Logistically Speaking: You Can't Make This Stuff Up (Nor Would You Want To)

Sometimes the biggest supply chain story is the one they don’t tell you about.

Irony seems to be a lost art among mainstream journalists, who seem more eager than ever to just accept whatever premise is fed to them by those in charge and then give it the ol’ rubber stamp of approval when they publish it verbatim from the source. Maybe people just have short-term memory loss these days, or maybe they’re under so much time pressure to report, file, blog, tweet, podcast and Facebook their latest "scoop" that they just plain miss the real story staring them in the face.

So let me revive a once-proud tradition and offer a little cynicism with the reporting. Here are a few recent items that caught my eye.

ITEM: Walmart puts another big squeeze on suppliers. Discount behemoth Walmart, the retailer that put the "China" into "Made in America," has put its suppliers on alert that they need to get Walmart’s permission to subcontract their work to overseas factories. This story was originally reported by the Associated Press, whose reporter apparently wasn't aware that the very reason most U.S. brand managers (apparel companies, toy companies, electronics manufacturers) ship their work overseas in the first place is to keep their products priced low enough that Walmart will stock them in their stores. Walmart itself is the poster child for sweatshops, dating back to the Kathie Lee Gifford debacle of years past, and now they’ve positioned themselves as the arbiter of what makes a socially responsible supplier. Wasn't it Aesop who once wrote about a fox guarding the henhouse?

ITEM: MHI drops "America" from MHIA. In a move that was foreseen for the better part of a year at least, the Material Handling Industry of America finally announced its rebranding effort, dropping the "of America" from its name to be known going forward simply as MHI. As one of the first steps in its reach out to other countries, MHI announced that it is teaming up with a U.K. exhibition company to launch a trade show to be co-located with MODEX called Supply Chain & Transportation, a show whose track record to date has been in France, Brazil, India and Thailand. Because, I guess, nobody knows supply chain like the French.

ITEM: Chinese factory workers go on strike to demand longer bathroom breaks. More than 1,000 workers at a Shanghai electromagnet plant not only recently went on strike, but even took the plant managers hostage, to protest the institution of timed bathroom breaks (two minutes maximum). The strike was ended after two days when 300 police showed up to break up the demonstration (I almost said movement; forgive me). The plant managers say they'll rethink the rules, though they didn't specify exactly what that meant. Maybe they'll do that thinking during their own, presumably-longer-than-two-minute breaks.

ITEM: Ray LaHood steps down from DOT, resisting urge to claim, "Mission Accomplished." Ray LaHood has decided one term in President Obama's Cabinet was enough, so he plans to give up his seat as Secretary of the Transportation Department. Among the accomplishments he cited in his resignation announcement, LaHood highlighted the High-Speed Rail project, also known in some circles as the "Railroad to Nowhere" since so few politicos want the thing draining resources from their states. LaHood also trumpeted this curiously worded feat: "DOT was ranked 9th out of the 19th largest agencies in the government" for best places to work. Unless my math is way off, 9 out of 19 is 47%, not even in the top half. I thought it was only here in Cleveland where we celebrated when our teams just missed having a .500 season; I guess they do that in Washington, too. [UPDATE: Several readers have pointed out that my math was indeed a bit off; 9 out of 19 is 53%, not 47%. Still, my main point remains unchanged: Why celebrate such blatant mediocrity?] One thing that LaHood did not mention, however, is the continued mess the FMCSA has made of the truck driver Hours of Service rules, which are as maddeningly unresolved as ever. One thing you’ve got to credit him for, though, is knowing the right time to leave.

And following Secretary LaHood's lead, I figure that's enough snarkiness from me, so I'll take my leave as well—for this month. In the meantime, if you spot any just plain nutty news items begging for a comment, feel free to send them along.

Follow me on Twitter @supplychaindave.

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