The New York Times today headlines an interpretive piece, the main claim of which is this:
Yet even as vital signs weaken — plunging home sales, a bleak job market and, on Friday, confirmation that the quarterly rate of economic growth had slowed, to 1.6 percent — a sense has taken hold that government policy makers cannot deliver meaningful intervention. That is because nearly any proposed curative could risk adding to the national debt — a political nonstarter.
Translation: The overclass, as always, prefers Great Depression to a pro-labor shift in the distribution of power. This society remains entirely capable of employing all its able-bodied workers and thereby ending the present economic cliffwalk. What it lacks is a left coherent enough to demand what the elite won’t mention.
There are two reasons to bother reading The New York Times.
First, it hosts and proudly (and entirely uncritically) displays major exhibits of overclass irrationalism. In an age of peaking resources and rapidly worsening imperial decrepitude, keeping track of what the elites are thinking is more important than ever.
Second, the NYT sometimes hosts and proudly displays actual journalism.
A bit of the latter happened yesterday, December 6, 2009, under the headline “Promoting the Car Phone, Despite Risks.” As reported by Matt Richtel, this valuable story details how the capitalist cellular phone industry has known from day one that its product is seriously deadly.
Now, we’re not talking here about speculation on the effect of cell phone radiation on the human body. No. We’re talking about the cell phone’s long-understood status as a direct and certain cause of the thousands of annual deaths that indisputably result from its use inside moving automobiles.
As Richtel reveals, those who planned to make profits from cell phones knew from the very beginning that what they wanted to sell was going to snuff out many thousands of individual lives:
Martin Cooper, who developed the first portable cellphone, recalled testifying before a Michigan state commission about the risks of talking on a phone while driving.
Common sense, said Mr. Cooper, a Motorola engineer, dictated that drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.
Commission members asked Mr. Cooper what could be done about risks posed by these early mobile phones.
“There should be a lock on the dial,” he said he had testified, “so that you couldn’t dial while driving.”
It was the early 1960s.
Long before cellphones became common, industry pioneers were aware of the risks of multitasking behind the wheel. Their hunches have been validated by many scientific studies showing the dangers of talking while driving and, more recently, of texting.
And what do corporate executives do when their engineers express such concerns? Do they, as long alleged by a range of economists and social scientists, balance the needs of their prospective customers with those of their firms’ shareholders?
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.
I’m usually against Bush-bashing. Sure, he’s a utter boob, an unadulterated moron who was always patently unqualified to hold any public office, and, yes, pretty clearly (it’s a very stiff contest) the worst President in US history. But little W also isn’t nearly as far away from either other Presidents or the current toiletful of “major” Democrats (the Great Black Non-Hope definitely included) as many liberals tell themselves.
And yet, a story in today’s New York Times does raise an important point about Bush’s central role in the present housing disaster now punishing the upper part of the US working class, a social stratum that is, like the US working class in general, disproportionately non-white.
Remember Bush’s “Ownership Society” agenda? Mainly, it was his plan to privatize/kill Social Security, back when that insane idea could be safely released from the closet of “entrepreneurial” wishes, that storehouse of takebacks and rip-offs that all “major” candibots stand ever-ready to fling open yet again.
But the “Ownership Society,” launched in 2002, also included this now quite remarkable (and, hence, rarely mentioned) element:
Guess what, happy campers? The whole thing has now crashed onto the heads of the very people alleged to have been its intended beneficiaries:
WASHINGTON — Driven largely by the surge in foreclosures and an unsettled housing market, Americans are renting apartments and houses at the highest level since President Bush started a campaign to expand homeownership in 2002.
The percentage of households headed by homeowners, which soared to a record 69.1 percent in 2005, fell to 67.8 percent this year, the sharpest decline in 20 years, according to census data through the end of March. By extension, the percentage of households headed by renters increased to 32.2 percent, from 30.9 percent.
The figures, while seemingly modest, reflect a significant shift in national housing trends, housing analysts say, with the notable gains in homeownership achieved under Mr. Bush all but vanishing over the last two years. Many of the new renters, meanwhile, are struggling to get into decent apartments as vacancies decline, rents rise and other renters increasingly stay put.
If you have an honest understanding of what the “access to housing” issue really is, you see that all this was not just predictable, but pre-ordained. That’s because “access to housing” is not at all a technical issue. It is about something simpler than pie: c-l-a-s-s, a.k.a. “access to money.” Those with stable, well-paying jobs enjoy lovely houses. Those with unstable, poor-paying, or no jobs are stuck in dumps, or in the streets.
Of course, just as the Civil Rights movement finished taking away their ability to trade openly in the older, plainer versions of racism and Social Darwinism, our overclass, scared to the bone by Martin Luther King’s growing efforts to raise the issue of social class in America, quickly turned to assholes like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who did his job by building new, supposedly more intellectual ways to blame the victims and excuse the masters. Moynihan’s legacy in this vital endeavor? The notion that it’s culture/attitudes, rather than jobs/cash, that leads people into poverty and attendant difficulties like bad “access to housing.”
According to Alexander Cockburn, here’s how Moynihan summarized this now quasi-official claim to Carl Ginsberg:
Bush’s “Ownership Society” was an ideological ruse squarely founded on this preposterous bi-partisan “culture of poverty” garbage. Instead of changing “access to money,” it proceeded instead by (in the words of today’s New York Times story) “encouraging lenders to finance more home purchases.”
Say, “ownership” fans, how’d that one turn out?
To the extent it was more than a straight hand-out to the housing-industrial complex, this vicious foolishness was founded not just on market fetsihism, but also on the Moynihanian belief that home ownership itself, even when financially suicidal, would do what “the market” cannot, will not, and (if the truth be told) is designed not to do: help those who need help, create decency and equality for all.
The inevitable results: A huge transfer of money from those now more-burdened-than-ever commoners presently being foreclosed upon into the hands of construction contractors and apparently criminal “mortgage lenders.”
Ownership society? Well, some folks did indeed get owned: the usual ones, in the usual way.
“LeftI on the News” nails the latest reports, per The New York Times, that the “major” Democratic Party candidates are now “seeing the progress” in Iraq. Check out their post here.
As I wrote in a comment over there, the real story is best clarified via the late, great John Kenneth Galbraith’s under-appreciated book, The Culture of Contentment, in which Galbraith explains the actual roles and methods of the two wings (Republicans and Democrats) of the Business Party that runs our state on behalf of corporate capital. As Galbraith argues, the Republicans are actually a far superior political party, judged in terms of honesty about stated goals and actual behavior.
Here’s what I wrote over at LeftI, with Galbraith in mind:
Excellent analysis [of the “seeing progress” news]! And it confirms something that the sea of confused liberals (for whom I have much sympathy) have spent 6 years missing: Our system works very well at achieving its clear #1 priority, which is serving the corporate overclass. Analyzed correctly, Cheney is one of history’s best politicians, a true hero for his constituents. He got elected behind the “compassionate conservative” Monkey-Man and then quickly proceeded to do what it took to stick a permanent U.S. military base in the ME, with (at least possibly) a new sweetheart deal providing special control over the largest untapped oil reserve in the region.
And, truth be told, the Democratic Party, having finished jettisoning popular constituencies under Killiam Klinton back in the 1990s, accepts and will preserve this huge victory for the corporate class, from which it draws its advertising budget in exchange for preserving the illusion that corporate capitalism is at all compatible with civilization and human decency.
Of course, Peak Oil and the final round of poker in our winners-took-all pseudo-economy may soon cause the Money Holders some grief in other ways, but Cheney has simply delivered the goods, and the mighty Dems are now ready to step in and drape it all in a show of reluctance and embattled principles…
The role of the “New Democrats” is, as it always has been, now (after the new increase in overclass power) to run a new kind of political marketing over the top of the new corporate victories. “We would love to leave Iraq completely, but how can we, since they continue to kill one another? We must uphold our humanitarian values!” Nobody seriously believes either Monkey-Man or Cheney knows what a non-financial value is, let alone cares.
But Killary Klinton has just the right credentials to sell this soap for 4 or 8 years. Plus, she’s a girl, and we all know girls are born to care!
P.S. Note how Killary packages herself as a tough-ass Tomgirl — the boy’s dress-shirt, the lezzish hairdo! — when she visits the troops. This is only natural since both she and her “husband” Killiam are 100% given to the methods and principles of modern marketing, as handled by the “consultants” they have at elbow 24/7.
If you listen, you’ll be able to hear dear Killary’s “hearty laugh” as she reaps your vote next November.