Lawsuits Accuse Automakers of Faulty Air Bags, Recall Delays

General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Volkswagen and Mercedes all knew of problems with dangerous exploding Takata air bag inflators years before issuing recalls, according to three class actions filed Wednesday with the federal court in Miami.

The lawsuits cite company documents obtained through previous legal actions against other automakers over faulty Takata inflators. The plaintiffs allege that automakers were informed of inflator defects during tests but delayed taking action. Allegations against GM are among the most serious. Takata documents showed that GM employees expressed concerns about inflators rupturing as early as 2003.

Messages were left Wednesday seeking comment from GM, VW and Mercedes. Fiat Chrysler declined comment, saying it had not been served with the lawsuit.

Takata uses the chemical ammonium nitrate to create small explosions to inflate air bags. But the chemical can deteriorate when exposed to high temperatures and airborne moisture. That causes it to explode with too much force, blowing apart a metal canister and hurling shrapnel. At least 22 people have died worldwide and more than 180 have been hurt.

The problem touched off the largest series of automotive recalls in U.S. history, with 19 automakers having to recall up to 69 million inflators in 42 million vehicles. The problem brought a criminal conviction and fine against Takata and forced the Japanese company into bankruptcy protection.

The lawsuits, which consolidate individual claims that were filed previously, allege that owners paid higher prices for their vehicles than they would have if the defect had been disclosed.

They allege that manufacturers picked Takata to supply inflators because the cost was less than other air bag makers who used different, less volatile chemicals as propellants. According to the lawsuits, manufacturers had employees who questioned the quality and performance of Takata’s inflators well before any vehicles were recalled.

“These auto manufacturers were well aware of the public safety risks posed by Takata’s airbags long ago, and still waited years to disclose them to the public and take action,” Peter Prieto, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. The lawsuits “are an important step forward in holding them accountable.”

Early concerns

In an April 2003 communication with Takata, GM was concerned about “ballistic variability,” which is a tendency for the air bags to either underinflate or explode when deployed, the lawsuit against GM said. A GM engineer raised concerns about inadequate testing, moisture control and the inability of Takata to meet GM specifications after a 2003 visit to Takata’s factory in Moses Lake, Washington, according to the lawsuit.

In 2004, Takata employees met with GM officials about a tendency for the inflators to shoot flames when they ruptured, and in March of 2006, Takata reported that inflators tested for GM vehicles continued to show “aggressive behavior,” including the escape of “molten propellant” when they ruptured. A Takata employee admitted “we cannot get good results” with the inflator design, the lawsuit stated.

Yet GM didn’t issue any recalls until June of 2014 when it recalled 29,000 Chevrolet Cruze compact cars from the 2013 and 2014 model years, according to the lawsuit. That recall came after Takata reported three exploding inflators in 2010. “Defendants did nothing to meaningfully investigate the problem, notify the appropriate regulators or notify the class [car owners],” the lawsuit stated.

GM also received reports of real-world problems in 2011 and 2014, including one case in which a Cruze driver was blinded in one eye by an exploding inflator, according to the lawsuit. GM and Takata blamed the trouble on a manufacturing problem instead of the deteriorating ammonium nitrate. “Rather than publicize the truth, both Takata and New GM blamed the ruptures on a manufacturing problem,” the lawsuit alleged.

Old GM, the company that existed before seeking bankruptcy protection in 2009, knew of the problems, and New GM, the company that emerged from bankruptcy, kept employees who knew and had the same knowledge, according to the lawsuit.

More recalls

Volkswagen, the lawsuit alleged, had repeated quality issues with Takata dating to 2003, even rejecting products after an audit. Yet no recalls were issued until 2016, the plaintiffs claimed. Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, had concerns about the integrity of Takata inflators in 2003, according to company emails. In 2004, Mercedes engineers agreed to “forego key performance variables” and allow use of Takata inflators, the lawsuit stated. The company didn’t do any recalls until 2016.

Fiat Chrysler didn’t issue its first recall until 2014, even though its engineers expressed concerns about Takata inflators during the early 2000s, the lawsuit stated.

Last year Toyota, BMW, Mazda, Subaru, Nissan and Honda settled similar economic loss class actions for millions of dollars.

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Trump Picks Conservative Economist as New White House Adviser

U.S. President Donald Trump is naming Larry Kudlow, a longtime conservative economic analyst and television business show commentator, as his new top White House economic adviser.

The 70-year-old Kudlow told news media he accepted Trump’s offer Wednesday to become director of the White House’s National Economic Council. Reports say a formal announcement could come Thursday.

He will replace former Wall Street financier Gary Cohn, who resigned last week after breaking with President Trump on trade policy. Cohn had lost an internal debate, among Trump advisers, aimed at convincing the president not to impose steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

 

Kudlow, who was an informal economic adviser to Trump during the first year of his presidency, also opposed Trump’s imposition of the 25 percent levy on steel and 10 percent tax on aluminum. Kudlow, however, was also an adviser to Trump during his successful 2016 White House run and worked with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in designing the tax cut plan Trump pushed through Congress in December.

Kudlow worked decades ago in the White House of President Ronald Reagan, but has spent much of the time since then as a television show host, much like Trump, who served as executive producer of The Apprentice reality television show before turning to politics.

One of Kudlow’s first White House efforts is likely to involve the ongoing renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, the U.S. pact with Canada and Mexico.

Kudlow has said that it would be a “calamitously bad decision” to end the accord, but Trump has said NAFTA has left the United States at a disadvantage in trade deals with the two countries. The president has said he wants better terms for American farmers in their exports to Canada and wants Mexico to step up its border security at the U.S. line to keep undocumented immigrants from crossing into the United States.

 

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France to Fine Google, Apple Amid Broader Transatlantic Spat

France added more kindling to a growing commercial dispute between Europe and the United States, announcing Wednesday it would sue American tech giants Google and Apple over allegedly abusive business practices.

After peanut butter, cranberries and bourbon, Google and Apple are the latest American icons in Europe’s crosshairs. Speaking to French radio Wednesday, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire accused the two U.S. companies of unilaterally imposing prices and other terms on French startups.

Google and Apple may be powerful, Le Maire said, but they should not be able to treat French startups and developers the way they currently do.

France has taken legal action against the companies before. But this latest dispute comes amid a potential trade war, as Washington prepares to slap tariffs against steel and aluminum imports.

The European Union has vowed countermeasures on products such as peanut butter if the bloc is not exempted from the U.S. measures, which may take effect next week. But European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told the EU Parliament Wednesday she hopes that will not happen.

“As long as the measures have not entered into force, we hope to avoid a significant trade dispute,” she said. “The root problem, as many of you have said, is overcapacity in steel and aluminum sectors.”

Malmstrom said the European Union and the United States should instead work together to end unfair subsidies by some countries and level the trading field.

France has a mixed relationship with U.S. internet companies — both encouraging them to invest here, but also to pay more EU taxes — as it tries to build its home-grown industry.

Last year, it also threatened fines against Amazon for allegedly abusing its dominant position with suppliers. French justice has yet to rule on the case.

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France to Fine Google, Apple Amid Broader Transatlantic Spat

France added more kindling to a growing commercial dispute between Europe and the United States, announcing Wednesday it would sue American tech giants Google and Apple over allegedly abusive business practices.

After peanut butter, cranberries and bourbon, Google and Apple are the latest American icons in Europe’s crosshairs. Speaking to French radio Wednesday, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire accused the two U.S. companies of unilaterally imposing prices and other terms on French startups.

Google and Apple may be powerful, Le Maire said, but they should not be able to treat French startups and developers the way they currently do.

France has taken legal action against the companies before. But this latest dispute comes amid a potential trade war, as Washington prepares to slap tariffs against steel and aluminum imports.

The European Union has vowed countermeasures on products such as peanut butter if the bloc is not exempted from the U.S. measures, which may take effect next week. But European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told the EU Parliament Wednesday she hopes that will not happen.

“As long as the measures have not entered into force, we hope to avoid a significant trade dispute,” she said. “The root problem, as many of you have said, is overcapacity in steel and aluminum sectors.”

Malmstrom said the European Union and the United States should instead work together to end unfair subsidies by some countries and level the trading field.

France has a mixed relationship with U.S. internet companies — both encouraging them to invest here, but also to pay more EU taxes — as it tries to build its home-grown industry.

Last year, it also threatened fines against Amazon for allegedly abusing its dominant position with suppliers. French justice has yet to rule on the case.

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Microsoft Finds Few Gender Discrimination Complaints Valid

Only one of 118 gender discrimination complaints made by women at Microsoft was found to have merit, according to unsealed court documents.

The Seattle Times reports the records made public Monday illustrate the scope of complaints from female employees in technical jobs in the U.S. between 2010 and 2016.

And according to the court documents, Microsoft’s internal investigations determined only one of those complaints was “founded.”

The documents were released as part of an ongoing lawsuit by three current or former Microsoft employees alleging gender discrimination.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the case, claiming more than 8,600 women collectively lost out on $238 million in pay and 500 promotions because of discrimination in the company’s performance review process.

Microsoft’s case is one of several against giant companies in the technology industry, which has been criticized in recent years for its lack of female and minority employees and for a workplace culture that some say is hostile toward those groups.

The plaintiffs argue that men in similar roles with similar job performance were promoted faster and given more raises than their female colleagues.

Microsoft has said a class action isn’t warranted because there is no common cause for the employees’ complaints and plaintiffs have not identified systemic gender discrimination. The company has denied that systemic bias is taking place through its employee-review process.

In court documents, Microsoft also has stood behind its internal investigative process, which involves a four-person team that looks into each complaint filed with the company. In a statement Tuesday, a Microsoft said all employee concerns are taken seriously and that the company has a “fair and robust system in place” to investigate them.

U.S. District Judge James Robart is hearing the case in U.S. District Court in Seattle and is expected to decide on the class-action request in the next several months.

Information from: The Seattle Times.

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Microsoft Finds Few Gender Discrimination Complaints Valid

Only one of 118 gender discrimination complaints made by women at Microsoft was found to have merit, according to unsealed court documents.

The Seattle Times reports the records made public Monday illustrate the scope of complaints from female employees in technical jobs in the U.S. between 2010 and 2016.

And according to the court documents, Microsoft’s internal investigations determined only one of those complaints was “founded.”

The documents were released as part of an ongoing lawsuit by three current or former Microsoft employees alleging gender discrimination.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the case, claiming more than 8,600 women collectively lost out on $238 million in pay and 500 promotions because of discrimination in the company’s performance review process.

Microsoft’s case is one of several against giant companies in the technology industry, which has been criticized in recent years for its lack of female and minority employees and for a workplace culture that some say is hostile toward those groups.

The plaintiffs argue that men in similar roles with similar job performance were promoted faster and given more raises than their female colleagues.

Microsoft has said a class action isn’t warranted because there is no common cause for the employees’ complaints and plaintiffs have not identified systemic gender discrimination. The company has denied that systemic bias is taking place through its employee-review process.

In court documents, Microsoft also has stood behind its internal investigative process, which involves a four-person team that looks into each complaint filed with the company. In a statement Tuesday, a Microsoft said all employee concerns are taken seriously and that the company has a “fair and robust system in place” to investigate them.

U.S. District Judge James Robart is hearing the case in U.S. District Court in Seattle and is expected to decide on the class-action request in the next several months.

Information from: The Seattle Times.

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US Republican Senator Paul Opposes Pompeo, Haspel Nominations

Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said on Wednesday he would oppose President Donald Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to become the new director of the CIA.

Paul also said he would “do everything I can” to block them.

Haspel has faced strong criticism for overseeing a secret Central Intelligence Agency prison where detainees were tortured in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA. My opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone who was being tortured,” Paul told a news conference.

Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, was confirmed as CIA director with the support of two-thirds of the Senate last year. Many legislators have said they are happy with his workat the agency, and expect he will be confirmed as the United States’ top diplomat.

Paul is the first Republican to come out against the nominations, which Trump announced on Tuesday. He was the only Republican who voted last year against Pompeo’s nomination to be CIA director.

Another Republican senator, John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, also had questions about Haspel, but did not say he would oppose her. McCain has not been in Washington to vote this year as he undergoes cancer treatment at home in Arizona.

Haspel is respected for her work in the clandestine service and held in high regard at the CIA. Early indications are that, if her hearing goes well, she would be supported by at least enough moderate Democrats to be confirmed.

An intelligence officer who worked with Haspel denied she was anything like a “gleeful participant,” saying, “That makes it sound like she was holding the bucket and laughing, when all she was was a bureaucrat following orders.”

A CIA spokesman said the agency was aware of Paul’s statement and had no immediate comment.

Trump’s fellow Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, so it would take little Republican dissent to block a nomination, but only if all Democrats vote no.

Paul could make the process difficult particularly for Pompeo. He is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold Pompeo’s confirmation hearing and vote on whether to report his nomination favorably to the full Senate.

His opposition could keep the committee from doing so, if every Democrat also opposed the nominee, although the Senate’s Republican leaders could hold a vote anyway.

Committee Democrats said it was too early to say how they would vote.

Senate Republicans said they expect both confirmation hearings to be held soon. Pompeo’s is expected in April.

Every Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel voted against Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in January 2017, but the panel advanced his nomination by an 11-10 vote because every Republican, including Paul, backed him.

 

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China’s Huawei Says to Keep Investing in US Despite Setback

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei says it will continue to invest in the United States despite recent setbacks in its efforts to boost sales there.

Xu Qingsong, also known as Jim Xu, Huawei’s head of sales and marketing, told reporters in Shenzhen he was “confident” Huawei smartphone sales would triple this year in the U.S. from last year.

News reports in January said Huawei appeared to be on the verge of cracking the lucrative American market when it signed a deal with AT&T, but the agreement fell through under U.S. government pressure.

In the past, Huawei officials have rejected U.S. security complaints as politically motivated or possibly an attempt by competitors to keep it out of the market.

“I don’t know why they’re so nervous,” Xu said Tuesday, referring to the U.S. “They’re too nervous.”

Huawei sells some models in U.S. electronics stores and online but has a minimal share of an American market in which most sales are through carriers. Globally, the company trails Samsung and Apple in handset shipments but leads in China, the biggest market, and says it expects to ship a total of 150 million this year.

Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of network gear used by phone companies, suffered earlier setbacks in the American market when a congressional report in October 2013 said it was a security risk and warned telecom carriers not to use its equipment.

More recently, a new global struggle for influence over next-generation “5G” communications technology has brought Huawei under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. government. Many American officials are concerned Chinese companies such as Huawei could take a larger, or even a dominant, role in setting 5G technology and standards and practices.

Kevin Ho, president of Huawei’s handset product line, said they’ll instead focus on Europe and developing markets in Asia, especially India, where Huawei sees opportunities to expand the Shenzhen-based company’s market share.

“There are still some big countries where our market share is very, very low,” Ho said. “This is a hint of where we can raise our market share globally.”

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump blocked Singapore chipmaker Broadcom from pursuing a hostile takeover of prominent U.S. rival Qualcomm, a deal which officials believed could have hobbled the U.S.’s ability to make a quick transition to 5G.

When asked about the blocked deal, Xu declined to comment.

Separately, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill on January 9 that would prohibit government purchases of telecoms equipment from Huawei Technologies and smaller rival ZTE, citing their ties to the Chinese military and backing from the ruling Communist Party.

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China’s Huawei Says to Keep Investing in US Despite Setback

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei says it will continue to invest in the United States despite recent setbacks in its efforts to boost sales there.

Xu Qingsong, also known as Jim Xu, Huawei’s head of sales and marketing, told reporters in Shenzhen he was “confident” Huawei smartphone sales would triple this year in the U.S. from last year.

News reports in January said Huawei appeared to be on the verge of cracking the lucrative American market when it signed a deal with AT&T, but the agreement fell through under U.S. government pressure.

In the past, Huawei officials have rejected U.S. security complaints as politically motivated or possibly an attempt by competitors to keep it out of the market.

“I don’t know why they’re so nervous,” Xu said Tuesday, referring to the U.S. “They’re too nervous.”

Huawei sells some models in U.S. electronics stores and online but has a minimal share of an American market in which most sales are through carriers. Globally, the company trails Samsung and Apple in handset shipments but leads in China, the biggest market, and says it expects to ship a total of 150 million this year.

Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of network gear used by phone companies, suffered earlier setbacks in the American market when a congressional report in October 2013 said it was a security risk and warned telecom carriers not to use its equipment.

More recently, a new global struggle for influence over next-generation “5G” communications technology has brought Huawei under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. government. Many American officials are concerned Chinese companies such as Huawei could take a larger, or even a dominant, role in setting 5G technology and standards and practices.

Kevin Ho, president of Huawei’s handset product line, said they’ll instead focus on Europe and developing markets in Asia, especially India, where Huawei sees opportunities to expand the Shenzhen-based company’s market share.

“There are still some big countries where our market share is very, very low,” Ho said. “This is a hint of where we can raise our market share globally.”

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump blocked Singapore chipmaker Broadcom from pursuing a hostile takeover of prominent U.S. rival Qualcomm, a deal which officials believed could have hobbled the U.S.’s ability to make a quick transition to 5G.

When asked about the blocked deal, Xu declined to comment.

Separately, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill on January 9 that would prohibit government purchases of telecoms equipment from Huawei Technologies and smaller rival ZTE, citing their ties to the Chinese military and backing from the ruling Communist Party.

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YouTube to Display Wikipedia Blurbs Alongside Conspiracy Videos

YouTube will begin displaying text from Wikipedia articles and other websites alongside some videos in a couple of weeks as the unit of Alphabet Inc’s Google attempts to combat hoaxes and conspiracy theories on the service, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Susan Wojcicki, speaking on stage at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, displayed a mock-up of the new feature, which are called information cues.

YouTube intends to present an alternative viewpoint to videos questioning science or describing conspiracies about events such as the U.S. moon landing. She said information cues would first roll out to topics for which there are a significant number of YouTube videos.

“People can still watch the videos but then they actually have access to additional information, can click off and go and see that,” Wojcicki said.

Lawmakers and media advocacy groups have called on YouTube to help stop the spread of hoaxes and false news stories. Last year, the company adjusted its algorithms to promote what it described as authoritative sources.

Though music and gaming videos are far more popular on YouTube, the company has made addressing the criticism around news and science videos a top priority this year. 

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