May 19, 2019

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

Happy Sunday! Axios AM brings you what matters, in Smart Brevity. (Today: 1,193 words!)

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1 big thing: What it's like to pack an Amazon box
Video: Erica Pandey/Axios

Amazon has an automated system to track productivity at its fulfillment centers:

  • Any time a worker is not in the top 25% of performers, conversations with a manager begin and can quickly lead to termination.

Axios' Erica Pandey recently spent an afternoon at the 1-million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, where more than 2,500 workers pack and ship orders every day.

  • Why it matters: These stressful, physically taxing jobs are common in America. 125,000 Amazon associates across North America ensure your Prime packages arrive the next day.

Pandey tried packing two boxes at the station where associates stand for 10-hour shifts. She writes:

  • Each took me a couple of minutes. Cliff Knight, a packaging associate with Amazon for more than two years, said he does a box every five to 15 seconds.
  • Cliff handed me a container of Tide Pods. I scanned it, and Amazon’s system told me exactly which size box to use and spit out exactly the length of the iconic black and blue Amazon Prime tape I'd need to seal it.
  • The machine then printed a barcode shipping label with customer information. On my first try, I nervously put the completed package onto the final conveyor belt without a label — rendering it pretty much useless.
  • Cliff had to run along the belt to chase it down.
  • I was no doubt the worst packer on the floor during my two-package stint.
Photo: Erica Pandey/Axios

What's next: The orange things near the floor in the photo above are robots.

  • They’re small but deceptively strong, and can lift hundreds of pounds.
2. Exclusive: Dems catching Trump online
Expand chart
Adapted from Advertising Analytics. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

What's new: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both outspent President Trump's campaign on Google and Facebook this month, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

  • Why it matters: Trump's dominant ad spending on Google and Facebook was giving him an unprecedented early lead in drumming up grassroots support. But Dems, led by Biden, are catching up.
  • Candidates are using ads to build lists and solicit small-dollar donations.

The data ... Just two months ago, Trump outspent all Democrats combined, 2:1. Now, according to Advertising Analytics and Bully Pulpit Interactive:

  • Democrats have spent nearly twice as much as Trump since January, $12.7 million to $7.9 million.
3. Facebook exec tortured by AI

The task of cleaning up toxic content sometimes brings Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer to tears, the N.Y. Times' Cade Metz and Mike Isaac write:

In two of the interviews, he started with an optimistic message that A.I. could be the solution, before becoming emotional.
At one point, he said coming to work had sometimes become a struggle. Each time, he choked up when discussing the scale of the issues that Facebook was confronting and his responsibilities in changing them.
Bonus: Pic du jour
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Joe Biden tosses his jacket as he takes the stage for his campaign kickoff rally in Philadelphia yesterday.

4. Jimmy Carter's renaissance
43 years ago: Judy Woodruff — then of NBC News, now of "PBS NewsHour" — interviews Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter during a "Decision '76: New Hampshire Primary special on Feb. 24, 1976. (Photo: NBC News via Getty Images)

What's new: Former President Jimmy Carter, six administrations later, is re-emerging from political obscurity at age 94 to win over his fellow Democrats once again, AP's Bill Barrow writes:

  • Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have all ventured to Plains, Ga., to meet with Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who is 91.
  • Booker and Buttigieg also attended the Sunday School class Carter teaches.

Why it matters: It's quite a turnabout for a man who largely receded from party politics after his presidency, often without being missed by his party's leaders in Washington, where he was an outsider even as a White House resident.

Fun fact: Carter voted for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in Georgia's 2016 presidential primary.

  • Buttigieg said he and Carter "talked about being viewed as coming out of nowhere."
5. Impeachment milestone

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan became the first Republican to accuse President Trump of "impeachable conduct."

  • Why it matters, per Politico's Jake Sherman: Amash "now makes the calls 'bipartisan' — a threshold previously set by [Dem] leadership."
6. Superpower relations sour
Courtesy The Economist

"The United States and China are contesting every domain, from semiconductors to submarines and from blockbuster films to lunar exploration," The Economist writes in its cover story:

  • "Today winning seems to involve the other lot’s defeat — a collapse that permanently subordinates China to the American order; or a humbled America that retreats from the western Pacific."

Why it matters: "The potential for catastrophe looms."

  • "Under the Kaiser, Germany dragged the world into war; America and the Soviet Union flirted with nuclear Armageddon."
7. Australians defy polls
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declares victory. (Rick Rycroft/AP)

What's new: Australians were shell-shocked by elections yesterday that kept Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his center-right Liberal party in power, Jonathan Swan tells me.

  • Why it matters: Polls had consistently shown a win by the Labor opposition, which promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Guardian: "It was billed as the climate change election, and the climate lost."

Be smart: Morrison is staunchly pro-Trump.

  • Bill Shorten, who was favored to win, would have gone out of his way to publicly condemn Trump.

Behind the scenes: Trump knows Morrison as the guy who “stopped the boats,” per a source with direct knowledge.

  • The slogan refers to asylum-seekers trying to come to Australia by sea.
  • Morrison was the architect of the policy to turn back asylum-seekers and to detain them in camps on remote islands.
8. Asian Americans push for Mall gallery
Lisa Sasaki, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, in front of the Smithsonian Castle (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center launched a $25 million drive for permanent gallery space on the National Mall, AP's Janie Har reports.

  • Why it matters: The gallery would join museums dedicated to other historically underrepresented groups, including the National Museum of African American History and the National Museum of the American Indian.

Be smart: Asian Americans are the nation's fastest-growing minority.

9. Pear gets rare honor
The New York Times

In a rare honor for a journalist, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will speak Thursday at a memorial service for Robert Pear, a quiet New York Times reporter whose scoops on health care and the budget filled the paper's lead column when I was growing up.

  • "Everyone in Washington knows that the federal budget cannot be released until Robert has published it in advance in The Times,” two of his editors, Jonathan Landman and Andrew Rosenthal, wrote in a Times in-house newsletter in 2000.

What's next: The service will be Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Newseum in Washington, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. The Times says all are welcome.

10. Why "Thrones" matters
Nathalie Emmanuel, Emilia Clarke and Conleth Hill in a scene from "Thrones." (Helen Sloan/HBO via AP)

No spoilers! Ahead of tonight's series finale of HBO's "Game of Thrones," N.Y. Times TV critic James Poniewozik has an astute take on "the signature show of an era when no one agrees on anything":

[I]t was a mass-market hit for the era of no social consensus. What made "Game of Thrones" emblematic of its time is how it divided its audience, ... right down to the matter of what a happy ending would even constitute.
It gave its intense fandom multiple angles: ... whether it kept faith with the popular novels it was based on; whether it reveled in brutality in the name of critiquing it; whether it well-served its female characters or exploited them; and whether it lost control of its story as it sprinted to the finish.
Mike Allen

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