Joe Biden was being taunted on Thursday with the hashtag ‘Empty Shelves Joe’, as frustrated shoppers complained about shortages of products in their local stores, and concern grew about possible Christmas shortages.
Biden on Wednesday acknowledged the concerns.
‘With the holidays coming up, you might be wondering if gifts you plan to buy will arrive on time?
‘I know you’re hearing a lot about something called supply chains and how hard it is to get a range of things from a toaster to sneakers to bicycles to bedroom furniture.’
He called new agreements with ports, unions, and shippers ‘a sign of major progress in moving goods from manufacturers to a store and to your front door.’
Earlier on Wednesday, Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, had sparked alarm by saying: ‘We are not the postal service or UPS or FedEx. We cannot guarantee.
‘What we can do is use every lever at the federal government’s disposal to reduce delays, to ensure that we are addressing bottlenecks in the system, including ports and the need for them to be open longer hours.’
The shortages are due to issues in the global supply chain, but Biden’s critics have accused him of mismanagement.
The port of Los Angeles, North America’s busiest container terminal, began 24-hour operations on Thursday after the White House intervened to help ease bottlenecks that are choking commerce and pushing up prices.
But until the bottlenecks in the supply chain are removed, the complaints about shortages will mount.
Jack Posobiec, an alt-right activist and commentator, noted that ‘EmptyShelvesJoe’ was the number one trending topic on Twitter.
Donald Trump Jr commented: ‘Yikes!’
President Joe Biden announced new efforts to ease supply chain roadblocks and spoke about concerns of anxious holiday shoppers
Country music singer John Rich tweeted: ‘Hard to mess up a country any faster than #EmptyShelvesJoe but I have to say, he’s brought unity to much of the country by way of getting the majority of Americans to give the big thumbs down and chant #LetsGoBrandon from coast to coast…In that respect, Joe is a unifier.’
The ‘Lets Go Brandon’ chant has in the past two weeks become a rallying call for opponents of the president, starting after a TV presenter misheard a Nascar crowd on October 2 yelling: ‘F*** Joe Biden’ – and told her viewers they were chanting: ‘Let’s go Brandon.’
Sharyl Attkisson, a journalist with Washington DC-based Full Measure News, tweeted a picture of empty shelves, noting: ‘My grocery. There’s plenty of food it’s not as if we will starve. But I’ve never seen empty shelves like this in my lifetime.’
Pearson Sharp, with One America News, tweeted a parody logo for Biden, with the E resembling empty shelves.
A shop owner in Arizona shared photos of his family’s store without the usual supplies.
‘#EmptyShelvesJoe #FJBiden #LetsGoBrandon Here’s our family owned hardware store.
‘My father’s been here for 35 years and he said it’s NEVER been like this. Smh.’
A man in Illinois tweeted a photo of a sparsely-stacked warehouse in Illinois, and said: ‘No toilet paper again. Thanks #EmptyShelvesJoe!’
A woman by the name of Laurie said: ‘Just went food shopping…again…thanks #EmptyShelvesJoe.
‘I really love having to go every day now in order to find what used to take one trip.’
Republican politicians were quick to join in.
The House Republicans’ account on Twitter tweeted: ‘Top tending topic on Twitter right now is #EmptyShelvesJoe.’
Elise Stefanik, chair of the House Republicans Conference, and a congresswoman for New York, referenced struggles to get supplies for her newborn son Sam, born on August 31.
‘Ask new Moms how Joe Biden’s economy is going… Diaper prices are surging & Size 1 or 2 diapers are incredibly limited on grocery store shelves!
‘Joe Biden has caused an economic crisis in America.’
Jody Hice, a congressman for Georgia, tweeted a meme of Biden in a Game of Thrones chair, with the slogan: ‘Winter is coming.’
He tweeted: ’72 days till Christmas and it’s going to be a budget buster…
‘Gas prices are skyrocketing. Airlines are in chaos. Heating costs are up. Toy shortages are looming.
‘And it’s all thanks to Joe Biden!’
Biden reached a deal on Wednesday with unions and business leaders from Walmart, FedEx, UPS and others to expand operations at the port.
Once implemented the proposed changes could increase output by more than 3,500 shipping containers per week, White House officials said.
‘Traditionally, our ports have only been open during the week, Monday through Friday,’ said Biden on Wednesday.
‘And they’re generally closed down at nights and on weekends.
‘By staying open seven days a week through the night and on the weekends, the port of Los Angeles will open over 60 extra hours a week.
‘That will almost double the number of hours that the port is open for business than earlier this year.’
Still, dozens of ships carrying hundreds of thousands of containers remained at anchor outside the harbor, waiting for a berth on docks packed to capacity.
Many will wait more than 10 days.
Furthermore, the consumer-price index rose by 0.4 per cent from August to September, according to data released by the Labor Department on Wednesday – a 5.4 per cent year-over increase, the highest in 13 years.
While slower than June’s record-setting 0.9 per cent increase, it likely won’t be enough to turn the tide of inflation in time for Christmas.
The consumer price index rose 5.4 percent in September from a year ago, up slightly from August’s gain of 5.3 percent and matching the increases in June and July
Prices are up on a wide range of key goods as high inflation continues to hit US consumers
Biden’s chief of staff, Ronald Klain, angered some by claiming on Wednesday evening that the current U.S. economic issues, including inflation and supply chain delays, are just ‘high class problems’.
Jason Furman, a Harvard Economics professor and former chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, tweeted: ‘Most of the economic problems we’re facing (inflation, supply chains, etc.) are high class problems.’
‘We wouldn’t have had them if the unemployment rate was still 10 percent,’ he added of earlier rates.
‘We would instead have had a much worse problem.’
Klain retweeted the post along with, ‘This’ and two emoji fingers pointing down to the tweet – indicating his agreement.
Klain was responding to a tweet from Obama’s former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers who said problems would be ‘much worse’ if the unemployment rate was still 10%
Asked on Thursday about the tweet, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that Klain’s Twitter ‘is not a top priority at this point in time.’
She added: ‘The chief of staff is out there speaking on his own accord … as any chief of staff does.
‘I think it’s also important for anyone here to be able to tout points that they find interesting that’s the purpose of public speech.’
She then explained Klain’s reasoning.
‘The point here is some of these critics … we don’t know if they’re saying that what they thought was great was when the unemployment rate was double what it is today, or when people were locked in their homes and therefore gas prices were lower.
‘We’re at this point because the unemployment rate has come down and has been cut in half because people are buying more goods, because people are traveling, because demand is up, and because the economy is turning back on.’
Economies largely shuttered for chunks of the last year by governments trying to tamp down the coronavirus are reopening, and demand is booming – but supply is struggling to keep up.
Globalization has created havoc, with supply chains that stretch from resource extraction in places such Australia, to production in Asian manufacturing hubs, to shoppers in the West.
Between every stage, goods are loaded into box containers and transported on ships, trains and trucks through ports and stations.
If any one of these steps breaks down, the whole chain can grind to a halt.
During the pandemic, almost every one of them did.
And even as things start to get back to normal in the United States, the effects are still being felt.
‘Everything is back ordered, all the vessels are in the ocean,’ truck driver Tony Nguyen told AFP.
‘I’ve been driving for the port for like almost 10 years, but this year it’s terrible. I’ve never seen that before.’
The megaports of Asia – like this one in Qingdao – have long operated on a 24-hour basis. On Thursday the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the busiest in North America – began working around the clock to unload a significant backlog of cargo
Lengthy supply chains start with miners and take in producers, middlemen, retailers and finally shoppers, all of them with transportation in between
Around a quarter of a trillion dollars worth of goods will have passed through Los Angeles port by the end of December 2021
On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that supply chain disruptions are driving price increases, as it trimmed its growth outlook in an increasingly uneven global recovery.
In the United States, consumer prices were up more than 5 per cent in September.
There are several factors behind the shortages of raw materials and finished goods now plaguing retailers.
These include factory outages in countries that have imposed lockdowns due to COVID-19, unexpected demand spikes for some goods as behavior changed during the pandemic, and a labor crunch.
But the backlog at U.S. ports has been a major contributing factor.
Nowhere is that more evident than the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach – the main gateways for Asia, where thousands of multi-colored shipping containers are stacked, processed and shuffled around every day.
The Los Angeles port alone has handled more than 7.3 million TEUs so far this year. A TEU is the industry’s standard measurement for cargo, and stands for Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit.
Each year, more than a quarter of a trillion dollars’ worth of goods pass through the port – a big chunk of the entire U.S. economy.
‘What happens in Los Angeles and other West Coast ports reverberates all the way through the country,’ said Agriculture Transportation Coalition executive director Peter Friedmann.
The World Bank estimates 8.5 per cent of global container shipping is stalled in or around ports.
That congestion is renewing talk of onshoring – bringing production back home.
‘Never again should our country and our economy be unable to make critical products we need because we don’t have access to materials we need,’ said Biden this week.
‘Never again shall we have to rely too heavily on one company or one country.’