Down On The Border: State Of War In Mexico

Via Laura Rozen comes reference to a chilling piece by Sam Quinones in Foreign Policy on the drug smuggling violence that has escalated to a total state of war rivaling levels in Iraq.

There are so many hot spots for attention these days – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gitmo, not to mention the ops that are being run on US citizens by their own government as a result of the Bush/Cheney decision to gin up a military rationale for surveillance domestically – that it is easy to forget what is going on just across the border. Easy, at least, until you take in Sam Quinones’ tale:

That week in Monterrey, newspapers reported, Mexico clocked 167 drug-related murders. When I lived there, they didn’t have to measure murder by the week. There were only about a thousand drug-related killings annually. The Mexico I returned to in 2008 would end that year with a body count of more than 5,300 dead. That’s almost double the death toll from the year before—and more than all the U.S. troops killed in Iraq since that war began.

But it wasn’t just the amount of killing that shocked me. When I lived in Mexico, the occasional gang member would turn up executed, maybe with duct-taped hands, rolled in a carpet, and dropped in an alley. But Mexico’s newspapers itemized a different kind of slaughter last August: Twenty-four of the week’s 167 dead were cops, 21 were decapitated, and 30 showed signs of torture. Campesinos found a pile of 12 more headless bodies in the Yucatán. Four more decapitated corpses were found in Tijuana, the same city where barrels of acid containing human remains were later placed in front of a seafood restaurant. A couple of weeks later, someone threw two hand grenades into an Independence Day celebration in Morelia, killing eight and injuring dozens more. And at any time, you could find YouTube videos of Mexican gangs executing their rivals—an eerie reminder of, and possibly a lesson learned from, al Qaeda in Iraq.

This is neither new nor isolated. When I was younger, I used to go down to Tijuana, it was a great time. It really was easy and fun; what Chinatown was to LA, Tijuana was to San Diego. No longer is even the formerly relatively civil Tijuana docile and appropriate for casual strolling about. Long ago, back in the sixties, on our way back to Read more

Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon

[As I indicated yesterday in the post "Why American Industry (And Its Future) Matters", we have the privilege of having author William J. Holstein today at Emptywheel and Firedoglake. Mr. Holstein has a long and rich history as a journalist and author. Most importantly for today, he has plunged into the history and ethos of General Motors and produced an incredible work detailing just how critical General Motors, the American auto industry, and American industry itself is to the United States economy and way of life.

As Michael Fitzgerald observed at, "Holstein is using GM as a symbol for whether it makes sense for the U.S. to bother with manufacturing. That might sound odd for a country that for now probably remains the world’s largest manufacturing economy. But Holstein argues that our political and financial leaders don’t get manufacturing, and don’t think it’s important. This is the crux of the Main Street vs. Wall Street debate, and it is shaping up as the core fight of economic policy over the next few years: do we get a justifiable return if we invest in making things, or should we focus on information-driven innovation?"

I think that is right. Since we cannot layout the entire book in the intro here, Bill and I decided to focus on the emerging technology, and specifically battery/electric technology, and the new product lines, that GM is producing. With that said, what follows are prepared remarks in that regard by Bill Holstein. Take a look, and then join us in discussion. I am looking forward to the best and brightest that inhabit our little corner of the world participating in and driving this. Oh, and visit Bill anytime at his blog Also, I heartily recommend purchasing his book, it is a fascinating look into a critical issue of our time, not to mention a great read. – bmaz]

By: William J. Holstein:

It’s time to cut through all the nonsense about General Motors “not making cars that Amrericans want to buy.” The truth is that GM has seized design and performance leadership over its longtime nemesis, Toyota. Toyota’s cars these days resemble appliances, i.e. refrigerators on wheels. They don’t break, but they hardly inspire.

In terms of their physical appearance, GM vehicles have real attitude. The new CTS has a very bold and aggressive front end that designer John Manoogian came up with at the last moment. He and his team decided to take the V-shape that used to stop at the bumpers and let it plunge below the bumpers toward the ground. They also inserted grilles on the right front panels merely for decorative purposes. That nearly drove the engineers crazy because of the challenge of stamping a piece of sheet metal with an odd hole in the middle of it. But they did it. At first, the competition could not believe that GM had figured out how to achieve that.

Read more

Toyota Sings The Mercury Blues

As the Republicans in Congress, most notably the Senate, fixate on emasculating the stimulus package, stripping it and the country of hope for success in heading off the economic death spiral we are witnessing, I want to return to another recent example of the un-American activities and bent of the Republican Caucus of legislative geniuses. I refer to this same group’s actions and illogic in relation to the American Auto manufacturer bridge loan issue that roiled little more than a month ago and still percolates near the surface of our economic woes.

Remember how Richard Shelby, Bob Corker and a pack of GOP loons made their bones by preening against the American auto industry and trying to cram American autoworker and union wages down to, and below, the level of foreign transplant wages? Of course you do because you remember the big Republican "Lizard Lie" on the myth of the $73/hr wage rate. It was all predicated on the supposed superiority of the foreign automakers. The Republicans literally were willing to make the American auto industry grovel and beg, and even talk about killing them outright, based on their claims of the superiority of the foreign automakers.

So how are those vaunted foreign automakers, that are so much more brilliant and perfect than GM and the other American manufacturers, doing these days? Well let’s check in on Toyota, which along with Honda is the supposed gold standard to the lizard brained GOP. From the New York Times:

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, said Friday that it expected to suffer a loss this year, thanks to rapidly declining sales around the world, especially in the United States. The company is expecting its first full-year operating loss since 1937 — 350 billion yen ($3.9 billion) — more than double its previous forecast.

The company’s 2008 fiscal year ends on March 31.

It widened its forecast for an operating loss on its main automotive business to 450 billion yen, or $5 billion, attributing the larger loss to both steep declines in global auto sales and strong gains by the Japanese currency, the yen, which lowers the yen-denominated value of overseas earnings.

Ouch; not so good.

So, times are bad for even the precious to the GOP Toyota, just like GM. So what kind of implications does this news portend for Toyota’s short and long term future? Ah, glad you asked:

“Toyota is going to Read more

Rick Warren and Invoking Teh Inauguration

As you may have noticed, a small war has erupted at the mothership over the nature of the invocation at Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009. Specifically, whether or not it is appropriate for Obama to have Rick Warren participate. The general FDL position is that it is not appropriate to have Warren participate because he is a discriminatory bigot, to the LGBT community, and others.

I agree wholeheartedly with this position. But I have a more fundamental question.

Why is any of this, Warren, Lowery, or any other religious figure, an official part of the inauguration? If a religious aspect is desired for private parties later etc., fine, but why should overt religion be sanctioned as part of the official initiation of a Presidency? No matter how it is configured, it is going to be offensive to many groups inherently; i.e. those whose religions are snubbed, and those such as the LGBT community, for instance in relation to Warren. Probably some groups somewhere will be similarly put off by Joe Lowery; and, of course, the non-believers and/or atheists don’t like any of it.

"America" should not have a preacher. If individuals wish to consider religion vis a vis their government, that is most excellent, but it should be and by individual choice only. God is not for a nation to possess, nor claim the mantle of; that is the province of the individuals in the nation to do, or not do, on their own.

Why is this part of the official inauguration? There is no need to have the new government sanctioned by religion from the get go. The new President, President Obama, will serve and represent all Americans, of all stripes, colors and beliefs; excluding and alienating so many at the outset seems antithetical to the spirit, even if not the letter, of Constitutional separation of church and state, equal protection and inclusion.

Invoke the spirit of the Constitution instead of of having an invocation at the Inauguration.

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet

George Bush has joined the malodorous southern Republicans in their heinous attempt to drive US automakers into bankruptcy. From the Washington Post:

An "orderly" bankruptcy may be the best way of handling the struggling U.S. auto industry, President Bush indicated today as he spoke before the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. However, he said he hasn’t decided what action he will take, the Associated Press reports.

Perino said: "The president is not going to allow a disorderly collapse of the companies. A disorderly collapse would be something very chaotic that is a shock to the system."

Bush and the American auto killers are flat out determined to drive the country to ruin and kill the last remaining hard industry the nation has, it appears. And they are able to do so because so much of the country is ill informed to completely uninformed about the real nature of American auto.

In the previous post, Marcy described how Bill Ford schooled Larry King on the truth about Ford Motor Company and the backup credit line they wish to have available should it be necessary. Well, now I am here do a little edifying about General Motors.

Remember all that bashing administered by Richard Shelby, Bob Corker, Jim DeMint and so many other union busting types about "the failed business model", the "backwards out of date products", and the failure to transform to a company for the future? It is hard to tell whether this is a knowing lie or just rank ignorance. Time to school the foreign coddling, un-American, Dixie union and industry busters; a southern man doesn’t need them around anyhow.

First off, that plan for a profitable and sustainable future with progressive products that the Congress keeps demanding? It is already in progress; and, hey Republican nimrods, it has been for almost four years, since 2005. The following information bits are excerpted from various GM information releases forwarded to me by a senior executive at General Motors headquarters.

As to the need to shift from huge SUVs and large trucks and towards efficient cars and smaller crossover vehicles, GM is already doing that:

Eleven of our last 13 new or major launches in the U.S. were cars or crossovers.

Take the Chevy Malibu, for example, which has won 29 industry awards so far, including the 2008 North American Car of the Year. And consumers are reacting with enthusiasm… as Read more

Okay, Okay, Invade Michigan. But You Can’t Have the Coaches Back.

John Cole has found a solution to the Big 2.5’s woes–and frankly, it sounds a whole lot smarter than Bob Corker’s plan to require two corporations to revoke the pensions of a bunch of blue collar retirees. And he’s right–the Republicans are gonna love this plan.

His solution? Invade Michigan, make it safe for democracy again.

We need to invade Michigan and rebuild the state from the ground up. We will be greeted as liberators, we have clear supply lines, and we can easily rebuild the auto industry with the kind of money we spend on other countries we invade. Hell, our new Secretary of State, Hillary of Clinton, spent the better part of the past year fighting for the rights of average folks from Michigan, so think of the good will we have with the public. This is very doable. Just tell Congress we will give KBR no-bid contracts to fix Detroit.

Thing is, I’m a little suspicious of John’s motives. You see, John’s from West Virginia, and he’s a sports fan. 

I just have this awful feeling that John’s great plan is really a plot to come to Michigan and steal back the two coaches we stole from West Virginia, hoops coach John Beilein and football coach Rich Rodriguez. Sure sure, Rodriguez hasn’t yet worked out like we’d like. But Michigan’s basketball victory over Duke is one of the only good things that has happened to Michigan of late (I mean, think of the Lions!!), and I’m just not willing to give Beilein back.

So, fine. If you must, invade Michigan. Please bring bales of cash, just like they did in Iraq.

But you can’t have our sports coaches.

Still in Turkey Coma Open Thread

I should say "back in turkey coma" since I just had a hot turkey sandwich and feel a giant nap coming on.

The turkey, btw, was absolutely superb–those crazies who think turkey doesn’t taste good are like Sunday school teachers who poo poo sex because, well, let’s just say they were never really credible experts about the subject. When I bit into my first bite of white meat last night I was shocked at how rich the taste was.

It took me about an hour to prepare the chestnuts for the stuffing–but the time was worth it. Sadly, even though I started with 12 cups of bread cubes, there is no stuffing left.

And even though, in a fit of distraction, I almost ended up with pumpkin flavored scrambled eggs, the pies were very yummy, too. If you’re not already using Northern Spy apples for your apple pies, you should try it. Just the apples and a generous (okay, very generous) grating of nutmeg and you’ve got the perfect intense flavor and strong tartness to hold up to a buttery pie crust.

Nap time!

Obama’s Success: Must Have Been The Shoes Before Him

America, indeed humanity, stands on the verge of a seminal moment in history. A turning point that inalienably alters our existence in so many ways, writ large and small, that it is hard to grasp. We are about to to inaugurate a black man, Barack Obama, President of the United States; a job that is still, despite all, the singularly most important and powerful position in the world. How did we get to this moment?

It is time to talk about race, and in a positive and constructive manner, not the sinister and tawdry below the surface baiting style so prevalent during much of the McCain/GOP campaign we just, thankfully, concluded. What has led us to the point where Barack Obama is about to give his first inaugral address; what paved the way for that? It just might, at least partially, be the shoes.

Specifically, the shoes worn by transcendental black athletes like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Venus and Serena Williams and Arthur Ashe. Athletes not just dominant in their sport, but in sports that were previously the exclusive province of whites. In the case of Tiger, the Williams sisters and Arthur Ashe, it was their sports; sports that were once, and still remain, not just white, but elite. In Jordan’s case, although in a sport long integrated, basketball, he became literally the face of the league and the most marketable and recognizable persona in advertising in the whole world.

One of the great gifts to sports journalism, really the literary field as a whole, in the last half century was the late Dick Schapp. A truly enlightened and renaissance man. One of the many enduring gifts Schapp left is a weekly sports roundtable discussion every Sunday morning on ESPN, The Sports Reporters. Not just any sports reporters, but giants that, like Schapp, transcend the field of sports with a view of the larger frame of the world. Journalists like Mike Lupica, Mitch Albom and Bob Ryan. On the October 5, 2008 edition of The Sports Reporters John Saunders, who has led the The Sports Reporters since Schapp’s untimely death, gave a fascinating parting shot (It is the approximately last two minutes of the linked podcast, which is very easy to fast forward to).

Saunders’ take was that Obama has had a surprisingly smooth and seamless run for the Presidential roses considering the historical context of black and white racial undertow of tension. Further, that one of the reasons for this is the way that certain black athletes, specifically Tiger Woods and Venus and Serena Willaims have come to be the singular calling cards of their sports, golf and tennis respectively. Saunders posits that the significance is immense because both golf and tennis have been historically not just the domain of whites, although that they have been, but elite and powerful whites. The country club set; power brokers that really run things. Elegant and compelling individuals, Woods and the Williams; black in skin color, magnetic, inspirational and colorless champions in conduct and ethos. Read more

In Defense of Turkey

Big Media Matt and the Great Orange (Vegetarian) Satan are campaigning against turkeys. Their logic is:

  1. Butterballs suck
  2. Butterballs are turkeys
  3. Therefore turkeys suck

See the problem with their logic?

Lucky for me and my co-turkey mates, in Ann Arbor’s near environs there are now a number of farmers growing heritage turkeys–and at way cheaper prices than the heritage turkey I bought last year. These are, of course, turkeys that still taste like turkey, rather than saline-injected protein delivery systems.

And for those of you briners searching for an easier way to cook the perfect bird–and yes, even for Spencer, with his salivating over bacon-wrapped pork–the real trick is bacon.

Yes, bacon.

Just slap a pound of bacon on top. It’s the perfect way to slowly apply salt to the meat and it keeps the bird perfectly moist without basting. And by the time the Detroit Lions manage to lose another game, that bacon’s perfectly cooked for a mid-afternoon snack, just when it’s time to start browning the bird.

I’ll be preparing heritage turkey prepared in the proper bacon-lover’s manner, chestnut and sage bread stuffing, and pumpkin and apple pies. I’m hoping the co-turkey mates remember to make spuds, or the Irish husband will be cross. Also, my local wine purveyor recommended this new Turkish wine to go with the turkey, which I’m kind of looking forward to trying.

What are you all cooking for your Thanksgiving joy?

T. Boone or not T. Boone



We have had quite the go lately here at the FDL Borg Hive over the automaker bailout and, more specifically, the most pressing of which is GM. For the moment though, I want to touch on a corollary to the future of the American auto industry, and that is the transition to clean and green that needs to occur for long term sustainability of Deetroit wheels.

If we could flip the switch on a perpetual motion device, heck even the Chevy Volt, tomorrow, that would be wonderful. But we cannot. The path back to health and profit prosperity for American auto will be a process that takes time, and it is going to take intermediate steps while the new technology comes on line, gets refined and evolves into maturity.

The guy, for better or worse, that has been out front making noise about the transition from oil to clean and green is none other than the infamous, and legendary, Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens. Transition is the key word regarding the Pickens Plan as it relates to our topic de jour, automobiles. Because the Volt is not scheduled for release until 2010, and even assuming GM and its Volt makes it that far (which is no given), it will take a while for plug in technology to become deeply rooted. And, of course, a massive shift all at once to electric autos would crash our strapped and deteriorating power grid.

Pickens’ main point on internal combustion transition is that natural gas should be a, it not the, transition fuel for cars, and, more significantly, fleet vehicles.

Pickens’ Plan proposes that the natural gas that is currently used to fuel power plants could be used instead as a fuel for thousands of vehicles. Ken Medlock says that the US will continue to use natural gas for electric power generation. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, making it an increasingly popular fuel for power plants. Gas plants also produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The technology needed for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles such as City buses, fork lifts and passenger cars with CNG drivetrains is available now. Honda sells the Civic GX, with a 170-mile range. In addition, it is possible to convert vehicles to run on CNG in addition to leaving the conventional fuel injection intact, allowing the driver to switch back and forth at will. Kits are available for the do-it-yourselfer. Read more