Thursday, August 23, 2007

Corrupt Bastards Club?

Last week, we reported that attorneys for former Illinois Gov. George Ryan say they’ll seek a re-hearing, seeing as how a federal appeals court upheld Ryan’s conviction on corruption charges.

The 73-year-old Ryan was convicted last year for all kinds of racketeering-type schemes and partly for taking pay-offs in exchange for state business contracts while he was governor during the 1990s.

From the trucking angle, another ruse involved state licensing workers accepting bribes to issue CDLs – then forwarding that money to Ryan’s campaign.

As “Land Line Now” news anchor Reed Black reported on Wednesday, it was the discovery of the CDL scheme that led to a much broader investigation that resulted in the convictions of dozens of state officials, lobbyists and others.

Our Web site and our XM radio show were among the hundreds of news outlets that picked up that story. According to my Google search, a humor publication quickly stepped out to spoof Ryan, calling him a role model for the fictional “Corrupt Bastards Club.”

The Spoof reported that the club’s members noted that “Ryan’s exemplary career had showed them the path to steering state contracts and leases to insiders and using tax dollars in their own political campaigns.”

Of course, we know that this club does not really exist ... or does it?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Clarissa goes to Dallas

Early, early tomorrow morning I will be boarding a plane and heading for my first truck show – the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

I am excited to work in the OOIDA booth and talk to members stopping by to chat and renew their memberships in person.

I also look forward to signing up people interested in becoming new members of OOIDA.

As a staff writer for Land Line Magazine, one of my favorite beats is the produce industry. I really like digging into the complex issues produce haulers face every day out there on the road. I am always looking for possible article ideas and would love to hear from truckers who are out there “living it” every day.

At GATS, I won’t be there as a reporter but will be working in an Association staff capacity. However, if you stop by the booth, I will probably ask you if you haul produce. One of my co-workers here at Land Line has already bet me I won’t be able to “not ask” you that question. Hey, they don’t call me the rotten vegetable lady for nothing.

So if you are going to be at GATS, make sure to stop by and say hello. We are at booth number 13089 in the Dallas Convention Center. Look for us near the XM booth.

For more information about the show, click here.

Summit’s hot list gets FMCSA’s cold shoulder

If you wonder if illegal drug trade and its related criminal activity – including border security issues – are big issues or not, it seems to be developing into a case of “depends on who you ask.”

The leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico huddled the first part of this week to talk about a variety of issues that concern the three countries.

President George W. Bush met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper individually to chat about concerns specific to each country Monday, Aug. 20, at the onset of the North American Leaders’ Summit before meeting as a group.

Topping the list of discussions were security threats, drug trade, violence and illegal immigration.

Oddly, while those issues appeared important at the summit, on the Friday before, many of them were chopped liver as far as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is concerned. That much was apparent when the administration published its notice announcing the push forward to open the border to Mexican motor carriers.

In fact, the Federal Register notice singled out and then quickly dismissed some of the very same issues that Bush, Calderon and Harper considered very important.

The agency placed many of the issues that topped the presidential hot list in the “not to worry” category, as they relate to cross-border trucking.

FMCSA staffers wrote in the notice that commenters voiced major concerns with “drug trafficking, illegal immigration, smuggling, illegal cargo and tax evasion.”

“FMCSA disagrees with the commenters on this issue. The FMCSA is not aware of any information that would suggest the demonstration project will increase the extent to which illegal activities occur,” staffers wrote.

When you have issues like illegal drug trade and the violent crimes that accompany it topping North American agenda talks, it kinda makes you want to call “BS” on FMCSA.

And, if the agency is that dismissive on issues like this, it really makes you wonder about the rest of the cross-border program rhetoric being shoveled our way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Saving energy at the carrier

It’s a constant refrain for professional drivers: Idle less. There are all sorts of good reasons to avoid idling – I count avoiding heat stroke and hypothermia as exceptions to this policy. With most of the U.S. baking now – or steaming, as in Texas – I’m guessing there won’t be too many idling bonuses handed out this quarter.

But why should the men and women behind the wheel be the only ones to conserve energy? How about the folks back at the fleet? I spend all day in an office building, and the company that owns it issued a long list of “do’s,” “don’ts” and “we-suggests” about turning off lights, closing blinds, not using space heaters (or arc welders, presumably), etc. etc. The veiled threat is that if we don’t cooperate, they will ratchet the temps up for the rest of the summer, and force us to wear fingerless wool gloves and parkas this winter.

But trucking companies have some unique opportunities to reduce energy consumption, according to my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe. For instance:

Most office work at a fleet is done on computers and phones; and these days, most drivers, whether owner-operator, independent or company, depend on computers and phones to do work – FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. Why, then, do all the folks back at the office have to come in to work at all? There are something like 9 million people in the “industry,” and the majority are not driving trucks. They push – I was going to say paper, but now it’s “data” or “information” – instead of a gearshift. So why not from home?

It’s a proven fact that the dispatch departments of trucking fleets always have the most powerful AC units with the lowest-set thermostats. To begin with, they’re handling all those hot loads (for that matter, did a dispatcher ever have a load that wasn’t smoking?). Most of them are hot under the collar most of the time, and they also tend to blow a lot of hot air. Clearly, enclosing and insulating their cubicles would allow the company to pinpoint cooling where needed, and keep random heat from spreading through the room. An IdleAire unit in each dispatch department could easily help accomplish this.

It’s also a proven fact that our body temperatures drop when we are asleep. Rufus thinks that if most of the folks at the fleet he contracts with would simply sleep five or six hours a day and let him get on with his work, they’d save a bunch of bucks on AC – and get their loads delivered with less fuss.

And don’t forget to write

Hot fuel has captured our attention more this year than in any other year, and we’re always looking for more ways to keep the stories fresh.

Maybe you can help us do that. If you come across hot fuel – whether through pulp-gauge readings, printed receipts that show fuel temperature, photos of pump stickers that show a disclaimer about fuel temperature and energy content, or other real signs of unusually high fuel temperatures – drop us a line here at Land Line. We are compiling real-life examples here at headquarters.

Randy, an observant owner-operator traveling through Chandler, AZ, sent us a photo of above-ground diesel tanks at a Love’s Travel Stop. He pointed out that these tanks had been painted flat black.

While we always say it is what’s inside the tank that counts, we have to admit that flat-black tanks in the hot Arizona sun just beg for a temperature reading. And that’s precisely what Randy did. He told us he “pulped” the fuel in his tank at 102 degrees after fueling at 9:45 a.m. last week.

Remember that fuel wholesalers and refiners use a 60-degree standard when they trade fuel, but there is no standard or regulation at the retail level. Somewhere in the chain, if fuel is allowed to heat up – let’s say when it’s stored in flat-black tanks, for example – consumers get the short end of the stick.

OOIDA helped discover “hot fuel” with a similar grassroots effort, as owner-operators took temperature readings for the OOIDA Foundation to conduct research on fuel mileage.

The Foundation strongly believes that hot fuel has a lot to do with getting poorer mileage, and someday the issue should be resolved.

Grassroots efforts do make a difference. Keep an eye out. And if you see examples of hot fuel, let me know.

What does satellite radio have in common with organic food?

More than one would think.

In a proverbial nutshell, you are probably aware that XM and Sirius want to merge and thus have become the target of Federal Communication Commission scrutiny. The commission is currently considering whether to approve the deal. The Justice Department has to OK the merger, too.

But what does that have to do with natural food?

The Federal Trade Commission lost a case last week that would have blocked a merger of a company called Whole Foods and its competitor, Wild Oats. Whole Foods, a Fortune 500 company, is the world’s leading retailer of natural and organic foods, according to its Web site. Wild Oats Marketplace is a successful company, too, and it seems from a Wild Oats press release that both CEOs think a merger would be a good move for both companies.

FTC argued that Whole Foods’ $565-million grab of Wild Oats would really mess with the health food industry. FTC thought it would create a monopoly that could result in higher prices, so they filed an injunction to stop the deal. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman decided he did not see it that way and refused to block the merger. Apparently, the judge thought the sector was not so narrow after all and it would not create a monopoly. After all, the people in the organic and natural food industry compete with a bigger market, not just each other.

Now to the point: I know not everyone agrees, but in my opinion, XM and Sirius don’t just compete against each other, but against terrestrial radio and iPods.

If the marriage of Whole Foods and Wild Oats would not create world domination, then the merger of XM and Sirius can be seen similarly.

And that’s what has analysts saying the judge’s decision is a promising development for the satellite radio merger plan.

Despite the latest development – FTC’s appeal – Whole Foods and Wild Oats are making plans to tie the knot soon. Shares of XM and Sirius are on the rise with that news.