Monthly Archives: October 2008

Have You Driven A Ford… Lately ?

Well, if you have, better check your tires.

Or your tires’ valve stems, to be more specific. Those are the rubber and brass stalks that you connect an air hose to, when inflating your tires. See this article about the problem (Detroit News, 10/22/08). Here’s an investigation by WCVB-TV in Boston, which claims there may be up to 30 million potentially defective valve stems in use. Who is responsible for all this ? Blame August Schrader, at least indirectly.

WCVB-TV)

A valve stem exhibiting cracking (photo: WCVB-TV)

FoMoCo, or The Ford Motor Company, the automobile manufacturer that gave America what this Wikipedia article calls “the barbecue that seats four”, the exploding Ford Pinto of the 1970’s, is back in the news because of another possible safety problem.

It seems that at least 1.05 million 2007 model year Ford vehicles, including a dozen different Ford models, may have been assembled with Chinese-made rubber valve stems that are falling apart after about a year of use. Apparently, Shanghai Baolong Automotive Corp. (a subsidiary of Topseal Auto Parts), the Chinese company that made them for Ford, might have had a quality problem which allows the rubber to dry out and crack after being exposed to the atmosphere for a few months. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating the problem since at least early September, meeting with Ford officials on Sept. 10. The NHTSA has asked Ford for information about the valve stems, but is not requiring a response from Ford until early next year.

Ford has acknowledged complaints from vehicle owners, but would not say how many reports they have received involving possibly defective valve stems. They have also said that they don’t think it is a safety issue. Well, if you’re not a driver of, or a passenger in a Ford vehicle, we would probably agree with them.

Here’s a report sent to the NHTSA by a Massachusetts company that looked into the valve stem problem. From reading their report, which contains comments from affected vehicle owners, it would appear that the company, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was retained by the NHTSA to look into the problem, but we are not certain that this is the case.

It’s never a good thing when your valve stems decide to let loose while you’re traveling down the highway at 65 MPH. Come to think of it, there’s probably never a good time for your tires to suddenly go flat. For the sake of anyone traveling in a Ford vehicle, hopefully any leaks will be minor, and will be noticed before causing a catastrophe.

The bean counters at Ford that decided they could save 2 cents (or whatever) on each valve stem if they bought them from China, must be mighty proud of themselves. Now, at a time when the American automobile industry is already hurting big time, Ford may end up having to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to recall more than a million vehicles, to replace parts that cost a few pennies each. Then there’s the public’s loss of trust, which will probably cost them much more than that. Smart. Real Smart.

We don’t mean to single out Ford for what may be foolish cost cutting. We’re sure the entire American auto industry is guilty of similar bad decisions.

Despite the fact that you can see and touch the valve stems to inspect them, if large numbers of vehicles require valve stem replacement, it will be a logistical and financial nightmare for the companies involved. It will require removing all of the tires from the vehicle, including the spare, dismounting the tires from the wheels, removing and replacing the valve stems, remounting the tires on the wheels, balancing all of the wheels, and then reinstalling them on the vehicle. There’s no shortcuts to the process. And where do you get five million high quality valve stems in a hurry ? Tire shortages are another possibility, if valve failures or recall campaigns result in large numbers of tires being replaced as a result of the problem.

In addition, if defective, damaged or worn tires are present, we would think that remounting them on a vehicle could pose a liability issue for Ford or any other company doing the recall(s). Telling an owner that brings in their vehicle for a set of no-charge replacement valve stems that they will have to spend six, seven or eight hundred dollars for new tires is sure to create big problems, even if it’s absolutely true and necessary. And with the economy the way it is, you can bet there are plenty of Americans riding around on tires that have seen better days.

If Ford ends up recalling more than a million vehicles to replace the valve stems, it will be interesting to see where the replacement parts come from. Will Ford have learned a lesson, and use American made valve stems, or will they just buy a couple of million more Chinese valve stems? Nothing would surprise us.

It also wouldn’t surprise us if this potential problem is not limited to 2007 model year vehicles, or to vehicles manufactured only by Ford. It might even involve any vehicles that have had new tires installed in the last few years, since tire dealers will normally replace the valve stems when installing new tires.

That hissing sound you hear coming from your garage just might not be a snake, after all.

– Routing By Rumor

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Hanesbrands Ships Even More American Jobs To China !

..And some people wonder why the American economy is on life support.

Hanesbrands, Inc., the North Carolina based clothing manufacturer best known for their Hanes, Champion and Playtex brands, has given up on more American workers. Two weeks ago, they announced the elimination of more than 8,000 jobs, or 12% of their payroll, and the closing of nine plants in five countries. The job cuts will include 1,300 workers in North Carolina alone. If you’re looking for work in China, you’re in luck. But if you’re looking for work in North Carolina, tough luck. Hanesbrands expects to hire 2,000 employees in China by the end of the year. They’re also building a new textile fabric plant in Nanjing, China.

What wonderful news for the American economy !

Hanesbrands is giving up on workers in Central America as well, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras. Apparently, not even low paid workers in these countries can compete against China. While it looks like most of these jobs are going to China, the company also said they will be moving production to plants in Vietnam and Thailand. It’s probably just a coincidence that these may be some of the worst countries on earth, in terms of worker exploitation (see “Secrets, Lies and Sweatshops“, Businessweek, 11/27/2006).

Al Norman over at The Huffington Post has written an excellent piece about Hanesbrands’ abandonment of American workers. He puts the blame squarely on retailers like Walmart, and the consumers that flock there looking for cheap goods. In fact, he calls Walmart “the travel agent for Hanesbrands”.  Also check out our article from last December, “The Walmartization Of America“.

Take a look at Hanesbrands’ CEO Richard A. Noll’s total annual compensation at Forbes.com. We would have less of a problem with the top management at a company receiving obscene levels of compensation if they were able to provide employees with secure jobs, and pay them decent wages. We’ve read opinions that most all CEOs at U.S. corporations are good, decent, intelligent people, and we trust that Mr. Noll fits that profile. But when large numbers of your employees are getting pink slips, and you are closing many of your factories, it seems to us that the pain should be shared by the most highly compensated employees at the company. If top management doesn’t see fit to spread around the pain, then the company’s directors should address the issue. Come to think of it, if Hanesbrands’ manufacturing is moving to low-cost places like China and Vietnam, perhaps their CEO position should move there also, to be closer to their workers. You could probably find a very capable CEO in Ho Chi Minh City, who would take the job for about 50 cents a day.

Do you think it’s possible for someone like Mr. Noll to comprehend the impact of the plant closings on an employee who has spent their entire career in a North Carolina textile factory, and is now told that their job is being sent to China? If you do the math, it would seem that if Mr. Noll and other executives at Hanesbrands took a modest cut in their annual compensation, Hanesbrands could afford to keep at least one of their North Carolina plants open, and many of their loyal employees on the payroll. It would sure be interesting to hear some of their soon-to-be-jobless employees’ opinions on the subject. Obviously, making tons of money is nice, but at some point, doesn’t the voice of reason (or perhaps conscience) tell you what the morally right thing to do might be ? Dining on Prime Rib is nice, but we would have trouble swallowing if we were surrounded by people who were starving to death. It’s also all about loyalty, which seems to be in terribly short supply in the American workplace, in the executive suite, as well as on the factory floor.

We believe, and we’ve written previously, that the loss of jobs and manufacturing capacity in the United States is at the root of our current economic woes. The withering stock market, the banking and real estate crisis, the credit crunch, the decrepit state of the U.S. auto industry and the weak U.S. dollar are all symptoms of an economy decimated by companies who have abandoned the American worker, in search of profits in places like China.

You know, those cheap Hanes socks, underwear or other garments at your local department store may not be the bargains they appear to be. Actually, you might not be able to afford the type of bargain that Hanes is offering !

Let’s say that you’ve had it with companies that have moved their manufacturing to China. This mom did, and she decided to boycott all Chinese-made goods for one year. She is a reporter, and wrote about her quest, in “A Year Without China: One Mom’s Fruitless Quest To Boycott China”. Her experience is quite interesting, and includes a futile attempt to avoid Hanes products made in China.

Last week, we were reading the New York Times, when an ad practically jumped off the page at us. With the title “Even The Rope We’re Hanging Ourselves With Is Made In China”, it echoes our feelings about what is wrong with the U.S. economy. A play on Lenin’s quote “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”, to be sure, but also very true with regard to the state of the U.S. economy.

The “rope” ad is from an organization we had never heard of, called The Institute For America’s Future. We urge you to visit their website at www.ourfuture.org. They are warning America about exactly the same things we’ve been writing about; the trade deficit, the exporting of American jobs, the loss of manufacturing capacity, and the dependence on foreign oil.

Doctor Bush and his band of merry economists can throw 700 billion band-aids at the problem, but that will have little effect. The patient is hemmorhaging, and unless the source of the bleeding is addressed, all the band-aids in China (or all the tea in China) won’t save the patient. President Bush has recently resorted to his emergency “fireside chats” with the American public, making his morning televised appearances to try and reassure the nation in the face of the economic meltdown. We think we can safely say these little pep talks have done nothing to calm Wall Street, or reassure the man on the street. They are too little, too late, from an American President who really doesn’t seem to get it.

And look at the $85 billion bailout of AIG, a company in such bad financial shape that they could afford to squander close to a half-million bucks on an “executive retreat” at a California resort, just days after lawmakers signed off on their bailout. But then, when your rich uncle is writing you a check for $85 billion, that hotel tab probably looks like pocket change. Talk about laughing all the way to the bank. It’s like giving a few bucks to a homeless person begging on the street, who then uses your money to hire a limo to take them to the welfare office. If AIG’s behavior isn’t criminal, it certainly should be.

And of course, when Robert Willumstad, the Chief Executive at AIG (he lost his job a day after the federal bailout was announced) is hauled before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and asked to justify the squandering of money on a “retreat” at a California resort, which included $23,000 spent on spa treatments for AIG employees, he understandably pleads ignorance, telling the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was “not familiar with the conference”.

In the last week or so, we’ve witnessed what historians will refer to as “The Stock Market Crash Of 2008”. The crash, proceeded by the economic epidemics of layoffs, home foreclosures and bank failures would seem to indicate to reasonable people that the U.S. economy, at the very least, is in a recession. In response to the crumbling economy, the U.S. government has taken unprecedented action to shore up banks, insurance companies and investments such as money market mutual funds. Yet, the Bush administration cannot bring themselves to using the “R” word. The Bush administration is in denial.

Good luck to the presidential candidate who will inherit this mess 100 days from now. Whichever candidate that happens to be, we think their first order of business, their top priority, must be to bring American jobs back to America, and to address the trade deficit and our dependence on foreign energy.

– Routing By Rumor

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Here’s Proof That Tasers Can Kill !

And tasers don’t just kill the people they are fired at.

We have written here previously, and here also, about our concerns regarding the increasing use of tasers by the nation’s police departments. We feel the weapons are too ripe for abuse and misuse to justify their use by police. We believe, as do many human rights organizations, that they can be used as weapons of torture, and that they can be lethal. We believe that many police officers, whether out of fear, ignorance, a desire to punish, or for their own amusement, have, and will continue to misuse the weapon.

Last Thursday, New York City police tasered an emotionally disturbed, naked man perched on a building ledge, who then fell to his death on the sidewalk below. Iman Morales (also spelled as “Inman” and “Iam” Morales in news reports), 35 years old, and a resident of Brooklyn, had fled from his apartment via the fire escape, screaming “you’re gonna kill me” to the approaching police. He was perched on the ledge, armed with nothing more than a fluorescent light bulb when he was shot with the taser. If you’ve ever handled fluorescent tubes, you probably know just how fragile they are. We can’t imagine anyone causing much damage with one.

No doubt Mr. Morales was having a bad day, and the police that responded to the call were about to have a bad day. The catalyst that turned a bad day into a tragic day was the availability of a taser, and the apparently misguided eagerness to use it. We doubt any police officer in their right mind would have even considered pulling their 9mm or their .38 and opening fire, yet the use of a taser was apparently considered acceptable, at least to the ranking officer at the scene. The end result was the same, nonetheless.

And yes, of course you can see amateur video of the incident on youtube, proving once again that Andy Warhol was correct. Here’s more news coverage posted on youtube. (We think that venues such as youtube have become the 21st century’s court of public opinion. Little of consequence occurs these days which doesn’t quickly show up on a youtube video. It also gives an ordinary citizen as much of a voice as the most powerful media outlets. Is the Internet great, or what?)

Morales’ mother, Olga Negron, had called police seeking help for her disturbed son, who reportedly had a history of psychiatric problems. Instead of the help his mother was seeking, quite tragically, Mr. Morales got exactly what he feared from the police. Was this a self-fulfilling prophecy, or was Mr. Morales just an excellent judge of character? We’ll never know.

New York City Police Department brass have acknowledged the tasering of Mr. Morales, under the circumstances, appears to have violated department guidelines on the use of the weapon. We think it violated common sense, human decency, good police work and the law.   Lieutenant Michael Pigott, the 46-year-old police officer with 21 years on the force, who ordered the use of the taser against Mr. Morales, was stripped of his gun and shield, and placed on desk duty. Nicholas Marchesona, the police officer who actually fired the Taser was also put on desk duty but kept his gun and badge, and, we assume, his taser.

This morning, on the day that Mr. Morales was to be buried, and less than a week after the deadly incident, Michael Pigott, the police lieutenant who ordered the use of the taser against Iman Morales, committed suicide (also see WCBS coverage of the suicide). Since the homicide last week, Mr. Pigott had told reporters that he was “truly sorry for what happened” to Iman Morales. This New York Times story provides some background information about Lt. Pigott.

Did guilt drive Mr. Pigott to commit suicide? Did the public shame of having video of the incident show up on youtube play a role? A suicide note reportedly mentioned concern about facing charges for his role in Mr. Morales’ death. We will probably never know for certain what drove him to take his own life, or for that matter, what possessed him to order the inappropriate use of the taser against a disturbed individual who posed little threat to anybody but himself. We think it’s fair to say that both Mr. Morales, and Mr. Pigott were killed by a taser, even if that won’t be the proximate cause of death listed on either death certificate. (A physician once told us that death certificates often fail to accurately identify the true cause of death.)

There are many who still believe the taser is a non-lethal weapon. Has anyone asked the Pigott family or the Morales family if they believe that?

From all accounts we’ve read by people that knew them, both Mr. Morales and Mr. Pigott were decent men.  Had it not been for the terribly misguided decision to arm New York City police with tasers, both men would likely be alive today.  That is the real tragedy.

How many dead bodies need to pile up on American streets, before our government acknowledges the fact that the taser, and similar devices, are indeed lethal weapons ? Our laws should treat the taser as a lethal weapon, regardless of who is pulling the trigger.

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – Here’s an article by another WordPress blogger, that details the taser death of a man by police at an airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. His crime appears to be that he could not speak English, which seems to be a capital offense in Canada (with the exception of Quebec).

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