History’s Most Dangerous Machine Marches On

tv-monster Michael Moore is getting tired of waiting for people to do something.  And it is objectively amazing what Obama has been able to get away with in terms of lying to and betraying his own supporters.

The main reason why?  Not very complicated:

MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) — Americans, a new Nielsen report indicated today, are watching more TV than ever, with the average viewer spending four hours and 49 minutes a day in front of the set.

This continues the general trend.

It is a profound triumph for market totalitarianism.  As our decrepit, wildly out-of-control overclass wrecks the world, suppresses the most basic information, and grants itself gargantuan bailouts, we “targets” continue to pursue our addiction to their main ideological and behavioral control device.  “Survivor” continues to trump human survival, no contest.

And this is all required by corporate capitalism’s normal existence, which presses its players to devote huge and increasing efforts to the big business marketing process, no matter the costs and dangers.

If we don’t soon recognize the pattern and start to withdraw from it, this will absolutely not end well, for anybody.  Endlessly expanded money-making is simply not a viable basis for continuing human civilization.

Why No Uprising?

potato Answer:

Viewing of video on television, Internet and mobile devices — the Three Screens — continues to increase and has hit record levels.  Nielsen’s fourth quarter A2/M2 Three Screen Report reports that the average American watches more than 151 hours of TV per month, an all-time high.  They are also watching several hours of video on other devices: those who watch it on the Internet consume another 3 hours of online video per month, and those who use mobile video watch nearly 4 hours per month on mobile phones and other devices.

This un-discussed deepening addiction, a cardinal aim, requirement, and symptom of core-country corporate capitalism/market totalitarianism, also explains why most Obama voters haven’t begun to realize how massively and completely baited-and-switched they’ve been.

Driven to…Cliffs

carflip Today, President Obama unveiled his plan to revive the U.S. auto industry, claiming that it is “like no other, an emblem of the American spirit.” 

In a collectively wealthy nation that’s home to 100 million people with tenuous or no access to medical care, the order of bailout priorities is revealing:  first money, then cars.

That, of course, is no accident.  Contrary to Obama’s assertion (and the long-running dogma behind it), it is our ruthlessly calculating corporate overclass, not the free-spirited American masses, that insists on cars.  If big investors were ever to permanently lose their ability to peddle sufficient millions of new cars each year, corporate capitalism itself would be in even deeper trouble than it already is.  That’s because, thanks to its inherent size, complexity, fragility, and amenability to marketing-managed stylistic fetishism, there’s simply very few other profit-generating products like the private automobile. It is the profit motive, not the national spirit, that is the prime mover of reality.

As the consequent push to resuscitate this cornerstone capitalist product unfolds, I thought it might be helpful to those of us who prefer life to money to review the some of the most basic undiscussed human costs of our cars-first transportation dictatorship:

► According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the year 2007, automotive collisions killed 41,059 people in the United States. That’s 112 a day; 790 a week; 3,422 a month. And 2007 was no anomaly. Quite the opposite: 41,059 is almost exactly the average annual death toll for the prior half-century, during which well over 2 million individuals perished in U.S. car crashes.

►In typical years, the number of people “severely or critically” injured, but not killed, in U.S. car crashes surpasses the number killed. In commonly used medical scales, “severe or critical” injuries as those that transcend “serious” ones. Injuries classified as “serious” but not “severe” or “critical” involve things like open leg fractures, amputated arms, and major nerve lacerations. To be ranked “severe” or “critical,” a non-fatal collision must involve a severed spinal cords or a head injury with an extended period of unconsciousness and lasting brain damage. In the words of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “For MAIS 4-5 (severe and critical) injuries, the predominant [monetary] costs [of the crash] are related to lifetime medical care.” Of course, as the authors of one study explain, “Persons injured in these crashes often suffer physical pain and emotional anguish that is beyond any economic recompense. The permanent disability of spinal cord damage, loss of mobility, loss of eyesight, and serious brain injury can profoundly limit a person’s life, and can result in dependence on others for routine physical care.”

►If the United States of America has a national smell, it is car exhaust, which is ubiquitous. And the smell is but the tip of the iceberg, of course. “Automobile emissions are the main cause of urban air pollution and contain thousands of chemicals, several of which are recognized as mutagenic or carcinogenic.” As a glance at the roadside after an urban snowstorm will confirm, as a by-product of both fuel combustion and the normal wear of tires and roadbeds, automobiles – especially those with diesel engines — also create large amounts of dangerous “particulate matter.” Breathing particulate matter, a.k.a. “PM” in the professional danger-counting trade, is most dangerous for children, the sick, and the elderly, and exposure to it is heaviest among the poor, who are disproportionately non-white, and who disproportionately live near major urban highways, where PM is heaviest.

►Because air-pollution damage to the human body accumulates over time and complicates complex multiple-cause diseases, the exact amount of suffering and death caused by automotive air pollution can presently only be guessed at. A recent special report in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that the overall annual airborne toxics death toll in the United States is somewhere between 22,000 and 52,000 a year. This would mean that, even if something like 20,000 deaths from air pollution is the best guess, and even if cars account for only a quarter of all U.S. air pollution exposure, then autos-über-alles is causing another 5,000 premature U.S. deaths each year. Since many medical researchers suspect that we may be radically under-estimating the damage done by air pollution, this figure may someday prove laughably low.

►Automotive air pollution also produces a range of non-lethal health costs. The San Jose Mercury-News, one of the few major U.S. newspapers to attend to the topic at all, reports these estimates air-pollution’s non-fatal impacts:

The death toll due to air pollution only begins to touch the vast magnitude of human suffering caused by breathing our dirty air — for every 75 deaths per year due to air pollution in the U.S., health scientists have estimated that there are 505 hospital admissions for asthma and other respiratory diseases, 3,500 respiratory emergency doctor visits, 180,000 asthma attacks, 930,000 restricted activity days, and 2,000,000 acute respiratory symptom days.

►The biggest health cost of autos-über-alles may be its discouragement of walking and bicycling. Studies confirm that the United States has by far the lowest percentage of miles traveled by foot or bike in the world. Meanwhile, the nation is experiencing a worsening obesity epidemic epidemic, with health consequences that now rival those of tobacco addiction. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, “poor diet and physical inactivity” now cause 400,000 deaths a year in the United States. Hence, even if car dependency explains only 10 percent of the food-exercise imbalance, that would mean there are another 40,000 American lives being sacrificed to the automobile every year.

►As our schools crumble and tens of millions of us go without health insurance, we Americans continue to spend well over a trillion dollars every single year buying, equipping, fixing, fueling, parking, insuring, and road-building for our cars. What kind of Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory transportation system would we now have, had we spent on railroads, bike paths, and pedestrians-first cities even half what we’ve instead spent on automobiles and auto-friendly spaces over the last century? How nice would our towns, schools, hospitals, and insurance programs be if we could stop squandering so many resources on autos-über-alles?

►According to the U.S. Census Bureau, regularly employed “Americans [now] spend more than 100 hours commuting to work each year…[and] this exceeds the two weeks of vacation time (80 hours) frequently taken by [year-round, full-time] workers over the course of a year. Traffic jams account for a fast-growing share of this commuting time. Between 1982 and 2003, the time commuters spent stuck on congested roads almost tripled, rising from 16 to 47 hours per driver, per year. Meanwhile, the “number of urban areas with more than 20 hours of annual delay per peak [rush-hour] traveler…has grown from only 5 in 1982 to 51 in 2003.”

And all this carnage and waste is but half the story. The question of how to project cars-first transportation much farther into the future of a heavily armed planet of competing nation-states with finite energy and atmosphere is, if anything, a problem more pressing than our automobile-imposed public health crisis.

Why Capitalists Love Cars

As I argue in the book I’m writing, contrary to long-prevailing indoctrination, it is capitalists, not commoners who are hopelessly in love with automobiles.

If you click either here or on the tentacled graphic at left, you will open a pdf file that shows you the material basis for corporate capitalists’ car addiction.

What a great racket!  Two of these commodity super-heaps for each household, sitting unused 90 percent of the time, and needing replacement (what machine of such Byzantine complexity wouldn’t?) every 7-to-10 years!  Cha-ching!

This diagram also shows why it’s the height of naiveté to entertain pipe-dreams about “green cars.”  That sponsored hope is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

[Source: Graeme P. Maxton and John Wormald, Time for a Model Change: Re-engineering the Global Automotive Industry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p.138.]

Capitalism’s Beverage & the Obesity Epidemic

The Los Angeles Times reports that Disneyland is retooling its boats-on-water rides because of the raging obesity epidemic in the United States, “to deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

small world no more...

People are simply getting too fat for the existing rides, including the now satirically named “It’s a Small World”:

“Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park, Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift — and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

“Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots, allowing for an extra-long gander at the Canadian Mounties and the Scandinavian geese, said Al Lutz, whose website MiceAge first reported the refurbishment plans.

“Disneyland is well aware of America’s expanding waistlines.

“In recent years, the park has redesigned many of its costumes and started stocking them in larger sizes to accommodate ever-expanding waistlines. Adult men and women are about 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960, and 65% are considered overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average weight for men jumped from 166 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002; women average 164 pounds instead of 140.

“Of course, this is a world of fantasy and the perfect place to forget about that diet for a few hours. So when somebody gets booted from the boat, Lutz said, Disneyland ride operators make sure the guests don’t leave disappointed: They hand them a food ticket.”

The primary cause of this epidemic (which is very closely and inversely correlated with individuals’ class position) is corporate capitalism.

As I explain in my book, as the system churns on, its normal operation compels all big businesses to extend and refine their marketing operations, which are neither more nor less than history’s most detailed and expensive behavioral-control campaigns.

As this generates an expanding marketing race, it increasingly commercializes and commodifies off-the-job life. Along the way, less capitalist-friendly practices and products give way to more capitalist ones.

One of corporate capitalism’s ultimate (and hence most important) products is soda pop: It preys upon human weaknesses for sugar and caffeine and sensory titillation. It is impossible to make at home or obtain for free. It is mildly addictive. It is highly packagable and marketable.

Along with the reign of the automobile (another of corporate capitalism’s core products), soda-pop is a chief cause of the horrifying obesity epidemic in the United States.

Soda pop has roughly 150 empty calories per 12-oz serving. In 1900, Americans drank the equivalent of 12 12-oz cans of soda per capita annually. In 1929, they drank 26 cans per person per year. 1949 = 158; 1957 = 200. In 2004? 535 cans of pop per person per year! Soda now far surpasses water as the #1 thing Americans drink. Between 1980 and 2005, its per capita ingestion in the United States increased every single year!

[An Aside: People in the mass media often puzzle over why French people are not as fat as Americans. Is it drinking wine? French mystique? A secret epidemic of French bulimia? Hell, no! It’s the cars and the soda pop, i.e. the unrestricted capitalism, stupid! The French have the Paris Metro and the TGVs and a forest of bikeable and walkable cities. And what was France’s 2004 per capita ingestion of soda pop? Just over 100 cans per person, about 1/5 of the U.S. rate. 400 cans of soda-pop, the number Americans drink over each year and above the French average, contain 60,000 calories. Q.E.D.]

As I like to say, the degree of control our ruling class has over us underlings would make Joseph Stalin purple with jealousy. We in America just simply live under market totalitarianism. Our habits are approaching complete commodification, with outcomes that deserve serious consideration by anybody wondering what kind of basis money makes for a purported civilization…