March 13, 2010

‘Sudden Acceleration’ Evidence Against Toyota Weakens Under Examination

fumento meganmcardle

Two reports linked by Instapundit earlier today demonstrate at a macro and micro level how weak the claim that Toyota has deliberately jeopardized consumer safety in connection with “sudden acceleration” complaints may ultimately turn out to be.

The macro piece comes from Megan McArdle (pictured at left; “How Real are the Defects in Toyota’s Cars?”) at her blog at the Atlantic. The magazine’s business and economics editor dissected case-by-case detail originally compiled by the Los Angeles Times, which was also analyzed to an extent by Washington Examiner op-ed writer and Overlawyered blogger Ted Frank, to make important points about the likelihood of driver error in many of them.

The micro item comes from Michael Fumento, whose Forbes column takes apart the recent James Sikes “sudden acceleration” incident in California as it rips the establishment media for its total lack of skepticism about the driver’s claims and his credibility.

First, to McArdle, who also has nicely done charts at her post:

One of the great mysteries of the Toyota debacle is why Toyota ignored the complaints for so long.

… (The company’s) behavior becomes a bit more explicable when you consider this argument from Ted Frank, who wrote:

“In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89–and I’m leaving out the son whose age wasn’t identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.”

“… These “electronic defects” apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them. (If computers are going to discriminate against anyone, they should be picking on the young, who are more likely to take up arms against the rise of the machines and future Terminators).”

… I was interested in Frank’s argument, so I took a look at the LA Times article, which is really admirably thorough. Here are the results, categorized into a nifty, though not necessarily particularly useful, spreadsheet. I went one further than Frank, tracking down the ages of all but a couple of the named drivers.

Several things are striking. First, the age distribution really is extremely skewed. The overwhelming majority are over 55.

Here’s what else you notice: a slight majority of the incidents involved someone either parking, pulling out of a parking space, in stop and go traffic, at a light or stop sign . . . in other words, probably starting up from a complete stop.

In many of the other cases, we don’t really know what happened, because there were no witnesses of exactly when the car started to run away.

… At any rate, when you look at these incidents all together, it’s pretty clear why Toyota didn’t investigate this “overwhelming evidence” of a problem: they look a lot like typical cases of driver error. I don’t know that all of them are. But I do know that however advanced Toyota’s electronics are, they’re not yet clever enough to be able to pick on senior citizens.

Fumento’s takedown of the recent James Sikes incident leaves those who want to claim that the incident is legitimate virtually nowhere to hide, and should be read in full to be fully appreciated:

Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax

“On the very day Toyota was making a high-profile defense of its cars, one of them was speeding out of control,” said CBS News–and a vast number of other media outlets worldwide.

It got far more dramatic, though. The California Highway Patrol responded and “To get the runaway car to stop, they actually had to put their patrol car in front of the Prius and step on the brakes.” During over 20 harrowing minutes, according to NBC’s report, Sikes “did everything he could to try to slow down that Prius.” Others said, “Radio traffic indicated the driver was unable to turn off the engine or shift the car into neutral.”

In fact, almost none of this was true. Virtually every aspect of Sikes’s story as told to reporters makes no sense. His claim that he’d tried to yank up the accelerator could be falsified, with his help, in half a minute. And now we even have an explanation for why he’d pull such a stunt …

… Now here’s the potential smoking gun: Sikes told the reporters that “I was reaching down and trying to pull up on the gas pedal. It didn’t move at all; it was stationary.” That’s awfully daring for somebody who insisted he didn’t even want to take a hand off his steering wheel, notwithstanding that he did so to hold his phone.

… I tried to imitate Sikes’ alleged effort in a 2008 Prius.

… it required squashing my face against the radio and completely removing my eyes from the road.

… So why did he do it? Sleuth work at the Web sites Jalopnik.com and Gawker.com reveals that Sikes and his wife Patty in 2008 filed for bankruptcy and are over $700,000 in debt.

… Sikes also has a history of filing insurance claims for allegedly stolen items that are slowly coming to light.

… (The media) have been as determined to not investigate Sikes’ claims as Sikes was to not stop his car. It’s a Toyota media feeding frenzy and the media aren’t about to let little things like incredible stories and readily-refutable claims get in the way.

Ah, but the establishment media has still been able to find the time to look into the potential legal and financial ramifications for Toyota. On Wednesday, the Associated Press’s Curt Anderson and Greg Bluestein threw up a 1,300-word report estimating how much class-action and other lawsuits could cost the company (answer: supposedly over $3 billion), after “review of cases, legal precedent and interviews with experts.”

Of course it can never be proven, but perhaps the AP pair’s interest in documenting the potential damage had something to do with news from the previous day indicating that what has for weeks appeared to be an orchestrated media and government campaign to discredit the company may not be having the desired effect:

Toyota sales up 50 percent from March 2009

A high-ranking Toyota executive says the auto company’s North American sales spiked around 50 percent the first eight days of March as incentives helped lure customers after a series of embarrassing safety recalls.

It seems that the car-buying public is far less scared of Toyota’s supposed “killer cars” than establishment media journalists are of doing real investigations into the validity of the claims.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

WaPo Report on DC-MD-VA January Job Market Betrays Seasonal, Other Ignorance

JobSearchNewspaperYesterday, Jim Taranto at the Wall Street Journal’s indispensable Best of the Web took note of a report by the Washington Post’s V. Dion Hayes about the state of the employment market in DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and summarized its findings thusly:

So what looks to the Post like good news that looks like bad news is actually bad news that looks like good news.

Even that assessment turns out to have been overly charitable. Hayes, like most of the press, betrayed that he doesn’t understand the crucial difference between raw and seasonally adjusted data by mixing the concepts (perhaps without even realizing it), failed to look at data from previous years, and ended up producing an incoherent report with no supportable conclusions.

The following table identifies all relevant changes in the three employment markets between December and January (sources — Bureau of Labor Statistics state and selected areas tables 3, 4, 5, and 6 for January):

DCMDVAjobRelatedChangesJan2010

With the above data in mind, a detailed breakdown of Hayes’s broken-down report follows:

Rise in Washington area unemployment seen as good sign for economy’s recovery

The District’s jobless rate increased to 12 percent in January from 11.9 percent the previous month, according to data released Wednesday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Maryland’s rate climbed to 7.5 percent from 7.4 percent, while in Virginia, the jobless rate rose to 6.9 percent from 6.8 percent. That same month, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent from 10 percent in December. (1)

… “You do have people coming back thinking things are loosening up and they might get something,” said Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission. She said the state’s labor force grew by 30,000 in January, even though the number of unemployed people rose and the number of employed declined. (2)

… The District experienced the nation’s largest monthly increase — 1 percent — in the number of jobs, according to the federal data. That represents the addition of 6,700 jobs, mainly in the federal government, according to the city’s Department of Employment Services. (3)

Officials at the agency say the city’s labor force grew by 3,300 from January 2009 to January 2010, and they are seeing more job postings and job fairs held by large employers, including Safeway and Pepco. (4)

… Maryland’s labor force grew by 1,400 in January, the first increase since May 2008, state officials said. The number of unemployed people rose by 5,100, but the number of people who lost their jobs totaled 3,700. State officials speculate that the balance of 1,400 were workers reentering the labor force. (5)

Here are the footnote explanations:

(1) — Though Hayes never identified them as such, all percentages presented in this paragraph are seasonally adjusted. The presentation clearly indicates that what Hayes reported is what he believes happened in reality. It’s not; MD’s and VA’s unemployment rates went up significantly. To be clear, such January jumps are not unusual. January is typically a month of steep job losses and unemployment rate increases because those who were hired for Christmas and other seasonal employment are usually released.

(2) — As you can see from the table, Virginia’s Lang is clearly referring to the NOT seasonally adjusted 29,700 above. Hayes seems to have no clue.

(3) — That 6,700-job increase is after seasonal adjustment. The government’s best estimate of the reality on the ground is that 5,700 fewer people were working. I defy Mr. Hayes or anyone in DC’s Department of Employment Services to find those 6,700 net new employees — in the federal government or anywhere else.

(4) — Hayes inexplicably uses a seasonally adjusted 12-month change after reporting on single-month changes all along. That the change is the same as the NSA number above is pure coincidence.

(5) — Again, Hayes gives readers the impression that this is what really happened, when it isn’t. The reported “speculation” by the state in relation to seasonally adjusted figures makes no sense.

The fact is that Hayes did not look at how January’s real, not seasonally adjusted changes compare to previous years, especially those earlier than 2009, when the entire economy was in a virtual free-fall. That’s a problem, even moreso than usual, as I noted last week (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog), when I wrote that:

2009 was so bad, that it’s distorting the SA calculation — to the point where it’s really not as reliable an indicator of what is going on as it normally would be in a more predictable situation.”

That concern could be even more relevant when looking at state and local data.

Because of that, at least the following contentions by Hayes and those he consulted for quotes have no demonstrated support:

  • Via Hayes — “(the report) suggests that discouraged job-seekers are feeling more optimistic about their prospects and have resumed looking for work.”
  • Via Anirban Basu, chairman and chief executive of Sage Policy Group — “Maryland, Virginia and the District are where the labor market is advanced in terms of recovery …”
  • Via Hayes — “The increase suggests that long-term unemployed people in the D.C. area who had given up looking for work have restarted their job hunt, perhaps because they see evidence that the region’s economy is improving and that employers are beginning to hire again.” The absolute best that might be said is that fewer employers might be letting fewer people go than occurs in a typical January — but we don’t even know that.
  • Via Ann D. Lang, senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission — “You do have people coming back thinking things are loosening up and they might get something.”
  • Via Tim Bibo Jr., research analyst at the Maryland Governor’s Workforce Investment Board — “If we have any optimism we’ve got to keep it tempered, because it is a modest increase — but it’s a step in the right direction.”

I would modify Jim Taranto’s conclusion noted at the beginning of this post as follows:

So what looks to the Post like good news that looks like bad news may actually bad news that looks like good news — but based on errors in V. Dion Hayes’s presentation and work that the reporter left undone, how can we possibly know?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Latest Pajamas Media Column (‘Jobs: False ‘Improvement,’ Proposed Destruction’) Is Up

Filed under: Economy,Health Care,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:21 am

unemploymentIt’s here.

It will go up here at BizzyBlog on Monday morning (link won’t work until then) after the blackout expires.

________________________________________________

Addendum: Investors Business Daily’s reax to the March 5 employment report was spot-on —

We’re sad to say, the picture is even worse than it appears.

Take that “only 36,000″ figure. The real number is actually 51,000 jobs lost, because the government counts 15,000 temporary workers hired by the Census as new jobs. But these jobs aren’t, in any meaningful sense, real full-time jobs.

Would things have been better without all the snow? Undoubtedly. But we still would have lost jobs.

… In February, the Gallup report shows, some 19.8% of Americans reported that they were underemployed or not employed at all.

That’s one out of five workers — and even more than the 15 million unemployed estimated by the government.

What’s troubling is the obliviousness of Washington to this problem — the utter cluelessness they have about the most basic economic principles that guide our economy.

With businesses struggling and fearful about the future, all the talk in Washington is about more reckless spending and taxing.

They push ahead with a $2.5 trillion plan to take over 17% of the economy, while both Social Security and Medicare run on fumes and hover near bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, Democrats think of the tax bonanza they’ll get from letting President Bush’s 2003 tax cuts expire at the end of this year, but don’t consider that it will devastate the economy.

Add to that cap-and-trade, new “fees” levied on banks, and the Obama administration’s pledge to hammer those with incomes above $200,000 — that is, our entrepreneurial class — with higher taxes, and it’s not hard to see why new jobs aren’t being created. Talk of a business-killing “value-added tax” emerging from President Obama’s deficit commission isn’t helping, either.

Also Related:

- March 9 (at BizzyBlog; at NewsBusters) — AP: House Dems’ ObamaCare Iteration to Penalize Businesses Using Part-Time Workers

Positivity: Nearly one million in Spain march for life, protest new abortion law

Filed under: Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 6:54 am

From Madrid, Spain (video is at link; Spain’s population is about 46.7 million):

Mar 10, 2010 / 12:51 am

Nearly one million Spaniards marched in cities across the country on March 7 defending the right to life of the unborn and demanding that the government revoke Spain’s new law on abortion recently passed by the Senate and signed by King Juan Carlos.

Over 300 pro-life organizations collaborated in the “International March for Life 2010,” which was held last Sunday in numerous cities across Spain.

The largest march took place in Madrid, where 600,000 people, including many families, dressed in red t-shirts and carried signs and banners. The protesters marched from Cibeles Plaza to the Gate of the Sun.

The event in Madrid concluded with the reading of a manifesto by journalist Sonsoles Calavera demanding the government revoke the new law on abortion—now the most liberal in all of Europe.

Go here for the rest of the story.