The Obvious (Forbidden) Answer

Yesterday, I ridiculed Obama’s ridiculous promise to waste $4 billion “helping” the mass-murdering automotive corporations.

If that’s such a bad idea, then what’s a better one?

Well, it sure ain’t rocket science:

For starters, moving toward better cars is already happening. Why in the world should the public have to pay for that, even at Obama’s pathetically paltry level?

What we need instead is to build ourselves modern intra- and inter-city railroads, and make all public transit free.

As to the money, nobody batted an eye about running the Iraq Invasion via deficit financing, and that criminality doesn’t come close to providing the macro-economic stimulus that building real railroads and funding free public transport would. Whatever deficits would be required up front would probably be gone within a few years, as a sea of good new jobs for workers added new paychecks and tax revenues.

Of course, none of this is going to happen, barring a massive democratic uprising. Corporate capitalism cannot survive without cars-first transportation in the USA. Hence, more roadkill is the only option that will be “on the table.”

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.

Why Won’t Ralph Nader Take on Capitalism?

Ralph Nader, for whom I proudly voted in both 1996 and 2000, has been trying to get people to protest Big Oil and Wall Street. Our problem, he would have us conclude, is the price, not the supply of oil.

I’m sorry, but that’s demagogic, misleading balderdash. The price of oil is but a symptom of the real problem, which is the intractable addiction of our corporate capitalist overclass to peddling automobiles. Corporate capitalism means autos-über-alles, which means we will remain chained to increasingly expensive petroleum, the supply of which has recently passed its peak.

It saddens me to see Nader failing to live up to what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times.  Just when we need his help in trying to open U.S. transportation policy to democratic scrutiny and control, he chooses instead to imply that, if we’d just picket a few bad apples, everything would return to the cheap-gas good old days.

Of course, this failure has deep roots in Nader’s work.  Take the case of Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that launched him to his well-deserved fame.

The book starts with Nader spotting a telling contradiction:

For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people….Unlike aviation, marine, or rail transportation, the highway system can inflict tremendous casualties and property damage without in the least affecting the viability of the system. Plane crashes, for example, jeopardize the attraction of flying for potential passengers and therefore strike at the heart of the air transport economy….The situation is different on the roads.

Something quite deep must keep cars from being scandalized, right?. After all, Nader observes, if one is objective about it, “[t]he automobile tragedy is one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body.”

And at the outset of Unsafe, Nader seems poised to name and explain that deep something:

A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology.

What could “the power of economic interests” be other than corporate capitalism?

Yet, despite these bold opening statements, Unsafe at Any Speed never came close to connecting the required dots. After his introduction, Nader proceeded to present 298 pages of very detailed evidence that car-making corporations most definitely do not put human safety first in designing and selling their products. But, despite his own seeming recognition of the need to do so, nowhere in Unsafe does Nader relate the scandalous engineering decisions he documents to the ordinary business motives and imperatives of corporate investors.  “Capitalism,” “class,” “investment,” “investors,” “profit,” “rich,” “wealthy” – none of these words appeared in the book’s index, and none were major conceptual elements of Nader’s renowned exposé.

Without a coherent explanation of corporate capitalism, however, Nader’s book, despite its shocking revelations, yielded a rather picayune understanding of both the depth of “the automobile tragedy” and the politics of its possible remedies.

Consider, for instance the way Nader finished this sentence:

“[T]he public has never been supplied the information nor offered the quality of competition to enable it to make effective demands through the marketplace and through government for…”

For…what? Nader did not call for a safe, non-polluting, and efficient transportation system. Instead, here’s all Nader put after that momentous “for”:

a safe, non-polluting and efficient automobile that can be produced economically.

Thus, the man who called autos-über-alles “one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body” ended up limiting himself to asking for better cars!

But could any conceivable autos-über-alles system ever really be “safe, non-polluting, and efficient”? Are better cars or cheaper gas really enough to solve our mounting problems? Can anybody really understand “why the automobile has remained the only transportation vehicle to escape being called to meaningful public account” and why “America is addicted to oil” without understanding the capitalist interests and imperatives involved? I think not.

Ralph, with all due respect, it’s high time to move your thinking into the twenty-first century. We