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Business experts split on criticism of Buttigieg on supply chain issues



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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History making win- Out Lesbian could be Oregon’s next governor

“This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen”



Courtesy of Tina Kotek

The Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday win by Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, who had announced her run for the governor’s seat to replace incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, who is term limited last September 1st, 2021, positions her to become the first Out Lesbian governor in the nation should she win the general election in November.

Kotek’s win comes during an uptick in the elections nationwide as more candidates running for office identify as LGBTQ”. More than 600 LGBTQ candidates are on ballots this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

According to the Victory Fund, at least 101 people ran or are running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House – with 96 still actively running as of February 21, 2022. That marks a 16.1 percent increase in LGBTQ Congressional candidates compared to the 2020 election cycle, when 87 people ran.

Speaking to her supporters after it became clear she had won over Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, who was polling second among Oregonian progressives, “This will be a three-way race for the highest office in our state, and this will be an election unlike anything any of us have ever seen,” Kotek said.

Republican state legislator Christine Drazan along with an independent candidate, Betsy Johnson are slated to be on the November ballot.

Last Fall when she announced her candidacy, she said, “I am running for Governor because I know that, together, we can reckon with the legacies of injustice and inequality to build a great future for Oregon.” She also noted, “Oregonians are living through a devastating pandemic, the intensifying impacts of climate change, and the economic disruptions that leave too many behind. We must get past the politics of division and focus on making real, meaningful progress for families across our state.” 

“A victory for Tina would shatter a lavender ceiling and be a milestone moment in LGBTQ political history, yet she is running not to make history, but because there are few people as prepared and qualified to serve as Oregon’s governor,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “Under Tina’s leadership, Oregon has led in passing legislation to improve roads and education, raise the minimum wage and ensure all residents are treated fairly and equally. As governor, Tina will make Oregon a role model for the nation.”

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Karine Jean-Pierre on her firsts: ‘I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman’

High praise for first out WH press secretary



Karine Jean-Pierre is no stranger to progressive politics.

She takes on the role of White House press secretary as part of a long career working on building political coalitions and as a spokesperson for advocates before coming to the Biden administration, which has won her close allies and admirers who continue to cheer her on. Jean-Pierre’s new position as top spokesperson for President Biden — and the first Black, first openly gay person to become White House press secretary — is the latest endeavor she pursues in that broader mission.

Rahna Epting, executive director of, knew Jean-Pierre from when she worked at the progressive organization and she quickly became a rising star “because she’s so incredibly skilled at communicating in a way that real people understand.”

“She was incredibly relatable to people that were watching her at home on TV,” Epting said. “And she could speak to you know, she she did that role during the Trump era for MoveOn and she really spoke to the hearts and minds of what people were feeling and thinking during that time.”

It was during Jean-Pierre’s time with MoveOn when she was serving as a moderator for a panel with Kamala Harris and famously rose to block an animal-rights activist who was physically threatening the candidate.

When protests emerged during the Trump era over policies such as his travel ban on Muslim countries, efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and the two impeachment votes seeking to remove Trump from office, Epting said Jean-Pierre was key in being at the front lines of those efforts.

“Karine was on TV and she was representing the movement in ways that sparked or electrified the energy that was actually being felt out there,” Epting said.

Jean-Pierre, 45, has a distinctive story of rising to become White House press secretary as an immigrant from a Haitian family whose parents brought her to the United States, where she was raised in Queens, N.Y., from the age of five. Jean-Pierre cared for her younger siblings growing up as her mother worked as a home health aide and her father worked as a taxi driver.

Despite these humble beginnings, Jean-Pierre nonetheless reached astonishing heights. After receiving her master’s degree from the School of International & Public Affairs at Columbia University, Jean-Pierre went on to work for President Obama, serving as regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs during the Obama administration’s first term, before returning to the White House after Biden was elected president.

Michael Strautmanis, now executive vice president for public engagement at the Obama Foundation, worked with Jean-Pierre in the 2008 presidential campaign and at the White House under Obama and said the first thing that came across to him was how she “always had it covered.”

“She never came and asked me for advice on something where she didn’t already have one or two or three possible solutions to the challenge that she always had,” Strautmanis said. “She was always very, very well prepared, so she just sort of stood out to me.”

Jean-PIerre brings all this background to the role of White House press secretary in addition to achieving many firsts in the appointment as a Black woman, an LGBTQ person and an immigrant. Her partner is Suzanne Malveaux, a CNN reporter and former White House correspondent.

In her maiden briefing on Monday as White House press secretary, Jean-Pierre said the opportunity granted to her in her new role was not just an achievement, but the culmination of work from many who came before her.

“I am obviously acutely aware that my presence at this podium represents a few firsts,” Jean-Pierre said,. “I am a Black, gay, immigrant woman, the first of all three of those to hold this position. I would not be here today if it were not for generations of barriers — barrier-breaking people before me. I stand on their shoulders. If it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me, I would not be here.”

Asked by April Ryan of The Grio, a Black news outlet, about the many firsts she achieved by taking on the role as White House press secretary, Jean-Pierre recognized the signal that sends and brought up an article from a newspaper that went to her elementary school in Hampstead, N.Y.

“And these kids wrote me a letter,” Jean-Pierre said. “And in the letter, they talked about how they can dream bigger because of me standing behind this podium. And that matters. You know, as I started out at the beginning: Representation matters. And not just for girls, but also for boys.”

A White House spokesperson said Jean-Pierre was unable to make the Washington Blade’s deadline in response to an interview request for this article. Among the questions the Blade planned to ask was whether or not she feels a special obligation to represent and speak for the communities in her role as White House press secretary.

It wasn’t a straight line for Jean-Pierre to get to the position as White House press secretary. Although she worked for Harris in the Biden campaign, she came to the White House as deputy White House press secretary under Jen Psakl, who was responsible for Biden. (At the start of the Biden administration, Politico reported that Jean-Pierre’s relationship with the vice president became strained and Jean-Pierre was effectively estranged in the final five months of the campaign.)

But Jean-Pierre quickly won high praise in her role as a Biden spokesperson. In May 2021, when she gave her first on-camera briefing as a substitute for Psaki, Jean-Pierre was considered effectively to have knocked the ball out of the park and reportedly won a round of applause from her colleagues upon retuning to the press office.

Ester Fuchs, who was an instructor for Jean-Pierre when she was at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs and later her colleague when she returned as a lecturer, said key to understanding Jean-Pierre’s success in communications is her balance of optimism and realism.

“She showed really a deep understanding of American politics, and particularly divisions in American politics,” Fuchs said. “But she was very much committed to the idea that the American Dream was still real for people like her, but with a kind of realpolitik understanding of what were the roadblocks, and always very committed to equity and fairness and making sure that people who were new immigrants or from high -needs population had a chance to be heard.”

The high praise Jean-Pierre receives from her former colleagues and friends undermines the argument in conservative media she was selected for the role of White House press secretary only because she checks off numerous boxes in the base of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Tucker Carlson of Fox News, for example, aired a segment last week deriding the appointment as the latest example of identity politics. Carlson mocked supporters for saying being LGBTQ is “the only thing you need to know” about Jean-Pierre, essentially ignoring the commitment and achievement she has made in getting there.

But there’s also a boon of having a good personality. Jean-Pierre’s smile as a means of being effective in disarming and comforting people was one of her features that came up two times independently among the people close to her the Blade consulted for this article.

Strautmanis said he’ll be watching to see whether or not Jean-Pierre’s humor comes out in her new role in White House press secretary as well as her capability to make people around her implicitly trust her, but ultimately predicted she would “kick ass.”

“She just engenders a tremendous confidence,” Strautmanis said. “And so, I think that’s the other thing that people are going to see, which is that as she speaks, you’re just gonna have a sense that, ‘You know, I trust what this person is saying,’ and I think that’s a really hard thing to do in that in the work that she’s done before in that job. But I think that’s why she transitioned from being a political staffer into communications, because she has that ability in communications to be up front, be direct, be honest, and yet still kind of push forward a particular agenda. I think that’s a rare combination.”

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Task Force targets five battleground states in ‘Queer the Vote’

LGBTQ rights organization raises over $15,000 at D.C. event



LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson (left) speaks to a crowd of supporters at Metrobar on Friday, May 13. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Nearly 50 people attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Reunited and Resilient fundraiser at Metrobar on Friday, May 13.

Task Force board member Peter Chandler announced at the first in-person D.C. gathering of the organization since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, “we all are thirsty and hungry for community right now.”

Following remarks by Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson and Deputy Executive Director Mayra Hidalgo Salazar, the organization raised more than $15,000 in pledges of donations from guests.

“I think a lot of us are seeing this bill pop up,” Salazar said, referring to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. “And some of us can feel hopelessness, but I’m really thrilled to share with you that the Task Force is super determined to make sure that we are driving the political power of the LGBT movement through our ‘Queer the Vote’ work in Florida.”

Johnson elaborated on the Task Force’s “Queer the Vote” initiative. “As we look to the 2022 midterms, the Task Force is moving our resources into civic engagement across five states: North Carolina, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan,” said Johnson.

“That’s not by accident: that’s intentional,” continued Johnson. “These are battleground states. These are states where we are seeing not only attacks on LGBTQ issues, we’re seeing attacks on abortion, we’re seeing attacks on voting rights, we’re seeing attacks on immigrants. We’re seeing multi-front attacks on our people, and that’s exactly where the Task Force wants to be: at those intersections of social justice issues and LGBTQ liberation.”

“The states that we are going to — we could change the impact on elections. In some places the margin is one percent; it is a one percent margin of whether we win or lose. And the majority of states in this country are 10% LGBTQ voters. That plus BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] voters, we have the power to impact elections and make real change.”

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