Speaking of Fraud…

clunkers

I recently mentioned how the nation’s car dealers are using the federal government’s new Car Allowance Rebate System, a.k.a. “C.A.R.S.,” a.k.a. “cash-for-guzzlers,” as the basis for bait-and-switch selling.

There could be no clearer proof of this flagrant criminality than the above photograph, which today’s online edition of The New York Times is running above a caption reading:

A car was displayed in a dumpster at a dealer in Springfield, Vt., as a promotion for the rebate program, which was said to have exhausted its funds within a week.

Now, that car in the dumpster is a 1990s Toyota Corolla. I can swear from long personal experience that a 1990s Toyota Corolla would take you around town at more than 30 MPG, and approach or exceed 40 MPG on the highway.

That means the car in the dumpster here is massively ineligible as a subsidized trade-in under C.A.R.S., which pays cash only to those trading in old cars getting lower than 18 combined MPG — or roughly 1/2 what that dumpstered Corolla gets. If you bring in a 1991 Corolla thinking you will be eligible for a $3,500 or $4,500 credit toward a new car, you are massively mis-informed.

Nonetheless, there it is, bigger than life, on that car lot, and probably also in its saturation advertising on local TV.

This shameless disinformation speaks triply to the runaway insanity of this market-totalitarian society. At this very late date, our system is:

1) Giving away free money for the purchase of still more iterations of the very commodity that is arguably the greatest single threat to continued human civilization.

2) Junking, not fixing and re-distributing, 1990s Toyota Corollas.

3) Doing less than zero to police the humongous, especially blatant marketing fraud being perpetrated by the nation’s car dealers vis-a-vis “cash-for-clunkers.” How many downward MPG car-swaps will be achieved, as the dealers lure and switch-sell owners of 1990s Corollas? That number, certainly, will not be zero…

Ah, the Mighty NHTSA…

mousedish The mouse that doesn’t even squeak, the Orwellian sop to Naderian special pleading, the organization that dares put “highway traffic” and “safety” not just together, but together in its very name…

So, let’s say the Congress wanted to find a way to give away some free money to help further bail out car capitalists by encouraging commoners to step up their anemic, Great Depression III automotive purchasing rates.  Which governmental agency would one expect the money to be managed by?  The Commerce Department, perhaps?

In reality, can you guess where the conduit lies for the federal government’s new Car Allowance Rebate System, a.k.a. “C.A.R.S.”, a.k.a. “cash-for-guzzlers” program?

Yep:  In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration!

This fact speaks volumes in several directions, not least as proof that the NHTSA, both by design and established practice, does nothing serious to make personal mobility safer in this market-totalitarian society.  It is a cover, a shield, a deflector for our massively deadly, dangerous, and irrational cars-first arrangement.  Hence, in a nation where 35,000-55,000 people die in car crashes each and every year, the NHTSA in the year 2009 has the time and staff to administer a complex program for passing out free money for even more cars!

Footnote:  If you watch any TV, you’ll have already noticed that, in local auto dealers’ aggressive come-on advertising, “cash-for-guzzlers” is most certainly not being explained in any substantial degree.  Judging from these ads, which (at least in my “market” of Portland, Oregon) are blatantly mis-labeling the program “cash-for-clunkers,” any reasonable person would conclude there are no requirements for obtaining money other than owning a clunker.

In reality, there are narrow rules based on vehicle age and gas-mileage ratings.

Hence, the actual main effect of the “cash-for-guzzlers reimbursement system” is to serve as a publicly-sponsored marketing platform for a new round of bait-and-switch selling on the nation’s car lots.  “Now that you’re here…”

Department of Cats and Bags

catbag Two items pertaining to the real nature of “the free market.”

Item 1: Existing Business Markets Depend on State Suppression of Basic Information

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel.

They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress.

On Tuesday, the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents. The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen provided a copy to The New York Times, which is publishing the documents on its Web site.

Item 2: Corporate Capitalists Know Private Enterprise is Often Inferior to Public Enterprise

A government-run public [medical insurance] plan would have “unfair advantage over private plans, eventually crowding out private plans from the marketplace,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Violence Inherent in the System

mva

In corporate capitalist America, cars-first transportation has always been unquestioned.  As a result, we have spent the largest part of the immense wealth that has flowed through our polarized, brutalized society in the last century building the vast automobile system with which we remain stuck.  It is by far the biggest, costliest public works project in human history — not even close.  It has always been devoted to serving its central purpose, too, which, contrary to long-running propaganda claims, has NOT been transportation, but rather maximum profit for business owners.

Yesterday, The New York Times published a story about new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  Take a look at the video embedded in this story.  It is heart-stopping, at several levels.

This extreme violence is what we have been trained to accept as not just normal, but “an emblem of the American spirit” and a confirmation that capitalism is the best of all possible social systems.

It won’t be long before we recognize, one way or another, how very insane we’ve been, ecological, socially, and, yes, economically…

The main IIHS finding, by the way, goes unreported by the NYT:

The death rate in 1-3-year-old minicars in multiple-vehicle crashes during 2007 was almost twice as high as the rate in very large cars.  The death rate per million 1-3-year-old minis in single-vehicle crashes during 2007 was 35 compared with 11 per million for very large cars. Even in midsize cars, the death rate in single-vehicle crashes was 17 percent lower than in minicars.

More Blood for Autos?

{Source: American Physical Society*}

Click on the graphic at left.  When you do, you’ll see one of the car capitalists’ dirty little open secrets:  If and when they do finally start to sell more fuel efficient cars, the rate of death on US highways is going to rise beyond its present clip of 40,000+ annual snuff-outs.

That’s because, as the figure shows, the car-makers have been using the increasing efficiency of modern engines to make heavier cars that get about the same MPG as prior generations of lighter cars.  So, there has already been some decent progress in making more fuel-efficient gas engines.  But the increase has gone almost entirely into making heavier, safer cars, rather than lighter, better-MPG, but substantially deadlier cars.  Vehicle mass, you see, is one of the main factors in the survivability of the frequent high-force collisions that inhere in autos-über alles transportation.

In the abstract, of course, some of the heightened danger that would come from making cars lighter and more MPG-efficient could be reduced by having everybody change to smaller, lighter cars all at once.  But that isn’t going to happen, because, since it would undoubtedly require strong governmental rules and actions,  it would do the one thing the car capitalists fear the most: legitimize autos-über alles as a central topic of popular democratic politics.  And, if that ever happens, people might start to ask what alternatives exist.  For the overlords of big business, that’s the slipperiest of slopes.  Hence, it’s verboten — a topic no responsible, serious “leader” can raise.

What we’re pretty clearly going to get instead is a “bailout” that compels whatever car corporations remain to start using engine efficiency gains for higher MPG results.  That will mean a swath of much smaller, lighter vehicles will be on the road, running alongside all the SUVs and heavier current vehicles.

Here’s my prediction:  When that change comes online, in the next 5 years or so, the annual death toll on US roads will eclipse 1979’s record of 51,103 killed.

[And note the similarity there in the background circumstances:  The worst years on record were the oil crisis years of the late 1970s and early 1980s…]

Change you can die for!

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* The American Physical Society’s new energy-efficiency report is well worth studying.