Let me be the first to tell you that, from mid-January to mid-February, this has been a terrible winter. Ice storms. Snow storms. Weeks of sub-freezing temperatures. And then, the wind. While we were deep in ice and snow here in mid-Missouri, our governor was in Mexico chatting up the Trans-Texas Corridor, or TTC, a proposed major superhighway with six lanes going in each direction from the Pacific ports of Mexico to Kansas City and points north. The scheme calls for a hub in Kansas City where containers from China will be cleared, making Kansas City an international port.
The spin is familiar -- NAFTA on steroids. It goes like this: China is just hungry for American products, crazy for American technology. So we need a way to export lots of, let's see, factory-raised hogs and genetically modified ethanol to the world's biggest market.
The real idea is to bring cheap goods from China to the Wal-Marts and Home Depots of North America's heartland. These would be goods made by Chinese poverty-wage workers who toil without benefit of unions, health care, or choices. When finished, the TTC will bring sealed containers from low-wage Asia, evading today's checkpoints in Long Beach or Seattle where laborers might be unionized and therefore fairly treated. Then the non-unionized multi-national corporations will store the goods in non-unionized warehouses for the non-unionized retailers to pick them up and bring them to your non-unionized neighborhood mega-store. And they'll be so cheap and profitable that any fair-trade alternatives will be squeezed out of business.
If you listen to NPR, you haven't heard about this plan. In fact, the main voices speaking against this are the super-conservatives who see the TTC as a superhighway for Mexican immigrants into the US interior. Jerome Corsi, author of far-right diatribes including Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, sounds almost like Al Franken when he says, "At the dawning of NAFTA, few expected that Chinese slave labor would be allowed to undercut the sweat-shop maquiladoras ... Are cheap sneakers at Wal-Mart really worth the damage being done to the most successful middle class ever built in world history ..."
Corsi says that the 4,000 page environmental study projects that there will be the 12 lanes of traffic plus freight and commuter railways, water and natural gas lines, electric lines and lines for broadband and other telecommunications service.
The accomplishment of this plan would bring huge amounts of cheap crap to American consumers and export huge amounts of money and jobs, but who would be responsible for the environmental costs? Who would control the on- and off-ramps to issue permits to use it? And, more to the point, who'd be paying to get the Royal Highway built?
Stage one, which involves dredging the Mexican ports to handle huge ships, is being handled by Hutchinson Ports, a subsidiary of Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd., which is, in turn, owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing. His company has been blocked from owning interest in mainland American ports due to security concerns.
It has yet to be seen where the money will come from to build the rest of the scheme, but it is clear that these sweeping plans will consolidate the power of those corporations in control.
This means that everything you use --- from toothpaste to electricity to water to computers to cars to pecans --- will come from a few suppliers, all with factories in China. But of course there's always something you can do, so get it done. Stop buying that cheap stuff and start re-building our local economies. The race to the bottom has always been a terrible idea and the TTC would simply export our wealth and well-being on a huge freeway from Kansas City across the plains and deserts to a pocket in China. If you're worried about the origins of the things you buy now, you'll really have something to think about in the future.
We can change this by altering buying habits to support local producers we know. We can start with our food. Pretty soon, the farmers' markets will be open and we'll be able to ask where the things we eat are coming from. And when we get to know the farmers, we can help them invest in infrastructure to take care of the community all year round.
It's been an awful winter. The schools have run out of snow days and the highway department has run out of salt. If that wasn't enough, there's been a peanut butter recall and a meatball scare, all on items that come from --- well, where do they come from?
And our politicians have been working on perfectly awful schemes. It seems that even in the midst of danger they can't see that the best policy is to gird up the local services, local products, and local economies for the welfare of the local population.
Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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