Monday, 01 March 2010

WATCHING THE OLYMPICS: THE METRO AND TOYOTA ADS

Ken Berwitz

I don't often write about how offensive advertising is, but two companies had such disgusting commercials during the olympics that I thought they should be singled out.

First let's talk about MetroPCS phone services - specifically the two "spokesmen" of, apparently, Indian or Pakistani ancestry, used as ridiculous buffoons for their ads.  I wonder what the geniuses who put this campaign together have in mind next:  maybe a couple of Black men in blackface doing a minstrel show, or two Jewish guys wearing yarmulkes and sitting by a bank vault counting money.  After seeing these commercials, I wouldn't use MetroPCS if it cost half the price and had triple the services of anyone else.

Then we have the Toyota commercials, with nice people telling us how great Toyotas are -- as we read about a) the death and injuries caused by faulty Toyota acceleration systems which b) appear to have been known about by Toyota for years, but c) nothing was done about.  Seeing warm-fuzzy commercials that tell us how terrific Toyota's quality is, how wonderful the service guy is, which imply that the 34 deaths (that we know about so far) and countless injuries are tiny little blips on their radar which they have seamlessly gone past in the blink of an eye, makes me sick to my stomach.  Do the people at Toyota have any shame at all?

free` Also this from the WSJ: That vague screeching noise you hear in D.C., the slight odor of burning rubber? That's the government trying to brake its anti-Toyota campaign. It may be a little late. The Toyota spectacle has become slightly surreal, as a few uncertain questions about "sudden acceleration" morphed into a media and political firestorm over the safety of its entire fleet. It is also proving an interesting case study in the treacherous politics that accompany government ownership of U.S. industry. Washington's initial enthusiasm in bashing Toyota is beginning to backfire. There's no question that in the first, heady days of recall, at least some in the Obama administration and Congress saw advantage in undermining Toyota. The majority owner of Government Motors felt it couldn't hurt to fan the image of a "foreign" auto maker disregarding the safety of American drivers. Shoppers might just buy a Chevy instead, propping up government investment and bolstering United Auto Worker union jobs. And of course the trial bar would be thrilled by a fat new class-action target. Vehicle recalls (there were 16.9 million in 2009 alone) are usually handled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—but the Toyota case was commandeered by Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He skewered the firm for being "a little safety deaf," complained it hadn't been responsive, and bragged it was the government that forced a recall. "This is a big deal, this is a big safety issue," he exclaimed as part of the LaHood Vs. Toyota Media Tour. It was, in fact, the "most serious safety issue" of his tenure. It was, to repeat, such a huge, scary, safety deal that his "advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it." Mr. LaHood later claimed he'd misspoke. Over in Congress, a geographically notable contingent of representatives piled on. Rep. Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) announced an investigation into "dangerous" malfunctions. Toyota was ordered to report to his Oversight subcommittee hearing next week. Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.) berated the company for taking "two years" to step up and ripped them for not recalling more models. UAW lobbyist Alan Reuther demanded Toyota make amends by keeping open a unionized factory in California, currently scheduled for closure. Chrysler, GM and Ford started offering cash incentives for car buyers to trade in recalled Toyotas for domestic wares. The results of this campaign are now making pols queasy. It was inevitable that such a loud attack would lead to questions as to whether the administration was carrying water for the domestic industry. The White House is today fielding as many queries about its role as owner and regulator as Toyota is fielding about recalls. This thinking also inspired reporters to dig into Congress's Toyota ties and to question, conversely, whether it can be tough enough. The press dredged up Senate Toyota investigator Jay Rockefeller's role in landing his state of West Virginia a Toyota plant. Did you know, the head of NHTSA, David Strickland, worked eight years for Mr. Rockefeller? Or that California Democrat Jane Harman, who sits on the House investigating committee, once made money selling stereo systems to Toyota? You do now. It is also occurring to some Democrats that, while Toyotas are mainly assembled in red states, they are, uh, sold in blue ones. In addition to idled Toyota factory workers, Toyota dealerships and suppliers are getting hit by the company's sharp drop in sales. Some of these folks even live in Michigan. The angry phone calls to Washington only increased last week when four governors—three Republicans and Kentucky Democrat Steve Beshear—sent a sharp letter to Congress, accusing the administration of a "conflict of interest." They unsubtly noted that many recent recalls were "as serious as or more serious" than Toyota's. This sent the media digging into the recall record of U.S. auto makers, which may have to revisit their own safety issues. Some politicians are worried about Japanese retaliation against U.S. auto makers. All of which accounts for Washington's recent piping down. Mr. LaHood devoted a lot of this week to touting stimulus grants. Quite a few Democrats have gone mute, leaving the issue to NHTSA and wishing it would go away. Some lawmakers are even stepping up to defend Toyota. Yet having revved up the drama, the administration is now all but obliged to take action against Toyota, say with civil penalties. Mr. Rockefeller and other Democrats with ties to the carmaker are under pressure to get rough. And if Toyota bungles Washington as badly as it did the initial recall PR, this could go on a long time. Toyota has not yet laid off a single one of its 34,000 U.S. workers, but that may change. Only a year ago, Democrats were wailing about economic damage if GM or Chrysler went bust. They forestalled that with government ownership. They, and Toyota, are now dealing with the all-too-easy-to-predict political behavior that followed such meddling in the private economy. Write to kim@wsj.com (03/01/10)

free` I read this last week at flopping aces: Obama’s new WOT…. War on Toyota Posted by: MataHarley @ 12:45 pm in Auto Industry, Barack Obama, Culture of Corruption, Economy | 886 views There’s something inherently sleazy and suspicious about an WH administration mouthpiece that unequivocally states that Toyota owners should simply “stop driving” their cars until they’ve taken them to a dealership. In the wake of such an unprecedented fear mongering campaign, the mud slinging began, and within days, Transportation Sec’y Ray LaHood, was softening his harsh blow. But “just words” matter, and one of the nation’s most popular vehicle manufacturers saw their shares fall as much as 8% on the heels of LaHood’s explosive remarks. Obama’s pet, Goldman Sachs, downgraded Toyota from a “buy” to “neutral”. If you use AutoBlog’s figures, it’s 16.7 % over the past five days. But the Chicago thuggery style of this WH is abundantly clear when LaHood also revealed that the reason Toyota halted manufacturing and commenced the massive recall was at the insistence of the Obama administration. Much seems to be overblown considering that the gas pedal sticking has occurred in fewer than 300 vehicles. Or, per an IBD op-ed, “Out of 1.8 million cars manufactured each year in the U.S., Toyota has 100 complaints, a handful of injuries, and in two cases deaths are alleged.” In fact, the sudden acceleration events in both Toyota and Lexus models in the past decade resulted in 815 crashes since 1999… eleven years, averaged out at 74 annual events. Two resulted in fatalities. Of the 2000 complaints received in the same time, only five percent – or 100 of them – were attributed to gas pedals potentially sticking. What’s more, NHTSA has conducted eight investigations into Toyota accelerator problems in the last seven years. None have been found to be a faulty sticking pedal as the cause. “The way the sudden-acceleration problems are occurring in reported incidents doesn’t comport with how this sticky pedal is described,” said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a Rehoboth, Mass., auto safety consulting firm. “We know this recall is a red herring.” And that “red herring”, forcefully imposed by a WH administration, has further economic repercussions. Economic Journal Policy blog states: Toyota insiders tell me that the only solution at this time to correct the “problem” identified by the Transportation Department would cost $2,000 per car. There are 1.8 million vehicles that are subject to the recall. MSNBC further reports that three car rental companies are pulling the Toyotas from their fleets. And in a time where car sales aren’t that hot anyway, Toyota needed a new push coming off their first year of showing losses in the US market. The timing of the recall and production suspension could not be worse for Toyota. Two years ago, the company beat out General Motors Co. to become the world’s largest automaker. Now just weeks into 2010, it is stopping some sales in its biggest market, the U.S., at a time when it desperately needs to sell cars here after reporting its first-ever annual loss last year. While a problem certainly exists, and does need to be addressed, it’s foolhardy to spend vast money on what may not actually be curing the ailment. Also discussed has possibly been software. It might also be prudent to remind drivers… apparently who’ve never driven stick shifts, that if your gas pedal sticks, you might want to consider shifting into neutral to slow the vehicle instead of pitting brakes against acceleration… as many of those with harrowing experiences attempted to do. Nor is LaHood of the mind to back off of the manufacturer, stating he was going to …have a conversation with (President Akio) Toyoda very soon, to talk to him about how serious this is, and to make sure he understands. We’re not finished with Toyota.“ There’s a distinct odor eminating in all this… as in just why this relatively low number of auto accidents and/or incidents over a problem that’s been occurring off and on for over a decade, warrants such a charge from the very halls of the White House. And I’m not alone in noticing this overt WOT against what is, in essence, a competitor for General Motors. Indicative of this unholy connection is the MSNBC’s article, excerpted above. The immediate paragraphs following the “worst timing” comment above was all about GM, racing to save the day, and zero interest rates. In fact, the way it reads, GM should have been paying for advertising space. General Motors is offering interest-free loans and other incentives to Toyota owners who may want to get rid of their cars due to fears about faulty gas pedals. GM General Manager of Retail Sales Steve Hill said Wednesday the company is responding to thousands of inquiries from Toyota owners. The Detroit automaker is offering offer zero percent financing for 60 months on most models. It also will offer $1,000 to Toyota owners toward a down payment on a GM vehicle and up to $1,000 to help to pay off current leases early. The offers run through the end of February. Hummmm… what was that about letting no crisis go to waste? Or, perhaps better put, create the crisis needed to fit the bill. The Autoblog also points out the suspicious timing. To paraphrase L.A. Confidential’s Captain Dudley Smith, we wouldn’t trade places with Toyota right now for all the whiskey in Ireland. Still, we find the timing of Secretary LaHood’s comments a little odd. Here’s what we mean: the NHTSA official that flew to Japan to verbally beat on Toyota did so in December. And while Toyota seems to have behaved badly at first, the company has found an unobjectionable solution [Mata Musing: a throttle fix instead of gas pedal] (according to the safety agency) to its gas pedal problem. So, why whip on ‘em today? Could it have something to do with next week’s Congressional inquiry scheduled to begin on February 10? We’d wager yes. AutoBlog’s suspicions seem to indicate that it’s actually NHTSA, not Toyota, who’s going on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hotseat. As mentioned above, there’s been ample investigations into sudden acceleration by the agency… none of which concluded sticky gas pedals. This precedes Henry Waxman’s witchhunt, scheduled Feb 25th, to investigate not only Toyota, but it’s suggested incestuous relationship with NHTSA via Christopher Santucci… a former NHTSA employee who bolted from the agency to Toyota about the same time the investigations were being conducted. The overview presents a determined WH and Congress, out to destroy a Japanese successful manufacturer… one who, oddly enough, provides cars “built in America”, and by American employees. But then, this is a WH and Congress who reigned over decisions to become owners of car manufacturers. It’s difficult enough to impose regulations impartially when you are actually a competitor. But this adminstration has taken a step beyond that… setting out to economically destroy a very popular and highly dependable line of vehicles, as well as the jobs they contribute to the American economy. But at least the WOT acronym is back…. and the new war is on Toyota, with GM cast as the prevailing hero. (03/01/10)


RANGEL & PELOSI: STILL A TEAM

Ken Berwitz

charles rangel:  A dirty, corrupt liar of the first order - and has been for a long time. 

Nancy Pelosi:  A hopeless political hack who has looked the other way at rangel's transgressions no matter how obvious they are --- until it is impossible to do so any more.   And, even then, do as little about it as possible:

From today's New York Daily News:

"It doesn't" look good for Rangel hanging on to his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee against mounting ethics charges, Pelosi said on ABC's "This Week."

"We're going to look forward to seeing what else they have to say," Pelosi said of the ongoing ethics committee investigation of Rangel's taxes, undeclared income and deals on rent-regulated apartments.

Rangel was "admonished" by the committee last week on corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean.

That was just "the tip of the iceberg," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said on NBC's "Meet The Press."

That's it?  That's what Nancy Pelosi is going to do about charles rangel?

California Republican Duke Cunningham went to jail for less than what Rangel has pulled.  But the sum total of Pelosi's reaction  is thinking about maybe taking away rangel's chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee?  Maybe removing a tax cheat from a position where he decides how much we pay in taxes?  No demand that he resign, of course.

Whoopie doo.

Does the Democratic Party want a genuine bloodbath in November?  If so, I congratulate them for sitting by as Pelosi behaves in this manner.  She is doing everything in her power to accomplish it.

Zeke .... ..... You have to admire Ms. Pelosi. She promised to CHANGE the "Culture of Corruption" in DC .... and it sure IS Different ... ... Brings a whole new depth of meaning to "Chutzpa". (03/01/10)


THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND ISRAEL - A THIN RAY OF HOPE

Ken Berwitz

 

Is there a serious possibility that the Obama administration is coming to its senses about Israel?

 

From Israel's Ynet news:

US to Lebanon: We can't stop Israeli strike if arms smuggling continues

03.01.10, 10:54 / Israel News
Published: 

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sent a message to Beirut that Washington cannot prevent an Israeli strike in Lebanon as long as arms smuggling to Hezbollah continues.

 

London-based al-Hayat newspaper reported on Monday that the message was conveyed via US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison to Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. (Roee Nahmias)

That is not what we have come to expect from Obama & Co.  Can it be that the President has had some kind of epiphany and now understands the nature of what Israel faces every day of its existence? 

 

Based on the last year, no.  Based on this one report, maybe.

 

We'll keep an eye out and see how things go from now on.


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