High-Tech Snake Oil?

If you pay attention to the news, you’ll have noticed the breaking scandal over anti-cholesterol medicines. One, Vytorin, turns out to be at least half fake. The other, Lipitor, has VERY deceptively employed “Dr.” Robert Jarvik, the Harvard Med School student who never completed his training, and is not a physician and cannot prescribe medicines, but invented the artificial heart.

Turns out “Dr.” Jarvik — who looks every inch like a marathon-running vegan — probably didn’t start taking the Lipitor he says in his ads that he’s been personally using thankfully “as a doctor, and a dad” until after he started shilling for the Pfizer corporation, Lipitor’s peddler.

This, of course, raises the obvious follow-up question about whether Jarvik has actually ingested the pills or merely flushed them down his heated, gold-plated crapper.

But whatever the details of these two huge, well-researched medi-frauds may prove be, the most important points are certain to go unmentioned. Among these are:

1) The human meaning of the fact that there was $4.8 billion spent on U.S. drug advertising last year. That sum is greater than the GDPs of each of the Earth’s 45 poorest countries. And $4.8 billion is only the ADVERTISING number, meaning it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As is known by those who take the trouble to comprehend what corporate marketing is and how it works, advertising is merely the endpoint of the marketing process. Before it comes targeting, marketing research, and “product management.” Those processes are much more expensive than even advertising, which, per minute, is by far the most lavishly-funded form of video and pictorial drama, Hollywood blockbusters included.

2) The amount of fraud and waste in the capitalist medical-industrial complex. This cholesterol fracas suggests the share of naked snake-oiling going on is far bigger than even most single-payer advocates have suggested. How affordable could we make single-payer if we also ended these criminal schemes?

3) The profound irrationality of the corporate capitalist health destruction/care process. The amounts big business investors spend on drug marketing are beyond dwarfed by the megabucks they allocate to selling fast food, junk food, television-watching, and automobile-owning/driving. It’s the perfect racket: With one hand, you create the epidemic dangers; with the other, you profitably throw (often fake) pills at the symptoms. It is what Joseph Schumpeter famously called “creative destruction” — but the entity involved in the process is none other than the supposedly (and actually) sacred human life/body. Can you say “blasphemy”?

Newsflash: Of Horses and Carts, and the Ordering Thereof in Our Post-Peak Oil Epoch

As James Howard Kunstler reports — and The New York Times and other major news marketers do not — General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner yesterday gingerly admitted that:

The demand for energy around the world is growing faster than supply.

Peak Oil, in other words, is now beginning to be publicly — albeit only in semi-insider fora such as the Detroit Motor Show — acknowledged as an existing reality by the highest planners in the auto-industrial complex.

Undoubtedly, this is part of a larger plan to begin incorporating the belated admission into corporate marketing and PR campaigns.

Given the genuinely radical and dangerous implications of Peak Oil for said industrial complex and the overall corporate capitalist system, you can bet your bottom dollar that extremely great care and generous funding are going to be devoted to this emerging spin game. Mishandling it (or waiting much longer to launch it) could lead to — horror of all horrors! — public comprehension of the elementary facts and the attending suicidal stupidity of trying to perpetuate the inherently wasteful and dangerous practice of using private cars as the main mode of daily personal transport. The bosses simply must get their story down and out before Joe and Jane Sixpack start to realize that the price of gas is not rising because of OPEC or even Exxon-Mobil, but because of the long-denied limits of Mother Earth.

Henceforth, all corporate (and, hence, also all corporate-political/Republican-Democratic/”bipartisan”) efforts will be devoted to stymieing, short-circuiting, and continually massaging such public awareness.

This is why I find the following additional recent comment by another high GM officer (I told you this is a planned managerial transition here) to be even more newsworthy than Mr. Wagoner’s (perfect name, no?) commencement of overclass admission of Peak Oil:

Senior GM executive and engineer Denny Mooney said: “We need a range of alternatives and ethanol is a step that will get us to the electric car.

Once we get to the electric car, we can then make truly big gains with the environment by improving how the electricity is generated,’ Mr Mooney, who returned to Detroit last year, said.

Now, this tells you precisely what you need to know:Once we get to the electric car” — then and only then — we can turn to talking about our basic energy situation.

In other words, the very urgently needed democratic discussion of the Earth’s finite energy supply will be permitted only after the reign of the automobile is reconfigured so as to make it a non-debatable, already-on-the-ground premise for such discussion. Spending on cars a gigantic share of whatever (certainly smaller and probably progressively declining) energy supplies we can muster from here on out, you see, will simply be dictated to us by our glorious “free market” “entrepreneurs.” Rest assured: Open choices on this ordering of priorities as between profits and the possibility of continuing to build decent, sustainable human societies can be neither permitted nor even hinted at. And, if the overclass gets its way, they will not.

None of this, of course, means that investors’ dictated arrangement will be practicable or sustainable. On the contrary, hindsight now suggests very strongly that the construction of automobiles-über-alles in America has always been a the prelude to a disaster.  From the vantage point of thermodyamics (a.k.a. the laws of physics), the hope for its permanent existence now reveals itself, despite the huge importance of this delusion to the powers-that-be, to have been a blatant pipe-dream.  As such, the longer we permit its thoroughly addicted primary beneficiaries to continue to impose it upon us, the smaller will grow our chances of snatching victory from the jaws of onrushing socio-ecological catastrophe.

And this insane insistence on cars-first is not just a conspiracy. It is built into corporate capitalism itself. The horseless carriage is the only horse our investing class can permit us to choose, barring their massively unlikely voluntary renunciation of the powers and privileges to which they are accustomed. In order to sustain the economic arrangements from which they draw their cash flows, the immense, but exquisitely profitable waste comes with the reign of cars is quite literally necessary. No other mode of transport could hope to replace its money-making magic, and the removal of the reign would cause intractable national and global Great Depressions. Hence, to the Richistanis who run the nation and the world, genuine economy, decency, and human survival can never be more that the cart behind their horseless carriage. That horseless contraption, itself a cart behind the rule of Money, is beyond stubborn.  Whether we ever start publicly seeing this or not, it is galloping us all straight over the abyss.

The Rock Touches the Hard Place

Last week, the great Jared Diamond, whose Pulitzer-winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, is the greatest thing since Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, published an op-ed in The New York Times. Titled “What’s Your Consumption Factor?”, the piece hits one of two very big political nails right on the head:

[W]hether we get there willingly or not, we [residents of the USA] shall soon have lower consumption rates, because our present rates are unsustainable.

Real sacrifice wouldn’t be required, however, because living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.

This is all very true, as far as it goes. But it only goes half-way.

What Diamond is basically saying is that, if we were to use our democracy to end the criminally insane and egregiously outdated reign of the automobile over transportation (and life in general) in the US, we could have a higher quality of life and also finally get serious about genuinely helping the world’s other people live better.

The big problem, however, is the fact that our extremely well-entrenched economic overclass is quite literally and intractably addicted to perpetuating autos-ueber-alles in America. Without the auto-industrial complex’s trillion-plus-dollars-a-year “stimulation” of a huge array of business opportunities, corporate capitalism would quickly implode into an intractable economic depression.

Meanwhile, as Diamond argues, replacing our cars with world-class railroads and towns reconstructed around rails, bikes, and human feet is not only possible and desirable. Thanks to Peak Oil, it is, as Diamond almost says directly, simply the only imaginable way forward to a decent future.

And here’s exactly where Diamond’s rock meets the still-unmentionable hard place: Both because it is certain to be managed as an urgent, profits-NOT-first public project, and because it would put an end to the vast, self-renewing flows of capitalist-friendly economic waste (and investor profit) that inhere in our existing cars-first arrangement, ending autos-ueber-alles is simply verboten as a subject of public consideration. Modern railroads and cities that favor human-muscle-powered locomotion, you see, are exactly as bad for long-term profit-making as they are healthy and vital for the welfare of ordinary Earthlings.

Hence, until we commoners learn to see the light and put our collective foot down, our economic and political overlords will continue to shove the issue of decent survival raised by Diamond down the “un-American” hole. The reason is simple and classic:

“Après moi, le déluge!” [“After me, the flood!”] is the watchword of every capitalist and every capitalist nation. Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society. To outcries about physical and mental degradation, premature death, the torture of overwork, it answers: “Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?”

Hence, if we are to do what Jared Diamond rightly says we must, we will have to conduct one hell of a fight just to get the human future onto the public agenda. History’s richest (and, thanks to the “market” structure of capitalism itself, most deniable) ruling class, armed as it is with history’s greatest mass-sedative (TV), is simply not going to permit the choice Diamond highlights to reach the public mind.

It will only do so through our own conscious and militant insistence upon it. Of necessity, a big part of this consciousness will have to be (hold onto your hats!) class consciousness. If we don’t begin to acknowledge, emphasize, publicize, and combat corporate capitalism’s addiction to selling cars, the jaws of historic defeat will finish snapping closed.

This coming struggle is not just a fight for the world’s children and grandchildren, it is, as Diamond says, a literally necessary one. Hence, as somebody on a crashing airplane once famously said, “Let’s roll!”

Magnificence! (Where have you gone, Joe Strummer-io?)

The late great Joe Strummer once satirized the depth and humanity of the choices one enjoys if one resides in one of corporate capitalism’s core selling zones:

“A car in the fridge or a fridge in the car?”

prophet of good newsWell, thanks to corporate marketers’ relentless efforts to discover and satisfy our deepest needs, the wondrous breakthroughs, of course, never cease, despite Joe’s death in 2002.

Et voila, here is the newest wonder-fridge:

The $2,249 refrigerator that is “cool inside and out” because it allows you to avoid the headache and clutter of using magnets to hang pictures on its doors!

No, I ask you: Who among us would not fight and die to preserve our way of life, which now (O, Miracle of Miracles!) allows our radically undertaxed, self-absorbed, yuppified overclass to have electronic photo frames and mp3 players on their fridge doors, and also so that the Whirlpool corporation can keep marking up (rather than down) the price of one of modernity’s most technologically settled and established basic products?