14 July 2011


Betty Ford, the former first lady whose triumph over drug and alcohol addiction became a beacon of hope for addicts and the inspiration for her Betty Ford Center in California, died at age 93.
The former first lady died at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. Other details of her death were not immediately available.
Ford's husband, former President Gerald R. Ford, died in December 2006.
Former President George H.W. Bush said she was a wonderful wife and mother; a great friend; and a courageous First Lady. He also stated that no one confronted life's struggles with more fortitude or honesty, and as a result, we all learned from the challenges she faced.
While her husband served as president, Betty Ford's comments weren't the kind of genteel, innocuous talk expected from a first lady, and a Republican one no less. Her unscripted comments sparked tempests in the press and dismayed President Ford's advisers, who were trying to soothe the national psyche after Watergate. But to the scandal-scarred, Vietnam-wearied, hippie-rattled nation, Mrs. Ford's openness was refreshing.
According to Mrs. Ford, her young adult children probably had smoked marijuana — and if she were their age, she'd try it, too. She told the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes she wouldn't be surprised to learn that her youngest, 18-year-old Susan, was in a sexual relationship (an embarrassed Susan issued a denial).
She mused that living together before marriage might be wise, thought women should be drafted into the military if men were, and spoke up unapologetically for abortion rights, taking a position contrary to the president's.
Candor worked for Betty Ford, again and again. She would build an enduring legacy by opening up the toughest times of her life as public example.
In an era when cancer was discussed in hushed tones and mastectomy was still a taboo subject, the first lady shared the specifics of her breast cancer surgery. The publicity helped bring the disease into the open and inspired countless women to seek breast examinations.
Her most painful revelation came 15 months after leaving the White House, when Mrs. Ford announced that she was entering treatment for a longtime addiction to painkillers and alcohol. It turned out the famously forthcoming first lady had been keeping a secret, even from herself.
She used the unvarnished story of her own descent and recovery to crusade for better addiction treatment, especially for women. She co-founded the nonprofit Betty Ford Center near the Fords' home in Rancho Mirage, California, in 1982. Mrs. Ford raised millions of dollars for the center, kept close watch over its operations, and regularly welcomed groups of new patients with a speech that started, "Hello, my name's Betty Ford, and I'm an alcoholic and drug addict."
Although most famous for a string of celebrity patients over the years — from Elizabeth Taylor and Johnny Cash to Lindsay Lohan — the center keeps its rates relatively affordable and has served more than 90,000 people.
"People who get well often say, 'You saved my life,' and 'You've turned my life around,'" Mrs. Ford once said. "They don't realize we merely provided the means for them to do it themselves, and that's all."
In a statement Friday, President Barack Obama said the Betty Ford Center would honor Mrs. Ford's legacy by giving countless Americans a new lease on life.
As our nation's First Lady, she was a powerful advocate for women's health and women's rights. After leaving the White House, Mrs. Ford helped reduce the social stigma surrounding addiction and inspired thousands to seek much-needed treatment.
Mrs. Ford was a free spirit from the start. Elizabeth Bloomer, born April 8, 1918, fell in love with dance as a girl in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and decided it would be her life. At 20, despite her mother's misgivings, she moved to New York to learn from her idol Martha Graham. She lived in Greenwich Village, worked as a model, and performed at Carnegie Hall in Graham's modern dance ensemble.
But her mother coaxed her back to Grand Rapids, where Betty worked as a dance teacher and store fashion coordinator and married William Warren, a friend from school days. He was a salesman who traveled frequently; she was unhappy. Their marriage lasted five years.
While waiting for her divorce to become final, she met and began dating, as she put it in her memoir, "probably the most eligible bachelor in Grand Rapids" — former college football star, Navy veteran and lawyer Jerry Ford. They would be married for 58 years, until his death in December 2006.
When he proposed, she didn't know about his political ambitions; when he launched his bid for Congress during their engagement, she figured he couldn't win.
Two weeks after their October 1948 wedding, her husband was elected to his first term in the House of Representatives. He would serve 25 years, rising to minority leader.
Mrs. Ford was thrust into a role she found exhausting and unfulfilling: political housewife. While her husband campaigned for weeks at a time or worked late on Capitol Hill, she raised their four children: Michael, Jack, Steven and Susan. She arranged luncheons for congressional wives, helped with her husband's campaigns, became a Cub Scout den mother, taught Sunday school.
A pinched nerve in her neck in 1964, followed by the onset of severe osteoarthritis, led her to an assortment of prescription drugs that never fully relieved the pain. For years she had been what she later called a controlled drinker, no binges. Now she began mixing pills and alcohol. Feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated, she suffered an emotional breakdown that led to weekly visits with a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist didn't take note of her drinking but instead tried to build her self-esteem: He said she had to start thinking she was valuable, not just as a wife and mother, but as herself.
The White House would give her that gift.
In 1973, as Mrs. Ford was happily anticipating her husband's retirement from politics, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced out of office over bribery charges. President Richard Nixon turned to Gerald Ford to fill the office.
Less than a year later, his presidency consumed by the Watergate scandal, Nixon resigned. On Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford was sworn in as the only chief executive in American history who hadn't been elected either president or vice president.
Mrs. Ford wrote of her sudden ascent to first lady: "It was like going to a party you're terrified of, and finding out to your amazement that you're having a good time."
She was 56 when she moved into the White House, and looked more matronly than mod. Ever gracious, her chestnut hair carefully coifed into a soft bouffant, she tended to speak softly and slowly, even when taking a feminist stand.
Her breast cancer diagnosis, coming less than two months after President Ford was whisked into office, may have helped disarm the clergymen, conservative activists and Southern politicians who were most inflamed by her loose comments. She was photographed recovering at Bethesda Naval Hospital, looking frail in her robe, and won praise for her grace and courage.
The public outpouring of support helped her embrace the power of her position. "I was somebody, the first lady," she wrote later. "When I spoke, people listened."
She used her newfound influence to lobby aggressively for the women's Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which failed to get ratified nonetheless, and to speak against child abuse, raise money for handicapped children, and champion the performing arts.
It's debatable whether Mrs. Ford's frank nature helped or hurt her husband's 1976 campaign to win a full term as president. Polls showed she was widely admired. By taking positions more liberal than the president's, she helped broaden his appeal beyond traditional Republican voters. But she also outraged some conservatives, leaving the president more vulnerable to a strong Republican primary challenge by Ronald Reagan. That battle weakened Ford going into the general election against Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Carter won by a slim margin. The president had lost his voice in the campaign's final days, and it was Mrs. Ford who read his concession speech to the nation.
After leaving the White House in January 1977, the Fords retired to a Rancho Mirage golf community, but he spent much of his time away, giving speeches and playing in golf tournaments. Home alone, deprived of her exciting and purposeful life in the White House, Mrs. Ford drank.
By 1978 her secret was obvious to those closest to her.
"As I got sicker," she recalled, "I gradually stopped going to lunch. I wouldn't see friends. I was putting everyone out of my life." Her children recalled her living in a stupor, shuffling around in her bathrobe, refusing meals in favor of a drink.
Her family finally confronted her and insisted she seek treatment.
"I was stunned at what they were trying to tell me about how I disappointed them and let them down," she said in a 1994 interview. "I was terribly hurt — after I had spent all those years trying to be the best mother, wife I could be. ... Luckily, I was able to hear them saying that I needed help and they cared too much about me to let it go on."
She credited their "intervention" with saving her life.
Mrs. Ford entered Long Beach Naval Hospital and, alongside alcoholic young sailors and officers, underwent a grim detoxification that became the model for therapy at the Betty Ford Center. In her book "A Glad Awakening," she described her recovery as a second chance at life.
And in that second chance, she found a new purpose.
"There is joy in recovery," she wrote, "and in helping others discover that joy."
The family expects to organize a service in Palm Desert over the next couple of days. Ford's body will be sent to Michigan for burial alongside her husband, who is buried at his namesake museum in Grand Rapids.

12 July 2011


Despite massive restructuring at the Detroit three since 2007, top union and company negotiators who kick off national labor talks later this month will be in for a difficult stretch as they race toward a Sept. 14 deadline on the current contract.
As many as six assembly plants face uncertain futures — three each at Ford and GM — and the automakers will still make an effort to cut labor costs that have already been dramatically slashed in recent years.
UAW and Detroit Three leaders may also find themselves at odds with rank-and-file autoworkers who feel they've already taken more than their fair share of cuts. Many are talking tough about winning back concessions.
One Ford employee said it has been over six or seven years since they have had a raise and complained the automaker just keeps taking away from them.
Throughout it all, the seasoned negotiators must be mindful of appearances after the highly politicized government-backed bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. Neither side wants to look like it's slipping back into old ways.
The UAW's top agenda will be jobs. For them it is all about putting America back to work.
For GM and Ford, the talks will be about getting labor costs in line with foreign rivals.
Ford's hourly labor costs are at $58, compared with about $50 for Asian automakers in the U.S.
The carrot: Jobs
Automakers often use job commitments as leverage during contract talks, and that will happened again this year.
One difference this time around, however, is that in the past two years automakers have already announced 13,000 U.S. jobs are coming, even before the start of formal negotiations.
In June, Chrysler said it would add 268 jobs at its Trenton North engine plant.
In May, GM said it would create or retain about 4,000 jobs in eight states over the next 18 months.
GM commented that these were investments that were done to continue to move their business forward, and should not be read as negotiating tactics.
Despite those announcements, many of the 1,700 Ford workers in Flat Rock are worried about Mazda's decision to end production of the Mazda 6.
One assembly worker comment that this is a little scary, and they would like to get their concessions back, but definitely job security is more important.
And in St. Paul, Minn., where Ford plans to discontinue the Ranger pickup in December, the mood for about 750 workers is also grim.
Estimates are that three plants each at Ford and GM are in danger of eventual closure or of not being reopened.
For Ford, those plants are in Minnesota, Flat Rock and Avon Lake, Ohio. Ford makes the ever-popular Econoline van at Ohio Assembly but could make the next-generation model at another plant.
Meanwhile, the UAW has been publicly pressuring GM to keep its pickup truck plant in Shreveport, La., open and re-open plants in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Janesville, Wis., that have been on standby since the bankruptcy in 2009.
GM could move production of the GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado from Shreveport to a plant in Wentzville, Mo. That would help fill the capacity of the Wentzville plant, which is operating on one shift.
Even if the plants closed, many UAW workers would be able to keep their jobs by accepting the already-announced new positions in other locations, although they'd likely have to move to another state to take them.
'Vying for new work'
To be sure, the danger of plant closures and job disruption is lower than in 2007, when automakers were losing billions and their labor costs were far higher than Asian rivals.
But the dramatic restructuring over the last several years has left many plants with underutilized space.
In Brook Park, Ohio, UAW Local 1250 is hoping Ford's engine plant is picked for a four-cylinder version of the EcoBoost engine. That could bring 300 more jobs to the plant.They are a strong advocate that it should be built in Cleveland, but every other plant is vying for new work.
As the UAW fights for jobs, and the automakers work to lower labor costs, the two sides could find common ground.
That's because the automakers can lower their labor costs by hiring new workers an entry-level wage rate of $14 and $16 per hour, thereby lowering their average labor cost per worker.
Under the current contract GM and Chrysler can hire an unlimited number of entry-level workers until 2015 while Ford's contract is capped at 20 percent.
Already, Chrysler has lowered its total labor costs more than Ford and GM because it has filled many of the more than 2,800 jobs it has announced since June 2009 with entry-level workers.
That has helped Chrysler cut its total labor costs per worker from nearly $76 per hour in 2006 to $49 per hour in 2010.
Ford could reduce its total hourly labor costs by as much as $3 per hour to $55 per hour if it hires the maximum amount of entry-level workers allowed under its current contract. But it cannot do that unless older workers retire, and many are reluctant to do so given Ford's success, which comes with annual bonuses.
The UAW plans to push for an increase in the entry-level wage, which is about half of the regular $28 per hour. They feel entry-level may not be a good middle-class standard of living today, so they want to figure out a way to get more income to those workers.

The bestselling car in June was the Chevy Cruze

The bestselling car in June was the Chevy Cruze
The March disaster in Japan continued to scramble the list of Top 10 best-selling vehicles in June, leaving Chevrolet's new compact Cruze on top as the bestselling car in the USA -- the spot typically held by Toyota's Camry -- and the No. 3 vehicle overall.
Camry did make the Top 10 -- the only Japanese vehicle to do so -- but as the No. 4 car and 8th overall, with sales down 27.7% from last June. Toyota says production is getting back to normal, so expect Camry to move back up -- boosted this fall by the rollout of the redesigned Camry for 2012. Neither Honda nor Nissan had a vehicle in the Top 10. The top Honda was the Civic at 15th, with sales down 34% vs. last year. The top vehicle for Nissan, which was not hit as hard by the disaster, was the Altima at 11th, with sales up 22.7%.
Behind the Cruze, giving Chevy a 2-3-4 finish on the list was the midsize Malibu, still showing appeal well into its cycle -- the redone 2013 will be on sale in the first quarter of next year, a few months after the new Camry.
Ford's new Focus was the third car and sixth overall, behind the brand's venerable Escape small SUV.
Hyundai's new Sonata was 10th overall and the No. 6 car. The brand continued its sales roll with a 15.6% gain, while corporate sibling Kia was up more than 41%. Taken together (which is how their sales are reported in most of the world) they've now passed Nissan as the sixth-largest automaker in U.S. sales.
For trucks No. 1 and 2 overall were Ford's F-series and Chevy's Silverado, which had sales gains over last year of 6.7% and 5.1% respectively. They were near the industry gain in June of 7%. The two pickups on top, plus the Ram at No. 8, should ease some fears that economy has shifted into reverse. Businesses and tradesmen appear to still be spending.


A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a state constitutional amendment that barred Michigan colleges from considering race or gender in admissions decisions.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the law violated the U.S. constitution, a victory for civil-rights advocates who challenged the ban. The ruling comes as California wrestles with a similar challenge to its ban on race-influenced admissions, a restriction that exists in three other states.
Michigan voters in 2006 approved an initiative known as Proposal 2 that banned consideration of race in college admissions for public universities. A group of minority students, backed by affirmative-rights advocacy groups, sued on grounds that it violated federal law.
A couple of judge found that Proposal 2 unconstitutionally alters Michigan's political structure by impermissibly burdening racial minorities.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, elected last year said he would appeal the decision to the full Sixth Circuit rather than to the U.S. Supreme Court. The law will remain in force during the appeal, he added. He stated that entrance to our great universities must be based upon merit, and he will continue the fight for equality, fairness and rule of law.
The amendment, which passed with 58% of the vote, also pertained to government hiring.
Plaintiffs argued the ban unfairly discriminated against taking race into account while other considerations—children of alumni and the disabled among others—were allowed. Supporters of the ban insisted the measure allowed for an even playing field without special preferences for race. Several of its backers couldn't be immediately reached Friday.
In 2008, a federal district-court judge in Detroit upheld the law, finding it was race-neutral.
The law has forced the University of Michigan and other schools to alter admissions policies that give minorities preferential treatment. The university is reviewing the possible implications of the court's decision and recognizes that there may be further legal steps as well.
The battle over racial preferences in college admissions began in the 1960s and '70s, as racial diversity began to be used as an admissions criterion. In the 1990s, several U.S. Supreme Court decisions said public universities couldn't establish race-based quotes or treat applications uniquely based on race.
In the intervening years, California, Colorado, Nebraska and Washington state enacted bans similar to Michigan's. Arizona voters rejected one in November 2010.
One 24-year-old Mexican-American plaintiff from Detroit, graduated from University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2010. She was a beneficiary of race-influenced admission before the ban took place, but said she saw the minority population on the Ann Arbor campus drop during her time there.
Now, she worries about the fate of her sister, a high-school junior who wants to attend the University of Michigan.