On the menu today: President Biden contends that not being able to find the Christmas presents you want is not a reflection of the supply-chain crisis; it’s just like the Cabbage Patch Kids or Beanie Babies running out in the ’90s. Meanwhile, news stories about shortages of items ranging from cream cheese to chicken tenders to auto parts to light bulbs to insulin pile up; it turns out that the backup at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles aren’t getting better, they’re just counting the ships differently; and it’s time to say farewell to Bob Dole. All of this is enough to drive you to drink, and two of my friends have just the book for that.
No, Mr. President, the Supply-Chain Crisis Is Not Like the Cabbage Patch Kids Craze
This comment from President Biden last week was all too easily overlooked until Liz Mair called attention to it last night:
Working with business and labor, my administration has been able to handle the huge surge in goods moving through some of our biggest ports. And that has translated into shelves across our country being well-stocked. . . .
I can’t promise that every person will get every gift they want on time. Only Santa Claus can keep that promise. But there are items every year that sell out, that are hard to find.
Some of you moms and dads may remember Cabbage Patch Kids back in the ’80s or Beanie Babies in the ’90s, or other toys that have run out at Christmas time in past years when there was no supply chain problem.
But we’re heading into a holiday season on very strong shape.
Mair disagreed strongly. (Warning: Link contains NSFW language.)
Are we “heading into a holiday season on very strong shape,” as President Biden contends? If you look, you can find news stories about all kinds of shortages of all kinds of goods. The products that people would typically give as Christmas presents get most of the ink, but there are also shortages of more mundane things that one rarely thinks about — cream cheese, auto parts, light bulbs, wire hangers, aluminum cans, headstone granite.
San Diego: “Now, just securing general lighting supplies is taking up to 13 weeks longer than normal, said Cheryl Carron, whose duties include heading facilities management for global commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle.”
Colorado Springs, Colo.: “Several Colorado Springs restaurants’ menus may look different this year as businesses battle supply chain problems and find themselves unable to get certain things for their dishes.”
Elkhorn, Wis.: “Tom Schinke, owner of Lyle’s TV & Appliance, Inc. in Elkhorn, said earlier this fall that his store has also been affected by supply chain shortages. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Schinke would order appliances on Monday and receive the items within a couple days. Now, an order placed on Monday might take two weeks to arrive. ‘And if something goes into back order, it’s months,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve been here a long time.’”
Waterloo, Iowa: “The demand for beer is outpacing the supply of the cans that come in. Ball Corporation supplies cans and changed its minimum order from about 200,000 cans per brand, to a little more than 1,000,000 cans. This could hurt smaller breweries, including Single Speed Brewing in Waterloo. Owner Dave Morgan says only a couple of his beers would meet Ball Corporations’ minimum can order.”
Odessa, Texas: “Organizers say that this year they were hoping to give the community a twinkling new [holiday light] display, but because of the nationwide supply chain shortage, they’ve had to make some major adjustments leading up to the opening night.”
Boardman, Ohio: “King Collision normally works on about 70 cars at a time at their Boardman location, but their lot currently has twice as many cars at once. Some of these cars have been waiting for parts for as long as six months.”
Omaha, Neb.: “A shortage of granite is hitting local monument and headstone makers hard. ‘I’ve never had anything like this in the industry or the business,’ says Ted Bloemker, owner of Fremont Monument Company.”
North Little Rock, Ark.: “A nationwide shortage on insulin has diabetics around the country on edge. Pharmacists here in Arkansas said the supply of the life-saving medication can change day-to-day.”
Columbia, S.C.: “Many businesses continue to be hit by the nationwide supply chain shortage, and now you can add dry cleaners to that list. ‘We have one case of hangers inside, with 250 hangers in that one box,’ said Larry Koester, Owner, Columbia’s Cleaners. ‘When they go through that, we don’t know what we’re gonna hang people’s pants on.’”
Sharon, Penn.: “Laura Ackley, general manager of Donna’s Diner, said they’re having a tough time finding the staff and supplies to operate the diner as usual. ‘We can’t find cups for our milkshakes,’ she said. ‘There’s so many things that are just out of stock everywhere.’”
Across the country: “The price of a value pack of chicken tenders has gone up nearly a dollar per pound since this same time last year, from $3.02 to $3.99 on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Major chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken and A&W have changed their marketing plans to omit tenders from promotions in order to avoid selling out of them.”
Even routine government operations are getting delayed because of supply-chain issues.
Delaware: “The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced that the sale of 2022 Delaware State Parks annual passes and surf fishing permits will be delayed due to nationwide supply chain disruptions.”
President Biden’s confident assertion that “We’re heading into a holiday season on very strong shape” feels a bit like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s touting a chart that showed gas prices declining by roughly a cent and a half over a week. The situation has barely improved, but the administration wants to take a victory lap. Or Team Biden is so desperate that it’s trying to convince people that the situation has gotten better when it hasn’t, or has only improved marginally.
Last week, this newsletter noted that the number of ships anchored or circling outside of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles had declined — but my colleague Dominic Pino dug further into the numbers and found that what had really changed is how port authorities are counting the ships:
The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach adopted a new queuing system for waiting vessels in mid November. Port authorities said emissions from idling ships near the port were harming air quality, so they made a new system in which ships would line up farther away from the coast. That’s reasonable, but it also has another effect: putting waiting ships out of sight. . . .
If you count only the ships waiting within 40 miles of the ports, which was the standard measure, it is true that the number of waiting ships has declined by over 40 percent, as [Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene] Seroka said. But more ships are now waiting outside that zone than inside it. As of Tuesday, FreightWaves said there were 44 ships waiting within the 40-mile zone and another 50 waiting farther away. That brings the total up to 94 ships waiting, which is more than the approximately 80 that were waiting when the new queuing system was started in mid November.
In his remarks last week, Biden boasted that, “Over the last month, the number of containers left sitting on docks blocking movement to those stores is over — was for over eight days. Now it’s down — it’s down by 40 percent, which means they’re heading to shelves in stores more quickly. That’s an incredible success story.”
Except if that drop stems from not counting ships that have been sent further away from shore, that drop is much less than meets the eye.
Meanwhile, did you know that the American Trucking Association has gone to court to fight the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, arguing it will worsen the supply-chain crisis?
“To be very clear, ATA and its member companies support efforts to encourage all Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — our trucks and drivers have been on the front line in fighting this pandemic since the beginning, moving personal protective equipment, test kits, the vaccine itself and much more as the country locked down, but we believe that the Biden Administration has overstepped its statutory authority in issuing this Emergency Temporary Standard,” said ATA president and CEO Chris Spear. “This standard arbitrarily picks winners and losers, and puts employers in an untenable position of forcing workers to choose between working and their private medical decisions, which is something that cannot be allowed.”
“We told the administration that this mandate, given the nature of our industry and makeup of our workforce, could have devastating impacts on the supply chain and the economy and they have, unfortunately, chosen to move forward despite those warnings,” he said. “So we are now, regrettably, forced to seek to have this mandate overturned in court.”
The U.S. court system has put that mandate on hold, and it is likely to go to the Supreme Court.
Bob Dole, 1923–2021
Rest in peace, Bob Dole. Like his longtime intra-party rival George H. W. Bush, he was a thoroughly decent man whose reputation was torn apart in the 1990s because he had the audacity to stand between Bill Clinton and political power. He was relentlessly and remorselessly painted as old and out of touch, even though, as Tevi Troy observed, “At 72, he was young compared with today’s politicians like Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, or Mitch McConnell.”
One of my all-time favorite passages in any speech is the one below, inverting the alleged liability of his age, and challenging the fashionable belief that new is better than old and all change is synonymous with progress or improvement:
I know that in some quarters I may be expected to run from this, the truth of this, but I was born in 1923, and facts are better than dreams and good presidents and good candidates don’t run from the truth.
I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope I will gladly leave to others. For greatness lies not in what office you hold, but in how honest you are, in how you face adversity, and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places.
Age has its advantages.
Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith, and confidence in action.
And to those who say it was never so, that America’s not been better, I say you’re wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.
ADDENDUM: My friends Tony Katz and Fingers Malloy have written a book — Let’s Go Bourbon! — for those who want to know more about bourbon and whiskey but want to skip the lectures. These two men co-host one of the most enjoyable, laid-back, and fun podcasts out there, Eat, Drink, Smoke, reviewing bourbons and cigars, chewing over current events, and having a lot of laughs along the way.