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Business experts split on criticism of Buttigieg on supply chain issues

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Experts say Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg should work with truck industry to address supply chain issues.

Amid images of goods stranded on ships near America’s ports and notable price increases in basic commodities, including food and gasoline, right-wing critics are lambasting Pete Buttigieg in his role overseeing the supply chain as transportation secretary, although business experts in the field are split over whether that criticism is valid.

Business experts who spoke to the Blade — and whose own views may be colored by their political affiliations — offered a range of explanations for the break down in the supply chain, such as a sharp increase in demand among American consumers, the coronavirus pandemic, and a shortage of truck drivers responsible for transporting goods, which led to different conclusions as to whether Buttigieg, the first openly gay person confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a Cabinet position, was responsible.

Daniel Innis, a professor at the University of New Hampshire Peter T. College College of Business and Economics and who specializes in marketing and logistics and is a board member of Log Cabin Republicans, said criticism of Buttigieg is “certainly warranted” because he isn’t showing leadership in bringing stakeholders to the table.

“Pete can help by sitting down with the trucking industry, the railroads and so on and saying, ‘Look, this is a crisis that we have to solve,'” Innis said. “Eventually, you know, we’re going to get to a place where things that are really important aren’t available to us, and this has to be fixed. So you know, we need some leadership coming from Mayor Pete.”

As a result of supply chain issues, consumers are seeing increased prices for goods, including basic necessities like food and gasoline. With the Thanksgiving holiday fast approaching, experts say prices for turkey could be the most expensive in history for American consumers.

Innis, who said the supply chain depends on flow and “if any part of the chain breaks down, the whole thing collapses,” said the problem he’s hearing is on the receiving end at terminal hubs where truck drivers are supposed to pick up goods.

As an example, Innis offered a personal anecdote about being in Savannah, Ga, and seeing about 20 ships on the coastline waiting to come into the port. Such a port, Innis said, would be a first stop for goods before they’re loaded on trains and headed to terminal hubs, where truck drivers then pick it up.

“That’s where it’s breaking down,” Innis said. “Things are not getting picked up. And maybe a month or so ago, the Union Pacific Railroad basically barred anything coming out of LA for a week, so they could clear out the stuff from the Chicago terminal that wasn’t being picked up. So it seems to me based on my observation that we’ve got a real problem with truck drivers at the final destinations, and they’re not able to pick things up. So it backs up the entire system, and it’s backed up now all the way to the ocean.”

Specific things Buttigieg should be addressing with the trucking industry, Innis said, are why there is an such an acute truck driver shortage and what could be done to address it, including whether or not to change hours of service limiting the number of work hours truckers can drive each day, at least in the short term.

Other ideas Innis brought up, amid a national discussion about making community college free, was whether or not to make truck driver training free or giving 0 percent loans for the cost of school. Additionally, Innis said regulations prohibiting truckers under age 21 from driving across state lines should be scrapped.

“If you can drive from Miami to Jacksonville, which is eight hours, shouldn’t you be able to drive from Jacksonville to Charleston, which is four?” Innis said. “So you see, these are the things that he needs to be talking with the industry about, and maybe taking steps to address. And with just those little things, even if you pick up 10 or 15 percent of capacity, you have really moved things forward, maybe enough to start to gradually bring down the backlog.”

But defenders of the Biden administration say the supply chain breakdowns are complications of the increased demand, not any mismanagement at the top.

Jason Miller, associate professor of supply chain management at the Michigan State University Eli Broad College of Business, echoed the sense the blame for supply chain issues should be placed on increased demand and not Buttigieg.

“The disruptions the import supply chain is experiencing are due to record demand for imports due to record consumer spending on durable goods,” Miller said. “As such, there is nothing Secretary Buttigieg could truly do in such a scenario.”

Indeed, as Miller pointed out, waterborne containerized imports by weight through the first nine months of 2021 are up 17 percent from the first nine months of 2019, according to data from the Census Bureau obtained from USA Trade Online.

“This is why I like to characterize the import supply chain as strained due to record demand, as opposed to broken,” Miller concluded.

Innis, however, said ascribing supply chain issues to the simple increase in demand for goods — while valid in some respects — was over-simplifying matters, pointing out supply chain issues include goods produced and distributed domestically.

“Meat is not being imported from China,” Innis said. “It’s not sitting on a container, nor is bread, nor paper products nor all of these things that aren’t showing up in our stores. My nephew works at Whole Foods. He says they’re getting half shipments from companies. That is not sitting out on the ocean. And so, I’m not buying it across every category.”

Lisa Anderson, a supply chain expert and blogger with the Claremont, Calif.-based LMA Consulting Group, said Buttigieg has fallen short in his role as transportation secretary amid the supply crisis, concluding with respect to objections over his performance: “Unfortunately, the criticism is warranted.”

Among the tasks Buttigieg should take on, Anderson said, are touring the ports, talking to truck drivers and owner operators to understand the constraints from the front lines, coordinating with groups such as the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, the center of the logistics supply chain and conduit from Asia to the rest of the United States and finding ways to bridge government interests with business interests for the common good.

“It is a complex issue and will require strong leadership, involvement, collaboration, innovation and new thinking (breaking the traditional thinking) to resolve,” Anderson concluded.

Right-wing critics have seized on the supply chain issues and turned them into an indictment of the transportation secretary, who with his spouse Chasten Buttigieg, is a new parent, electing to stay on paternity leave for two months as the crisis unfolded.

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, in a segment last month calling Buttigieg missing in action over the supply chain crisis, speculated Buttigieg may have taken off work “learning how to breast feed,” which defenders of Buttigieg denounced as a homophobic attack (although the snide comment could easily be made of a man in an opposite-sex relationship opting to go on paternity leave). Later, Carlson in a subsequent segment posited affirmative action is only the reason Buttigieg has the role of transportation secretary, implying the position was given to the former South Bend mayor and presidential candidate simply because he’s gay.

Innis, distancing himself from other critics in right-wing media despite his conservative political affiliations, said he was “not going to criticize” Buttigieg’s decision to go on paternity leave, which he called “something that is a part of life.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted livelihoods and economies from top to bottom across the globe, has also been identified as a factor in complications with the global supply chain, regardless of the administration in power.

Mahour Parast, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment who specializes in supply chain risk and resilience management, said “external shocks” can be in play with such systems and pointed to coronavirus as an example of such a disruption.

“A supply chain that is designed to be efficient (e.g. cost-effective) cannot be simultaneously resilient to disruptions,” Parast said. “This means that when disruptions such as COVID happen, the supply chain has difficulty to be responsive (because the entire system is designed to be efficient and to minimize cost). To be efficient, redundancy should be eliminated because redundancy adds cost to the system. To be resilient, redundancy is needed because it increases a system’s responsiveness.”

As an example of an eliminated redudancy that could end up being needed in a supply chain crisis, Parast pointed to the decision to move operations overseas to benefit from lower production cost or access to raw materials, which he said leads to cost savings at the expense of responsiveness and agility.

“One can make supply chains more resilient by regionalizing supply chain operations in which case there are several locations to back up each other in case of disruptions,” Parast said.

The Biden administration, for its part, has declared steps it would take to ease supply chain issues, mostly consistent with the dispersement of U.S. government money as a short-term solution. On Tuesday, the White House announced funding for a pop-up container yard project underway at the Port of Savannah, a $420 million grant program for ports and marine highways launched within the next 45 days and identifying coastal and waterway projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers construction.

The White House announcement comes days after President Biden signed into law the bipartisan infrastructure package after months of negotiations among lawmakers, which he was set on Wednesday to promote at an event at the Port of Baltimore.

In his defense, Buttigieg has said in media appearances that supply chain issues aren’t the result of mismanagement, but prosperity and suppliers not being able to keep up under Biden administration policies seeking to lift the country up from economic stagnation.

Buttigieg, appearing on a CNN segment last month with Jake Tapper to respond to criticism about supply chain issues, said the problem exists because “retail sales are through the roof.”

“If you think about those images of ships, for example, waiting at anchor on the West Coast, you know, every one of those ships is full of record amounts of goods that Americans are buying because demand is up, because income is up, because the president has successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession,” Buttigieg said. “Now the issue is, even though our ports are handling more than they ever have, record amounts of goods coming through, our supply chains can’t keep up.”

In June, the Biden administration set up a supply chain disruptions task force, which is led by the secretaries of commerce, transportation, and agriculture and charged with focusing on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been evident: homebuilding and construction, semi-conductors, transportation and agriculture and food.

A Department of Transportation spokesperson, asked by the Washington Blade to comment for this article, said Buttigieg in his role as co-chair of the Task Force “is focused on ensuring that the Department is doing all it can to address these issues and has made progress along the way.”

Among other examples, the spokesperson pointed to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announcing they would expand hours of operation; new support for paid apprenticeship programs in the truck driving industry; and Union Pacific railroad announcing it would go to 24/7 operations.

Innis, at the end of the day, rejected the idea Buttigieg’s hands were tied, saying despite increased demand causing blockages in the supply chain “there are steps that can be taken to ease it, and those are not being taken.”

“When you drill down into certain product categories, there are severe problems that aren’t being addressed that have nothing to do with the oceans, or even the trains,” Innis said. “Because your bread isn’t riding on a train. It’s on a truck coming from a local area. And these shortages are real. You walk through the grocery store, you see it.”

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Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy

Opposition to LGBTQ rights a part of former Senate majority leader’s legacy

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U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) via 60 Minutes archival interview with Steve Kroft 1993 (Screenshot YouTube)

In a tweet Sunday morning the Elizabeth Dole Foundation announced the death of former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) at the age of 98. Reaction was immediate from longtime friends, political allies of the Senator and others including President Biden who served with him in the U.S. Senate.

In a statement released by the White House, the president said of his friend and former Senate colleague; “Bob was an American statesman like few in our history. A war hero and among the greatest of the Greatest Generation. And to me, he was also a friend whom I could look to for trusted guidance, or a humorous line at just the right moment to settle frayed nerves. […] Bob was a man to be admired by Americans. He had an unerring sense of integrity and honor. May God bless him, and may our nation draw upon his legacy of decency, dignity, good humor, and patriotism for all time.”

The tributes to Dole that poured in Sunday from every segment of government, political, public and personal reflected his lifelong career of public service to Americans including his championing the rights of disabled Americans playing a key role in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. Dole himself was disabled, having been grievously wounded in combat while serving in the U.S. Army in the Italian campaign during World War II.

Dole earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service, but doctors weren’t sure he’d survive. He was hospitalized for three years. He suffered infections, grueling therapy, several operations and in one instance developed a blood clot that nearly killed him.

He spent the rest of his life struggling with disabilities caused by his war injuries, most noticeably loss of the use of his right arm.

After his recovery and convalescence he enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson on the GI Bill, and later transferred to Washburn University in his home state of Kansas. He graduated in 1952.

After college and while still in law school, Dole became active in local politics in his hometown of Russell, Kan. In his first run for elected office he won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. He served from 1951 to 1953 until he ran and was elected Russell County Attorney. He remained in that position until 1961, when he was first elected to Congress as a Republican.

In what he later said publicly were the two most important votes while serving in Congress, in 1964 he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act.

During the turbulent era of the 1960’s marked by the Civil Rights movement and opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, Dole ran for the U.S. Senate in 1969 and was was elected after defeating his fellow Republican, former Kansas Gov. Bill Avery, in the primary race.

From Jan. 3, 1969, until his departure from the Senate on June 11, 1996, Dole built a career that established his place as a power broker and deal maker in Republican politics with considerable influence across both parties garnering the respect of Democratic leaders including the late-U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

In the early 1970s, Dole served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1971 to 1973 including during the 1972 election and Watergate break-in and he resided at the Watergate apartments at the time of the break-in.

An ardent supporter of then-President Richard Nixon, Dole stood by him during the Watergate scandal often clashing with other Republicans leaders who ultimately convinced Nixon to resign the office. In later years Dole still praised Nixon’s record as president, serving as a eulogist at the former president’s state funeral in 1994.

In a commentary for Politico magazine on April 27, 2017, Dole wrote; “I can say with confidence that the beginning of the 21st century is still the Age of Nixon; we’re still living in a world he played a role in shaping. Though our country has changed in many ways in the 43 years since Nixon’s resignation and 23 years since his death, the basic domestic policies and international order that he brought to fruition remain in place.”

While Dole was often seen as a moderate by some, in practice he was a hard nosed partisan Republican sometimes echoing Nixon’s attack impulses. In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford selected him as his running mate at the Republican National Convention.

During the Ford-Dole campaign run he blamed the deaths and injuries of 1.7 million American soldiers on “Democrat wars,” and derided the Democratic Party challenger, Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, as no more than a “Southern-fried McGovern.”

“I figured up the other day, if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit,” Dole said.

In a bit of political irony, he had partnered with U.S. Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), who Nixon defeated in a landslide election in 1972, to help pass legislation making food stamps more accessible.

In 1980 he made a run for the White House on his own, ultimately deciding to withdraw after a poor showing in the Republican primary in New Hampshire against former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Dole was re-elected to his third term as senator that year.

Dole went on to serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1985, and in November of 1984, he was elected Senate majority leader. He then made another attempt for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, during that campaign his reputation as a political hardliner was cemented during an interview with then-NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.

Dole exploded in apparent anger over a question posed about a television advert being run by the campaign of then Vice President George H.W. Bush, his Republican challenger for the nomination, that accused Dole of “straddling” on taxes. He snapped at Brokaw, saying Bush should “stop lying about my record.” He beat Bush in Iowa, but fell short again in New Hampshire and again he withdrew from the race.

During that campaign, the New York Times reported Dole strongly disagreed today with Congressman Jack Kemp on AIDS testing and urged that the issue of AIDS be kept out of the 1988 presidential race.

”To try to make this a Democratic or Republican issue is a loser,” said Dole. ”It’s a loser for the people involved, and it’s a loser for the people we’re trying to protect.”

On Feb. 22, 1989, during the session of the 101st Congress, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It had previously been introduced in the 99th and 100th Congresses. The act would require the Justice Department to collect and publish data about crimes motivated by hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Then on June 27, 1989, the House passed the act by a 368-47 vote. It moved on to the Senate where as the then-minority leader, Dole signed on as a co-sponsor.

On Feb. 8, 1990,  the Senate passed the Act by a 92-4 vote and sent it to President George H.W. Bush who signed the bill into law on April 23, 1990.

The 1994 mid-term elections gave Republicans control of both the Senate and the House, mainly due to the fallout from President Bill Clinton’s policies and Dole became the senate majority leader for a second time.

Dole again decided to make another run for the presidency in 1995 and it was in the lead-in to that campaign his anti-LGBTQ positions on military service by gay and lesbians and same-sex marriage became clear.

In the Fall of 1995, Dole returned a $1,000 dollar campaign contribution from the Log Cabin Club, a pro-gay Republican organization that is now known as Log Cabin Republicans. That caused Congress’ only openly gay Republican member, U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.), to castigate Dole publicly in a letter that read; “One need not be anti-gay just to prove you are pro-family,” Gunderson wrote. “I know of no gay Republican (and frankly few gay Democrats) who seek any special class or privileges. All we seek is the end to blatant discrimination in America.”

Dole’s campaign returned the money, saying the Republican presidential contender was “100 percent” opposed to the Log Cabin Club’s agenda.

Gunderson, in his letter, also noted he had supported Dole’s past presidential efforts and had endorsed him before being asked. When first told of the donation controversy, Gunderson said he assumed his friends had mistaken Dole’s campaign for that of “other decidedly bigoted candidates. I was embarrassed to learn I was wrong,” he said.

Gunderson questioned whether Dole would reject the support of anyone who was gay. “If this is so, do you intend to now reject my support and request those on your staff who happen to be gay to resign?”

Eight months later in early May of 1996, in an effort to shore up support of his campaign from the Christian conservative movement within the Republican party, Dole signed on as the first co-sponsor of the Senate version of the Defense of Marriage Act. The legislation barred federal benefits for same-sex couples while allowing states the right to refuse recognition of such marriages that are recognized in other states.

In no small bit of irony one of the responses to Dole’s actions came from the Log Cabin Republicans. “The intolerant wing of the Republican Party is rearing it’s ugly head again,” said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. “What Dole is missing here is that he already has deep support among religious conservatives. There is a growing perception of the GOP Congress as intolerant, and Dole’s action yesterday only enhances such a view.”

Dole’s position on same-sex marriage was later derided by the Human Rights Campaign in an advert campaign, run only in the San Diego market during the GOP convention, that took aim at prominent Republicans who opposed same-sex marriages, but whose own marriages were not always accepted by mainstream society.

The HRC ads called out presidential nominee Dole and other Republicans for “wasting our time” and “trying to score political points by attacking gay Americans.”

One spot featured pictures of Dole with Elizabeth, his second wife, and U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) with his Asian American wife, Wendy. The ad notes that divorced people and couples of different ethnicities have not always been accepted wholly by society.

In the discussions and the political back and forth leading up to what ultimately became the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. military, colloquially referred to as “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell,” “Serving is not a right,” Dole said. “It is a privilege in the United States. And there are certain restrictions.”

Dole, who had resigned from the Senate on June 11, 1996 to run his presidential campaign lost that fall. Clinton who was an incumbent, won in a 379–159 Electoral College landslide, capturing 49.2 percent of the vote against Dole’s 40.7 percent and Ross Perot’s 8.4 percent.

Dole at age 73 was the last World War II veteran to have been the presidential nominee of a major party. In 1997, months after losing the election Dole was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Clinton.

“Through it, we honor not just his individual achievement but his clear embodiment in the common values and beliefs that join us as a people,” Clinton said. “Values and beliefs that he has spent his life advancing. Sen. Dole, a grateful nation presents this award, with respect for the example you have set for Americans today and for Americans and generations yet to come.”

In the years that followed his political career Dole served as national chairman of the World War II Memorial raising funds for its construction. He was a popular spokesperson for Viagra, Visa, Dunkin’ Donuts and along with pop singer, Britney Spears, Pepsi-Cola. He continued to speak out for disabled Americans, and also established The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, housed on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kan.

In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed him to help lead a bipartisan commission to investigate a neglect scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Then alongside his wife Elizabeth Dole, in 2012, established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which is designed to empower, support and honor the nation’s 5.5 million military caregivers.

Despite his many accomplishments, in 2014 he still attacked the rights of LGBTQ Americans to be married. Dole suggested that fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, didn’t support ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because Portman, who had a gay son, had come out in favor of gay marriage, the Daily Beast and other media outlets reported in July of 2014.

Dole also supported former President Donald Trump and endorsed Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns. In an interview with USA Today conducted for his 98th Birthday, Dole said he was “Trumped out”, and that Trump had lost the 2020 election despite his claims to the contrary. “He lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did”, Dole stated, adding that Trump “never had one bit of fraud in all those lawsuits he filed and statements he made.”

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60 Minutes Archive: Bob Dole (Steve Kroft, 1993)

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Victory Fund honors Maine House speaker at D.C. conference

Ryan Fecteau is gay Catholic University alum

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Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau accepts the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award at the Victory Fund International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 4, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Victory Fund on Saturday honored Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau on the last day of its International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C.

Fecteau — an openly gay Catholic University of America alum — won a seat in the Maine House of Representatives in 2014. He became the chamber’s speaker in 2020.

“Hate and intolerance will not derail us,” said Fecteau after Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith presented him with the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award, which is named after U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). “Our community will not be intimidated.”

The Victory Fund on Friday honored Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila, a gay man who is living with HIV.

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Rachel Levine: Efforts to deny health care to trans youth are ‘politics’

Former Pa. health secretary opened Victory Fund conference

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Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks at the Victory Fund's 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Thursday criticized efforts to prevent transgender youth from accessing health care.

“Unfortunately, some have fought to prevent transgender youth from accessing the health care that they need,” she said in a speech she delivered at the opening of the Victory Fund’s 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in downtown D.C. “This is politics and this politics has no place in health care and public health and they defy the established standards of care written by medical experts.”

Levine was Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary until President Biden nominated her to become assistant secretary of health.

She became the first openly trans person confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March. Levine in October became a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

The conference will take place in-person and virtually through Sunday.

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