The New Party Line on Cars

carload Keith Crain is the publisher and editor of Automotive News. In his latest editorial, he enunciates the new capitalist party line about the pivotal issue of transportation choice.

Crain begins with what appears to be some refreshing honesty:

For starters, there is the energy crisis. In truth, there has been an energy crisis since the early 1970s, only someone finally noticed. In the United States, those who could have helped end the crisis with an intelligent energy policy stuck their heads in the sand and hoped the thing would blow over. It didn’t.

Crain, of course, neglects to mention that nobody has shoved heads down into siliconic powder harder than capitalists in general and automotive capitalists in particular.

According to Crain, all that has now ended:

When Congress finally discovered the problem, it swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. So today the world is scrambling for new ideas and products that will help reduce the use of gasoline and open up opportunities for other forms of transportation.

Everyone knows about the Toyota Prius, now in its third iteration. It was the first successful gasoline-electric hybrid. It owns that market. But there are lots of hybrids on the market, and there will be plenty more.

This is where the crucial trick of the new orthodoxy occurs: After quickly mentioning “opportunities for other forms of transportation,” Crain returns to the business class’s century-old claim that micro-choices between car models is all anybody could ever want or need:

General Motors Co.’s long-heralded Chevy Volt will be introduced to the public next year. It is an electrically driven car with a gasoline engine that generates electricity for the car’s drive motor, not unlike the Electro-Motive trains GM manufactured for decades.

Plenty of new companies are popping up. Fisker will start production of a luxury plug-in hybrid in Finland next year. The car has enough design appeal that it turns heads wherever it is tested. Fisker has received a half-billion dollars in federal funds, most of which will be used for development of a second plug-in hybrid that will be built in the United States.

More minicars are on the way. The Smart, developed by Mercedes, will be joined by the Fiat 500 in the United States. And you can rest assured that the Asians will be right behind with similar vehicles.

We’re bound to see some electric vehicles and hybrids that use diesel engines for even better fuel economy. And it won’t be long before we see two- and three-cylinder engines being used for vehicles and charging systems.

It’s an exciting time for the engineers who are developing all sorts of new engines and vehicles.

It will be even more exciting for consumers. They have never had so many choices.

What Crain neglects to mention here is the extreme danger of his own intended purpose, which is to restrict public discussion of our continuing lack of serious transportation macro-choices.  Sure, if you can spend $40,000, you might soon be able to choose a Chevy Volt.  But, especially in most American cities, when will walking, cycling, and rails gain anything like equal infrastructural footing with automotive support systems?

They won’t, barring a social movement to reform the society.  That’s because the world’s corporate overlords are deeply and systematically hostile to anything that would spoil their ability to continue selling automobiles at something like present volumes. So, particularly here in the world’s largest car market, nothing could be farther off the official agenda than providing “opportunities for other forms of transportation” to genuinely compete with cars-first transportation arrangements.

If we hope to save ourselves from impending ecotastrophe, we must resist the heavily sponsored, increasingly strident tricks of the car peddlers. Towns and cities built to favor walking and bicycling over energy-wasting machines are the only possible basis for a sustainable, progressive global civilization. Cars, due to their extreme inherent energy demands, can only be a minor part of the human future. Anybody who suggests otherwise is an enemy of your children.

The Shove That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Yesterday, The New York Times once again proved Alexander Cockburn’s thesis that the role of the mass media in the United States is to make non-sense out of what would otherwise be obvious.  In a front-page thought-piece titled “American Energy Policy, Asleep at the Spigot,” the Times‘ reporter Nelson D. Schwartz did his level best to render reality unfathomable.

The first confusion came in Schwartz’ title, which insists that we are facing problems of “energy policy,” rather than “transportation policy.”  This, despite the fact that Schwartz himself reports that “the problem is … parked in our driveways” and that “[n]early 70 percent of the 21 million barrels of oil the United States consumes every day goes for transportation, with the bulk of that burned by individual drivers.”

This mis-titling is more confirmation of my claim that our overclass’s addiction to car-peddling remains literally unmentionable in mainstream public circles.

And Schwartz’ attempts to make sense of why “the problem is parked in our driveways” are likewise conventional, which is to say utterly baseless and diversionary.

Schwartz reviews the history of legislative inaction on the long-predicted arrival of serious automotive energy-supply trouble. But why did that inaction happen? What forces keep the babysitters known as Congress from dealing with the mounting costs and dangers of our cars-first transportation arrangement?

Instead of seeking real answers, Schwartz dutifully reels off the usual propaganda line that it’s all a matter of unchangeable co-equally shared national culture: Our driveways are car-filled, Schwartz says, because of “America’s love affair with the automobile.” This “love affair,” he assures us, reflects “Americans’ famous propensity for voracious consumption.” See? It’s just all of “us,” doing what “we” do.

Undoubtedly to meet contemporary standards of mainstream reportorial “balance,” Schwartz even quotes the arch-reactionary pseudo-intellectual and former Congressman Newt Gingrich, who, in reply to those who would dare propose the even the meager palliative of raising automotive miles-per-gallon standards insists that because “[o]ur culture favors driving long distances in powerful vehicles and the car as a social expression,” the idea is too outlandish to even consider.

Of course, neither Schwartz nor Gingrich presents a single scrap of evidence to support their familiar mega-assertions. They don’t have to, because the “love affair” propaganda in which they trade has the neat (and intended) effect of erasing capitalists from the picture. Hence, it is sacrosanct, and treated as true upon mere assertion.

The reality, of course, is that no other product is as important as the motor-car to the continued existence of corporate capitalism. Both in itself and through all the allied facilities, products, and services its dominance over daily mobility in the USA implies, the private automobile is exquisitely profitable and irreplaceable to the owning class. No other good promises such a bonanza of renewable, intensive, business-boosting waste/money-spending.

In fact, without the ability to continue to sell millions of new cars and fuel and service more millions of old ones, our corporate overclass would be in very deep trouble. Switching to streetcars and bikes and walkable towns would kill the Golden Goose. Hence, they simply will continue their apocalyptic automotive “shove affair,” and continue to brook no questions about it.

In the process, “all the news that’s fit to print” will also continue to suppress the most elementary facts we need to know, if we are to rescue ourselves from onrushing Carmageddon.