Thursday, February 18, 2010

Funny the difference a recession makes

When the Bush administration threw the border open to a select group of Mexico-based domiciled motor carriers in 2008, the screaming commenced.

Every argument under the sun against the program was tossed to the side and determined to be irrational, inflammatory or downright wrong.

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and the program was shut down before any damage could be done. Now, the debate is brewing again.

One argument that intrigued me was the potential loss of U.S. jobs and how the U.S. should not exercise “protectionism.” The free traders in the world said it was big, bad, evil wrong to even mention that U.S. jobs could be lost by opening the border to long-haul trucks from Mexico.

“Free trade, it’s the only way to go. It makes all markets stronger,” was their basic argument.

For argument’s sake, let’s try this on for size now that a wide sweeping, devastating recession has knocked the U.S. ego down a notch.

Small and mid-size motor carriers sustained a serious blow. Those who lost their jobs in this mess would probably say it was more like a sucking chest wound.

There are families who are living on life support. Families have lost their homes (even though they didn’t have a gimmick mortgage). Families are struggling to feed kids; forget sending them to college. The far-reaching impact of this recession has yet to even be felt.

Now, here we are, just starting to stand up – check that – sit up.

And the debate over opening the border is brewing like Hurricane Katrina off the coast.

It’s all because the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will not exercise rights given to the U.S. in the North American Free Trade Agreement to fight retaliatory tariffs (see more about that here), and we’re supposed to cower to Mexico and ship trucking jobs south of the border – all in the name of free trade, of course.

Trucking is a leading economic indicator. When freight bounces back, you can bet jobs are right behind. When freight levels drop, see ya, steady paycheck.

Here we are on the cusp of what most of us want to believe is the end to this hellish run, and we’re talking about opening the border.

U.S. companies with operations right on the border will shut down the U.S. side and opt for locating in Mexico, where higher pay, taxes, workers’ rights, etc., are nonexistent.

Then they can hire Mexican truckers who think 22 cents a mile is sweet.

It’s not the fault of the Mexican citizens taking these jobs. It’s simply better than what they have. But we have to remember the effect this will have on U.S. truckers. Can we, as a country, afford to have taxpaying U.S. truckers losing their jobs?

This recession knocked pay rates and benefits down for the blue-collar working folks. So much that people are doing what their ancestors did and are working extra jobs and fighting for a better day.

So, it bears to ask the question now, when Mexico has made no efforts to fix the problems that ended the first cross-border program, why are we running with scissors and flirting with launching yet another dangerous program. One that will not only threaten highway safety, but U.S. jobs?

I think the question deserves a real answer this time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Run for the border

As Jasmine Jordan completed her 846th mile across Texas and took steps into Texarkana, AR, 200 town residents braved 30-degree temperatures and threats of snow to greet her.

“I’ve been mayor for 11 years, but this is the first time I’ve ever welcomed someone to town during a snowstorm,” said Mayor Horace Shipp.

Thursday was “Jasmine Jordan Day” in Texarkana – a very public and personal demonstration that’s followed months of many lonely miles among the 1,500 miles the 17-year-old athlete has run so far.

Jasmine, who also goes by “Jazzy,” is running from coast to coast to raise awareness of truckers who lack medical insurance, as well as to raise money for the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund.

Jasmine is the daughter of OOIDA members Lee and Paulette Jordan of Minnesota, who run their own trucking business and escort company.

“We’ve got 12 to 15 positive signs,” Mayor Shipp said. “We agreed to do whatever we could. We’ve got to get our city out to show support.

Texarkana, a city of 30,000, pulled out all the stops for the Jordans.

Escorted by Texarkana firefighter Craig Hicks, Jazzy was awestruck by the turnout.

Following a police escort into town, the Mayor gave Jazzy a key to the city before a crowd of onlookers. Baton twirlers and Miss Texarkana were present for the ceremony. She was given Arkansas Razorback gear, and was taught how to “Call on the Hogs” with the traditional “Woo Pig Sooie” cheer.

“Was it incredible …” said Lee Jordan, who paused to find the right words. “I was a pro wrestler for 20 years – and in 20 years I have never had a microphone put in my face and been speechless. I was then.”

Signs with messages like “Welcome to Arkansas,” and “Thank you for running!” were held by people in the crowd.

Policemen and firefighters ran with Jazzy through a trail along the city’s historic district, the first few miles she’s been out of her dad’s sight since they began in California on Labor Day weekend.

“Jazzy was somewhat out of my sights, and that was a little odd,” Lee said. “But I wasn’t worried.”

For news stories, photos and slideshows of Jazzy’s recent running, visit www.runwithjazzy.com.