T324: Transforming Transportation

In the 1940's FDR ordered GM to begin making tanks, jeeps, etc. for the war effort. It is that time again. No bailout, just a contract to provide electrical transport, high speed trains, trolleys for the new century. The bill to be covered by Big Oil, whose partnership in crime with Big Automobile and possibly Big Insurance, killed mass transit in this country and kept the business insoluble by refusing to respond to market demands more than thirty years.

This is my take on the following articles in today’s news, blogs and opinion pieces.

New York Times Op-Ed: Have you driven a bus or a train lately? By Robert Goodman
The federal government is giving General Motors, Ford and Chrysler $25 billion in low-interest loans, and the companies are asking for up to $25 billion more. These same companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against federal fuel-economy standards and are suing to overturn the emissions standards imposed by California and other states.

[snip] As transportmakers, the companies could produce vehicles for high-speed train and bus systems that would improve our travel options, reduce global warming, conserve energy, minimize accidents and generally improve the way we live.
This better way forward has been kicking around Washington for more than 35 years. In a prescient 1972 article in The Atlantic, Stewart Udall, an interior secretary under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, warned of America’s excessive dependence on cars and called for this approach.

[snip . . .] Mr. Udall recognized that the country could not afford the economic consequences of losing all of the automobile industry’s jobs and profits. He proposed that the auto companies branch out into “exciting new variants of ground transportation” to produce minibuses, “people movers,” urban mass transit and high-speed intercity trains. Instead of expanding the Interstate highway system, he suggested that the road construction industry take on “huge new programs to construct mass transit systems.” And he called for building “more compact, sensitively planned communities” rather than continuing urban sprawl.

As we now know, warnings like these went unheeded, and Americans became ever more car-dependent. And now, the auto industry is asking for government money that promises, even with more fuel-efficient cars, to give us more of the same. Instead of supporting companies that want to put as many cars on the road as possible, we need a transformational strategy.

There are now two newly elected Udalls in Congress (New Mexico and Colorado) and I daydream that this sentiment is a familial thing.

I suspect that a good percentage of the American population is completely unaware of the monopoly that GM and Big Oil had on the transportation system of this country, before and after WWII. Of course, some of us were introduced to this via Who Framed Roger Rabbit. That movie introduced me to this national conspiracy in an animated way, and centered on Los Angeles mass transit. Rent it, you won’t regret it for a number of reasons. Wikipedia covers the conspiracy, yet says that is has been debunked. The publications by the CATO institute don’t convince me though. I’ll come back to that.

No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, cites the following excerpt from Harvey Wasserman. It provides the outline of this sabotage of America’s rail transport system.

In a 1922 memo that will live in infamy, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit aimed at dumping electrified mass transit in favor of gas-burning cars, trucks and buses.

Just one American family in 10 then owned an automobile. Instead, we loved our 44,000 miles of passenger rail routes managed by 1,200 companies employing 300,000 Americans who ran 15 billion annual trips generating an income of $1 billion. According to Snell, "virtually every city and town in America of more than 2,500 people had its own electric rail system."

But GM lost $65 million in 1921. So Sloan enlisted Standard Oil (now Exxon), Philips Petroleum, glass and rubber companies and an army of financiers and politicians to kill mass transit.

The campaigns varied, as did the economic and technical health of many of the systems themselves. Some now argue that buses would have transcended many of the rail lines anyway. More likely, they would have hybridized and complemented each other.

But with a varied arsenal of political and financial subterfuges, GM helped gut the core of America's train and trolley systems. It was the murder of our rail systems that made our "love affair" with the car a tragedy of necessity.

In 1949 a complex federal prosecution for related crimes resulted in an anti-trust fine against GM of a whopping $5000. For years thereafter GM continued to bury electric rail systems by "bustituting" gas-fired vehicles.

Then came the interstates. After driving his Allied forces into Berlin on Hitler's Autobahn, Dwight Eisenhower brought home a passion for America's biggest public works project. Some 40,000 miles of vital eco-systems were eventually paved under.
In habitat destruction, oil addiction, global warming, outright traffic deaths (some 40,000/year and more), ancillary ailments and wars for oil, the automobile embodies the worst ecological catastrophe in human history...

...So let's convert the company's infrastructure to churn out trolley cars, monorails, passenger trains, truly green buses.

FDR forced Detroit to manufacture the tanks, planes and guns that won World War 2 (try buying a 1944 Chevrolet!). Now let a reinvented GM make the "weapons" to win the climate war and energy independence.
It demands re-tooling and re-training. But GM's special role in history must now evolve into using its infrastructure to restore the mass transit system---and ecological balance---it has helped destroy.

The last piece to this current GM hoopla relates to the many dog whistles that will be sounded by the corporatist irritainment industry’s 24/7 drone. This drone is all about blaming labor for GM’s demise. As I said above, the CATO Institute’s “debunking the conspiracy” contained one such dog whistle.

Federal subsidies to transit advocacy groups and misguided environmental and labor regulations also encourage a large investment of taxpayer money in wasteful transit systems.

The emphasis is mine. This sounds like standard republican deregulation and labor busting framing. From Think Progress a scattering of these:

Congress and the Bush administration are currently considering whether to spend $25 billion to rescue Detroit automakers. The proposal has generally been met with stiff resistance from conservatives, who have increasingly been pinning all the blame for the crisis in Detroit on labor unions:

Sen. Jim DeMint: “Some auto manufacturers are struggling because of a bad business structure with high unionized labor costs and burdensome federal regulations. Taxpayers did not create these problems and they should not be forced to pay for them.”

Sen. Jon Kyl: “For years they’ve been sick. They have a bad business model. They have contracts negotiated with the United Auto Workers that impose huge costs. The average hourly cost per worker in this country is about $28.48. For these auto makers, it’s $73. And for the Japanese auto companies working here in the United States, it’s $48.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “You know, if you pay the auto workers or the benefits and all of those things, are maybe too high. … We have, like, in America, you sell a car, and you have $2,000 of each car just goes to benefits. So I think that there’s a way of reducing all of that, make them more fiscally responsible.”

These men know they are blaming the wrong source with lies. This is deliberate strategy to subjugate. Organized labor is one of the biggest threats to imperial power. I am so sick of these tools with the life approach of “I’ve got mine, screw you.” There seems to be no end to the how far this group in power will go to loot this country and to steal from the people.

Much better things can come from this country now filled with hope. It demands the people stay awake and alert and make a very loud noise. Like the weekend marches say no to H8, we need the heady power of being people together, people who make demands, people who take to the streets and feel the power of a people united.

First image by Jason Logan

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