March 2010 Archives

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"How a pit bull is like a Prius," my Philly Inquirer article today

By Michael Fumento

What could pit bulls possibly have in common with Toyotas? Pit bulls, after all, tend to be smaller and furrier. And whatever you do, never try to wash and wax a pit bull.

Still, there is a connection. Both have been at the center of "misinformation cascades," in which false "facts" roll downhill until they become avalanches, sweeping away everything in their path.

During the 1970s and early '80s, pit bulls maimed about 80 people a year and killed about seven. That compares to about 58 lightning deaths a year. Then, as now, serious dog attacks made only the local papers. But in 1986, the national networks aired spectacular footage of a pit bull attacking an animal-control officer. Suddenly, pit bulls had their incisors in the national consciousness.

And less than a year ago, Toyotas were Consumer Reports readers most highly rated cars with a terrific safety record. And now, seemingly, they're going nuts. Suddenly accelerating down freeways, into buildings, into walls. As you'll see in my Philadelphia Inquirer piece, actually pit bulls have a lot in common with Toyotas.

But with a pit bull, don't kick the tires!

March 31, 2010 03:02 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

"Are some reporters lying in their Toyota coverage?" my Canadian Free Press article

By Michael Fumento

I've shown clearly that reporters are acting with reckless disregard for the truth in the Toyota sudden acceleration feeding frenzy since my Los Angeles Times article "Toyota Hysteria" on March 9.

And no article showed that more than my Forbes.com expose, "The Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax," of March 12.

Richards claims, "Some [of his emailers] say they are looking at the dash and there it appears you should shift the lever to go into neutral UP and not left (which is the correct way)." Really? But the real problem is that Prius driver James Sikes stated repeatedly and explicitly that he never even tried to shift at all. Which makes everything Richards say about the alleged difficulty of shifting the Prius gears something of a red herring, doesn't it?

But are some reporters outright lying? One presumes so out of so large a number; but the charge is generally hard to prove because it requires showing a state of mind. You have to catch the reporter making clearly contradictory statements or show he clearly knew a set of facts and presented them otherwise - or failed to present them otherwise.

That the person "Should have known better" isn't enough. With that, I present my letters exchange with the San Jose Mercury News and specifically its automobile writer, Gary Richards in this Canadian Free Press article. You can draw your own conclusions.

March 30, 2010 07:12 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

The things I endure to get a story!

By Michael Fumento

If you think I was tough for embedding in Iraq's meanest city a year after having my guts blown out in another part of the country, that was nothing compared to listening to the C-SPAN video of the 2-hour plus Star Chamber interrogation of Toyota Sales CEO James Lentz at the February 23rd. Twice I had to stop the video to pop Xanax.

Youse refused that offer we said youse couldn't refuse!

I thought if Rep. Joe Barton, in his interrogation, pronounced Toyota as "Toyotoe" one more time I was going to scream.

Rep. Bobby Rush read aloud a letter about an Avalon accident in the Dallas area that stated, “Police said there was no evidence of any braking, giving rise to the idea that it was an accelerator problem.”

Hello?

And I couldn't believe my ears as Rep. Jerry McNerney essentially openly blackmailed Lentz regarding a plant in his district that had been co-owned by GM and Toyota, but GM pulled out. "You're having a public relations nightmare right now," McNerney told Lentz. "If you work with us to keep that open, it will be a real plus for your public relations issues."

Presumably if that plant doesn't stay open, Lentz will wake up with a horse's head in his bed or at least receive a fish wrapped in newspaper.

You'll hear more about this interrogation get gleanings of it in an upcoming article, but this should be taught for future generations as a textbook case of congressional demagoguery.

March 28, 2010 01:31 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

"Why Do Toyotas Hate the Elderly?" my article in Forbes Online

By Michael Fumento

It was the Camry in a car wash nightmare. With her two grandchildren in the car, Doris Dresner went through the wash in Columbia, Mo., with the gear in neutral. At the end, she stepped on the brake and put the car in drive. Suddenly it lunged forward. She slammed the brake, but the car just went faster.

It seems trial lawyers should be filing suits against Toyota for age discrimination!

Dresner swerved to avoid a fire hydrant, but nonetheless it ripped off her left fender. Still accelerating, the car shot across the street, jumped the curb and went airborne before landing in a parking lot. Fortunately everybody was OK.

A columnist who only wrote about this a few weeks ago (though the accident happened in 2005) declared, "I suspect there were people like Doris all over the country - one here, one there." And he's right. But for all the wrong reasons.

Toyota should be ashamed for building cars that pick on seniors citizens!

Doris Dresner, you see, is 80. The columnist claimed her long driving record should allay suspicions that she hit the accelerator instead of the brake. In fact, her age supports that suspicion.

Data regarding fatal accidents "connected to" Toyota sudden-acceleration complaints show that the trial lawyers really should be suing the company for age discrimination. That or as I write in my Forbes Online article "Why Do Toyotas Hate the Elderly," something else important is happening that might explain much of the sudden acceleration phenomenon.

March 28, 2010 11:22 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

"The People Speak," my NRO piece on Obama's nonsense about the Obamacare vote

By Michael Fumento

Shortly after the House approved the massive, historic health-care legislation and sent it to President Obama for his signature, the president declared the vote "proved that this government - a government of the people and by the people - still works for the people."

In fact, according to Pollster.com, which tracks surveys, eight non-partisan polls surveyed Americans about attitudes towards the legislation just before the vote. None showed a majority of support. In fact, Obama's "the people" is closer to a third of the electorate.

But when you dig deeper, looking at specific responses such as those showing "strong" support or "strong" disapproval, it looks even worse.

Americans want health care reform, but they clearly didn't want this bill. Why didn't Congress go back to the drawing board to present more palatable legislation? Read about it in my NRO piece, "The People Speak."

March 27, 2010 12:58 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Barack Obama ~ Health Care

"How Media Took Us For A Ride In A Prius," my IBD piece

By Michael Fumento

For three days, James Sikes held America's highest honor: victim. The nation had been transfixed by his almost half-hour-long 94-mph horror ride in his runaway Toyota Prius. He burned his brakes right down to the metal, unable to even slow the vehicle. Only his prescience in calling 911, followed by a highway patrol officer providing assistance, saved his life.

Did Jim Sikes read "The Wind in the Willows"?

Then my article "Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax" at Forbes.com brought it crashing down. But lest you get false impressions from that title, the real hoaxter wasn't Jim Sikes, but the media. Red flags about his story were popping up from the start. Yet the entire Fourth Estate systematically ignored them. As one reader put it to me in an e-mail: "I weep for the state of American journalism." Read about it in my Investor's Business Daily article.

March 25, 2010 09:17 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

U.S. media ignoring my Prius hoax expose, but overseas . . .

By Michael Fumento

Mentions of my Forbes.com expose of the Prius hoax are almost entirely absent from U.S. newspapers, notwithstanding my numerous national TV appearances discussing it and countless radio shows. As I noted, Sikes's claims regarding why he refused to put his care into neutral - claims he made at a press conference that's on the Web and in a CNN interview that's also on the Web - are alone enough to show he's flat-out lying.


Yet four four days after my piece appeared, the Washington Post declared "Sikes said he tried to free his gas pedal with his hand but did not say whether he put the car in neutral."
One of my readers sent a letter by the email correcting the story, but the Post did not run it.

Two days after my article appeared, the "car expert" for the San Jose Mercury-News, Gary Richards, wrote about the alleged difficulty of putting the Prius into neutral. In fact, with the shifter right next to the steering wheel and requiring only a flick of the finger, it's one of the easiest shifter conceivable. But as I wrote to him, by focusing on the alleged difficulty of shifting he misled his readers into thinking Sikes had tried when, again, his reasons for not trying destroy his story. I'll be writing more anon about our exchange.

And yet my article was reprinted in newspapers all over Canada, and written about in other. And it's also reached at least as far as Norway.

Wrote the Dagbladet, "As Forbes commentator Michael Fumento points out, this pedal is pretty difficult to reach with your hand in a Prius (or any other car) without removing both your eyes, head and the rest of your body from their normal driving position in the driver's seat. It is simply not possible the way Sikes explains in his story." It adds, "Raising doubt about wild Toyota adventures, "experts doubt the Prius accident in the US." And regarding Norway's own "runaway Prius accident" (the car smashed into a guard rail at 94 mph), neither in Norway has any fault of the car been found."

This is not the case of "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own home." (Although trust me, I have repeatedly experienced that throughout my career!) It's a terrible reflection on the U.S. media, as indeed was my very expose of the Prius hoax and the entire witch hunt attitude our media have had towards Toyota.

March 24, 2010 11:37 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

No, Pres. Obama, the health care vote was not "of the people"

By Michael Fumento

I have repeatedly defended Obama against what I've considered unfair attacks from the right. I believe his actions for the most part have not been nearly as "liberal" as some have claimed. It's wrong to use his middle name of "Hussein" used against him, as if he could have chosen it in any case. And I don't care for the conspiracy theories such as his alleged foreign birth.

But one of my objections to all this is it weakens legitimate arguments against those actions and words of his that truly threaten our nation.

That includes his utterly outrageous claim following the House vote approving the health care bill.

The vote, he said last night, "proved that this government - a government of the people and by the people - still works for the people."

Just for using that cliche he merits 20,000 years in purgatory. I trust even my non-Catholic friends will stand by me on that.

But beyond that, we have those pesky surveys that repeatedly showed "the people" opposed the legislation. They include Gallup, Rasmussen, Fox, Pew, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and others. All were released anywhere from days to a week before the vote. All show only about a third of the electorate wanted the legislation to pass.

Then there are the numbers in the House vote itself.

It squeaked by with just seven more yeas than nays, or 50.8 percent of those voting. It got zero votes from opposition party and had 17 defectors from the majority party. That doesn't invalidate the vote, of course. It legally passed. But is that the kind of victory margin you'd really want for sweeping legislation that will affect all Americans presumably for the rest of our history?

Obviously it's not what Obama would have wanted. But what he wanted more was a political victory and a massive expansion of government, and now he's got them. Goody for him. But don't pretend this is what we wanted.

March 22, 2010 02:52 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Barack Obama ~ Government ~ Health Care

Media falsely claiming CHP report backs Toyota Prius hoaxer's claim

By Michael Fumento

Over a week after I exposed the "Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax" at Forbes. com, the press (as opposed to some TV networks, talk radio, and bloggers) just won't throw in the towel.

Shifting a 2008 Prius

"A California Highway Patrol report released on Wednesday in a sensational 'runaway' Toyota Prius incident appears to support the version of events given by the driver, which the automaker has called into question," reports Reuters.

Really? Here's the report. It's just a few pages; read it for yourself. But it's interesting to note what Reuters plucked that it believes to be so compelling.

  • "'I could see the driver sat up off his seat indicating that he was possibly applying the brake pedal with his body weight," CHP Officer Todd Neibert wrote in his investigative report." Sorry, but being up off your seat doesn't mean you're standing on the brakes. Try it for yourself in your own car.

  • "'I was able to view his actions through the lowered right rear window," Neibert said in the seven-page written narrative. 'His back was arched and both hands were pulling on the steering wheel. I noticed that the Prius slowed slightly, down to approximately 85 to 90 miles per hour." As with the earlier comment, by definition this occurred after the officer arrived on the scene. It doesn't tell us what Sikes was doing in the previous 25 minutes. And it's very important that somehow when the officer showed up the Prius was slowing down at least slightly, thereby contradicting Sikes's claim on the 911 tape and later that it wasn't slowing at all.

  • "Neibert wrote that Sikes 'looked over at me briefly and appeared to be in a panicked state' . . . . the brake lights on the blue Prius were lit as it ascended a long uphill grade at about 85 miles an hour." Again, this was after the officer arrived on the scene that the brake lights were lit. As to appearing to be in a panicked state, that's how Sikes would want to look isn't it?

  • "He said that Sikes complained of tightness in his chest, 'appeared to be extremely stressed from the incident' and was reluctant to get out of an ambulance when he learned that reporters were waiting to speak with him." If you were the person pulling off a hoax, isn't that what you would say and do? Absolutely you would not want to speak to reporters. You'd want to work on your story and address them later.

  • "Neibert said in his account that he discovered a large amount of brake dust and brake pad material in and around the wheels. The accelerator and brake pedals in a normal resting position and that the floor mat did not appear to be interfering with them." RIGHT! The accelerator was in an upright position, and yet Sikes claimed while the vehicle was moving it was so jammed that he leaned forward to grip it and couldn't pull it up. Why, upon coming to a rest, did the accelerator suddenly pop up? As to the brake pad material, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
    A federal safety investigation of the Toyota Prius that was involved in a dramatic incident on a California highway last week found a particular pattern of wear on the car's brakes that raises questions about the driver's version of the event, three people familiar with the investigation said.

    During and after the incident, Mr. Sikes said he was using heavy pressure on his brake pedal at high speeds.

    But the investigation of the vehicle, carried out jointly by safety officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Toyota engineers, didn't find signs the brakes had been applied at full force at high speeds over a sustained period of time, the three people familiar with the investigation said.

    The brakes were discolored and showed wear, but the pattern of friction suggested the driver had intermittently applied moderate pressure on the brakes, these people said, adding the investigation didn't find indicators of the heavy pressure described by Mr. Sikes.


    Now let's recap just one of my findings in the Forbes.com piece that the CHP report doesn't deal with because it concerns later events.

    The 911 dispatcher, as you can hear on the Web, repeatedly begs Sikes to either stop the engine with the ignition button or put the gear into neutral. Sikes refused to do either, later giving various bizarre reasons. "I was afraid to try to [reach] over there and put it in neutral, he told CNN. "I was holding onto the steering wheel with both hands - 94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast."

    Yet:

  • We know Sikes spent most of the ride with a cell phone in one hand.

  • Sikes claimed at a press conference that he reached under the dash and yanked on the floored accelerator. I'm thin with arms the average American length, but fell three inches short. Sikes almost certainly can't do what he claims, but nobody's asked him to repeat the motion. In any event, it can hardly be done with both hands on the wheel.

  • Finally in the 2008 Prius the shift knob is mounted on the dash expressly to allow shifting by merely reaching out with a finger. (See inset.)

    Just what exactly does it take to convince the press?

    It's interesting that most people think Bogie said "Play it again, Sam!" in one film, while in another Bogart movie banditos said "We don't need no steenking badges!" Yet all you have to do is pop in the DVD to see that neither quotation is correct.

    Likewise, we have a media that by and large has refused to make an effort little more than that to verify Sikes's outrageous claims or point them out as such. The Washington Post, as I've noted, claims Sikes never said whether he put the car in neutral. Never mind that he told press conference and CNN that he didn't and these are both on the Web.

    If the media don't see it in their interest, they won't investigate - even to the point of half a minute of Googling. Remember that the next time you hear a Toyota horror story.

  • March 21, 2010 12:57 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Media ~ Toyota

    "Preventative Care Myth," my piece in NRO

    By Michael Fumento

    Declaring "I love numbers," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared after getting a thumbs up from the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday just before a scheduled vote on health care legislation.

    The budget office found that the House changes to the Senate legislation will cut $138 billion from the federal deficit. Opponents have showed the figures are essentially mythical. Certainly numbers have worked against Pelosi in a very critical area, namely the idea that preventative care and wellness programs can save us money. That too, is a myth, as I make abundantly clear in "The Preventative Care Myth," my article in today's NRO.

    March 19, 2010 01:55 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Health Care

    Fumento podcast with Faust Wertz, health care legislation, Toyota, and more

    By Michael Fumento

    Faust Wertz is a great interviewer and it's always a pleasure to be on her show. Today we discussed Toyota, health care legislation (including an NRO piece I have upcoming today), and Mike's need for financial support to keep doing what he's doing.

    This is a very nice lady!

    March 19, 2010 12:15 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fumento

    Remember the "cancer cluster" that made Erin Brockovich famous? (And rich?)

    By Michael Fumento

    Erin Brockovich became "America's Sweetheart" because "she brought a corporation to its knees." As the story goes, the energy company PG&E was storing chromium 6, a cancer agent, in its on-site ponds but it leached into the wells of the nearby tiny desert town of Hinkley, Calif., to sue.

    The suit blamed the chemical for dozens of symptoms, ranging from nosebleeds to breast cancer, Hodgkin's disease, miscarriages and spinal deterioration. In 1996 PG&E settled the case for $333 million.

    Beauty fades; wickedness doesn't.

    The problem, as I noted in my very first piece critical of Brockovich way back in 2000, is that "no one agent could possibly have caused more than a handful of the symptoms described. Chromium 6 in the water almost certainly didn't cause any of them. The Environmental Protection Agency does consider chromium 6 a human carcinogen. But it's linked only to cancer of the lung and of the septum. Further, as one might guess from these two cancers, it's a carcinogen only when inhaled."

    Nevertheless, PG&E foolishly submitted to arbitration rather than going to court, Brockovich's firm won a massive $333 million, of which Brockovich in her bonus alone received $2 million.

    But were the people of Hinkley actually any more likely to have cancer than would be expected in a town that size of that demographic population?

    In light of the trouble Brockovich is currently stirring up in Acreage, Florida, in which she's rounding up plaintiffs for class action suits regarding an alleged childhood cancer cluster, I decided to check into the final verdict on cancer in Hinkley. Here's what I found.

    California's "Desert Sierra Cancer Surveillance Program staff reviewed cancer cases that had been diagnosed among residents of the census tract where Hinkley is located." Conclusion: "Our assessment did not identify any excess in the number of new cancer cases in Hinkley between 1988 and 1993 that is greater than the level anticipated for sampling error." Moreover, "Recently, we extended our assessment of cancer in the census tract encompassing Hinkley through 1998." Conclusion: the did "not identify an excess in the number of new cancer cases in the area assessed."

    Conclusion: Brockovich's original claim to fame was built on a fabrication. And it still is.

    I've got a list on my Web site of more of my extensive writings on this wicked fraud of a woman.

    Two of the greatest compliments I've received: When Gen. David Petraeus said of my "The New Band of Brothers" article from Iraq: "Great stuff with a great unit in a very tough neighborhood!" and when Australia's "60 Minutes" asked Brockovich about me and she screeched: "I hate him!"

    March 18, 2010 09:01 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Brockovich, Erin

    My NYPost piece on "sudden acceleration" as an American phenomenon

    By Michael Fumento

    "No other country in the world has comparable problems with cars accelerating on their own," observes one of Germany's top magazines, Der Spiegel - yet "the same cars exist around the world, but no accidents of this type have occurred anywhere outside of North America. There were also cases of stuck Toyota gas pedals in Germany. The drivers braked successfully, and notified their car dealerships. None of them met their deaths."

    Indeed, sudden acceleration appears to be a form of American hypochondria - not just on Toyotas. The data show it, the question is why? Learn about it in my New York Post piece today, "Toyota Hysteria: Real Stories Are about Us."

    March 17, 2010 04:01 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    This blog at "Tundra Headquarters" plays my "Toyota Hysteria" piece the right way

    By Michael Fumento

    This blog titled "Toyota Crash Victim Speaks Out Against Media Smearing Automaker" exploits my cache as a victim of a REAL Toyota defect, which I detailed in my Los Angeles Times piece "Toyota Hysteria." (The inset photo is of my Toyota MR2 after a problem with the rear end caused it to fishtail next to a cliff and send me and my future wife right over.)

    My wife broke her neck and skull in this car, but she says it was a bad car not that Toyota is a maker of bad cars.

    "Basically, Fumento is the real deal. He's got personal negative experience with Toyota, and yet he still manages to say that Toyota is being railroaded by uninformed and uneducated members of big media."

    It also displays my journalism record. I presume I'm the only Toyota defender who was in combat with the Navy SEALs!

    My only problem with it is it says "He calls Prius driver James Sikes a 'media whore liar.'" My writing style is intentionally understated. Among my over 800 articles you will not find the word "whore" and may not find the word "liar." I show the facts and let the reader conclude.

    That said, I must say that Sikes truly is as . . . . Nope! Not going to do it!

    March 17, 2010 10:44 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    Washington Post begins its "Beer Madness" tournament

    By Michael Fumento

    The Washington Post has kicked off its annual "Beer Madness" tournament. Be sure to view all the sections. It starts with 64 beers in four categories and then they're played off of each other like it's NCAA basketball. This year for the first time they've opened it to foreign suds.

    "Sudden death was never so sweet!

    My comments:

    I've had most of the lagers and Tsing Tao is definitely my favorite of them. Curiously I haven't had the Black Raven one, though Baltimore being just up the road you'd think it would be readily found around here.

    I had no idea there was such a variety of pale ales. I normally associate pale malt with bitterness and am adverse to bitter. (I'm told I have "chick taste buds.") I actually like Kolsch, but that may reflect the fact that I first had it in its home city of Cologne (Koln) and it just brings back good memories. That's one nice thing about beer and wine as opposed to soft drinks. They can acquire special meaning to you.

    Under freestyle, I had no idea the Japanese made a white beer! I've only had Schneider in Germany but it's excellent. I think it's the most popular Weißbier in that country. And I adore lambics, including Framboise. It is very much like dessert but it's not like a desert wine where you can only have a little bit. One time in Belgian I lined up I believe five lambics made by Mort Subite (I've never seen it in this country, and the name, incidentally means "Sudden Death!"). Four fruits and one straight lambic. Drank them all; loved them all. "Lambic" refers to a type of yeast that so far as I know is only grown in one part of Belgium. It imparts something of a pleasant sour taste.

    Can't weigh in on the dark beers. Not my style.

    I feel like pouring one back now, but insofar as its about 10:30 in the morning . . .

    March 17, 2010 10:12 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fun

    Washington Post spreading more misinformation on Prius hoax

    By Michael Fumento

    The media are still resisting admitting that James Sikes's Wild Ride was just another Balloon Boy Hoax, in which they played a vital role. Thus the Washington Post today states, "Sikes said he tried to free his gas pedal with his hand but did not say whether he put the car in neutral."

    Up, up and away!

    Actually at his press conference the next day he said about five times he did not. That is available on the Web and I link to it in my Forbes.com article in which I exposed the hoax.

    I also reported CNN asked why he didn't put the car into neutral and he said, "I was afraid to try to [reach] over there and put it in neutral. I was holding onto the steering wheel with both hands - 94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast."

    Yet for much of the ride he had a phone in one hand!

    He also claims to have reached way under the dash to try to pull up the accelerator. And the kicker is that the 2008 Prius is mounted on the dash so that you don't have to take your hands off the steering wheel to shift as this image shows.

    This alone shows Sikes to be a complete liar, yet the Post negates all these questions with its sloppy reporting.

    The Post also says that a Toyota representative said "that Sikes was told by the 911 operator to put his Prius into neutral and turn off the ignition."

    Either the operator did or she didn't. Why is this attributed to Toyota? Again, you can find that 911 call all over the Web and a link to it in my piece. You hear this poor lady BEGGING Sikes to turn off the ignition or put the car into neutral. He refused. It's a fact, not a "Toyota claims."

    We need reporters to admit "We wuz wrong. This was another Balloon Boy Hoax and we blew it!" Then we need them to call off the witch hunt.

    (Image courtesy of Jaime Arbona.)

    March 16, 2010 09:23 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    Mike on the Tube

    By Michael Fumento

    Fox & Friends, Fox (duh!), 8:35 AM Tuesday.

    March 15, 2010 09:14 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fumento

    Mike on TV

    By Michael Fumento

    Neil Cavuto again, 4:10 EST today, FoxBusiness, Prius hoax.

    March 15, 2010 02:12 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fumento

    Fumento scheduled for Today Show Monday AM on Prius Hoax

    By Michael Fumento

    No guarantees! Starts at 7AM EST. Regarding my Forbes expose on the Prius Balloon Boy, James Sikes.

    March 14, 2010 08:21 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Fumento

    Gov't report backs up my Prius hoax revelation

    By Michael Fumento

    As I reported in Forbes Online on Friday, and am scheduled to discuss tomorrow on NBC's Today Show, the Balloon Boy in a Prius incident was baloney from beginning to end. Now a congressional memo available in its entirety online has provided further substantiation based on an analysis of the vehicle.

    Here's a summary of what I reported in Forbes, which is essentially a summary of what nobody else in the entire U.S media reported:

    Sikes repeatedly says he stood on the brakes or lay on the brakes and he couldn't even slow the vehicle. Yet Car and Driver tested three cars at full throttle at 100 mph and brought them all to a full stop, including a 540-horsepower Mustang. The 2008 Prius has 110 anemic ponies under the hood.

    You can listen to the tape of the 911 operator repeatedly begging Sikes to either stop the engine with the ignition button or put the car into neutral. Sikes never says these functions didn't work; he says he was afraid to try them giving various contradictory or absurd reasons.

    Regarding his refusal to shift into neutral, Sikes told CNN "I was afraid to try to [reach] over there and put it in neutral. I was holding onto the steering wheel with both hands - 94 miles an hour in a Toyota Prius is fast." Yet:

  • We know he spent most of the ride with a cell phone in his hand.
  • He claims he reached all way under the dash to try to physically pull up the floored accelerator. I have average-length arms and can barely touch the pedal in the full up position.
  • There's an excellent chance Sikes is physically incapable of what he claims. Nobody asked him to repeat the motion. In any case it's an incredibly awkward movement for somebody who insisted he couldn't take his hands off the wheel.

    Finally, the 2008 Prius shift knob is mounted on the dash inches away from the steering wheel, expressly to allow shifting without lifting the right hand.

    And here's something I missed in the original piece, though it's included in the version on my website: After Sikes stopped the assisting officer observed that the accelerator was in the up position. Why would stopping the car make it pop back up? That makes no sense.

    Sikes turned out to have a checkered past. He is $700,000 in debt and owes $20,000 of that on his Prius. He also has a history of filing insurance claims for allegedly stolen items. In other words, it was already case closed. The memo is just playing pile on.

    It says that during two hours of test drives of Sikes' car Thursday, technicians with Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to duplicate what Sikes had described. "Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down," the document written by the Republican staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said.

    Also, the Prius is designed to shut down if the brakes are applied while the gas pedal is pressed to the floor. If it doesn't, the engine would "completely seize," according to the report citing Toyota's "residential Hybrid expert."

    "It does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time," said the memo.

    Naturally Sikes' attorney said "Pay no attention to those facts behind the curtain!" He seems to think it important, as I've heard others also say, that Sikes says he has no intention of suing Toyota. Granted I happen to be a lawyer but a quick Google search reveals he couldn't have sued Toyota in any case. He was physically unhurt. While California is one of the few jurisdictions allowing suits for unintentional infliction of emotional distress, it allows it in only three specific circumstances and Sikes alleged wild ride falls under none of them.

    The media will insist that until the government report came out they had no way of knowing. Go back to the beginning of this blog and read what I wrote in Forbes. The evidence was there all along and I reported it two days before the memo was leaked.

    Ultimately Sikes has proved himself to be dumber than the proverbial box of rocks. He only got as far as he could because while journalists in school are taught, "If your mother says it, check it out" in this case their motto was "In Sikes We Trust."

    Why, after all, didn't they question the congressional testimony of Rhonda Smith that their Lexus suddenly accelerated on its own to 100 mph and nothing she tried, including braking, putting the car in neutral, or even turning off the engine worked. Yes, four of the car's functions all froze at once. What saved them? "God intervened," they said. Inexplicably, they sold this creature to somebody else who drove it 27,000 trouble-free miles before selling it to NHTSA.

    Like Congress, the media wanted to believe. They wanted a piece of Toyota's hide and they weren't about to allow little things get in the way - such as that demonic possession of automobiles might make a good plot line for Stephen King novels but has no place in the investigation of possible wrongdoing on the part of a car company.

    March 14, 2010 07:54 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    Video from my Prius hoax appearance with Neil Cavuto

    By Michael Fumento

    I was on Neil Cavuto's show on Fox Business for five minutes yesterday regarding the Toyota Prius hoax. Personally I refuse to look at it because I HATE watching myself on TV. But I can't deny others the right.

    Once you've seen the video clip, read the article!

    THEN while on my website read my LA Times article "Toyota Hysteria" and check out my blogs on the Toyota witch hunt. In a broader sense, it's all a hoax.

    March 13, 2010 12:01 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    "Toyota Hybrid Hoax," my piece in Forbes Online

    By Michael Fumento

    Yes, you suspected it all along. Now I've proved it. Mr. Sikes's wild ride was a fabrication.

    "Everything I'm telling you is a lie, but I've got you eating out of my hand!"

    The only reason his accelerator was stuck was because the was a size 10 on it. I've nailed him on all counts: the brakes, the shifter, the off button. And to test his claim that he actually reached down and tried to pull the accelerator up but it wouldn't budge I did something that apparently occurred to no other reporter in the country. I actually got in a 2008 Prius to see if it was physically possible to reach that far. I couldn't get anywhere close. An orangutan could, but whatever Mr. Sikes is, that doesn't seem to describe him.

    Also, as I knew would be the case, all sorts of things are coming out about his shady background including being deeply in debt, including to Toyota, and making lots of insurance claims for allegedly lost or stolen property. It's all in the piece.

    Nevertheless, and I plan to write more on this theme, the real hoaxter isn't James Sikes. The red flags were popping up right from the beginning and the media ignored them because they wanted to ignore them. There's a Toyota feeding frenzy going on and reporters just want their chunk.

    March 12, 2010 07:27 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    Mike on tube regarding Prius hoax article

    By Michael Fumento

    Neil Cavuto, 6:20, Fox Business, regarding my Forbes Online piece "Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax."


    March 12, 2010 05:19 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    What does the public realize about the Toyota hybrid hysteria that the media are missing?

    By Michael Fumento

    On YouTube you can view a news report regarding the Prius alleged runaway hysteria incident, complete with an excerpt from the 911 call James Sikes placed. "It must have been absolutely terrifying," says the news anchor at the end. And that's certainly the way the media have portrayed it. Everything happened exactly as the driver said, and it's all Toyota's fault. In Sikes We Trust.

    But time and again when I look at comments appended to such news stories, I find virtually none of the readers or viewers are buying it. Last I looked there were 93 comments on the YouTube posting, of which I creamed this small number from the top. I am also wrapping an article on Mr. Sikes' Wild Ride and if you suspect a hoax, well, watch this space.


    • This is obviously media crap. I wonder what toyota did to get ripped out by the media. Are they killing the US markets? Someone tell me!

    • This guy Should change his name to Mr. "James Sucks Bigtime.'

    • F***ING LIAR!!! Media whore liar!

    • Wow a car that has an engine more powerful than its braking system. What a crock! He should take his Prius to a tractor pull if he thinks its engine can overcome its brakes.
      I guess the service bulletin will be to install an anchor that can be thrown out the window.

    • This Driver is a Looser.
      Toyota makes Excellent Vihicles as long as its Imported Directly From Japan.

    • This driver is a scammer. He repeatedly ignored the operators suggestions to put his car into neutral. He's a liar.

    • Exactly. This dick was wanting a new car.

    • despite enough time to call 911 and talk over,this old man is really stupid to be not able to kill the engine. so is every other people who agree with him.
      americans are not fair any more.
      no matter how they beat toyota, american car makers can never sur vive.

    • Maybe he should have put his reading glasses on to find the shifter and pop it in neutral... Another reason why old people shouldn't drive.

    • This whole story sounds like a load of BS.

    • Fake government propaganda shit really..

    • FFS, just turn off the f***ing ignition, put in neutral or as others have said hit the fucking brakes...how hard is it!!!!!!!!

    • I just can't believe this crap. It's an absolute joke. This guy should not have a licence because he doesn't know where the brake is.

    • I always laugh at this when I see it in the movies, even when they cut the brake lines. It seems nobody has the brain to drop a gear even with no brakes.

    • This guy had brakes. I know what wins between the brake pedal & the accelerator every time. THE BRAKE!!!!

    • This is laughable!!!!

    • if you fall for this crap then you deserve what comes as a result of it.
      His claims are exaggerated..just another "drama" against Toyota.

    • Idiotic american toyota driver ... what about neutral shift??
      really LOL

    • but we know if something wrong with the pedal do not call 911 just put neutral shift and the car slow down

    • I suspect this is part of a smear campain against Toyota for being number 1 and releasing hybred cars to the public, they don't use enough oil.

    • fake fake fake !!!!!!!!!!

    • doesn't pass the smell test. This guy tried braking AFTER he made the time to call 911? a normal human would have tried to slow down so that he could avoid accidents.

    • don't believe the media hype.. now that its "government motors" they will bash everyone else in the world until they fail.

    • No end to the fear mongering. Pay close attention to the language.

    • "... a reported 52 fatalities....". Actually, NO.

    • There were 52 claims of fatalities made to the NHTSA, of which only 5 have been verified as genuine. The rest were just that, CLAIMS.

    • But why let the truth get in the way of a good story.

    • Why didn't the whiney sissy just merely shift into Neutral, turn the ignition key to the off position and pull the damn key out? Then step on the Emergency Brake. Somebody didn't learn their manhood lessons when they were supposed to back in their formative years. A kick to dah ballsss is badly needed here.

    • I don't know if I buy his story. He said the car wouldn't go into neutral, and the key wouldn't turn off. He should name that baby Christine!

    March 10, 2010 10:59 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    "Toyota Hysteria," my LA Times piece today

    By Michael Fumento

    As I write in today's Los Angeles Times, the imagery of Toyotas running amok like something out of a Stephen King novel is simply false, though it's certainly been good for demagogic government officials, the sensationalist media, those who see greater government regulation as the answer to everything, and trial lawyers.

    * Although Toyota had almost 17% of total U.S. car sales in 2008, it accounted for merely 8% of total claims for deaths and injuries in the first quarter of that year, according to NHTSA. Edmunds.com found that while Toyota was third in U.S. car sales from 2001 through 2010, it was 17th in NHTSA complaints.

    * Thus, even if every sudden-acceleration complaint proved valid, Toyotas are among the safest cars made.

    * Sudden acceleration complaints are like the hypochondria of drivers. In the past decade, NHTSA has received 13,000 - against every type of car made.

    * In fact, There is an amazing parallel to the Audi 5000 hysteria, in which Audi actually received 40 times the sudden acceleration complaints per vehicle as Toyota has and ALL proved to be driver error.

    Despite getting bad press last year, Toyota came out as far and away the top-quality automaker, according to Consumer Reports’ 2010 reader survey.

    That some of the animosity appears to be that Toyota is foreign owned (I explore this more in a blog), but the company directly and indirectly provides 200,000 U.S. jobs and the Camry - built in the Midwest - has been rated the most "American" car.

    AND HERE'S A TERRIBLY IMPORTANT POINT:

    Ultimately defects kill very few drivers. Assuming all 52 of the fatalities "connected to" Toyota sudden acceleration complaints were actually caused by them, that's out of 420,000 Americans killed on our roads during that period.

    Drivers kill drivers. And Americans are particularly good at this sport. Even though American cars lead the way in safety features, we've gone from having the world's best driving record per mile in 1970 to 11th among industrialized countries by 2005.

    Although it was cut from the final version, per capita we rank 42nd out of 48 countries surveyed! And part of the reason is our Naderite obsession with blaming the vehicle, pushed by the media and trial lawyers. It's literally killing us!

    March 9, 2010 12:38 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Automobile Safety ~ Toyota

    Toyota stuck accelerator highway horror? Or highway hoax?

    By Michael Fumento

    "On the very day Toyota was making a high-profile defense of its cars, one of them was speeding out of control," according to CBS News and a host of other news outlets.

    "It was a pretty frightening Monday afternoon for a driver in San Diego. The California Highway Patrol said the driver of a Toyota Prius [James Sikes] called 911 around 1:30 p.m. to say the car's accelerator was stuck and he couldn't slow it down . . . .At one point the car was traveling at 90 mph.

    "The Highway Patrol responded. 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. The car eventually stopped near La Posta Bridge, but the whole event lasted for about 20 minutes."

    Evening news broadcasters had a field day expressing their horror.

    Nobody thought to point out the rather suspicious timing, coming at the height of the media madness over Toyota's accelerators. There's been only one similar incident, in which a driver called 911 and the incident ended with his entire family being killed. In fact, some analysts think the entire Toyota frenzy can be traced back to that one incident.

    During those 20 minutes, Sikes had the presence of mind to take out his cell phone and place an emergency call but it didn't seem to occur to him to put the car into neutral? When interviewed afterwords on video he never mentioned it. Presumably when directly asked he will say he tried and it didn't work.

    Couldn't he push the stop button? First reports said it didn't work. We were told "he couldn't slow the car down."

    What about the brakes?

    "I was trying the brakes...it wasn't stopping, it wasn't doing anything and it just kept speeding up," Sikes said. He added he could smell the brakes burning he was "pressing the pedal so hard."

    Somehow the sticky acceleration problem also caused other completely unrelated systems to malfunction.

    Or as one comment posted to a version of the story put it, "As an old automotive/equipment maintenance specialist I'm baffled... I cannot understand why brakes, ignition and everything fails at the same time the accelerator sticks!!!"

    Either Toyota is now producing cars that would make an old Yugo shine, or something is terribly wrong with this picture.

    Then I found this report, stating "A patrol car pulled alongside the Prius and officers told Sikes over a loudspeaker to use the brakes and emergency brake. After the car slowed to about 50 mph, Sikes felt safe enough to turn off the engine and coast to a halt."

    So it never occurred to Sikes to put the car into neutral, he chose to not hit the stop button, and he said that the brakes alone were worthless alone, but were effective in combination with the emergency brake. Certainly the emergency brake alone couldn't have brought the vehicle from 94 mph to 50.

    All of which would make one extremely suspicious except for this one vital fact.

    We KNOW people would never pull a stunt just for publicity. For example, we know the "balloon boy hoax" did not occur in October. A tearful family did not express fears that their 6-year-old boy could be inside a runaway balloon and did not appear on one national TV show after another insisting it was the God's honest truth - until they were forced to admit they just wanted to be on the teevee.

    No, clearly this man's accelerator was stuck.

    Even if perhaps what made it stick was his foot.

    March 8, 2010 11:41 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    Psychology behind denying driver error with sudden acceleration

    By Michael Fumento

    I just came across this from a November article in the Los Angeles Times.

    Richard Schmidt, a former UCLA psychology professor and now an auto industry consultant specializing in human motor skills, said the problem almost always lies with drivers who step on the wrong pedal. "When the driver says they have their foot on the brake, they are just plain wrong," Schmidt said. "The human motor system is not perfect, and it doesn't always do what it is told."

    I don't know why the concept of driver error seems to be so difficult for so many people. But perhaps there's a parallel to the observation that while we all think driving while drunk is a horrible thing generally, we often have tremendous sympathy for an individual we know who is arrested for DUI. It's because most of us suspect - or perhaps darned well know - that at one time or another we've driven when we were above the legal limit. But we feel we were nonetheless being extremely safe. Perhaps we don't want to strip other drivers of their defenses.

    March 8, 2010 02:03 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    It's not just "Big" "Fat" "Rich" "Foreign-owned Toyota" that's suffering

    By Michael Fumento

    Toyota owners, every time there's a new sensationalist headline or a congressman spouts more demagoguery regarding your make of car, the value drops. Last month Kelley Blue Book dropped the resale values of recalled Toyotas twice in just four days, according to AP, leaving them as much as 4 percent or US$300 to US$750 lower than a week ago, depending on the model.

    And there are a lot of you sharing the pain. Toyota has sold 20 million cars and trucks in this country in the last decade, with an estimated 80 percent still on the road. That's over 8 percent of all drivers.

    Since the first recall for sticky accelerator pedals on Jan. 21, the Edmunds.com estimate for the trade-in value of a 2009 Toyota Camry has fallen by 4 percent to 6 percent to US$13,967 while that of the the 2009 Toyota Corolla has declined 6 percent to US$11,233.

    Never mind that you told Consumer Reports that, by far, Toyota makes the finest quality car on the road or that two months ago Kelley named Toyota the best brand for resale value.

    The auto research Web site Edmunds.com estimates resale or trade-in values could fall up to 10 percent in the short term. How far they drop over the longer haul depends on long-term perceptions. If it becomes embedded in the public view that Toyota had a massive problem and that, as the pundits have put it, "It lost its way" or "Grew too fast" resale values will be permanently affected. As it stands, some dealers are refusing to accept Toyotas for trade while others are paying considerably less than they did just two weeks ago.

    "My advice to a consumer would be 'If you don't have to trade one in, wait,'" says Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Edmunds. "Values will stay down for a bit. But Toyota's got really strong brand equity."

    March 8, 2010 01:51 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    "Hurt Locker" takes "Best Picture." Here's my essay

    By Michael Fumento

    One word kept appearing in reviews of The Hurt Locker: realism. In fact, as I observed in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece from last August, the incidents in the film are grossly unrealistic - as I know from having been a combat engineer myself and having embedded with a Navy-Marine EOD near Fallujah.

    Marines and Sailors of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Camp Fallujah, with their bomb-blowing robots.

    The most obvious explanation for what the reviewers perceived as realism is that they know no more about war, Iraq, or EOD than EOD technicians know about reviewing movies.

    Nevertheless, if the shoot-'em-up; blow 'em up depictions were typically Hollywood, the movie did convey a sense of realism in its approach to the antagonists and in putting you into the movie. Clearly, it's the best film made about the Iraq war.

    March 8, 2010 08:09 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Hollywood ~ Iraq ~ Military

    Obama's two-faced nuclear energy policy, my article in the Philly Inquirer

    By Michael Fumento

    President Obama fully supports expanding the U.S. nuclear-energy industry - or so he'd have us believe.

    Obama got lots of publicity with his recent promise of more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for two Georgia nuclear plants, which would be the first built in more than three decades. He also announced that his budget would triple loan guarantees for nuclear plants, declaring that, "to meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we'll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It's that simple."

    But it's not that simple. Antinuclear activists continue to score points by observing that we have no place to store the 2,200 tons of nuclear waste that our approximately 100 nuclear sites produce every year, much less a 66,000-ton backlog. Nevada's Yucca Mountain was the nation's designated nuclear-waste storage facility, but it was torpedoed by none other than Obama.

    Read why Obama has tried to kill the Yucca Mountain project (yes, you know it's political) and why we desperately need it, in my Philadelphia Inquirer article.

    March 7, 2010 09:11 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Energy

    What goes 'round comes 'round on global warming (my Forbes piece)

    By Michael Fumento

    Some global warming skeptics have been using the remarkably cold winter and record snowfalls to attack the idea of global warming. Believers are crying foul. "You're confusing weather with climate!" they insist.

    Yes, global warming does cause cannibalism!

    And they're right. But they invented the game a long time ago and have been deftly playing it ever since.

    Among the complainers is Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, "The Earth is really, really big," he condescendingly but correctly observes in a nationally syndicated column. "It's so big that it can be cold here and warm elsewhere - and this is the key concept - at the same time. Even if it were unusually cold throughout the continental U.S., that still represents less than 2% of the Earth's surface."

    He makes other points, too, but what he somehow misses is that the warmists never hesitate to use any unusual phenomena to assert their case. "Any?" you ask with incredulity. "Any!" I respond with assurance. Check out the list at this Web site. One glance blows you away. It includes everything from "acne" to "yellow fever," with "short-nosed dogs endangered" in between.

    Moreover, time and again the warmists have use terribly cold weather and blizzards to say "global warming is at it again!" and that includes a Bill McKibben column that appeared in the Washington Post just five days before Robinson's column!

    Read about it in my new Forbes Online piece, "Weather Hype, Climate Trype."

    March 5, 2010 09:38 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Global Warming

    Can a "runaway Toyota" be stopped with the brakes?

    By Michael Fumento

    There have been many driver claims that they tried using the brakes but it couldn't override the engine at the full throttle into which alleged sudden acceleration had thrown them. Is this true? At some level, it's simple physics. Newton's Second Law is that force equals mass times velocity. So the faster your vehicle is traveling and the heavier your vehicle, the harder it will be - all other things being equal - to stop it.

    But we get beyond that when we take into account that individual vehicles have more or less powerful engines and more or less powerful brakes. You can build engines so strong and brakes so weak that it either takes an extremely long time to stop a vehicle or perhaps the vehicle can't be stopped at all. Is that the case with Toyotas?

    Car & Driver magazine put this to the test.

    It tested one of the recalled Toyotas, the Camry with the most powerful engine, a V-6, at three different speeds. It also tested two other vehicles. It found:

    With the Camry's throttle pinned while going 70 mph, the brakes easily overcame all 268 horsepower straining against them and stopped the car in 190 feet - that's a foot shorter than the performance of a Ford Taurus without any gas-pedal problems and just 16 feet longer than with the Camry's throttle closed. From 100 mph, the stopping-distance differential was 88 feet - noticeable to be sure, but the car still slowed enthusiastically enough to impart a feeling of confidence. We also tried one go-for-broke run at 120 mph, and, even then, the car quickly decelerated to about 10 mph before the brakes got excessively hot and the car refused to decelerate any further. So even in the most extreme case, it should be possible to get a car's speed down to a point where a resulting accident should be a low-speed and relatively minor event.

    It also pointed out that if you take a car out of gear, throttle becomes irrelevant. Even without braking your car immediately begins slowing.

    In the case of my Toyota accident in 1991, which involved fishtailing, without searching for the police report I'd guess that I only had about 40 feet to stop before reaching the cliff, it was going about 50 miles per hour (speed limit 55), and while the MR2 was a two-seater it was a remarkably heavy two-seater. So I never had a chance. And other drivers would also find there just wasn't enough distance for them to stop in time. But for the most part, even assuming Toyotas "run away" from you, they can be brought under control.

    Incidentally, I'm inserting a disclaimer that I have no connection to Toyota in any way. I know no Toyota employees, own no Toyota stock, have received no payments from the company or anybody connected thereto. I think that just about covers it.

    March 4, 2010 04:18 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    Red beer

    By Michael Fumento

    This is my blog and I see no reason why it always has to be about political and social issues. So today I address one of my personal favorite issues, beer.

    Last night I went for my weekly beer and burger at the sports bar with the beautiful bartenders. This time it was Nicole, a gorgeous blonde, well-endowed, with lots of cleavage showing. The only new beer they had on tap was Killian's Red and they were half price and I ended up having three, which is one more than I ever have of beer (since my Army days, anyway) but just made me tipsy and anyway I walked there.

    It's now at least the second red I've had that I've really liked. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the first - not because I drank too many but because it was three years ago in California. I presumed all reds were ales but looked it up and found this really interesting little piece on reds and found Killian's is actually a lager.

    I knew it was owned by Coors, which is a very bad sign, but the taste tells me they didn't futz with the recipe. That said, the article notes you can do a lot better with reds and I'm sure you can. As it happened, THESE Killians were consumed in the presence of other people, from the tap, and while staring at, well, you know. Circumstances DO alter the flavor of beer!

    Lagers, which are essentially determined by the type of yeast used, only go back to the 19th century, a development allowed by refrigeration. Nevertheless they quickly stole the show from ales and are not only the overwhelming favorite in the U.S. but in Germany.

    In Germany, it's generally wheat beers and pilsners. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise, but while I've never had a bad Weissbier in Germany, some of their pilsners are AWFUL. That includes Becks and St. Pauli Girl and whatever Lufthansa serves, the name of which I forget. (Adding insult to injury, Becks is Belgian-owned, and Belgians are generally considered to have the best beers in the world.)

    The best pilsner I've ever had, by the way, is LaBatt's Blue. I've had the original pilsner from Pilzen in the Czech Republic and don't like it nearly as much.

    The Canadians have always been a nice pocket of good beer-making, even when the U.S. went to hell after Prohibition. In fact, the lack of Prohibition in Canada probably goes a long way towards explaining it. Another thing is that so many of the mass-produced American beers swap out barley for corn and rice, which the Bavarian Reinheitsangebot forbids. It allows only water, barley, and hops -- though you can add things like wheat on top. Why do mass American beer makers use these other ingredients? It's cheaper. And it tastes cheaper.

    As a German character in "The Simpons" says, "Your beer tastes like swill to us!"

    I now await the hate mail from lovers of Bud Lite.

    March 4, 2010 08:40 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Ponderings

    The Toyota Defense to Manslaughter

    By Michael Fumento

    This was inevitable.

    CNN reports that one Koua Fong Lee, serving an eight-year prison term for killing three people when his 1996 Toyota smashed into their vehicle, has now decided the car is to blame - and CNN's reporter seems pretty well convinced of it.

    It's that Toyoda guy's fault!

    No, the 1996 cars aren't part of the recall. All the attention has been on post-2000 cars and especially those after 2002.

    Lee's car was traveling at between 70 and 90 mph when it struck two other vehicles. Javis Adams, 33, and his 10-year-old son, Javis Adams Jr., died instantly. Another passenger, 6-year-old Devyn Bolton, was left paraplegic and later died from her injuries.

    Two mechanical engineers examined the car before trial on behalf of the state and the defense, according to the prosecutor. Both concluded the brakes were operating and there were no problems with the acceleration.

    "Bottom line, two experts - one for each side - said there was nothing wrong with the car," she said.

    Butt CNN seems to think it's found evidence of Lee's innocence. It turns out that a search of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's online complaint database revealed "at least two dozen" related to vehicle speed control for the 1996 Toyota Camry. Res ipsa loquitur! as lawyers say. The thing speaks for itself.

    Except.

    Except that every year since the Audi 5000 debacle, which popularized the concept of sudden acceleration (though it proved that the vehicle was blameless) NHTSA gets sudden acceleration complaints for all types of cars. In the last decade, it's gotten about 13,000 for all vehicle makes and models of which only 3,000 concerned Toyotas.

    Moreover, as CNN was good enough to inform us, "Not all the entries for 'vehicle speed control' complain of sudden acceleration."

    Ah! But then CNN has that which beats a thousand statistics! It has an ANECDOTE! "In a July 26, 2003, incident," it relates, "a 1996 Camry waiting at a red light lurched forward into oncoming traffic, where it was struck by a car and a motorcycle." The motorcyclist later died.

    It "lurched" forward? It couldn't just have been "driven forward"? I know that I am as conscientious a driver as they come and would never intentionally run a red light, but on more than one occasion I absently-minded simply drove forward while the light was red. I've seen others do the same. But I don't call it a "lurch." I call it "mindless, irresponsible, dumb."

    Obviously there needs to be a blanket amnesty for any Toyota driver involved in any speeding accident or, for that matter, who got a speeding ticket, dating back to when Toyotas were introduced in this country.

    Justice must be served!

    March 3, 2010 10:11 AM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    Toyota's sudden acceleration problem suddenly accelerates again

    By Michael Fumento

    Yes, I know I wrote a blog with a similar title but this is new. I previously noted that in December the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that 19 U.S. deaths over the past decade were "associated with" or "linked to" (choose your own terminology) alleged Toyota sudden acceleration incidents. In January it found two more and in February 13 more, bringing it to 34.

    Now it's found a total of 52, the number being announced auspiciously at the start of a third congressional hearing today.

    Who brought the marshmallows?

    I scoured through one news story after another to find an explanation for the new numbers, but there was none except that the New York Post falsely claimed it resulted from "a closer analysis of traffic accident data." Not incidentally, the piece was titled "Faulty Toyotas Kill 52 in United States."

    Six hours after the story broke, I called a press officer at NHTSA to find the real reason. It turns out I was the first person in the country to ask him.

    In other words, the media don't care why the numbers went up, they're just scorekeepers and the higher the score the better. Turns out the accused witch put hexes on more children than was previously believed, and that's all that counts.

    But here's the information NHTSA sent me.

    The 52 fatalities come from 43 incidents and:

    Three quarters of the incidents (32 out of 43) have been reported to NHTSA in the last four months, since Toyota's October 2009 pedal entrapment recall. Sixty percent (26 incidents) have been reported since the "sticky pedal" recall in late January. It is normal for NHTSA to receive a spike in complaints after recalls are announced and public awareness increases.

    In other words, in a sort of perpetual motion machine, media coverage is prompting people to "remember" old incidents and report them, whereupon the media uses these to create more hysteria and prompt even more recovered memories. We know that recovered memories are notoriously unreliable generally, but there are two special motivators at play here.

    First, by definition somebody died in each of these accidents and assuming the driver survived he or she may be suffering an awful burden of guilt. Such people will obviously latch onto anything exculpatory.

    Second, tort lawyers are signing up plaintiffs by the score. Even people with incredibly weak cases will figure they have nothing to lose and perhaps much to gain by joining one of the several current class actions. They probably wouldn't even have to testify; they'd just wait for that check in the mail.

    That's just common sense, now isn't it? But what do you think is always the first casualty of a hysteria?

    March 2, 2010 07:03 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Toyota

    Why the British media are so much better than ours

    By Michael Fumento

    Actually, the British media are both better and worse than ours. Their tabloids have headlines more hysterical than anything you'll find in ours. But then, Brits tend to realize that and discount accordingly.

    Whither thou goest!

    But overall in Britain you're much more likely to find issues covered fairly that are either terribly unfairly covered here or essentially ignored. Why?

    Basically the U.S. produces one newspaper with lots of different names. And they all pretend to be unbiased. But the result of that is merely to camouflage their bias in little ways such as writing "one reporter observed" instead of "I observed." Instead of flatly saying something themselves, our reporters just track somebody down to quote who will say it for them. If your first interview doesn't give you the desired results, you conduct another.

    Further, it's an unwritten rule here that except in the most extreme of circumstances you never criticize another reporter's work. After all, you're all on the same team. Meanwhile in the UK papers are openly conservative or liberal and hence in open competition with each other. This openness gives readers an added bonus in that they know that if they want both sides of a story they have to buy at least two different newspapers.

    But here you can buy the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and so on and just get slightly different versions of the same misreported item. A major item that should be in all three is absent from all three. This groupthink explains how I can constantly be among the few published journalists in the country to be correct on a major issue, notwithstanding many hundreds of other journalist writing on that same issue.

    There's no magic to it; just stay outside the herd.

    March 2, 2010 06:52 PM  ·  Permalink  ·  Media