleration and for the stop-and-go of urban duty cycles. Internal combustion engines are great for highway driving because gasoline is an incredibly dense power source,” he said. “What you’re seeing at this show is that automakers are combining the two, in a wide variety of ways, for the benefit of consumers.”

“The EV strategy is still alive and well,” he said. ”Fuel is a finite commodity” and prices “will go up again.”


The Limits of Debate

nero-fiddling As it kills the planet and renders American society ever more unprepared for the increasingly inhospitable future it is doing so much to worsen, that epic, world-historic boondoggle, cars-first transportation, remains utterly undiscussed and undebatable in our mainstream institutions. Witness the recent spat between Killary Klinton and Bernie Sanders:

“He voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry,” Clinton said.

No, I didn’t he insists, saying “In terms of the auto bailout, of course, that made sense.”

Nero had nothing on our leaders. Nothing whatsoever.