Friday, September 7, 2007

What’s in Osama’s tape?

The sixth anniversary of Sept. 11 is Tuesday. And as a special gift, Osama bin Laden has apparently made a tape for us.

According to media outlets and the guy in the window of the local Shanghai Boy Chinese and Vietnamese food drive-thru, the U.S. government is now analyzing the footage.

MSNBC says an anonymous source confirmed that the tape is in the government’s possession, but wouldn’t talk about its contents.

Another source says it’s certain the tape contains threats to Americans. Well, I can’t see the al-Qaida leader making a video to remind us to drive safely.

I read in USA Today that a State Department spokesman “sought to minimize” the impact of the tape by saying that he did not think anything Bin Laden was likely to say or do was going to change “our resolve or the resolve of our international partners.”

Anything Bin Laden says has some impact. We try to say it doesn’t because, well, because that’s the point – not to let him terrorize us. With weapons or with video tapes.

So, who knows what is in this looming message? We’ll soon find out. I hear it’s due to be released this weekend. Same time as the new Russell Crowe movie.

Maybe it has some message in it that the Bush administration feels will scare the crap out of the public as to the safety of, say, our southern border.

In that case, the confidence of our transportation agency in this cross-border program sure could be short-lived. Think about it.

Putting two and two together

We’ve been telling you about the feds’ pilot program to allow a number of Mexican motor carriers to operate on U.S. highways.

We’ve been telling you about the Trans-Texas Corridor proposal – a swath of proposed toll roads and railway lines linking Mexico to the Oklahoma border.

We’ve been telling you about SmartPort, a futuristic trade hub in the Kansas City metro area that will one day link shipments from Mexico with the rest of North America.

It doesn’t take much to put two and two together on this one. They’ve got the pilot program, a proposed route and a trade destination.

This smacks of “NAFTA superhighway” to me.

The Bush administration denies it, even calling the suggestion “comical” and a “conspiracy theory” at a recent summit of the “Three Amigos” – Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

But the dots are there and people are beginning to connect them.

Mexican trucks my foot

There are a lot of videos posted to YouTube right now about Mexican trucks and the cross-border program.

The lion’s share is obviously outlining the problems with the program. But someone, purporting to be from Mexico, has begun posting videos of trucking in Mexico – obviously in an attempt to give us the “real scoop” on what it’s like down there.

These videos are the biggest crock I have ever seen. Click here to see what I mean.

Not only is it just a truck scooting around on a lot, not out on the open road, but it’s brand freakin’ new. There is not a hint of fifth-wheel grease. That thing is spit-shined like a show truck.

I have personally visited Mexico and – I still shudder at the thought of it – actually drove around in the country. I cruised the west coast line from Tijuana down to Ensenada. It was a good three- or four-hour round-trip I spent on the hideous Mexican toll road praying for my life every inch of the way.

I cringed every time a truck rolled by blowing black smoke everywhere with warped wheels shaking their way down the road. And, gator tails were more common than smooth patches of road. I dodged 1970s Chevy Luv trucks, loaded to the gills with people, careening on and off the toll road to avoid the tollbooths.

I really felt like I was taking my life into my hands.

The rhetoric will certainly continue on how safe these trucks are from Mexico. But, after having been there, done that and wearing the T-shirt, I feel quite safe in calling BS on this sort of portrayal on the Mexican trucking industry.

A pickled peck of Pennsylvania politics

Politicians and transportation officials in Pennsylvania continue to spew rhetoric by the barrowful, and it’s getting heavy.

Officials continue to launch verbal projectiles at one another over Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposals to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors and to toll Interstate 80.

U.S. Reps. Phil English and John Peterson – both Republicans – have lashed out at the plan, while Rendell – a Democrat – and Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO and Rendell appointee Joseph Brimmeier launched their own counter attacks.

Land Line has published a few of these accounts, but the bickering, however sexy, is not something we are going get sucked into covering every single day.

Google their names if you want more on the various side stories to the issue.

For us, the issue is about keeping interstates free of tolls and keeping trucking profitable for owner-operators, companies and drivers.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Making sure the CARB cure doesn’t kill us

The rigorous course of treatment that California is pushing to heal its filthy air reminds me of a personal situation that has helped me understand the predicament.

During the past year, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and went through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery that was brutal. It’s no stretch to say the cure nearly killed her. Family members were with her every step, making sure that didn’t happen. Oncologists these days are an uncompromising lot; they know the odds and are programmed to get the cancer no matter what.

Our family made sure they didn’t go too far and we were able to do that because we knew what she could tolerate and what would simply end her life.

Our nation’s resources are similarly endangered. Take the smog in California. When the people and the state of California decided to battle it, they created an air resources board. The state essentially told the agency, “do whatever you have to do.”

It’s the “whatever you have to do” that for years has had the trucking industry on high alert.

The California Air Resources Board is a forceful agency and if someone is not there to say “our segment of the industry cannot tolerate that cure, it will kill them” – then CARB will most certainly mandate more emissions edicts that could destroy many trucking businesses.

Those of who know the industry are aware that there are frailties in the trucking business now as we deal with slim profit margins, unstable fuel costs, congestion, perceived driver shortage, regulatory overload and a demoralized driver force.

CARB’s rules are not just a West Coast worry. Did you know other states will be able to adopt California’s air quality regulations according to a provision in the Clean Air Act?

As your professional association, OOIDA will be as active as possible in both watching and participating in CARB’s plans as it pertains to trucking. The Association will be involved with other states, too. But it cannot be effective in securing workable solutions without the help of each individual truck driver. You, too, must watch the “doctors” to make sure the cure is not regulatory overkill, to make sure their actions are not wrongly motivated.

In their zeal to fix the air, remember that these agencies do not fully understand trucking. They are not entirely clued in as to what will kill us. It’s imperative that all of us in the trucking industry to make sure their cure doesn’t finish off “the patient.”

We can begin by learning about CARB. In the October issue, Land Line Staff Writer Charlie Morasch takes a look at the powerful California Air Resources Board and how its sweeping new trucking rules for 2008 will affect drivers. Watch for it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Now that’s an unusual load

What do big rigs and hippies have in common?

Probably not much. But this year, they both made it out to Burning Man.

If you’re unfamiliar with Burning Man, it’s an eight-day festival held each summer in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. About 40,000 people attended this year’s event, which has become synonymous with self-expression, naked people, illicit drug use, and of course, tripped-out, oversized art displays.

That last concept is where the trucking and art worlds intertwined. This year’s festival – which ended on Labor Day – featured a massive sculpture titled “Big Rig Jig.”

Kind of gives new meaning to the term “oversize load,” doesn’t it?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Merry Labor Day?

I wasn’t surprised to see the Halloween decorations out in full force when I went to the local Sprawl-Mart during the Labor Day weekend. But I had forgotten that this is also the traditional start of Christmas shopping, and that the clerks have almost four months of electronic caroling to endure.

The never-idle Mart-Elves evidently had been busy moving out the yard and lawn-care stuff to make room for the animated reindeer, rotating Santas and other gimcrackery of the Yuletide. (Not that there’s much need for yard stuff here in the Southeast’s Dust Bowl, where the average temp for August was 86-plus degrees, the hottest average monthly temp for any month, ever, with no rain).

However you feel about the four-month Christmas merch blitz, one thing is for certain – while America has broiled and flooded through an awesomely rough summer, its truckers spent those torrid months delivering Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas goods by the 53-foot load.

(I purposely left out Hanukkah and Kwanzaa from this list because they typically have far less merch associated with them than these three highly materialistic occasions. Which, given the supposed unimportane of material goods in Christianity, makes one pause to reflect. But I digress.)

In the publishing world, we often work months ahead, so we start seriously thinking about the end of the year along about early June. The same is true for many drivers – the companies have already ordered their holiday items early this year, and the factories began churning them out in time for distribution and warehousing in the summer.

I first learned this when, some years ago, I did some work for a company whose Tennessee factory made lawnmowers in the winter and snowblowers in the summer. Kinda like living on Australia time, I guess.

Putting it into that context, it makes it (slightly) less annoying to see ready-to-assemble pre-lighted trees stacked up next to barbecue grills and charcoal (on sale!).

So to all you drivers who started delivering holiday cheer in July, I hope you had a Merry Labor Day! That you got some time off, and spent it smoking some steaks in the backyard. Now get back to work: After all, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.