Average US vehicle age continues to rise — up to 11½ years

Ruff Boy with a spool of kindling
21 tears old and counting

The combined average age of all light vehicles on the road in the U.S. has climbed slightly to 11.5 years, based on a snapshot of vehicles in operation taken Jan. 1 of this year, according to IHS Automotive, a global provider of critical information and insight to the automotive industry…

Registrations for light VIO in the U.S. also reached a record level of 257,900,000. That’s an increase of more than 5.3 million (2.1 percent) since last year and the highest annual increase the auto industry has seen in the U.S. since IHS began tracking VIO growth. New vehicle registrations also outpaced scrappage by more than 42 percent – the highest rate seen since the statistic has been tracked, according to the analysis…

Helping age the fleet is the fact that consumers are holding on to their vehicles longer than ever before.

Looking ahead, IHS forecasts that average age is likely to hit 11.6 years in 2016 but not reach 11.7 until 2018. The rate of growth is slowing as compared to 2008-2013 due to the recovery in new vehicle sales. IHS Automotive has expected this and has been preparing customers and industry leaders in the aftermarket to respond to this slowdown in growth…

Because of improved quality and consumers holding their cars and light trucks longer, vehicles 12-plus years old continue to grow and will increase 15 percent by 2020.

And that – after all – is the point. The critters are built better and last longer. Recalls aside. Between lawyers, insurance companies and politicians running for re-election, recalls are way up. Some of that is from increased complexity. Some from special areas of lousy QC – like airbags.

But, most families are probably like mine. My wife got her first shiny new car ever a year-and-a-half ago. Part of preparation for early retirement. She only drives about 2000 miles per year since retiring.

My 21-year-old pickup had over 200K miles on it when I retired but [1] it didn’t seem likely to self-destruct from wear – now driving about 800 miles per year and [2] only driving about 800 miles per year, it didn’t make sense to buy a new or newish used truck. Ruff Boy, keep on rolling!

Judge explains to man he’s still legally dead

A man who disappeared decades ago is finding out there’s no easy way to come back from the dead.

Donald Miller Jr. went to court this week to ask a county judge to reverse a 1994 ruling that declared him legally dead after he had vanished from his home eight years earlier. But the judge turned down his request, citing a three-year time limit for changing a death ruling.

Hancock County Probate Court Judge Allan Davis called it a “strange, strange situation…We’ve got the obvious here. A man sitting in the courtroom, he appears to be in good health,” said Davis, who told Miller the three-year limit was clear.

“I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned,” the judge said.

Miller resurfaced about eight years ago and went to court so that he could get a driver’s license and reinstate his Social Security number.

His ex-wife had opposed the move, saying she doesn’t have the money to repay the Social Security benefits that were paid out to her and the couple’s two children after Miller was declared dead.

Robin Miller said her former husband vanished because he owed big child support payments and that the overdue payments had totaled $26,000 by 1994, The (Findlay) Courier reported…

His parents told him about his “death” when he came back to the state, he said.

It kind of went further than I ever expected it to,” Miller said.

Yes, we are a nation of laws – not of men and women, not of justice.

Credit Bureau incompetents must pay $18.6 million after failing for two years to correct woman’s credit rating

A jury Friday awarded an Oregon woman $18.6 million after she spent two years unsuccessfully trying to get Equifax Information Services to fix major mistakes on her credit report…

Julie Miller of Marion County, who was awarded $18.4 million in punitive and $180,000 in compensatory damages, contacted Equifax eight times between 2009 and 2011 in an effort to correct inaccuracies, including erroneous accounts and collection attempts, as well as a wrong Social Security number and birthday. Yet over and over, the lawsuit alleged, the Atlanta-based company failed to correct its mistakes.

“There was damage to her reputation, a breach of her privacy and the lost opportunity to seek credit,” said Justin Baxter, the Portland attorney who teamed on the case with his father and law partner, Michael Baxter. “She has a brother who is disabled and who can’t get credit on his own and she wasn’t able to help him…”

A Federal Trade Commission study earlier this year of 1,001 consumers who reviewed 2,968 of their credit reports found 21 percent contained errors. The survey, which is required as part of a 2003 law, found that 5 percent of the errors represented issues that would lead consumers to be denied credit…

Miller first discovered a problem when she was denied credit by a bank in early December 2009. She alerted Equifax and filled out multiple forms faxed by the credit agency seeking updated information…

The issue wasn’t a result of identify theft, Baxter said. Instead, the information from another “Julie Miller” had simply been placed in the plaintiff’s record by mistake. In at least one case, the lawsuit alleged, the plaintiff’s private financial information was sent to companies inquiring about the other Julie Miller.

Credit bureaus are probably the least competent class of firm that gets to dither with your financial life. The average Mafia loan shark does a better job of record keeping.

Though both are roughly comparable when it comes to screwing over your life.

Senate confirmation process = petty bureaucratic farce

The United States Constitution, which turned 225 years old last summer, is a remarkable document: the provisions of a text written in the eighteenth century continue to guide twenty-first-century governance. We will be reminded of the implications of that in the coming weeks, as President Barack Obama fills senior positions in his second-term administration. In many cases, the process will not be pretty.

Article II of the Constitution stipulates presidential powers that require the “advice and consent of the Senate,” including the nomination of senior officials. Probably nobody, 225 years ago, had any idea that the number of officials deemed to require Senate confirmation would eventually exceed 1,400, or that Senate confirmation would involve a vetting process that often takes years to complete…Indeed, many people believe that the Senate confirmation process is broken…

Because of the sheer volume of nominations, most have traditionally sailed through the Senate with so-called unanimous consent, a process by which nominations are placed on the day’s calendar and the calendar is approved in a single voice vote. But that expedited process is becoming rarer nowadays.

A senator may place a “hold” on a nomination for any reason – including personal animus toward the nominee, or, more often, to gain something in exchange. And, increasingly, nominations have become a kind of public circus, attracting all kinds of players to the ring: non-governmental organizations, pundits, local politicians, and virtually anyone with an opinion and a way to express it.

These types of spectacles used to be reserved for the nomination of Supreme Court justices – a lifetime appointment to a nine-member body that can overturn laws passed by Congress and signed by the president. But those full-throttle battles have now spilled over to other nominations. As a result, an individual’s agreement to serve the president for two or three years has become a life-altering – and mind-numbing – experience.

Today, any nominee to a position requiring Senate confirmation can expect to spend many hours listing past places of residence, attaching tax returns, detailing family members’ campaign contributions, and answering questions about the employment of domestic help or gardening services and whether such employees were legal, tax-paying US residents. The vetting process will even go back to one’s teenage years – all to ensure that anything that the Senate’s own investigators can find is known before the nomination is formally submitted.

During my career, the Senate confirmed me five times. Each time, the vetting essentially started from scratch. In addition to the countless forms, lengthy questionnaires, and background investigations, there was an interview with a paralegal whose job was to ferret out any information that might conceivably bear on the nomination.

These interviews included such cheerfully delivered questions as, “Have you ever been arrested for growing marijuana?” Or, more directly: “Do you take drugs?” Or, probing further into past activities or behavior, “Have you ever been arrested for public drunkenness…?”

Sometimes, opponents of a nominee merely want to make a point, or to cultivate donors (an activity that can seep into any issue in Washington). When the point is made – or the fundraising goals are achieved – the nominee gets the happy phone call: “It’s done. The nomination will go through this afternoon. We’ll call you when the vote takes place. Congratulations!” At that point, the nominee hangs up and says: “What was I thinking?”

And, sometimes, filling a post can go on for years with no prospect of resolution. Since conservatives in Congress decided the position of director of the Bureau Alcohol, Tax, Firearms and Explosives needed Senate confirmation – six years ago – no one has been approved. Not because of qualifications or standards; but, because NRA flunkies don’t wish the department to function at all.

RTFA for more of Christopher Hill’s experiences and analysis of just how backwards congressional processes can become. I know it won’t surprise you. I wish it might shame this clown show into activity beyond their perpetual posturing for re-election.

Execution costs in California at $308 million apiece

Old man, death row

Taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment in California since it was reinstated in 1978, or about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then, according to a comprehensive analysis of the death penalty’s costs.

The examination of state, federal and local expenditures for capital cases, conducted over three years by a senior federal judge and a law professor, estimated that the additional costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for the condemned adds $184 million to the budget each year.

The study’s authors, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell, also forecast that the tab for maintaining the death penalty will climb to $9 billion by 2030, when San Quentin’s death row will have swollen to well over 1,000…

Their report traces the legislative and initiative history of the death penalty in California, identifying costs imposed by the expansion of the types of crimes that can lead to a death sentence and the exhaustive appeals guaranteed condemned prisoners…

Alarcon four years ago issued an urgent appeal for overhaul of capital punishment in the state, noting that the average lag between conviction and execution was more than 17 years, twice the national figure. Now it is more than 25 years, with no executions since 2006 and none likely in the near future because of legal challenges to the state’s lethal injection procedures…

Unless profound reforms are made by lawmakers who have failed to adopt previous recommendations for rescuing the system, Alarcon and Mitchell say, capital punishment will continue to exist mostly in theory while exacting an untenable cost…

As with the recommendations in Alarcon’s 2007 report, none of the remedies outlined by the commission chaired by former Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp has been adopted by lawmakers or put to the public for a vote.

As on so many issues, California leads the way to problems as often as solutions. Personally, I have no problem with economics overruling biblical morality. I may have strong feelings about the justice of execution on a case-by-case basis; but, securely warehousing some demented killer until he dies of old age at a savings of $1.1 million [as the report describes] makes fiscal, social and political sense.

Tapes reveal Belgian Cardinal stonewalling sex abuse

The colorful Bishop Vangheluwe before he resigned
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Leaked tapes of Belgium’s Cardinal Godfried Danneels urging a victim not to reveal he was sexually abused by a bishop are some of the most damaging documents to emerge in the scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church.

The tapes, made secretly by the victim and published in two Belgian newspapers on Saturday, show the former primate of Belgium exhorting him to accept a private apology or wait one year until the bishop retired before making his case public.

Their meeting took place on April 8, at a time when the Vatican was under fire for allegedly covering up similar abuse cases by priests in other countries and shocking abuse claims dominated the news in several European states…

“From everything he says, it’s clear that his only aim is to avoid having the case made public so many years after the facts. It is containment, nothing more,” De Standaard wrote in a commentary accusing Danneels of lacking any compassion…

The Belgian tapes stand out as a rare verbatim record of how a leading Catholic prelate tried to persuade the victim, a 42-year-old nephew of Bruges Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, to keep the case quiet…

In their one-on-one meeting, the victim says he feels a duty to report the case to the Church hierarchy and asks Danneels to help. The cardinal responds by urging him not to go public.

“The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait,” the cardinal says. “I don’t think you’d do yourself or him a favor by shouting this from the rooftops.”

The man pleads for help but Danneels, 77, who had stepped down as Brussels archbishop in January, says he cannot discipline Vangheluwe or inform higher authorities, including Pope Benedict…

Anyone surprised? Anyone shocked?

Wanted: 100,000 volunteers, all pregnant

Alejandra agreed to be part of the study when she was pregnant. Isabella was born in August.

Although Alejandra was exactly what the scientists were looking for — a pregnant woman — she was “a bit scared,” she said, about giving herself and her unborn child to science for 21 years.

Researchers would collect and analyze her vaginal fluid, toenail clippings, breast milk and other things, and ask about everything from possible drug use to depression. At the birth, specimen collectors would scoop up her placenta and even her baby’s first feces for scientific posterity.

“Nowadays there are so many scams,” Alejandra said in Spanish, and her husband, José, “initially didn’t want me to do the study.” (Scientists said research confidentiality rules required that her last name be withheld.) But she ultimately decided that participating would “help the next generation.”

Chalk one up for the scientists, who for months have been dispatching door-to-door emissaries across the country to recruit women like Alejandra for an unprecedented undertaking: the largest, most comprehensive long-term study of the health of children, beginning even before they are born.

Authorized by Congress in 2000, the National Children’s Study began last January, its projected cost swelling to about $6.7 billion. With several hundred participants so far, it aims to enroll 100,000 pregnant women in 105 counties, then monitor their babies until they turn 21.

It will examine how environment, genes and other factors affect children’s health, tackling questions subject to heated debate and misinformation. Does pesticide exposure, for example, cause asthma? Do particular diets or genetic mutations lead to autism…?

Study officials are trying to determine what information to give participants and when. Some experts say people should get results of their chemical or genetic tests only if medical treatments exist because otherwise it only causes anxiety. Others agree with Patricia O’Campo, a member of the study’s advisory committee and the independent panel, who says the study should be “less ivory towerish” and disclose more information to families and communities.

RTFA. Interesting. If you’re interested in advancing knowledge, health, through science, it’s more than worthy of support.

OTOH, I expect the most sectarian nutballs, libertarian paranoids and old-fashioned Luddites will reject any notion of cooperating with such a study.

Nurse accused of reusing disposable IV gear

A Fort Lauderdale nurse has resigned and more than 1,800 patients have been notified that they may have been exposed to diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, after the nurse allegedly admitted to the hospital that she used disposable IV equipment on multiple patients, a violation of safety standards.

Fort Lauderdale Police are investigating to determine whether any crimes were committed after an anonymous caller reported seeing the nurse use the same saline bag and a portion of tubing more than once, during adult cardiac chemical stress tests.

The hospital, Broward General Medical Center, said that a review of the nurse was conducted when administering intravenous fluids during the stress tests and that she was suspended pending the outcome of a full investigation. The nurse subsequently resigned, according to the hospital.

Police have identified the nurse as Qui Lan of Fort Lauderdale…

“It’s heartbreaking to every employee here,” said Cathy Meyer, a spokeswoman for Broward General Medical Center.

“She was aware that she was doing this. It’s no different than changing a sheet, or a BandAid. This is what nurses go into nursing school for,” Meyer said.

“It’s a violation of standard nursing infection control procedures,” she said. “It’s a universal, standard policy which was violated.”

In truth, I’m shocked. Not over sleaziness being tolerated for so long. We grow accustomed to lousy service in every aspect of daily life.

Back in the day, I worked for a spell in one of the best teaching hospitals in the country. I know what the standards are and should be. The RN’s and LPN’s I worked with – whether beginners or jaded bureaucrats – knew what their craft demanded. They would not tolerate life-threatening workplace behavior like this.

Slackness like this reflects more than individual incompetence.

Federal report finally admits Gulf War illness is real

An extensive federal report just released concludes that roughly one in four of the 697,000 U.S. veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War suffer from Gulf War illness.

That illness is a condition now identified as the likely consequence of exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides and a drug administered to protect troops against nerve gas.

The 452-page report states that “scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans.”

The report, compiled by a panel of scientific experts and veterans serving on the congressionally mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, fails to identify any cure for the malady.

It also notes that few veterans afflicted with Gulf War illness have recovered over time.

Just like Agent Orange, our government cares more about potential liability for government and corporations – before care for our military personnel becomes an issue.

These creeps will lie for years while our veterans live in agony and illness.