Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Tesla's wasting time, energy, money


When I buy a product, I want a retailer nearby where I can get service and satisfaction. If there isn't a service outlet nearby, it is up to the manufacturer to make arrangements to provide service.

If you care about customers, you have to be able to take care of them when they need help. That is particularly true in the automobile business, where vehicles need a lot of attention over their lifetime.

For some reason, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has decided to wage war with the retail business to the detriment of his customers. He seems to be more interested in his company than his customers.

It would be easy for Tesla to appoint 40 or 50 dealers to serve most of its current customers.

I don't understand why Musk is bouncing around the world with products here and there when he has not yet completed his distribution program here.

Too many folks seem to think, erroneously, that having dealers to handle all the complications of buying and servicing a car adds to automaker cost rather than making it better and safer for the customer.

Tesla has some U.S. service centers and service vans that go to customers' houses or offices. How will that work, though, when less expensive cars arrive in a few years and the number of Teslas sold in the United States goes from an estimated 20,000 last year to a hoped-for 250,000 by the end of the decade?

So far, Tesla has handled recalls by mailing replacement plug-in adapters to 29,000 customers, for example, and dispatching technicians to a few hundred customers' homes. But after the first big-repair recall, I guess Tesla will be sorry it doesn't have an independent distribution system.

The franchise system works for the manufacturer, and, more important, it works for the customer. It lets a manufacturer use capital for better things than setting up factory-owned dealerships.

Musk has done a brilliant job of creating a new-vehicle line and getting the business off the ground. But eventually those around him will advise him to change his distribution system.

We'll see if he's smart enough to listen.

Politics hurt electric car company


If you haven’t heard of them already, you probably will soon: Tesla Motors has been paving the way for electric cars in the past few years. While it will invariably take some time, I believe the company will grow into an empire.

Recent news surrounding Tesla has primarily been about its legal battles with dealerships. The auto dealers, who obviously hate the idea that Tesla could sell directly to customers, have been vehemently fighting its ability to do so. This is, of course, an inane battle over profits. As it stands, dealerships have significant political clout and often donate to politicians willing to listen.

Without missing a beat of course, said politicians have been leaning towards favoring the dealerships. In an unfortunate decision, New Jersey has recently banned manufacturers from selling directly to customers.

This begs the question: are dealerships at all good for customers? This can be easily answered with an emphatic “no.” No, they are not. Their constant price-gouging and scummy business tactics do nothing but inspire distrust. Sure good dealerships exist, but by-and-large the benefits of removing them far outweigh the benefits of having them.

So, you might ask, why do they still exist? Simply put, many government decisions are made by the highest bidder, and the near $700,000 given by the NJ Coalition of Automotive Retailers sure beats out the $0 given by Tesla. At the end of the day, I can only hope that the dealerships are fighting a losing battle. There's no question that they are outmoded and unnecessary, especially after Tesla proved that they could sell directly to us without trouble.

Beyond the legal battles, Tesla has quite a lot going for it. To start, the Model S received the highest safety rating of any car ever tested. It earned a five-star safety rating in every subcategory without exception. This is practically unheard of, and frankly, if the car didn't cost $70,000, I believe it would be almost ubiquitous on the roads. 

That's not to say the sales record has been bad however. In the first quarter of 2013, the Model S outsold similarly priced Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi gasoline powered cars. Sales totaled around 22,450 overall last year, exceeding the goal of 21,500 by almost 1,000.

Early adopters of the car frequently praise it. The most common complaint often stems from its inability to make long trips. The most expensive battery, which has a capacity of 85kWh, is...


Piers Morgan Delivers One Final Blow To Gun Violence In Last Show


Piers Morgan concluded his final CNN show Friday night by delivering one last blow against America's gun violence epidemic.

The "Piers Morgan Live" host praised the U.S. as "a land of true opportunity," adding, "The vast majority of Americans I've met are decent, hardworking, thoroughly dependable people."

But he went on to say that an estimated 100,000 Americans per year are hit by gunfire, and argued, "I am so pro-American, I want more of you to stay alive."

Morgan expressed frustration with reaction to the Aurora, Colo., theater shootingand the Newtown, Conn., school shooting: "I assumed that after 70 people were shot in a movie theater and then just a few months later 20 first-graders were murdered with an assault rifle in an elementary school, that the absurd gun laws in this country would change, but nothing has happened." He added: "The gun lobby in America, led by the NRA, has bullied this nation's politicians into cowardly silence. Even when 20 young children are blown away in their classrooms."

Earlier this month, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre declared, "There is no greater freedom than to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns and handguns we want."

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health last year found that states with more gun ownership often had higher rates of gun-related murders.

Morgan argued Friday night: "More guns doesn't mean less crime, as the NRA repeatedly tries to tell you. It means more gun violence, more death and more profits for the gun manufacturers."

He concluded, "Now it's down to you. It is your country. These are your gun laws. And the senseless slaughter will only end when enough Americans stand together and cry, 'Enough!' I look forward to that day. I also look forward to seeing you all again soon. Thank you. And God bless America. Oh, and while I'm at it, God bless Great Britain too. Good night."

Piers Morgan ends CNN show with gun-control plea


LOS ANGELES (AP) — CNN host Piers Morgan issued one last plea for U.S. gun control as he wrapped up his show’s three-year run.

Morgan devoted the prime-time show’s final minutes Friday night to the issue that he said has been a ‘‘consistent and often very controversial’’ part of ‘‘Piers Morgan Live.’’

The British-born host cited gun violence statistics and expressed dismay that mass shootings including those in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., haven’t led to stricter laws.

Morgan blamed politicians that he said had been bullied into ‘‘cowardly’’ silence by a gun lobby led by the National Rifle Association.

A message seeking comment from the NRA was left Friday night with an answering service at its headquarters.

Piers concluded with remarks addressed to his critics.

‘‘To those who claim my gun control campaign has been anti-American, well, the reverse is true. I'm so pro-American I want more of you to stay alive,’’ he said, adding, ‘‘Now it’s down to you.’’

Morgan is a former U.K. tabloid editor who reinvented himself as a TV personality with stints as a judge on ‘‘Britain’s Got Talent’’ and its U.S. spinoff, NBC’s ‘‘America’s Got Talent,’’ and as a contestant on ‘‘Celebrity Apprentice.’’

In 2011, he succeeded longtime CNN host Larry King in the 9 p.m. Eastern time slot, but drew increasingly paltry ratings. He has said that CNN’s audience tired of hearing a Brit weigh in American cultural issues.

Last fall, the already struggling ‘‘Piers Morgan Live’’ faced increased competition from a revised Fox News Channel lineup that included a strong new performer opposite Morgan with Megyn Kelly’s ‘‘The Kelly File.’’

When the show’s end was announced last month, Morgan said he was in discussions with CNN regarding a new role. The channel said then that his future was undetermined.

Morgan served as editor of The Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004. He has been questioned in connection with Britain’s long-running phone hacking scandal, which has led to numerous arrests, resignations and the closure of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid.

In February, Morgan confirmed that he was interviewed in December by British police investigating the...


Ken Starr: Obamacare shackles religious freedom


From humble beginnings in the 1970s in their Oklahoma City garage, David and Barbara Green launched what is now the sprawling nationwide commercial enterprise, Hobby Lobby. Their company – now owned entirely by five members of the Green family – is now at the epicenter of animportant legal battle over the breathtaking reach of the Affordable Care Act. At issue is whether – due to the Greens' deeply held religious objections – the Hobby Lobby owners have an enforceable freedom-of-conscience right not to provide several contraceptive methods (four out of the 20 ACA-required methods) to the crafts company's employees. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in this closely watched case on March 25.

Had the Greens not incorporated Hobby Lobby, they would likely win the case hands down and leave the Supreme Court's marble palace with a federally granted exemption from Obamacare's sweeping regulations. That's because of another statute passed by Congress (by an overwhelming majority) back in 1993. Signed into law by President Clinton, and appropriately dubbed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), this far-reaching measure requires the federal government to provide a very strong ("compelling") justification for imposing a regulatory requirement that "substantially burdens" the free exercise of religion.

To the Greens, all five of whom are devout evangelical Christians, requiring the Hobby Lobby employee benefits plan to include four contraceptive methods which they view (with substantial empirical support) as abortifacients is morally repugnant. Their religious freedom claim carried the day in the federal Court of Appeals in Denver, but the Obama Administration has fought the case all the way to the nation's highest court.

The Greens should emerge victorious, even though the ACA's contraceptive-services requirement is directed at their corporation, not the Greens personally. That is, the Greens as individuals are not required directly to do anything. It's the Hobby Lobby employee benefits plan that is in the cross-hairs. After all, even non-lawyers well know that a corporation is a distinct entity separate and apart from its owners or shareholders. That's the whole idea. Incorporating a business is a smart, commonplace way of doing business, even if the enterprise is entirely controlled by a Mom and Pop – or, in the...

Why your doctor, not your boss, should make health care decisions


You’ve been nervous about a medical intervention you are considering, so you go in for a consultation. You’re told that you don’t really need the medicine. You trust the expert’s advice and decide not to schedule the procedure after all.

The problem is that this “expert” is your boss, not your doctor.

Sound farfetched? If only. This scenario will become all too real if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of two corporations that want to deny female employees legally mandated insurance coverage of certain birth control methods. The case could open the door for employers to impose their own personal preferences on employees for any health issue. They would have the right to exclude coverage of vaccinations, blood transfusions, stem cell transplantation, mental health counseling and much more.

In effect, your medical decisions — even life and death issues — would be influenced, if not determined, by your employer based on personal beliefs about religion, morality or politics. These are health decisions that should be made between a patient and her doctor, based on medicine, science and personal choice. Instead, it would be up to her boss.

The owners of Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts-and-crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a kitchen cabinet-making company, do not believe — because of their religious faith — that they should be required to provide health insurance coverage that includes emergency contraceptive pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

It should be noted that these cases differ from that of the religiously affiliated organizations that filed an emergency appeal at the Supreme Court at the end of 2013. Those organizations are already able to get an exemption so that they aren’t paying for birth control if it violates their religious mission. The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases, on the other hand, are brought by privately held, for-profit corporations without any religious focus.

The owners of these for-profit corporations incorrectly argue that emergency contraception (sometimes called the “morning-after pill”) and the IUD are methods of abortion. They are not. Every major medical organization agrees that a pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the woman’s uterus. None of the methods of birth control to which the corporations object interfere with an established pregnancy or cause an abortion. Rather,...


Doblin: Fred Phelps will find out whom God hates


GOD hates Fred Phelps. I so want to hold up a placard emblazoned with that message and stand yards away from members of Phelps’ family as they grieve the death of their hate-mongering patriarch. But I cannot.

Phelps founded the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas–based church that spewed homophobic vitriol for decades. While Phelps also hated Jews and an assortment of other minorities, it was his vile diatribes against gays that reached epic proportions.

He discovered that by protesting funerals – particularly military funerals – he could get national attention. And he did. He also inflicted pain on the families of dead U.S. troops as his minions waved signs that said, among other things, that “God hates gay people” in not-so-polite terms.

The demise of the 84-year-old preacher was not unexpected. There were websites devoted to his death watch and his death will be a test of whether those of us who have witnessed firsthand what discrimination feels like can rise above the pain and find some higher moral ground. I can’t say I am standing on that mountaintop.

What made Phelps such a maggot of a man was that he literally fed off the bodies of the dead. He used funerals as a way of selling evil and he packaged it all under the brand of God. You would have to search far and wide to find a large enough rock that could have given shelter to such a slug.

My heart went out to the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder who sued the Westboro Baptists for invasion of privacy when the church staged a protest at the dead Marine’s funeral. The Snyder family was awarded more than $10 million in a jury trial but eventually lost on appeal. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the Westboro Baptist funeral protests were protected speech.

They are. No way around that. The Constitution that guarantees the rights of citizens to live in a free, democratic society is mainly silent on how its citizens use that freedom of speech. It is not a totally unrestricted right, but there is a large grey area where speaking hate is not the same as hate speech.

There would be something theatrical about a massive protest of thousands of people at Phelps’ funeral – assuming there is a funeral and I have read that is unlikely. But the Westboro Baptists feed on publicity, so a large-scale protest is a gift to old Fred. It makes him important even in death.

The placards if printed with messages of hate...

Fred Phelps' Legacy Is The Opposite Of What He Wanted: An Analysis Of His Hate



WASHINGTON (RNS) Fred Phelps, the 84-year-old founder of Westboro Baptist Church and media-master of hate speech campaigns, died Thursday (March 20) after devoting decades to damning Americans for tolerating homosexuality.

“God Hates Fags” was the Westboro philosophy, detailed in vile slogans on signs that a tiny band of relatives toted to 40 sites a week around the country. All told, the church in Topeka, Kan., claims to have staged some 53,000 protests.

Whenever there was a newsworthy death — be it Matthew Shepard, the gay teen murdered in 1998, or a soldier killed in action, a movie star, or an innocent child victim in a mass murder — Westboro would add it to the church’s picketing calendar.

But by the time of his death, Phelps had lived long enough to see American public opinion soar in exactly the opposite direction — in favor of gay rights, including marriage.

The message he spread across the country never took root, and in fact helped galvanize the gay rights movement and put other Christians on the defensive. The image of Christianity he painted was a hateful, judgmental collection of rabble-rousers — an image that, paradoxically, did more to help his targets than it advanced his message.

Experts say Phelps’ ultimate legal and social impact on the American religious landscape will be a footnote. Religious leaders lament the damage they say he did to Christians who preach God’s love and mercy.

Free speech icon

Born on Nov. 13, 1929, in Meridian, Miss., Phelps reportedly quit West Point to study at Bob Jones University and became an ordained Southern Baptist minister in 1947. But he left the SBC for a more fundamentalist theology and launched the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka in 1955. While once considered a champion of civil rights, Phelps turned to focus lifelong enmity toward gay rights and began his notorious picketing campaign in 1991.

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Westboro’s picketing was “free speech however hateful,” said Steven Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Association, which filed a friend of the court brief on Wesboro’s behalf. Free-speech advocates uncomfortably embraced Phelps’ cause, if not his message.

“That’s how protest buffer zones and picket pens” came about, said Shapiro. They allow for free speech so long as protesters do not impede the event or harass the mourners. Phelps’...