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A new Amazon feature should make it easier to get a grocery delivery slot this winter

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Millions of Americans relied on Amazon grocery delivery earlier this year as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the US, but many had one big complaint: It was often hard, if not impossible, to find an available delivery time slot in many metro regions.

Some customers were forced to check for availability dozens of times a day, including in the middle of the night, while others resorted to using a computer program to grab a spot in line.

“One thing that if I could have a magic wand and do over in the early part of the pandemic, a feature that I wish we had right out from the bat, is if we run out of capacity … we want to give customers an equitable and fair way to reserve a place in line,” Stephenie Landry, Amazon’s vice president of grocery (which includes Amazon Prime Now and AmazonFresh), said Wednesday during an interview for Recode’s Code Commerce@Home virtual event series.

Now Landry says Amazon has come up with a solution if there are large spikes in demand this fall and winter, whether because of a jump in Covid-19 cases, a surge in other illnesses (like the flu), or bad weather. The new feature, which will appear in areas only where delivery availability is limited, prompts customers trying to place grocery orders from AmazonFresh or Whole Foods to reserve a virtual place in line when there is no immediate availability over the next few days. Once a shopper signs up, they are given an estimate for when delivery availability will open up and, when it does, the company notifies them and gives them two hours to place their order.

Amazon is currently employing the new tech feature in parts of the United Kingdom, where recent surges in Covid-19 cases have spurred more customer demand for grocery deliveries. Amazon also increased delivery capacity by more than 160 percent in the second quarter of this year to help handle the new normal in grocery delivery. Landry said Amazon is “kind of expecting” it’ll need to enable the feature in certain parts of the US in the coming months.

Amazon, as well as other online grocery delivery services from Walmart, Instacart, and Target, ran into numerous hurdles early in the pandemic, when governments in many large metropolitan regions issued stay-at-home orders for nonessential workers, causing demand for their services to spike dramatically. Just about all services faced out-of-stock issues for the most in-demand products, and it was not uncommon for orders to arrive with missing or incorrect items as warehouse and delivery workers dealt with an unprecedented array of operational obstacles and health risks to worry about.

And yet these companies still reported record sales. Amazon said online grocery sales tripled in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same three-month period in 2019. Walmart, Target, and Instacart also recorded huge sales increases on grocery orders. A year ago, Amazon added grocery delivery from AmazonFresh and Whole Foods to its existing suite of perks available to Prime members, without increasing the $119 annual fee. Walmart last month introduced Walmart+, its own membership program that costs $98 a year and offers grocery delivery as its main perk.

For Amazon, though, the surge in demand — for Whole Foods deliveries specifically — has caused frustration for both Whole Foods customers and store employees. Customers in some stores say they have to compete with Amazon delivery contractors for in-demand items.

“I like to pick my own produce, but if I have to fight with eight people over a fricking avocado, maybe I should be hiring someone to do it for me,” one Whole Foods shopper told Bloomberg recently.

Asked about what some customers are viewing as a degraded in-store shopping experience at Whole Foods stores, Landry cited a new Whole Foods delivery-only warehouse in Brooklyn, NY as an example of an alternative way the company is trying to fulfill delivery demand. But she said the new delivery warehouse model is too new to say if it will be expanded.

“It’s not necessarily a model that we’re going to replicate everywhere, but it’s something that we want to learn about and we want to see what the impact to the business overall is, so it’s something that we’re looking at closely,” she said.

Watch the full interview with Amazon’s Landry here.


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Trump’s constant attacks on Kristen Welker show he doesn’t expect the debate to go well

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Typically, debates present an opportunity for political candidates who are losing their races to make up ground on the frontrunner. President Donald Trump, however, is not your typical come-from-behind candidate.

That’s why in the lead-up to Thursday’s second and final debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump has preemptively attacked moderator Kristen Welker of NBC almost every day. That’s why his campaign has made such a big fuss over the debate topics and the addition of a mute button designed at making the debate more watchable than the first one was thanks to Trump’s antics. And that’s why they’ve seemed to be spinning a bad showing before the debate has even happened.

With the national polls showing Biden’s lead over Trump holding steady at 9 percentage points or more (though battleground polling is tighter), Thursday’s debate is the last chance Trump will have to try and make his case before a large, nationwide TV audience. But the campaign itself doesn’t seem to be projecting much confidence it’ll go better for him than his widely panned performance in the first debate, when he incessantly interrupted Biden and went on rants that required full immersion in Hannityworld to understand.

Trump has spent a week bashing Kristen Welker for very flimsy reasons

Kristen Welker is a well respected White House reporter known for asking Trump and other administration officials tough but fair and respectful questions. Nonetheless, Trump has spent much of the past week trying to paint her as a far-left radical who is conspiring with Biden to hurt him.

“She’s extraordinarily unfair,” Trump said of Welker during a rally in Wisconsin on October 17, lumping her with another NBC employee, Savannah Guthrie, who did an effective job grilling him during a town hall event the night before.

Then, on October 19, Trump described Welker as “a radical left Democrat, or whatever she is.” During a rally later that day in Arizona he falsely accused Welker of deleting her Twitter account, adding that she’s been “screaming questions at me for a long time. She’s no good.” (Welker hasn’t donated to Democrats and isn’t affiliated with any party.)

Trump’s attacks on Welker continued through a Fox & Friends interview on Tuesday, when he described her as “far worse than Scully” (Steve Scully of C-SPAN was supposed to moderate the second presidential debate, but it was canceled following Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis).

In comments illustrative of the contempt he holds for any member of the media who dares to not treat him with kid gloves, Trump went on to attack Guthrie and Chris Wallace of Fox News, who moderated the first presidential debate.

On Wednesday, Trump, alluding to the fact that Welker’s parents have donated to Democratic candidates, again described her as “a very biased person.”

“But that’s my life,” Trump said. “In the meantime, that’s the White House back there.”

Finally, on Thursday, Trump posted video of his ill-fated interview with Lesley Stahl for 60 Minutes on Facebook, but took a gratuitous shot at Welker in the process, writing, “Look at the bias, hatred and rudeness on behalf of 60 Minutes and CBS. Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse!”

In reality, Trump would object to any moderator who isn’t a loyalist. He made this explicit during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s show earlier this month, when he said he right-wing media personalities like Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Judge Jeanine, Laura Ingraham, or Tucker Carlson should moderate his debates.

That being said, if Trump expected Thursday’s debate to go well, you’d think he’d at least try and play nice with Welker and focus on attacking Biden. Instead, the incessant attacks on Welker — who’s nobody’s idea of “a radical left Democrat” — suggests he’s making excuses for a poor showing before the debate has even happened.

Trumpworld has been complaining about everything

The second presidential debate was widely expected to focus on foreign policy before it was canceled following Trump’s diagnosis for coronavirus. With there now being only two debates instead of three, the topics announced for Welker’s debate ended up being much broader and include fighting the coronavirus, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and leadership. Foreign policy may come up within those parameters, but it won’t necessarily be a focus.

With hundreds of people still dying each day from a pandemic that continues to upend American life, it’s certainly understandable that Welker would choose to focus on topics that are close to home. But the Trump campaign took the opportunity to throw another fit.

In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) that he posted on Twitter, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien referred to the commission as the “Biden Debate Commission” and blasted the topic choices, but also gave away the game Trump wants to play.

“If a major party candidate for President of the United States is compromised by the Communist Party of China, this is something Americans deserve to hear about, but it is not surprising the Biden [sic] would want to avoid it,” he wrote, alluding to baseless conspiracy theories that Joe Biden and his son Hunter leveraged Joe’s government position into massive payouts in China.

As Stepien’s letter suggests, Trump wants to talk about “foreign policy” because it would give him an opportunity to rail against China — the country he’s blaming for the coronavirus — and Hunter Biden. Discussing the devastating impact the pandemic has had on American life and racial tensions he’s spent years inflaming is a much tougher task.

Stepien also blasted the commission for canceling the second debate because Trump “was medically cleared as having tested negative for the virus.” What he didn’t mention, however, is that Trump left the hospital a mere 72 hours before the debate was supposed to happen, and aroused suspicions he may have exposed Biden to coronavirus during the first debate and refusing to say when he last tested negative before standing on stage with Biden.

While Trump and his campaign incessantly work the refs, Biden has quietly gone with the flow. That tactical difference can perhaps be explained in part by the fact that Biden is leading, but it also appears as though Trump is creating excuses for himself ahead of time.

Team Trump’s whining isn’t just limited to the topics. They’ve also been complaining about CPD’s announcement that a mute button will limit the candidates’ ability to interrupt each other during the 2-minute statements they’ll be making at the beginning of each topic. During a Fox & Friends interview on Thursday, Donald Trump Jr. went as far as to suggest that the Trump campaign will try to intimidate debate officials.

“They’re gonna have someone in the room, and we’re gonna call nonsense when we see nonsense,” he said.

The backdrop is Trump’s disastrous performance at the September 29 debate, which seemed to hurt him in the polls in the days following. The debate also may have continued to damage him to an “unusual extent” during the campaign’s final stretch, as David Lauter wrote for the Los Angeles Times last week.

“The encounter in Cleveland, dominated by Trump’s repeated interruptions and his cryptic statement that seemingly welcomed the support of a right-wing extremist group, appears to be the exception to the usual rule that the impact of debates fades quickly,” Lauter wrote, adding later: “Since the debate, roughly half the voters polled said they do not believe Trump is mentally fit.”

Beyond his interruptions and refusal to disavow far-right groups or conspiracy theories, Trump spent part of that debate mocking Biden for how regularly he wears a mask — only to be hospitalized with the coronavirus 72 hours later.

In a way, the use of a mute button at the final debate could actually help Trump a bit, as in theory it’ll prevent him from constantly interrupting Biden and coming across as a jerk. But at this late date, it’s unrealistic to expect that the president might suddenly change his tone or moderate his message when it comes to topics like the coronavirus or race relations.

Trailing in the polls and with a thin résumé of positive accomplishments to tout, Trump will likely devote Thursday evening to trying to disqualify Biden. And if that doesn’t work, he and his campaign will do what they always do — complain about being treated unfairly.


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Libya: UN condemns arrest of media authority chief

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UN Support Mission in Libya denounces ‘unlawful arrest’ of Mohammed Baayou after he spoke out against Islamist groups in Tripoli.

The United Nations on Thursday condemned the “unlawful arrest” of the head of Libya’s government media authority demanding “his immediate and unconditional release”.

Mohammed Baayou, a journalist and prominent media official under the leadership of deposed ruler Muammar Gaddafi, has spoken out strongly against Islamist groups as well as the many armed forces vying for control of swaths of Libya.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said Baayou, head of the Libyan Media Corporation, was arrested on Tuesday in the capital, Tripoli.

His two sons and a journalist at Libya’s al-Wataniya TV channel, Hind Ammar, were also arrested but they have since been released, it added.

Libya has been racked by violence since a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 overthrew and killed veteran leader Gaddafi.

Since then, the North African country has been dominated by armed groups, riven by local conflicts, and divided between two bitterly opposed administrations: the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, and a rival administration in the east affiliated with renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.

‘Arbitrary arrests’

Photographs posted on social media purport to show Baayou being held inside the headquarters of a powerful armed group, the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade, which is allied to the GNA.

The Tripoli administration has yet to comment on the arrest.

“This latest round of arbitrary arrests highlights the personal risks journalists take to promote the right to freedom of expression in Libya,” the UN statement said.

“Media freedom is critical to Libya’s democratic transition,” it added.

The US embassy in Tripoli also condemned “the unlawful detention” of Baayou and said it “reaffirms American support for the rule of law in Libya and the protection of journalists and all Libyans in their right to freedom of expression”.

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Trumpism never existed. It was always just Trump.

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In 2016, Julius Krein was one of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters. In Trump’s critiques of the existing Republican and Democratic establishments, Krein saw the contours of a heterodox ideology he believed could reshape American politics for the better. So he established a pro-Trump blog and, later, a policy journal called American Affairs, which his critics claimed was an attempt to “understand Trump better than he understands himself.”

Today, Krein finds himself in an unusual position. Upon realizing Trump was not committed to any governing vision at all (but was as racist as his critics suggested), Krein disavowed the president in 2017. But as the editor of American Affairs, he’s still committed to building an intellectual superstructure around the ideas that were threaded through Trump’s 2016 campaign.

This conversation on The Ezra Klein Show is about the distance between Trump and the ideology so many tried to brand as Trumpism. We also discuss Krein’s view that the US has always functionally been a one-party system, the disconnect between Republican elites and voters, what a new bipartisan economic consensus could look like, whether Joe Biden and the Democrats take Trump’s ideas more seriously than Trump does, which direction the GOP will go if Trump loses in a landslide in November, why Republicans lost interest in governance, whether media coverage is the true aim of right-wing populists, why Krein thinks the true power lies with the technocrats, and more.

My conversation with Krein can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show.

Subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Julius Krein’s book recommendations:

Innovation in Real Places by Dan Breznitz

History Has Begun by Bruno Maçães

The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys


Help keep Vox free for all

Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.

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