Captain Renault is Shocked

Turns out that the “loan” to Chrysler by the Zerobama Administration was indeed just another give-away to corporate shareholders:

Under an outline already approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Gonzalez Jan. 21, the remainder of the company will wind down, giving the U.S. no predicted recovery on its $5 billion loan under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The “free market” in action, folks.

Europe Exposed

gridlock Icelandic ash is presently exposing the extent to which Europeans have permitted their transportation arrangements to be stupidly built.  According to today’s New York Times, there are now about 28,000 daily airline flights in Europe.  This, in the land of walkable/bikable cities, world-class trains, and supposedly relaxed time attitudes?

According to the Times, the volcano’s grounding of these airplanes has meant that “millions of…travelers were left with no realistic options, caught in a web of misery that reached across the globe.”

Meanwhile, according to Transport Revolutions, by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, intercity electric rail is ten times more energy efficient than intercity air flight.  (See page 240.)

Add to this the fact that because (despite their far superior welfare states) Europeans remain subordinate to corporate capitalism, they have also been allowing their elites to push cars on them.  Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have even pursued their own versions of the monumentally corrupt and stupid “cash-for-clunkers” subsidy.

Conclusion?  Europe has its own need for radical reconstruction to achieve anything resembling sustainable transportation.

Physically Separated?

One logical effect of the corporate capitalists’ century-long cars-first transportation dictatorship in America has been the thorough intimidation of even its most ardent critics.  With that in mind, see if you can guess what the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition agrees to call the reality depicted in this photograph:

To quote the SFBC:

According to a press release issued today by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, “Responding to the growing interest in bicycle transportation, the city began installing its first physically separated bike lane on Market Street today.

“Physically separated”? From 3,000-pound rolling metal boxes?  Seriously, SFBC?  Looks like even the slightest, most feathery concessions can bowl you right over.

Meanwhile, the DoubleSpeak involved in U.S. transportation planning rolls merrily along, aided by even the would-be reformers.

Freedom Machines?

Car marketers (a.k.a. corporate capitalists) peddle their monumentally wasteful and dangerous products as indispensable bundles of joy and comfort.

Curious then, how the three happiest countries in the world rank in the motor vehicles per capita department:

Denmark: #1 in happiness, #28 in automobiles per person

Switzerland: #2 in happiness, #15 in automobiles per person

Austria: #3 in happiness, #10 in automobiles per person

And how does the USA, by far the world’s most car-intensive society rank in terms of human happiness?

We’re #23.

Biofuels as Propaganda

A year ago, Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson granted Business Week magazine an interview.  The BW reporter asked him about alternative fuels:

Tillerson told reporters in January that Exxon isn’t investing in existing alternative energy technology because “we think these technologies are old. If there is going to be a fundamental shift” away from fossil fuels, the technology “hasn’t been discovered.”

Tillerson allows that a shift from fossil fuels is coming, but not for decades. Exxon forecasts that oil and gas will continue to supply 60% of the world’s energy needs through 2030, and that a “game-changing” shift to alternatives will begin only after 2050.

Fancy, then, the “algae-based biofuels” television ad being run by Exxon-Mobil at present.

Rather a huge gap between what Exxon tells the business press and what it would have the general public believe, no?

This is more stark evidence that so-called “alternative fuels” are an intentional distraction, rather than a real answer.  To corporate planners in the auto-industrial complex, biodiesel and its cousins are not, as Exxon-Mobil would have us rubes believe it believes, a serious path to a better future.  They are merely a diversionary marketing trick promulgated to buy the overclass the chance to finish extracting as much wealth as possible from cars-first transportation, before it implodes. After that, the deluge, as always.

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the press plays its mis-reporting role in all this with fine and true fidelity.  Googling “Exxon algae” produces scores of headlines trumpeting Exxon-Mobil’s “major” investment of $600 million in algae biofuel research last year.  A real journalist would ask:  Was that investment serious, or merely a marketing device, a PR-supporting gimmick?

One simple way to answer that question would be to compare the scale of the ballyhooed algae “investment” against Exxon-Mobil’s basic finances.

Anybody doing so would see that $600 million is 1.3 percent of Exxon-Mobil’s 2008 book profits, or, more coservatively, a whopping 3.1 percent of its 2009 profits.

This is major investment?  Not quite.

By the way, it would also be hard to find a 30-second advertisement that packs in a higher quantum of brazen lies than this algae ad.  Take a look.  It’s quite Orwellian.

“Algae are beautiful.”  Irrelevant, and calculatedly so.

“We could runs our cars.”  Nobody disputes that diesel can be made from algae, but the relevant question is could we conceivably run the nation’s or the world’s existing auto fleet on algae fuel?  No fucking way, as CEO Tillerson knows and admits to his corporate peers.

“Not competing with the food supply.”  Sheer, massive, in-your-face falsity.  To make any dent in fueling automobiles, algae farms would have to devour enormous tracts of arable land.  Nobody eats algae. It isn’t corn or even sugar cane.  But, nonetheless, serious algae farming would take land and lots of it.

“Help solve the greenhouse problem.”  Again, sheer, defiant, Big Brotherian prevarication.  Exxon knows all too well that it would take enormous amounts of fossil fuels to build and run an algae biofuel farming and distilling infrastructure.   In fact, given biofuels’ terrible existing and potential EROEI rates, it is virtually certain that far more fossil fuels would be used in running cars on algae-derived diesel than would, in the absence of such a scheme, get burned by automobiles under existing arrangements.  All of which explains why Tillerson and Exxon do not, in fact, take algae or any other “alternative fuel” seriously, except as devices of salesmanship.

Cato Courts Mad Max

The Buffalo-Bill-in-a-K-Mart-suit at left is the eminent Randal O’Toole, a “senior policy scholar” specializing in transportation issues at the unintentionally hilarious Cato Institute.

Cato, you might know, is the “think tank” and lobbying group that says its mission “is to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace,” all while endorsing virtually every corporate capitalist scheme that comes down the pike, despite the blatant, active, intentional, and intractable incompatibility of actually existing capitalism with small government, free markets, individual liberty, and/or peace.

In any event, one such scheme that Cato insists is somehow a product of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace, rather than lavishly orchestrated Big Business insistence and coercion, is the United States’ cars-first transportation order.  Just ask Senior Scholar O’Toole, who states that “the automobile…is accessible to almost every family in the nation and provides unparalleled access to better housing, low-cost consumer goods, a choice-driven affordable life, and freedom.”

According to O’Toole, who earned his Senior Scholar in Transportation status at Cato by studying the highly relevant disciplines of forestry and economics, the main problem with our cars-first system is not its radically wasteful, patently unsustainable, war-encouraging energy requirements, but merely traffic congestion (itself allegedly caused by poor public policies rather than the mechanical and spatial logistics of cars-first travel).

The answer to that, our one and only transportation crisis, in the analysis of O’Toole?  Shift money away from public transportation projects and into “adaptive cruise control” and eventual perfection of the “completely automated vehicle.” Robot cars, in other words, will save the world.

Among other things, Cato apparently now pays O’Toole to travel the country and implant his melange of fantasies and lies into tea-baggers meeting at suburban country clubs.

If we survive capitalism’s implosion, our grandchildren will want to study this remarkable stuff as evidence of how utterly batshit crazy our society was driven by its ruling class’s self-flattering, reality-denying ideology.  It’s entirely as deluded as anything Nero or Montezuma or Louis XIV ever imagined, and far more dangerous, given the stakes involved, which are now planetary in scale.

Electric Cars and African Plunder: WWF’s Idea of “Green” Future

Mainstream environmentalism is very often as bad as the disease it thinks it’s busy curing.  Unwilling to risk their funding by attacking capitalism, the big green groups ignore as many hard facts and propose as many impossible solutions as worshipers of “markets” and technology.

Take the case of Opportunity Cost of the Tar Sands, the latest report from the British branch of the World Wildlife Fund, and apparently a basis for the forthcoming companion movie, Dirty Oil.

One of the major notions being peddled by the WWF and (one assumes) this movie:

The money that oil companies want to pump into tar sands [in Alberta, Canada] would cover the cost of the proposed Desertec Industrial Initiative, linking North African solar plants into a supergrid supplying 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050. Or it could fund a Europe-wide shift to electric vehicles.

“A Europe-wide shift to electric vehicles”?  You mean the ones that, to the extent they aren’t vaporware, cost $50,000, have a range of 40 miles, fry out existing electrical circuits, and promise to burn rapidly through the planet’s remaining supplies of key minerals and non-renewable energy sources?  The ones that would continue to facilitate the bat-shit crazy practice of using a 2,000-pound assemblage to accomplish virtually all daily commutes?  Electric or not, if that’s a sustainable  arrangement, I’ll eat this desk.  But, of course, to mention the massive unsustainability of cars-first transportation would be financial suicide for the WWF, wouldn’t it?

Meanwhile, using the North African desert to send electricity to Europe?  One might think a group devoted to ecology might be familiar with the severe limitations that the laws of physics impose on the transmission and storage of electricity, not to mention the substantial, unsolved EROEI questions involved in solar electricity generation.

But more disgusting, to me at least, than the sight of the WWF suppressing such issues is the mindless neo-imperialism of its advocacy of the unconscionable Desertec land-grab.  As Noam Chomsky recently remarked, given the history between Europe and Africa, one might imagine future resource flows running in the opposite direction to the familiar one breezily suggested by Desertec and the WWF.

Crash Deaths: Annual Mis-Reporting Comes Early

The Orwellianly-named National Highway Traffic Safety Administration usually releases its final count of the annual U.S. death toll from car crashes in early August, when the fewest possible people are paying attention to the news.

This year, they are making a big deal out of their preliminary estimate of the 2009 fatality count.  That’s because car-crash deaths last year fell to their lowest level since 1954.  “This is exciting news!”, gushed US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

So, quiz question, folks:  How many U.S. residents died in such a wonderful, exciting year for automotive collisions last year?  33,963.  That’s 2,830 a month.  That’s 653 a week.  That’s 93 a day.  That’s more than 11 times as many people as died in the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks.

But, it’s “exciting news,” rather than an unforgettable and unforgivable atrocity times eleven.

Why is that?  If all people are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, including the right not to be wantonly killed, then why is the disparity in our consciousness about the forces of evil so huge?  What kind of a society treats 40,000 deaths a year from its main means of everyday mobility as “exciting news”?  What kind of media parrots that remarkable interpretation?  Why, for that matter, is Consumer Reports among those media?

Runaway Cars!: How to Make Sense of the Story

What may be the latest industry-wide/technologically-inherent safety cover-up in the auto industry is being pinned exclusively on Toyota by the powers-that-be.  Having just bailed out General Motors and Chrysler, U.S. overclass political and media entrepreneurs are almost certainly trying to add a bit of Japan-bashing to their efforts to revive a dying and massively dangerous capitalist pipe-dream.

The scandal in question, of course, is random runaway acceleration in new-make automobiles.

There are two possible explanations for why Toyota is taking the heat:

1. “This is Toyota’s Firestone”:   Toyota either made a mistake, or its manufacturing standards are worse than its peers’ standards;

or

2. This is bigger and deeper than Toyota:  Toyota is the leader in moving toward hybrid and all-electric cars, in which very large on-board batteries provide some or all of the vehicle’s engine power, and there’s an unacknowledged flaw in schemes to electrify cars.

Beginning at BMW in the late 1980s, more and more cars have incorporated Electronic Throttle Control (ETC), or “drive-by-wire.”  With ETC, the commands transmitted to the engine throttle from the gas pedal are no longer mechanical cables, but electronic signals from a computer that arrive via a data “wire.”  Hence, “drive-by-wire.”

Beginning about a decade ago, sensing the onset of peak oil, the car corporations started getting serious about making hybrid and all-electric cars.  Toyota was and still is far out in front of this movement.

So, is ETC an inherently dangerous technology?

And is the flaw in ETC being compounded by the move toward hybrids and all-electrics?  The potential problem here is that the huge batteries in hybrid and all-electric cars emit some serious electro-magnetic intereference fields.  Are these fields prone to disturbing the “drive-by-wire” commands flowing between the new cars’ gas-pedal and engine-throttle computers, thereby compounding the flaws inherent in ETC?

There are three ways to test this hypothesis:

1. Is there evidence of an ETC (as opposed to mere mechanical issues with pedals or floor mats) problem in known runaway-car incidents?

2. Are hybrids more prone to runaway acceleration than all-petro cars?

3. Is Toyota the only maker that has runaway-car problems?

On the first question, here is a good summary of what’s known.

Especially telling, in my humble opinion, is this summary’s report that there may be a cover-up of this issue being managed by the Orwellianly-named National Highway Safety Traffic Administration:

An electronic cause [of runaway acceleration] is championed by Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Nader-inspired Center for Auto Safety, who dispatched a Freedom of Information Act request to NHTSA in search of documents on its investigation. Examining that data, he said it appears that the agency’s work amounts to less than the thorough investigation cited by the official.

On the second question, another expert blogger reports:

Meantime, another federal official close to safety regulators says NHTSA is investigating whether electromagnetic interference (EMI) could be causing glitches with vehicle speed controls in all cars and trucks, including Toyota products.   A Wayne State University engineering professor who consults with the industry believes cell phone signals, radar pulses, and other ambient electrical static, could be causing the problem.   USA Today reports a British expert on EMI believes the pulses are a “likely cause” of some of Toyota’s acceleration problems.   It is the basis of two class action lawsuits against the automaker.

Toyota dismisses the allegations, saying late Tuesday: “After many years of exhaustive testing — by us and other outside agencies — we have found no evidence of a problem with our electronic throttle control system that could have caused unwanted acceleration. Our vehicles go through extensive electromagnetic radiation testing dynamically.”   Engineers have studied this since the 1970’s but have never conclusively linked the issue to a specific problem.

Nevertheless, a guy who knows a little about computers, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, says his Prius is having runaway acceleration problems.

As to the third question, Toyota is not the only maker with runaway issues.

Even more telling, again to my own eye, is this:

Feds ponder brake overrides on all cars to stop runaway acceleration

So, the jury is still out on all this.  But it is hardly clear that the official story — the inexplicable return of shoddy Japanese manufacturing — is the proper verdict.

Meanwhile, there is a whole other sense in which the phrase “runaway cars” is exactly the right story we need to track.  Can humanity survive this make-or-break century without ending our insane reliance on automobiles for everyday movement?  Stay tuned…