Sunday, January 02, 2011

Leftist Media Ignored GM Recall Issues at Toyota’s Expense

Bob McCarty

I disagree with the staff at Automotive News and their selection of the Toyota recall story as the top automobile-related news story of 2010. The story that deserves at least as much attention has to do with how members of the state-run media ignored recall issues at GM (a.k.a., “Government Motors”) at Toyota’s expense.

I covered the Toyota recall story thoroughly in three early-February posts:

In my first post Feb. 5, I examined the number of campaign contributions made by Toyota executives to Barack Obama since Jan. 1, 2007, and found that only two of 151 executives listed on the Toyota web site gave a combined total of $2,500 to Obama for America;

In my second post Feb. 5, I speculated about the possible reasons why the Obama Administration would want to bully Toyota; and, finally,

In a Feb. 8 post, I wondered why the federal government had not yet issued a recall for the Chevrolet Cobalt despite the fact that, according to a Feb. 2 Los Angeles Times report, 905,000 2005-’09 copies of the “Bow-Tie” vehicle, including the Cobalt SS, were the subject of a new investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due to complaints of electric power steering failure.

It was in the latter post that I revealed the disturbing results of some simple math calculations:

During the days that followed, Edmund’s Inside Line, The New York Times Wheels blog and two other publications reported the same basic story, informing readers that the investigation was launched after more than 1,100 consumer complaints were received.

According to a Chicago Tribune report Jan. 26, the Toyota recall was based upon some 2,000 complaints related to 2.3 million vehicles sold.

In doing the math related to these recalls, I found the following:

• Only 1 in 1,000 (.001) consumers complained about the Chevrolet product; and

• Fewer than 1 in 1,000 (.00009) consumers complained about the Toyota product.

In short, the Chevrolet product has received more complaints per car sold than the Toyota products! So why hasn’t the federal government issued a recall on the Cobalt? Probably because Chevrolet is owned by General Motors (a.k.a. “Government Motors”), a taxpayer-owned company that stands to benefit greatly from having its foreign-owned competitors struggle with the public relations nightmares related to product recalls.

Did Toyota’s recall problems warrant selection as the “Top News” story of 2010? Perhaps. But the state-run media/government treatment of Toyota certainly deserves at least as much attention.



Could France Go Even Further Right?

With less than a year and a half to go before the next French presidential election, and current President Nicolas Sarkozy at 35% popularity, could France end up shifting further to the right?

The possibility is a good one. Sarkozy won the 2007 race by largely borrowing from the right-wing Front National party’s platform on everything from immigration reform to national security. Keeping in mind that French presidential elections usually consist of two rounds of voting (if no one party gets 50% of votes in the first round), with other parties throwing their weight behind one of the remaining two parties in exchange for concessions and government positions, Sarkozy beat Socialist Segolene Royale in 2007 because he nabbed right-wing and centrist party votes after the first round, which put him over the top in the second and final vote.

The advantage Sarkozy had in 2007 is that he had never been given the chance to be in charge. He always had to dodge the long shadow of his party’s leader, Jacques Chirac, whom few outside of France (or even in France) could ever legitimately label right-leaning or laissez faire. Chirac spent his mandate importing his beloved Africa into France one Muslim immigrant at a time, appreciating the various resulting cultural manifestations such as bar-b-cueing Citroens as a form of public debate, and taking advantage of various sanctions imposed by the world community on dodgy regimes like Saddam Hussein’s to enjoy market monopoly free of any legitimate competition.

Sarkozy was supposed to be a break from all that. But then something got in the way: France. The Economist, having hailed Sarkozy as the new Napoleon, recently called him the “incredible shrinking president”, and criticized him for not following through on his good ideas. The criticism came from the right, not from the left. The result of gridlock or inaction is maintenance of the status quo, which in France is nanny-state left. And this isn’t what a majority of French voted for when they elected Sarkozy.

A summary of the disappointments:

*Sarkozy pushed DNA testing legislation through parliament to ensure actual relation between family reunification immigrants. But when the bill had passed and was ready to be signed, he told his minister not to.

* After running a campaign emphasizing cultural integration and the secular nature of the French state, Sarkozy sent his prime minister – the head of French government -- to open a new mosque during which he made warm declarations about Islam.

* While the value of the Euro is on a roller-coaster ride because some member countries can’t sort out their own messes to the point of just failing and requiring a bailout from others, Sarkozy has been spending his time strong-arming German Chancellor Angela Merkel into coughing up German productivity to help out the deadbeats. Some French don’t understand why they should be forced to pay for Greeks to riot.

* A presidential campaign emphasizing meritocracy has given way to parachuting friends and relatives, and firing critics in both the private and public sectors. The fact that Sarkozy has referred to himself, in various contexts, as the “head of human resources” probably doesn’t help.

* French companies and factories are disappearing from the landscape and setting up shop overseas. Rather than reducing taxes and gold-plated benefits all around and explaining to people that not doing so will choke off their livelihood entirely, Sarkozy just offered the companies goodie-bags* (*cash). Most normal people can’t fathom handing over a wad of money to their significant other without being considered crass, so imagine the reaction of an entire population when money is given to big business – and the money doesn’t come from the giver but rather from other people’s pay checks. “The French should be used to that,” you might say. But no, the French aren’t used to seeing it done that overtly. When their pay checks are stolen from them by the State, it is done underhandedly in the interest of “benefits”, making them think they’re getting something back, or at the very least that it’s going to their employer: the government. In this case, it’s just shooting down a tube directly into other people’s hands.

This is not to say that Sarkozy hasn’t made a dent. He’s planted the seed of change in France, such as getting the French used to the idea of working two years longer – which shut down the country in itself. But the change promised in 2007 hasn’t yet become a reality to the extent it was perhaps anticipated by voters.

So what are these voters to do? Well, this time, they have an alternative that’s as right-leaning as Sarkozy’s UMP party in theory, and perhaps may actually be more so in practice: therein lies the real difference between the two. The Front National party, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, is set to be taken over in the coming weeks by his 42-year old lawyer daughter, Marine: a smart, tough, articulate lawyer and mother with a knack for leading debate and appealing directly to the people over the heads of the elites. In a recent example, she criticized Muslims who flood into the streets and jam entire blocks of public space to conduct their prayers to Allah as “occupying”. A flood of denouncements came from all other parties, along with threats from various minority and ethnic interest groups to take legal action against the remark. A Socialist Party leader conceded that the phenomenon is indeed a problem – while everyone else living in the real world and having to manoeuvre around these sessions can actually see that it is. French people are now supporting Marine Le Pen in record numbers (27% versus Sarkozy’s 35%).

So let’s imagine a scenario that could very well occur if Sarkozy’s popularity continues to decline or remain low. If, in the first round of 2012 presidential voting, Sarkozy’s right-leaning base votes against him and in favour of the Front National (in protest or otherwise), the centrists vote for their own various candidates and divides the center-right, and the left rallies around the Socialist Party, this could result in a second round race between the Front National and the Socialist Party. And while centrists may side with the Socialists, the right and traditional UMP voters would rally around the Front National.

In a country where a presidential candidate can go from 65% popularity to tanking with 18% in the first round of voting (Prime Minister Edouard Balladur in 1995), it’s not unfeasible to imagine the possibility of France now moving further right.



Japan population shrinks by record in 2010

Only the Japanese can do anything about it but this is nonetheless something we should all view with some concern. The shrinking of such a creative and productive population is a loss for us all

Japan's population fell by a record amount last year as the number of deaths climbed to an all-time high in the quickly aging country, the government said Saturday.

Japan faces a looming demographic squeeze. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement, with fewer workers and taxpayers to replace them. The Japanese boast among the highest life expectancies in the world but have extremely low birth rates.

Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry's annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.

As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said.

Japanese aged 65 and older make up about a quarter of Japan's current population. The government projects that by 2050, that figure will climb to 40 percent.

Like in other advanced countries, young people are waiting to get married and choosing to have fewer children because of careers and lifestyle issues. Saturday's report showed 706,000 marriages registered last year — the fewest since 1954 and a sign that birth rates are unlikely to jump dramatically anytime soon.

Japan's total population stood at 125.77 million as of October, according to the ministry.



Obama's do-gooder credit card laws are hurting both the rich and the poor -- but mostly the poor

Last year, Congress passed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act. It was supposed to really end the alleged abuses perpetrated by the credit card companies. The law forbids some penalties and interest-rate increases on existing balances.

It is one of President Obama's proudest achievements. "Enough's enough," he said. "It's time for strong, reliable protection for our consumers." Reform, he said, would not come at the expense of honest businesses. "Unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you've got nothing to fear."

Finally! Protection! A new bureaucracy will stop greedy credit card companies from unfairly penalizing you. And it won't threaten the credit business. Yippie!

How has it worked out? Not so well. George Mason University Law Professor Todd Zywicki points out that the new restrictions hurt more consumers than they help.

Since the Card Act passed, mortgage and Treasury bill rates have dropped a little, but credit card interest went up -- from 13 percent to nearly 15 percent. Some banks also stopped offering credit to some people. JPMorgan Chase cut off 15 percent of its customers.

So the real result of this "consumer" regulation? "Hundreds of thousands of people can't get cards who used to be able to have cards, and all the rest of us now have to pay more," Zywicki said.

But maybe the people who can't get credit cards are better off because they couldn't handle credit wisely? "Just to say they don't have a credit card doesn't mean that they don't have credit," Zywicki retorts. "They'll just go to more expensive places -- the local payday lender or the local pawn shop."

And pay a lot for credit. Payday lenders make small short-term loans, sometimes just till payday. But the annual interest is nasty -- often more than 500 percent. Several states have outlawed payday lenders. The politicians say they do it to help low-income people. But again, their "help" harms. The lenders' former customers complain that the payday lenders were their only way to avoid missing a bill payment -- and maybe having the lights shut off. "It's not just a matter sometimes of saving money," one borrower told us. "It's a matter of saving yourself grief."

Maybe they should get a credit card. Then they'd have lower interest payments. But of course Congress just made that tougher.

"People who have limited choices when it comes to credit are not likely to have their situations improved by taking away some of those limited options that they have," Zywicki says.

This is a lesson the elitist reformers are determined never to learn. Or maybe the elite like creating new problems. It gives them new chances to ride to the rescue and pose as great humanitarians. Someone likened this to breaking people's kneecaps, then compassionately providing crutches.

Without regulation, wouldn't banks charge monster fees and high interest? "Certainly they would," Zywicki said. "The problem is they can't. I've got four credit cards in my wallet. As I sit here talking to you, my credit cards are competing for my business. If one tries to rip me off, or charge me too much, I'll switch to another."

The law of unintended consequences is never more clear than in the capping of interest -- so-called usury laws. Arkansas once capped interest rates at 10 percent. "Very few people could get a credit card in Arkansas as a result," Zywicki said. Arkansas then became known as the pawn shop capital of America. Pawn shop interest can be 250 percent.

To Sen. Chris Dodd, President Obama and all the credit "reformers," Zywicki says this: "In the 1960s, the second biggest revenue source of organized crime was illegal lending. Is that the world we want to go back to, where we get rid of payday lending, and we're so morally outraged that we're going to put people in the hands of the leg-breakers and the loan sharks? They charged an interest rate that was well over 1,000 percent, and their collection techniques were a lot tougher than your local pawn shops."

When will the political do-gooders realize that the most vulnerable people in society can't take any more of their kindness?



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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