Saturday, December 13, 2014

Updates From Caracas And Tulsa

Many US ruling elites still consider Latin America to be "our back yard," the private plantation of US Capitalism, and try to crush any sign of independence in the region, even if the people simply want to be free from heavy handed US meddling (see Ecuador for a current example) and aren't trying to find a Socialist alternative to Capitalism, which isn't working out so well for most American any more and never did for any Latin Americans, save a few plantation owners, whore mongers and military dictators willing to sell out their countrymen for a few gringo greenbacks.

Venezuelan barrio (Posted on Flickr by "Smoky"
So it is that the US senate and house this week passed without objection, and President Obama is expected to sign, a sanctions bill against Venezuela, the stated rationale for which is purported violence committed by Venezuelan police and military forces against anti-government protestors earlier this year.

The bill's sponsors, Democrat Robert Menedez of NJ in the senate and Republican Ileana Ros-Leihtinen of FL in the house, in pushing the bill through in the last few days of the session, adopted the narrative of reports on the protests by mainstream media, which continually repeated that 43 people had died, but never reported that most died at the hands of protestors, and that any Venezuelan police or military personnel who committed abuses were arrested.

Neither did the media report nor did language in the bill reflect that the protestors represented the Venezuelan oligarchy, who for years have been trying to destabilize Venezuela's Socialist government, or that the protestors were receiving US government financing and coordination assistance, or that in the last 12 years the US government has spent more than $100 million on anti-government activity in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government has been under continual attack by the US and compliant Western media since Venezuela decided to try the route of Socialism under Hugo Chavez in 1999, including a coup attempt and various attempts to destroy the oil-dependent country's oil industry. The attack has spread now to global finance markets as panic is being spread about Venezuela's ability to make foreign debt payments and the Western media is piling on with articles predicting Venezuela's demise any day now because of falling oil prices.

For its part, Venezuela is only trying to find a way to do things that benefit the majority of its people and not just the one percent. It's attacked no one, it's invaded no one, it doesn't have drones flying around assassinating people without benefit of a trial, it's not blocking meaningful action on climate change, it's not backing murderous regimes all over the world and it's trying to lift peoples' living standards and not drive them into the basement, all of which the US is doing. It's only "crime" is that it threatens to provide an example that other countries might follow and it's doing it in the US Capitalism's "back yard." The Western media has been lustfully predicting Venezuela's collapse for years now, but from what I can gather it's not doing all that badly. There's universal health care there and the masses of its citizens, who now participate in government and decide how money gets spent in their communities through local councils,  are OK with the government, which seems to have enough in reserves to pay all of its bills.

So I condemn New Mexico's representatives and senators for allowing this bill to pass without their objection, and for once more failing to stand up for what is right simply because they can see no political benefit from it, as they do year after year with their support for Israel after it decides to slaughter a few thousand more Gazans or steal a few thousand more acres of Palestinian land, and to hell with the Palestinians and to hell with the people of Venezuela.

The people of Venezuela have the right to any governmental or economic model they choose, and they have chosen Socialism year after year in open and free elections as judged by international observer groups like the Carter Center. In not opposing and in supporting the US government's repeated efforts to overthrow Venezuela's government, senators Heinrich and Udall and representatives Grisham, Pearce and Lujan are committing immoral and deplorable acts of bald and disgusting self interest.

Tulsa Times

I left a comment at the Only In New Mexico blog yesterday in which I mentioned Arrow Trucking of Tulsa, a company I drove for for seven years that was driven into bankruptcy by its owner. It happened after I'd left the company and was remarkable partly because Arrow had come to an end a few days before Christmas, 2009, when the company's 2,500 or so drivers received messages telling them to leave their trucks and loads at the nearest Freightliner dealer. Daimler Benz, which owns Freightliner, having decided to call in its collateral of Freightliner tractors.

James D "Doug" Pielsticker (Tulsa World)
Lo and behold I opened up an email update this morning from a trucking industry publication that had the news that Arrow's former "owner", James D. Pielsticker, Doug, as we knew him, was indicted this week on 23 counts of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion relating to the bankruptcy of Arrow and containing some new details about how he'd committed it -- inflating invoices, keeping money deducted from employees' payrolls for Social Security and IRS, and so on.

When Arrow went under in 2009 the trucking industry media had reported about Doug Pielsticker's outlandish lifestyle -- a condo in Vale, driving to work in Bentleys and Porches, and that his wife had just bought him a Christmas present of an antique European racing motorcycle.

What's often forgotten, including by me, is that although Doug controlled Arrow, it was actually owned by his mother. It had been built into a mid-to-large sized trucking company by Doug's father before he died in a small plane crash. I've often wondered about her well being, but the Tulsa World makes it seem like Carol Piehlsticker Bump might have been in on the fraud; at the least she also was living way beyond the means of the income earned by the labor of people like me.

Apparently, according to the Tulsa World, the company's former CFO was also in on the fraud, but under Doug's orders, and as part of a plea bargain has been singing to the FBI, leading to Doug's indictment this week.

Walk Arounds and Antennas

I actually enjoyed my time at Arrow, as much as one can enjoy working for a large trucking company, where drivers are always treated like dogs. With Arrow I really saw the country for the first time, being in each of the lower 48 multiple times before I left. Until the last year or so that I was there, when the latest in a string of CEOs came in and tried to rescue the company by changing things, Arrow more often than not booked the nice, long runs, which are nice because you spend your time driving and not doing all the unpaid labor associated with loading and unloading and tying down and tarping. And you weren't driving into cities and looking for customers as often. It's just a lot better. If I got a load assignment of less than 1,000 miles I was mad, and I had many runs that were coast to coast, and that's truck driving, the coast to coast loads. One pickup, one delivery, around week of straight driving. You have to do 700 miles a day but in those days you could log those miles. It takes some getting used to but once you do it's just siting there and cruising, listening to the radio or podcasts or just thinking. Drive, fall asleep, wake up and drive.

It was still a big company of course and run like all of them are, with a forced dispatch system and with a hard divide between drivers and all those who worked at the terminals. At Arrow I was able to manage that aspect to a degree by learning how to avoid contact with the company. At the big companies your load assignments arrive in your truck via satellite communications and if you just keep delivering loads without any problems, and reply to any messages you get from the company in a way that satisfies them, you very seldom have to talk to anyone, including your dispatcher. I would sometimes forget his extension number.

Above all it was critical to avoid the Tulsa home terminal. Once you drove onto the Tulsa yard, an antenna on top of the office building picked up your truck's Qualcomm unit, your communication and GPS device. The computer knew you were there.

The only reason for being there, unless you wanted to be there, was if you were supposed to drop your load there, i.e., a loaded trailer. After you had dropped the trailer, in order to get your next load, you had to send in a form on your Qualcomm known of as an "empty call", saying you were empty and ready for your next load. The computer then put you on the "load board," the waiting list. Except that at the Tulsa terminal, as soon as you sent in your "empty call," instead of putting you on the load board, that little antenna would immediately send you a message telling you to go to the inspection bay, where a host of grease monkeys would swarm over your truck, find something wrong with it and tell you to go sign in at the shop.

At the shop there was always wait of one and often two days before they even looked at your truck, and then they would often tell you to take the truck to Freightliner or Kenworth or the Detroit or Cummins engine shops in Tulsa or whatever the case may be because you had to have any warranty work done first before Arrow's mechanics did their work. So after a couple days engaged in that process you returned to Arrow's shop and waited in line again; another day or two just waiting.

At that terminal there was no place to sleep and no place to eat. The nearest fast food places were a walk of two miles. The driver's lounge was a dark, dirty little room with a few dirty, ratty old recliner chairs that didn't recline and had stuffing falling out of them, and the TV was always blaring cop shows. There were showers in another building, that looked like they were never cleaned. There was mold growing on the floors.

To avoid all of this, and the rude treatment I received from almost everyone at the terminal, I developed a technique. I'd drop my load at the terminal, and without sending in my empty call leave the terminal, drive to the outskirts of Tulsa, and send in my empty call from there, thereby avoiding the reach of the little antenna. Often I'd then get sent a load assignment by the regular means.

Once I somehow didn't make it onto the load board and sat at the Flying J truck stop on the outskirts of Tulsa for two days before anyone realized what had happened, which was fine with me. Flying J had a nice restaurant and wifi in the parking lot. Then I received a frantic message from my dispatcher saying to come to the terminal, where I was given a load on the yard.

But usually, when I sent my empty call from the outskirts of Tulsa, they'd send me a load asignment for a load I had to pick up somewhere in Tulsa or in some other town in Oklahoma, and I was home free. The computer just thought I had delivered the load someplace other than the terminal and the people overseeing loads, like my dispatcher, didn't catch it.

But if they gave you a load that was on the Tulsa yard, you still had to go there and go through the humiliating "walk around" before they'd give you the load. The walk around consisted of visiting all the different departments -- logs, permits, safety, and one or two more that I can't remember -- to see if they had anything they wanted to see you about. Apparently because this was easier for them than sending you a message saying they wanted to see you. You were given a little form that you had to get initialed at each department. I remember repeated times of standing in front of desks while young women ignored me and buried their heads in their computer screens or looked around for someone to talk to and then chatted with their co-workers about what they'd seen on TV last night, before finally, silently, taking my little form and initialing it.

Such was the treatment a driver received at Arrow Trucking, and receives in one form or another at all those big companies, and I got pretty good at avoiding Tulsa. I learned how to make it so they'd let me get my truck worked on out on the road, at a truck stop; basically you just had planned breakdown.

I started there driving an old Feightliner and the starter on it went bad, but I stayed out there. I just left it  running, for a year. When I took time off in Moriarty every couple months I'd park it at the little truck stop on the east end and idle it up and leave it sit there running.

I'd stop on a slope once in awhile to shut it off to check the oil, then bump start it, i.e., roll down the hill with it in gear and let the clutch out. Once a fork truck driver in Colorado, at a place where you unloaded inside of a big building, made me shut it off, which I did after assurances that he'd push me with the fork truck to get it started, and once I was going into Canada and pulled up to the booth and the officer inside told me to shut my engine off. I said I couldn't. He gave me a sour look and a hard time with my customs paperwork, but finally let me go.

Those Arrow office workers, by the way, and the dispatchers, executives, mechanics, all of them who worked in the terminals, and who with rare exceptions thought of drivers as second class human beings, before Arrow went under had gone the last five weeks without being paid, and never said a word to any of the drivers, who they depended on, of course, to earn the company's revenue. When I start thinking about Arrow and the way I was treated there, I think of that, of them coming to work every day for weeks while their bills mounted up. I think of them being out of work after that and I don't feel sorry for them. I feel like justice was done.

On a certain level one can empathize with them. They all knew the company was in big trouble and probably saw their best option as hanging in there and hoping things turned around, so like loyal troopers, albeit with a self interest, they kept trudging to work every day. But they knew there'd be no turn around if drivers got wind of what was happening and started turning in their trucks and quitting, which many would have done, as it's very easy to get another of those kind of trucking jobs as long as you have a fairly decent driving record and work history.

The drivers, wherever they were in the country, were just stranded there. Word of it immediately began going out in the trucking industry, and offers came in from companies that said they'd hire any of the drivers, and companies told their drivers to give any Arrow driver who needed one a ride. It was kind of nice.

When I heard about Arrow I was standing in line at the Burger King inside the Amarillo TA truck stop. A husband and wife team from Arrow was in line behind me and told me what had happened. They had dropped off their truck, trailer and load at the Amarillo Freightliner and had rented a little rental truck. When you live in your semi you have with you quite a lot of clothes, gadgets like refrigerators, microwaves, laptops, tools, etc. They said they had called the company their load was destined for, which was not far away, and told them what happened, and they said the people were grateful to know and would come down and pick their stuff up themselves.

I was working by then for Swift Transportation, the biggest of the big trucking companies. I'd be with them two years before I got fed up with the dehumanizing treatment  there and quit, which was always how I left those big companies.

Swift occupies a special place among the big companies in terms of driver treatment, and a good example is how, when word got around about what had happened to the Arrow drivers, and all the other companies were offering them rides and jobs, Swift said nothing to us. Not until two days later, when all the Arrow drivers were likely already home, did we receive a group message that said it was OK to help out Arrow drivers "as appropriate," and it came in the middle of the night.

I remember it well. I was driving down I-35 in Kansas, headed for Kansas City. Swift has their Qualcomms set up so that you can't read a message until you stop the truck and put on the parking brake, so I had pulled into a rest area to read the message. It was night, as I say, and snowing heavily. I'd made fresh tire tracks coming into the rest area, where a few trucks were parked, their drivers staying out over the holiday as I usually did. It's peaceful out there over the holidays. The roads are pretty empty, and it's the only time it's easy to find a parking place at a truck stop.

It had been two days since I talked to the couple at the Burger King in Amarillo. They were probably home long ago. They'd seemed lighthearted about the whole thing. They were getting a lot of attention of course, something truckers don't get much of except in the negative sense. It was a big deal in the trucking world and they were celebrities. They said it had been expensive to rent the little rental truck, but they were on their way home for Christmas.

But as I sat there reading the message, I thought, What sick bastards would wait so long to tell us it was OK to pick up Arrow drivers, and then word the message like they did, so that the liability, if anything happened, was all on us? Probably Jerry Moyes, Swift's owner. His legal department might have advised him to do it like that, but he would have had the final say.

It was a pretty night though, with no tire tracks in the deepening snow, with the light refracted all through it while it fell, but I had to keep going and the roads were terrible, and before I put it in gear again I sat there a few more minutes, thinking about that message and what a sorry, fucked up world this is.

Further reading: I came across a discussion thread about Arrow someone had started a year before its demise. Threads like these often draw comments by drivers who have left companies and who list their complaints about them and this one's no exception. This thread didn't draw many comments however until the day before Arrow went under, December 21, 2009, as the story was starting to break.

The thread is still active and people have come across it since and left various comments, such as this one:

And this reply to a comment asking about Arrow's idle policy. Some companies, like Swift, have automatic shutoffs on their truck engines so that after five minutes you have no heat or air conditioning. Try getting some rest when it's zero degrees or 120 degrees in the sleeper berth.

I quickly found some pictures from the Arrow days. I took many in seven years but these were in the first folder that came up when I searched my backup hard drive for "Arrow". These were taken Sept, 2004.

That's the Freightliner that I left running for a year. That's a load of frame rails, long pieces of channel steel that would be welded into frames for Freightliners, either semis or "straight trucks" which used longer ones, and it looks like this load has both. When you ended up in Laredo you often got frame rails coming out of Mexico. They either went to a factory in North Carolina or one in Portland, which has since closed, I just read recently. This picture was taken near Shiprock, NM, on what was then US 666, now US 491, which is the way you'd get from Laredo to Portland. Lots of "back roads," but a pretty drive, especially up around Moab, Utah, and the last couple hundred miles down the Columbia River Gorge, as they call that river valley.

Shiprock, New Mexico

"tarping.Laredo yard"

Flat bed loads have to first be fastened down, with heavy straps or chains, depending on the load, and then some loads have to be covered with tarps. "Tarping" can be a dirty job. Here I'm holding the breaker bar you use to tighten down the straps or chains. It looks like I haven't started yet. This would have taken some three inch straps, so as not to scratch the channel iron, and then tarps held down with heavy rubber bungee cords. I'd bought that hat at the K-Mart in Albuquerque on Central by the river that's now closed. I needed a hat because I was shaving my head for a couple of years, which I did at first because I got tired of getting bad haircuts on the road, but it made it easier to clean up in the truck after tarping or running. I was running a lot in those times. You had to do it on the road. I'd just pull off where it looked like a good running place, ideally a dirt or gravel road that went up a slope. After running or tarping I'd bathe with wash cloths and a big bread bowl using water heated up in my coffee pot.

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