Better World Club

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Washington D.C. -

Isn't Something Happening There Soon? Wait, Don't Tell Me...

Oh right, on January 20th, some 4,000,000 people are expected to converge on Washington, D.C. to experience and celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president, Barack Obama. If you don't already have reservations in hand, you still have a shot at being able to join in the revelry. Consult the city's tourism website, Destination DC and the Presidential Inauguration Committee's website. There is lodging available for next week on Craig's List, although we obviously don't vouch for their style.

If you can't make it - not to worry. D.C. has become (while no one was watching) an exciting, vibrant city that's eager to entertain you night and day, no matter when you choose to visit:

Donovan House - Hotel
For proof that D.C. really is on the fast track to trendiness, just look at Thomas Circle and the Donovan House hotel holding court there. This Thompson Hotels Group property positively oozes coolness, from leather-wrapped beds (you've always said you're into leather), pod-like chairs, and cocoon spiral showers in the guest rooms to the swanky rooftop bar and lounge. The cutting-edge design lures a fashion-forward crowd to match. Deluxe rooms: $300-$400.

Hay-Adams - Hotel
You can teach an old horse new tricks. The classic D.C. hotel just across Lafayette Square from the White House has become a shining example of environmentally friendly standards. From recycling to serving organic food to sourcing one-quarter of its electric power from renewable resources, the hotel shows a decided effort to minimize its carbon footprint. The bonus? The hotel hasn't sacrificed one bit on luxury or comfort to do so. Deluxe rooms: $400 and up.

Newseum - Unique Museum
OK, you're under 30 and won't even read the newspaper on your computer? How about if we gave you one on a 700 foot screen? Play a reporter in an interactive newsroom, feel virtually "on the spot" in a 4-D theater experience of a journalistic moment, or otherwise indulge your inner news hound. Play historian at one of the 130 interactive stations, which help visitors explore five centuries of news history. Or play with your...imagination in the 2 broadcast and 15 theaters. This is not to miss. Tickets: Adults $20, Youth: $13.

Oldies but Goodies: Tours of the White House and The Capitol. (They're not the Newseum, but still...) Contact your Senator or Representative's Office for tickets/help. Better idea: make a large contribution to your Senator or Congressman and get a personally guided tour. (OK, maybe that isn't a "better" idea.)

Adour - French Restaurant
What do Tom Daschle, Chevy Chase, and Mario Batali have in common? Starred in the Three Musketeers? No. They were all among the first to dine at Adour, the Alain Ducasse restaurant. From a gougere (this is why wikipedia was invented) beginning to a tray of raspberry-pin and chocolate macaroons at dinner's end, each meal here is an exquisite pleasure. With shimmery silver and gold decor setting a romantic mood, and enough space between tables to induce secret-spilling, Adour is the perfect pick for both a sexy tete-a-tete and getting your Congressperson to introduce some pork-barrel legislation. Entrees: $30-$40.

Black Squirrel - American Restaurant
If you have trouble figuring out which beer to order at a football game, imagine the trouble you'll have with the Black Squirrel's 50-beer list, including the Belgian Chimay, one of 11 brews on tap. The long, slender room features polished wood floors and red walls hung with posters of pop-culture icons. Just when it seemed that Adams Morgan's non-stop party scene had chased away D.C.'s fine-dining establishments, along comes the Black Squirrel, brandishing a fine-pedigreed chef and a menu of scaled-up American comfort food. Entrees: $10-$20.

Central - French Bistro
Don't even bother trying to call: this hot spot's reservation line is eternally clogged. The man responsible for Central's unflagging popularity is internationally known chef Michel Richard, whose restaurant Citronelle is Washington's very best. Central is Richard's love letter to America, presenting an enticingly affordable menu of French and American favorites, served in a very cheery and casual bistro setting, complete with a television (mon Dieu!) mounted in the corner of the adjoining on-view bar. Entrees: $20-$30.

Gin and Tonic Tavern - Bar
For those that like bars that hail from the "less is more" design philosophy, it's high time to spend some quality time at Gin & Tonic. This no-frills watering hole is a long, brick-walled tavern with two bars, a DJ booth, a smattering of tables and chairs, and, well, not much else. But you'll hardly notice the sparse decor when the prepster crowd swarms in for hearty drinking and heartier dancing. The bar's namesake is obviously always a cocktail option, but the sixteen brews are the most popular libations of choice.

The Gibson - Bar/Lounge
Serious about its cocktail and its old-school cool atmosphere, The Gibson is a bar-bar, no questions about it. An old-timer concoction lent the place its name, but there are plenty of new creatively named mixes that are sure to raise a couple eyebrows--Salad Days Sour anyone? Atmosphere is paramount as well: dim lighting, a no-standing-at-the-bar policy, and a strict 48 max capacity all make for an exceptional experience minus the classic crush of people. Gibson eschews lines and all the nasty attitudes that go with them, so the key is to book a spot (they'll accept reservations for half the seats).

For more recommendations, please go to Night+Day.

Special offer to BWC members: Order Night+Day D.C. for $8.95 with free shipping through February - that's half price! Enter code BWCDC.

[NOTE: BWC does not accept advertising revenues from establishments that we review. Thus, unlike many travel providers, our reviews are completely unbiased.]

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Ralph Nader Now Worth More than GM - and Other Wonders of the Auto Crisis!

Is Capitalism the Most "Ironic" Economic System?

by Mitch Rofsky, BWC President

Wonder #1: On November 9th, a Credit Suisse analyst declared that General Motors was worthless. This was an amazing statement. It was just over 40 years ago that General Motors tried to set Ralph Nader up for extortion and was exposed in a Congressional hearing. Nader was an ordinary citizen who had written Unsafe at Any Speed, an expose on how the auto industry had ignored consumer safety. General Motors was considered the most powerful company in the world.

GM is supposedly worthless while Nader and/or his groups have assets exceeding $1 million. Nader dismissed the analysis and it's not clear how much of that money is under Nader's personal control as opposed to groups that he manages.

But apparently it wouldn't take all of his assets for Nader to pursue the most notable takeover in modern history. Despite that bank analyst, Nader doesn't have the resources to purchase GM. But what if Nader got together with his friend Warren Buffett? Or with Bill Gates? Or Steve Jobs? Or other deep pockets? First, a pre-packaged bankruptcy that would give the new ownership room to maneuver without being tied to GM's past. Then a takeover by some of the most innovative entrepreneurs in America. (Besides, it would give Nader something else to do when the next Presidential race arrives.)

Nader has the "ability" to purchase GM? Meanwhile, Bernard Madoff takes advantage of some of the richest, most sophisticated investors in the country. Incidents like these raise another question: is capitalism attractive to a post-modern generation because it is more "ironic" than the alternatives?

Wonder #2. How has there not been one mention of health care costs during the consideration of aiding the auto industry? (If I missed one, please email me with the details.)

As the U.S. is virtually the only western industrialized country without universal health insurance, our auto industry is at a competitive disadvantage on every car manufactured here that faces a car built abroad. This can amount to over $1,000/vehicle. Shouldn't the auto industry be leading the fight for national health insurance? They would be joined with thousands of businesses that either face unfair competition or believe that health care should not be dependent on one's employment. Where are the auto industry leaders--and the Democratic legislators for whom universal health care is a priority?

Wonder #3. What does this crisis say about executive management salaries? Prior to announcing that they would take $1.00 in salary this year, the execs or their predecessors took home big numbers, while driving their companies into the ground. Rick Wagoner of GM earned over $13 million in 2006, while the President of Toyota is reported to earn much less, perhaps less than $1 million.

This is even more a wonder given that auto worker salaries have become an issue in the bailout, while white collar salaries are virtually ignored.

Wonder #4. Recently, Americans have purchased more trucks than cars. A wonder in itself, perhaps less so when the companies make so much money on their trucks and large cars that they are happy to push these vehicles as hard as they can. Ford, GM, and Chrysler were happy to let the foreign companies take the lead with cars while over 60% of their sales were in trucks.

Then, when gas prices rise (some would say "get real"), trucks aren't quite so attractive. The entire auto industry has been built on the fact that oil is subsidized because the pollution and other externalities associated with carbon-based fuel are ignored. If we don't change this policy to reflect the real price of gasoline price, will the auto companies go back to their old ways?

Wonder #5. More on this in the next Kicking Asphalt: China has just announced the first plug-in hybrid cars. So...Japan creates the hybrid technology and China the plug-in technology. But design and technology are supposed to enable the U.S. to succeed in a free trade world. Oh, the auto industry isn't succeeding? Uh, oh...

Mitch represented Public Citizen's Congress Watch in the 1979 Chrysler Bailout

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In Response to Gas Crisis, Lamborghini Releases the Lowest Mileage Car in Years - 8 MPG

BWC's Gas Guzzler Surcharge List Bigger and List-ier Than Ever!

Better World Club is one of the few, if only, companies in the U.S. that takes environmental impact into account when setting prices - even if it has no impact on our costs. Better World Club surcharges consumers who own a vehicle on our "gas guzzlers" list an additional 20% on their membership fees. (At the same time, we discount our membership fees for alternative fuel vehicles.)

This year's worst gas guzzlers:

- Lamborghini Murcielago (8 mpg city / 13 mpg highway)
- Aston Martin DB9 (11 mpg city / 17 mpg highway)
- Bentley Continental GTC (10 mpg city / 17 mpg highway)
- Bentley Azure (9 mpg city / 15 mpg highway)
- Ferrari 612 Scaglietti (9 mpg city / 16 mpg highway)
- Bentley Arnage RL (9 mpg city / 15 mpg highway)
- Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD (11 mpg city / 14 mpg highway)

But what of the Hummer H2, you may ask? Fear not! As has become our custom, we recognize the Hummer H2 as an honorary 2009 gas guzzler. GM doesn't have to disclose the Hummer H2's fuel economy because of its governmental vehicle classification, so there are no official stats on its fuel efficiency. However, most unofficial tests have put the Hummer at 11 mpg.

Click here to learn more about the gas-guzzler surcharge and discounts for alternative fuel vehicles.

Note: Better World Club uses EPA statistics to determine the vehicles with the worst gas mileage across the board. There is no "picking and choosing" when deciding which models are added to the list.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lemon Information for the 2009 Dodge Journey

Component: Steering/Handling
Consequence: This vehicle has had multiple issues. It stopped suddenly while driving up a hill for no apparent reason. The car had to be towed to level ground. Also, the vehicle suffers from a consistently bumpy ride and pulls to the right.

Component: Passenger-Side Front Assembly Strut
Consequence: Strut bearing is made of plastic. The passenger-side strut spring twisted and punctured the bearing. Both were replaced. The driver-side front spring has also begun to twist.

Component: Tires/Fuel Gauge
Consequence: Vehicle suddenly started vibrating and pulled to the left while the driver was traveling at roughly 60 mph. The tires were replaced, but this did not fix the problem. The same vehicle also has an inaccurate fuel gauge.

Component: Steering/Handling
Consequence: Vehicle lost power at slow speed and would not restart. The power train control module was replaced at the dealership. Additional grinding and whining noises necessitated the replacement of the power steering pump and rack and pinion. The whining noise continues, albeit intermittently and only while turning left.

Component: Tires
Consequence: One of the tires began to bulge. The driver replaced all four tires.

Component: Automatic Transmission
Consequence: The automatic shifter has been accidentally knocked out of drive and into reverse on several occasions without the break pedal being depressed. [NOTE: Two Journey owners lodged this same complaint.]

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Friday, January 2, 2009

November 2008 Recalls

Bentley is recalling 14 Bentley T2, Continental, Mulsanne, and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow II, Silver Wraith II, Corniche, Silver Spirit and Silver Spur vehicles. A fuel hose assembly, available as a replacement part, has been found to have a defect in the material specification of the rubber hose. The hose may degrade under certain operating conditions resulting in a fuel leak. Fuel leakage, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire. Dealers will replace the fuel hose assembly free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact Bentley at 1-617-488-8500.

BMW is recalling 2,500 MY 2008-2009 M3 passenger vehicles with an optional double clutch transmission. The problem involves the double clutch gearbox. In a situation of rapid vehicle deceleration, the transmission software may perform a multistage downshift. In that situation, at low vehicle speeds, it is possible for the engine to stall increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will reprogram the engine and transmission electronic control unit with updated software free of charge. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact BMW at 1-800-831-1117.

Chrysler is recalling 20,283 MY 2006-2009 Charger and Magnum vehicles built with the police package and equipped with a column shifter. The gearshift cable may become disengaged from the steering column mounting bracket and cause an incorrect transmission gearshift position display. This could allow the vehicle to move in an unexpected direction startling the driver, and cause a crash without warning. Dealers will add a redundant locking mechanism to the gearshift cable at the mounting bracket to ensure proper retention and shift linkage function. The recall began on November 10, 2008. Owners may contact Chrysler at 1-800-853-1403.

GM is recalling 12,662 MY 2009 Cadillac CTS vehicles for failing to conform to the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, "Occupant Crash Protection." Under certain conditions, a software condition within the passenger sensing system may disable the front passenger air bag when it should be enabled or enable it when it should be disabled. In a vehicle crash, if the front passenger air bag does not operate as designed, increased personal injury could occur. Dealers will reprogram the passenger sensing system module free of charge. The recall began on November 18, 2008. Owners may contact Cadillac at 1-866-982-2339 or through the website at www.gmownercenter.com.

GM is recalling 16,667 MY 2009 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Saturn Outlook vehicles for failing to conform with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 209, 'Seat Belt Assemblies.' These vehicles may have been built with a safety belt buckle in the second or third row that is missing a rivet. In a vehicle crash, if the rivet is missing, the buckle may separate from the mounting strap, increasing the risk of injury to the passenger. Dealers will inspect the safety belt buckles in the second and third rows, and replace them if necessary. The recall began on November 26, 2008. Owners may contact Buick at 1-866-608-8080; Chevrolet at
1-800-630-2438; GMC at 1-866-996-9463; Saturn at 1-800-972-8876; or through the website at www.gmownercenter.com.

GM is recalling 2,149 MY 2009 Saturn Vue vehicles. Some of these vehicles may have been built with an incorrect right and/or left front steering knuckle. As a result of the incorrect knuckle and resulting inadequate clearance, the tie rod ball stud could pull out of, or fracture, the tie rod housing. This could cause the tie rod to separate from the knuckle. Although steering control of the vehicle could be maintained after a tie rod separation by the unaffected wheel on smooth roads or during light braking, with more significant suspension or braking inputs, the affected wheel could turn out and skid. If a vehicle built with two incorrect steering knuckles had both tie rods separate at the same time, steering control of the vehicle would be lost, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will inspect the steering knuckles and, if necessary, replace the steering knuckle(s) and tie rod(s). The recall began on December 8, 2008. Owners may contact Saturn at 1-800-972-8876 or through the website at www.gmownercenter.com.

Harley-Davidson is recalling 349 MY 2009 FXDB, FXDC, FXDF, and FXDL motorcycles. These motorcycles have a fuel tank vent tube assembly, Part No. 27389-04A, which may have been produced with a questionable ultrasonic weld on the anti-slosh valve. If the valve separates and the bike is tipped over, it may leak fuel. Fuel leakage in the presence of an ignition source could result in a fire. Dealers will inspect the fuel vent tube assembly and, if necessary, replace it. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact Harley-Davidson at 1-414-343-4056.

Honda is recalling 3,940 MY 2001 Accord and Civic vehicles. The driver's air bag inflator could produce excessive internal pressure. If an affected air bag deploys, the increased internal pressure may cause the inflator to rupture. Metal fragments could pass through the air bag cushion material possibly causing injury to vehicle occupants. Dealers will replace the air bag inflator free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on or before December 22, 2008. Owners may contact Honda at 1-800-999-1009.

Jaguar is recalling 3,754 MY 2009 XF vehicles for instrument cluster speaker function problems. The speaker wires may fracture. As a result, the speaker will cease to operate. If the speaker fails, the following audible notifications are impacted: turn indicator, seat belt warning, lights 'on' warning, driver's door open with key in ignition, driver intervene (adaptive cruise control vehicles only) and seat memory. The audible seat belt warning is to remind drivers to wear their safety belt. If the audible warning is not present, drivers may neglect to wear their safety belt, thereby increasing the risk of injury or death in the event of a crash. Dealers will verify the instrument cluster speaker function and reconfigure the instrument cluster control module software. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact Jaguar at 1-800-452-4827.

Kawasaki is recalling 4,628 MY 2008 ZG1400A8F/A8FL, and ZG1400B8F/B8FL motorcycles. Trapped road debris may interfere with free movement of the rear brake pedal, preventing full release of the rear brake which can lead to overheating damage and possible brake failure. Brake failure could result in a crash. Kawasaki has not yet provided a remedy plan for this recall. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact Kawasaki at 1-949-770-0400.

Mercedes-Benz is recalling 1,515 MY 2007 S-Class vehicles. The radial knuckle of the front strut may fail. The radial knuckle flaw may occur after significant mileage accumulation combined with exposure to high continuous stress by driving on rough roads. If a radial knuckle fails, the steering control of the vehicle may be affected, increasing the risk of a crash. Dealers will check the front strut for the production date. If the front strut falls in the affected production range, the struts will be replaced. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact Mercedes-Benz at 1-800-367-6372.

Triumph is recalling 87 MY 2008-2009 Thruxton motorcycles. The installed front brake caliper bracket bolts may be too short, reducing thread engagement of the bolts into the brake caliper bracket. This could result in the loss of control of the motorcycle, increasing the risk of a crash. Triumph will replace these bolts. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact Triumph at 1-678-539-8782.

VW is recalling 130 MY 2009 Passat, Passat wagon, and Passat CC vehicles. Some vehicles may have an electromechanical steering gear control unit that can malfunction due to a damaged capacitor. If this malfunction occurs, the driver's steering input is not properly processed by the system and the vehicle may not respond as the driver intends. This defect can only occur immediately after vehicle start-up when the steering wheel is moved for the first time and at speeds less than 5 mph. Driver attempts to overcome the system during malfunction will cause (1) vibrations in the steering wheel; (2) the steering system motor to turn off; (3) the red steering system malfunction indicator light to illuminate; and (4) audible warnings to chime. A malfunctioning steering system could lead to a crash without warning. Dealers will replace the steering gear in the affected vehicles. The recall is expected to begin during December 2008. Owners may contact VW at 1-800-4822-8987.

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