Friday, June 17, 2011

Because they really, really care

The U.S. DOT must really care about you and your quality of life. They want so much for you to have access to trains and buses that take you from your front door to your workplace and to all your favorite recreation spots that they’re distributing another $175 million of your tax dollars to make it happen. Think of all the gas you’ll save riding around in a brand new train or bus, taking you exactly where you want to go and exactly when you want to go.

Wait. You mean you don’t live in a place where trains and buses could take you back and forth conveniently? Do not fear. The DOT plans to get to every neighborhood eventually, even if it costs billions. They’ve got it all figured out for you.

The DOT continues to partner with your friends in the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a caring and nurturing bureaucracy known as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. These partner agencies are looking out for your best interest by providing all the perks of livable communities. And it doesn’t cost much either: What’s a few million among friends?

The stated goal of their livability program is to make every single community awesome without exception. Everyone deserves a livable community, after all, complete with curbside transit anywhere and anytime. Forget the cars; they’ll be replaced. Who needs freedom of the road when you can have a schedule?

And wouldn’t it be great if the train tracks went right up to the grocery stores? That would really make communities more livable. Think of everyone smiling and chatting on the trains with their grocery bags and their baby strollers. … Sounds like paradise.

So, make sure you write and thank your friends in these agencies for caring about your community and your well-being.

And truckers, make sure you grab a schedule for the trains and buses that take you from your home to the truck terminal. It’s your community too, after all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It’s called renegotiation and we do it all the time

Last time I checked, the North American Free Trade Agreement was not carved in stone. In fact, none of the laws our government is based on, or works by, are immune to change.
Take the most precious of U.S. documents, the Constitution, the one that grants those oh-so-important inalienable rights.

Yet, that document has 17 ratified amendments – counting prohibition and the subsequent amendment that made booze legal again – since the initial Bill of Rights.

That means that despite the best efforts of the original drafters of the Constitution, things have changed a bit since 1789 and the Constitution now reflects that.

Treaties are no different. Take Canada, our neighbor to the north.

Public Citizen dug in on this point a few years ago and came up with some interesting numbers.

We have had treaties in place with Canada since 1794. By 2008 there had been 299 negotiated agreements and treaties of all types. At that point we were changing our relationship with Canada right around 1.397 times per year.

Trade agreements don’t fare much better. In fact from 1988 to 2008, there were 28 trade agreements, including several changes to NAFTA.

What makes the cross-border trucking provision in NAFTA so untouchable? We can broker new agreements with other countries. Why not Mexico? 

Simply put, when NAFTA was signed, things were different. Today’s realities were unimaginable. There’s absolutely no excuse for going ahead “because we have to.”

It’s called renegotiation. Give it a try.

Monday, June 13, 2011

‘Don’t get dead’

When there is a safety advisory or a safety program, be it the state DOT, local school or your federal government, it is always accompanied by a slogan. It’s a well-established fact of public relations that a really good program cannot be successful without a safety slogan. They are more important than the name of the campaign. 

PR people go to great lengths to come up with these safety slogans. Remember Smokey the Bear and “Remember – only YOU can prevent forest fires?” That one has really been enduring. The author of that must be really proud.

Others that has been around for years are “Better be safe than sorry” and “be alert, be safe.” Or another version: “Be a lert – what the world needs is more lerts.” And whoever came up with “don’t drink and drive” struck gold. And seat belt programs always have slogans. Remember “Make it click!” and “Click it or ticket”?

Here at Land Line, we get notifications of closed roads, rest areas, detours and such each day from the Missouri Department of Transportation and dozens of other states. At the bottom of the advisories from MoDOT is the buckle up note and in all caps – ARRIVE ALIVE.

We’ve been watching Arizona DOT alerts lately, due to the fire and all. At the bottom of their advisories, it always says “Please buckle up, observe speed limits, and never drink and drive.” Sensible. Not overwritten.

Some states don’t include the slogans on their alerts, but plaster messages all over their websites. California, for instance, is not as nice as Arizona about being safe. In California, it’s more important what you don’t do than what you do. So they just come right out and warn you “DON’T TRASH CALIFORNIA.”

Like most news staffs in the privacy of their newsrooms, Land Line is rich with inside terminology for such labeling techniques. We call these safety slogans “don’t get dead” jingles. I suppose that sounds irreverent, but it’s not really intended to be. It’s a useful catchall, invented by our senior editor, and can be used in plenty of newsroom situations like “hey, does this new work zone awareness program have a don’t-get-dead slogan?” Or even “here’s a don’t-get-dead advisory from the Alabama Department of Public Safety.”

Some agencies or committees springboard off circumstance to pop out there with a temporary slogan that gets everyone’s attention. We got one a bit ago from the Iowa DOT and I noticed on the bottom it reads “TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN.” Not beating around the bush there; it’s a short, original, strong message.

So in the category of don’t-get-deads, I’d have to give a thumbs up to that one.