Monday, February 28, 2005

From the Before his Time Department:

Well, I'm proud to say that my keen powers of observation have set me apart as a leader in automotive commentary. On February 10, 2004, in this blog, I commented on the similarity between Jumba from Lilo & Stitch and the Buick Lacrosse.

About the same time, I sent it into Autoweek for inclusion on the "Body Double section of the "Between the Lines" page. Autoweek finally printed it in their February 7, 2005 issue.

Friday, February 25, 2005

What cars are selling - and what aren't

Here's a link to a Forbes list of each automaker's hot selling cars - and those that aren't. I really don't like the format - slideshow - but it gives you an idea.

MSNBC - What's hot and what's not?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

UAW Tries to Get traction in effort to Unionize
Toyota's Georgetown KY plant

UAW softens tactics in union-wary South - 02/23/05

I think the UAW ought to hire an expert in "game theory". What Toyota and the other captives have done is either match or come close to matching UAW wages, but with a lower total labor cost due to work rule differences, and probably more importantly, lower healthcare and absenteeism due to a younger workforce. In addition, the captives do not have the legacy costs of many retirees. (My fellow UAW-LSP attorneys know all about utilization of our benefit by retirees.) The captives can even pay less and render a higher net wage if the employees are not paying the UAW dues.

Yes, of course, this doesn't address the Union's argument that the non-union workers are "free riders" on the backs of the unionization efforts of the unionized employees. Free rider problems are common in the field of economics.

Unless the UAW can come out with a Unionization strategy that works from an economic or game theory point of view, the chances of successful unionization of the captive plants is going to be so tough that it is questionable whether the resources should even be expended.
Bob Lutz - the Blogger
and the Pontiac Solstice

GM Car Guru, Bob Lutz, is now a blogger at

In his blog, Mr. Lutz provides the first official word regarding price and availability of the Pontiac Solstice roadster. The news is good, under 20k delivered and well-equipped. Quoting:

When Solstice goes on sale this summer, it will, officially, be priced at $19,995 — and that includes the $575 destination charge. You heard it here first.

That’s not for a stripped down model, either. That sub-$20,000 price gets you 177 horsepower mated to a five-speed manual transmission, 18-inch wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes, glass rear window, and a CD-player as standard equipment.

Remember, this is for a convertible. At this price, with a 177 HP engine, GM should have no problem at all selling its 20,000 units even if there are some flaws that have not yet come to light. (The Fiero had serious flaws, but it has its following even today.)
GM FastLane Blog: The Promise of Solstice

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Connecticut Department of Banking says NO to Ameriquest

Ameriquest debuted a lot of touchy feely advertising starting with the Superbowl. All of it is designed to create a positive image for the company. That doesn't make it a good company, of course. The state of Cnnnecticut just denied a license to originate certain loans in that state. See below:

Ameriquest Mortgage Denial of 1st and 2ndary Mortgage Lender/Broker Licenses
Play the Brady Bunch Sack Race Game

The Brady Bunch
Correction - that card was a Chase Manhattan card

Yesterday I referred to a complaint over a Bank One Disney Visa card - the person who posted was complaining about a Chase card (the Disney ad on the bottom created a false hit.) I don't know that the Disney card is any better, but I want to be accurate. - Let your voice be heard! Consumer Reviews, Complaints and more...
Next Generation Mazda Miata unveiled.

It has been 15 years since the Mazda Miata came to town. Since then, the car has soldiered on with occasional updates, but no full redesign. Of course, it was so well placed in its niche to begin with, it really didn't need one. Anyway. The time has finally come for a full redesign, and article linked below gives the details. What impressed me is that they kept the weight increase to a minimum, while expanding the width necessary to include side air bags. Horsepower is now up to 158 with its 2.0 liter engine. I think the original Miata had about 108 HP to start with and it was bumped over the years by about 20%.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Cheers & Jeers for Disney - ABC on the Mandatory Consumer Arbitration Issue:
Three cheers for ABC News World News tonight for doing a series on the evils of consumer arbitration.

ABC News: Fine Print May Waive Legal Rights

Three Jeers for ABC Parent Disney, for entering an affinity card arrangement with Bank One with a mandatory arbitration clause.

The arbitration clause isn't the only bad feature of the Disney Platinum Rewards Visa, it also has one of the insecurity clauses which raises your rate not just for being late on their card, but for being late on anything. See the consumer complaint linked below where the consumer complained of a change from 0% to 26.99%. Since 25% of all credit reports incorrectly list negative items, you basically have a 25% chance of getting nailed with a high interest rate even if you haven't been late on any payments.

I wonder if the next new ride at Walt Disney World will be the "Credit Card Hell" ride.
Ex-Manager blows the Whistle on Ford over Job Set-asides for Relatives of Union Reps.

I don't know about you, but I always suspected that the hiring process at the auto plants was rigged. Here are jobs that pay a higher wage than 90% of other blue-collar jobs, but yet often employees are hired that are clearly below average intelligence, have circumstantial evidence of drug abuse problems, and the list goes on and on.

If proven, this can cause trouble for both the UAW and the automaker(s). Hiring based on buddy relationships is also a violation of EEO laws, so additional lawsuits are inevitable. Way to go folks.

Ford, ex-worker at odds over job set-asides - 02/22/05

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Downside of Legalizing Prostitution - Dear Ms. Smith - you aren't disabled anymore.

A lady in Germany is complaining that her unemployment benefits were cut because she refused work in a (legal) brothel.

February 17, 2005 Headlines | Refusing sex work risks benefit cut

Since the test for Social Security Disability is whether you are capable of any gainful employment, there are some folks out there who might be disabled in some states but would be capable of gainful employment in Nevada. Things that make you go Hmmm.
Madlibs meets Anarchy: Make Your Own Random Anarchy Cookbook

There is an infamous book called the Anarchist Cookbook, published in the 1960s with various "versions" available on the web, it is a how to guide for folks who want to make their own explosives etc. It was written in the 1960s by a teenager who didn't bother to test out the formulas contained therein. Since then unauthorized versions, sequels, etc. have popped up on the web with even more dubious worth.

One creative person took this trend to its logical extreme for a roll-your-own cookbook. It seems to work like a madlib where everytime you click on a link, random ingredients are generated for the terrorist formulas. Quite clever. Check it out. Don't try this at home. Even though it's not labeled as a joke: it's a joke.

Make your own random anarchy cookbook

Friday, February 18, 2005

Steve on "Class Action Reform"

I stayed silent on the question of class action "reform" as it was winding through Congress, primarily because I didn't think I would be able to stay up to date on the bill as it went through the amendment process. I am among the minority of consumer attorneys who doesn't have any problem with having nationwide class actions as the exclusive province of federal courts. In part that's because I have observed two things
1) State courts aren't well equipped to handle class actions period - your typical state court judge doesn't even have a law clerk. At most, he-she might have a staff of one or two. Once class action case can swamp the docket of a local court judge and through the whole budget for the county court system out of whack.
2) I have a problem with a court in another state exercising personal jurisdiction over me to the extent of issuing a ruling that amounts to res judicata over any claim I might have over a corporate defendant. I'm thinking of the problems that I had in a certain class action case involving Household Finance where after the Attorney General non-binding "opt-in" settlement, a supposed-consumer group initiated another "opt-out" settlement that effectively limited my clients' right to sue. I think the Federal courts do a better job at checking collusive as well as abusive class actions.

As I understand it the bill has one provision that is decidedly pro-consumer: It limits attorney fees in coupon settlements to the amount of the redeemed coupons. Coupon settlements are an abomination. Hopefully this will virtually end the practice.

The Fight Against Consumer Arbitration - Part One

The various progressive consumer rights organizations are starting to unite in a public relations campaign to end Binding Mandatory Arbitration in consumer contracts. Call me an optimist, but I think this has a chance of (eventually) going through. The outright greed of financial intitutions is no where more transparent then in the arbitration agreements foisted upon consumers. Congresspersons are starting to hear from their constituents on this.

The coordinated publicity effort against Binding Mandatory Arbitration, as I understand it, is being led by Ira Rheingold of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Way to go Ira! The new website is Right now it's still a work in progress.

One of the initial victories in the project is a standardization on the term "Binding Mandatory Arbitration" or "BMA". It is easier to fight something as a group if you all call it the same thing.

A link to a San Francisco Chronical article highlighting the problems of BMA

PRIVATE JUSTICE / Millions are losing their legal rights / Supreme Court forces disputes from court to arbitration - a system with no laws

Get a Free Credit Report - Give Up Your Right To Sue
Credit Reporting Agencies make a Mockery of FACTA by including Binding Abitration Clauses in Free Credit Report Website

Starting this year the new FACTA statute requires a phased roll out of annual free credit reports from the main credit reporting agencies. These reports can be obtained at the centralized website (Some "information" sites wrongly list which is not the correct site and who knows who runs that site.)

Anyway, word is starting to get out that the credit reporting agencies, as a condition of getting the free report, are requiring consumers to click an agreement which contains a binding arbitration clause. I don't know if this practice will hold up in court. It shows how scummy the reporting agencies can be. You'll be hearing more on this issue as it develops.

My 15 minutes are up. That's a lot of writing in 15 minutes. Bye.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Camejo Watch 2005 -

Quick - Who is Peter Miguel Camejo?

If you said: Ralph Nader's 2005 running mate, you would be correct. Now, next question, what has Mr. Camejo been doing since the election? Good question. I did a news search - no hits.

Google Search: Peter Miguel Camejo: "Peter Miguel Camejo"

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

John Kerry votes for $82 Billion in supplemental war spending

This one came up heads, huh John?

US News Article |

Monday, February 14, 2005

Will the Dodge Neon's replacement be a truck?

At the Geneva Auto Show, Dodge is set to unveil it's replacement for the Neon. Early photos of the Dodge Caliber show that it is a 5-door mini-ute with a strong family resemblance to the Dodge Dakota.

With the apparent aerodynamics of a brick wall, Dodge is apparently continuing to give the finger to fuel economy considerations. The current PT cruiser, though based on the Neon chassis gets about the same real-world gas mileage as its much larger minivans.

Dodge Caliber concept hints at new small cars - 02/11/05
New Honda Civic, New Kia Sedona
This article has some good information and pictures on the upcoming redesigned 2006 Honda Civic and 2006 Kia Sedona.

Did you ever think you'd see a 200 hp (factory) Honda Civic?

The Kia Sedona may steal some market share in the minivan wars. The outgoing Sedona competed mainly on price. It was 600 lbs heavier than its competion with less power and room. The new version has a 240 HP 3.8 liter engine, very competitive, and 15% more room. According to press releases, it is also lighter than the old version. Naturally, it has a fold in the floor rear seat.

Kia, Honda put new spins on familiar rides - 02/11/05
GM pays $2 Billion to keep from buying Fiat

GM is going to pay a whopping $2 billion dollars, and in return it will get - nothing really. It just avoids having to pay $6 Billion to buy Fiat, and Fiat is worth - nothing really - or less than nothing.

In 2000 GM bought a 10% stake in Italian automaker Fiat. A part of the deal that was obscure at first gave Fiat a "put" option that would require GM to buy the rest of the company under certain circumstances. Buying Fiat, a company with no long or short term prospects of profitability would have sent GM's credit rating down to junk bond rating thereby cutting off GMs only really profitable business line, lending money.

The bottom line: Fiat had GM by the jugular and GM was probably lucky to get out of the deal for $2 Billion. Added to the $2 Billion that GM paid initially for the Fiat stake, and for a total investment of $4 Billion (about what GM paid to start Saturn including developing a new car line, engine line and dealership network), GM Got virtually nothing. Technically, it looks like they got a half interest in an engine-plant in Poland and intellectual property rights to some engines and transmissions used in Europe.

It's my understanding that heads have already rolled at GM over the Fiat fiasco, but If I were a money funds manager, I would really look into the role each of the officers and directors played in the Fiat mess. At the very least, anyone who signed off on the deal should get all incentive bonuses dinged.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Friday, February 11, 2005

Ameriquest as a "Boiler Room" operation

Ameriquest mortgage was a name sponsor of the Super Bowl. Ameriquest is trying to get away from a reputation as a seedy predatory lender. As more and more facts come out about company practices, I think that's going to be easier said than done.

Chicago Tribune | `Boiler room' claims put heat on Ameriquest
TLPJ Successfully challenges Payday Loan Arbitration Clause

Trial Lawyers for Public Justice (TLPJ) just reported a favorable Florida Supreme Court decision rejecting a mandatory arbitration clause on a payday loan contract.

Congratulations TLPJ!

TLPJ - Press - Florida Supreme Court Rules That Borrowers Cannot Be Forced to Arbitrate Challenge to Payday Loan Contract -- Jan. 25, 2005

Thursday, February 10, 2005

More Chinese Auto Piracy

A year after it came to light that a Chinese company was selling a direct copy of the Chevrolet Spark, Honda reports that it is having problems with illegal Chinese copies of its designs:

Local Chinese manufacturers are churning out copies of models built in China by General Motors Corp., Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Co.p. and other carmakers with strong global brands.

Now Honda Motor Co. has identified 11 Chinese manufacturers that are making, or preparing to roll out, dead-ringers for its popular CR-V sport utility vehicle. Customers can even purchase kits to install CR-V badges on the pirate vehicles.

Automakers must toughen tactics to fight rampant Chinese piracy - 12/21/04
China's Roads

In World War II, modern roads were practically nonexistent in China. Transportation to the East was via river for the most part. Major battles were fought over the Burma Road, a road leading from the heart of china southward through Burma. The Burma road, as important as it was, was mostly two lane asphalt, and in some places not even that good. For the most part, the Allies had to fly in people and material "over the hump" across the Himalaya mountains from India.

That's ancient history,as modern China is well on its way to a modern highway system. Do we need a billion people dependent on the automobile? Well, that's another question entirely.

A well-kept secret: China's quality highways - 12/30/04
What if GM went Bankrupt?

With increasing health care costs and a $1-6 billion payout to exit a put option in Fiat, the unthinkable is thinkable. What if GM went bankrupt?

GM boss debunks bankruptcy doomsday scenario - 01/11/05
Insight on the Chinese Labor Market
from the Detroit News

Michael Dunn of the Autos Insider section of the Detroit News writes about his perceptions about doing business in China

It is true that there are thousands of workers lining up for factory jobs in the inland provinces. But if you're like most foreign investors, you'll be setting up an office in or near major cities like Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai. You will also want people who are facile with the computer, speak and write English and take some initiative.

Chinese professionals with such skills are getting scarcer and scarcer. That's because scores of global automotive companies like Toyota, Bosch and Hyundai and Cummins are muscling each other in pursuit of competent employees. As the former chief representative of my Beijing office once said:

"People -- there is no shortage of those in China. The kind of people you need? That's a different story."


Foreign-investors can recruit and interview employees. And they can dismiss workers too. But not without strings attached. Many companies find their own employees by advertising on Chinese Internet portals. But when it comes time to sign contracts, companies must notify the local foreign enterprise employment bureau.

For every employee, these government agencies collect a monthly payment from the company, known as the "San Xian Yi Jing" or the "Three Insurances and One Fund."

The insurance payments (for unemployment, retirement and health) amount to no less than $120 per month per employee. The fund, which is a kind of forced savings towards purchase of a new home, is set at 8 percent of the month salary.

In the event a company releases an employee, the standard payment is one month for each year the employee has worked at the firm.

Moving to China? Here's some tips on finding a staff - 02/10/05

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Dirty Dozen Tax Scams


12 tax scams that could cost you.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Fog of War - DVD mini-review

I just watched a dvd of a documentary released late in 2003 titled The Fog of War. In this movie, director Errol Morris gives a mouthpiece to Robert McNamara. McNamara, a spry and articulate 86 years old at the time of the filming, was Secretary of Defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He is routinely thought of as being the architect of the Vietnam policy during those two administrations.

The movie is set up as a conversation/lecture by McNamara outlining the ten most important lessons that he learned over his career. He acknowledges making many mistakes during his tenure and casts himself now as a repentitent pacifist. Others have quibbled with his accounts of past events. (see this link The Evasions of Robert McNamara - What's true and what's a lie in The Fog of War? By Fred?Kaplan ) I personally found his version of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident highly questionable. Still, the lessons from his experience are hard to ignore, and George Bush as well as all of this country's voters would have been well served to have seen this movie prior to engaging in active war in Iraq.

Morrel cast his movie as a simple lesson from an old man rather than a foreign policy debate. Input from sources other than McNamara is sparse. Morrel spices things up with archive footage and a fantastic original music score by Phillip Glass.

Of interest to my fellow UAW-LSP lawyers: McNamara was a Ford Motor Company executive prior to joining the Kennedy administration, for a very short time, He was the President of Ford Mo. Co. A statistician by trade, he brought statistical quality control procedures to Ford. He recounts one incident when they were looking at safety issues, they were trying to figure out how to prevent head injuries. Because of a lack of sophisticated equipment, they took human skulls and dropped them down a multi-story stairwell. They tried out various types of materials designed to protect the skulls. There is more on the Ford days in the Deleted Scenes section of the disk.

Overall, the disc is well worth watching. I'll give it a solid A.
The Veterans' Benefit that nobody told you about.

About the most frequent question that I recieve is "How do I keep the nursing home from taking all my money?"

For veterans and spouses, I learned of an important benefit that could help many of these callers stay solvent and independent. This is an income supplement for veterans who are disabled and need home health care or are in assisted living. There are income qualifications, but the income and asset threshholds are much less stringent than Medicaid.

The News-Herald - Heritage Newspapers