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A New Antitrust Case Cuts to the Core of Amazon’s Identity

“I founded Amazon 26 years ago with the long-term mission of making it Earth’s most customer-centric company,” Jeff Bezos testified before the House Antitrust Subcommittee last summer. “Not every business takes this customer-first approach, but we do, and it’s our greatest strength.”

Bezos’ obsession with customer satisfaction is at the center of Amazon’s self-mythology. Every move the company makes, in this account, is designed with only one goal in mind: making the customer happy. If Amazon has become an economic juggernaut, the king of ecommerce, that’s not because of any unfair practices or sharp elbows; it’s simply because customers love it so much.

The antitrust lawsuit filed against Amazon on Tuesday directly challenges that narrative. The suit, brought by Karl Racine, the Washington, DC, attorney general, focuses on Amazon’s use of a so-called most-favored-nation clause in its contracts with third-party sellers, who account for most of the sales volume on Amazon. A most-favored-nation clause requires sellers not to offer their products at a lower price on any other website, even their own. According to the lawsuit, this harms consumers by artificially inflating prices across the entire internet, while preventing other ecommerce sites from competing against Amazon on price. “I filed this antitrust lawsuit to put an end to Amazon’s ability to control prices across the online retail market,” Racine said in a press conference announcing the case.

For a long time, Amazon openly did what DC is alleging; its “price parity provision” explicitly restricted third-party sellers from offering lower prices on other sites. It stopped in Europe in 2013, after competition authorities in the UK and Germany began investigating it. In the US, however, the provision lasted longer, until Senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to antitrust agencies in 2018 suggesting Amazon was violating antitrust law. A few months later, in early 2019, Amazon dropped price parity.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. The DC lawsuit alleges that Amazon simply substituted a new policy that uses different language to accomplish the same result as the old rule. Amazon’s Marketplace Fair Pricing Policy informs third-party sellers that they can be punished or suspended for a variety of offenses, including “setting a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon.” This rule can protect consumers when used to prevent price-gouging for scarce products, as happened with face masks in the early days of the pandemic. But it can also be used to inflate prices for items that sellers would prefer to offer more cheaply. The key phrase is “off Amazon. In other words, Amazon reserves the right to cut off sellers if they list their products more cheaply on another website—just as it did under the old price parity provision. According to the final report filed by the House Antitrust Subcommittee last year, based on testimony from third-party sellers, the new policy “has the same effect of blocking sellers from offering lower prices to consumers on other retail sites.”

The main form that this price discipline takes, according to sellers who have spoken out against Amazon either publicly or in anonymous testimony, is through manipulating access to the Buy Box—those Add to Cart and Buy Now buttons at the top right of an Amazon product listing. When you go to buy something, there are often many sellers trying to make the sale. Only one can “win the Buy Box,” meaning they’re the one who gets the sale when you click one of those buttons. Because most customers don’t scroll down to see what other sellers are offering a product, winning the Buy Box is crucial for anyone trying to make a living by selling on Amazon. As James Thomson, a former Amazon employee and a partner at Buy Box Experts, a brand consultancy for Amazon sellers, told me in 2019, “If you can’t earn the Buy Box, for all intents and purposes, you’re not going to earn the sale.”

Jason Boyce, another longtime Amazon seller turned consultant, explained to me how this works. He and his partners were excited when the last third-party seller contract they signed with Amazon, to sell sporting goods on the site, didn’t include the price parity provision. “We thought, ‘This is great! We can offer discounts on Walmart, and Sears, and wherever else,’” he said. But then something odd happened. Boyce (who spoke with House investigators as part of the antitrust inquiry) noticed that once his company lowered prices on other sites, sales on Amazon started tanking. “We went to the listing, and the Add to Cart button was gone, the Buy Now button was gone. Instead, there was a gray box labeled ‘See All Buying Options.’ You could still buy the product, but it was an extra click. Now, an extra click on Amazon is an eternity—they’re all about immediate gratification.” Moreover, his company’s ad spending plummeted, which he realized was because Amazon doesn’t show users ads for products without a Buy Box. “So what did we do? We went back and raised our prices everywhere else, and within 24 hours everything came back. Traffic improved, clicks improved, and sales came back.”

Author: Gilad Edelman
This post originally appeared on Business Latest

Gaza Conflict Stokes ‘Identity Crisis’ for Young American Jews

Dan Kleinman does not know quite how to feel.

As a child in Brooklyn he was taught to revere Israel as the protector of Jews everywhere, the “Jewish superman who would come out of the sky to save us” when things got bad, he said.

It was a refuge in his mind when white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., chanted “Jews will not replace us,” or kids in college grabbed his shirt, mimicking a “South Park” episode to steal his “Jew gold.”

But his feelings have grown muddier as he has gotten older, especially now as he watches violence unfold in Israel and Gaza. His moral compass tells him to help the Palestinians, but he cannot shake an ingrained paranoia every time he hears someone make anti-Israel statements.

“It is an identity crisis,” Mr. Kleinman, 33, said. “Very small in comparison to what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank, but it is still something very strange and weird.”

As the violence escalates in the Middle East, turmoil of a different kind is growing across the Atlantic. Many young American Jews are confronting the region’s longstanding strife in a very different context, with very different pressures, from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

The Israel of their lifetime has been powerful, no longer appearing to some to be under constant existential threat. The violence comes after a year when mass protests across the United States have changed how many Americans see issues of racial and social justice. The pro-Palestinian position has become more common, with prominent progressive members of Congress offering impassioned speeches in defense of the Palestinians on the House floor. At the same time, reports of anti-Semitism are rising across the country.

Divides between some American Jews and Israel’s right-wing government have been growing for more than a decade, but under the Trump administration those fractures that many hoped would heal became a crevasse. Politics in Israel have also remained fraught, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-tenured government forged allegiances with Washington. For young people who came of age during the Trump years, political polarization over the issue only deepened.

Many Jews in America remain unreservedly supportive of Israel and its government. Still, the events of recent weeks have left some families struggling to navigate both the crisis abroad and the wide-ranging response from American Jews at home. What is at stake is not just geopolitical, but deeply personal. Fractures are intensifying along lines of age, observance and partisan affiliation.

In suburban Livingston, N.J., Meara Ashtivker, 38, has been afraid for her father-in-law in Israel, who has a disability and is not able to rush to the stairwell to shelter when he hears the air-raid sirens. She is also scared as she sees people in her progressive circles suddenly seem anti-Israel and anti-Jewish, she said.

Ms. Ashtivker, whose husband is Israeli, said she loved and supported Israel, even when she did not always agree with the government and its actions.

“It’s really hard being an American Jew right now,” she said. “It is exhausting and scary.”

Some young, liberal Jewish activists have found common cause with Black Lives Matter, which explicitly advocates for Palestinian liberation, concerning others who see that allegiance as anti-Semitic.

The recent turmoil is the first major outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza for which Aviva Davis, who graduated this spring from Brandeis University, has been “socially conscious.”

“I’m on a search for the truth, but what’s the truth when everyone has a different way of looking at things?” Ms. Davis said.

Alyssa Rubin, 26, who volunteers in Boston with IfNotNow, a network of Jewish activists who want to end Jewish American support for Israeli occupation, has found protesting for the Palestinian cause to be its own form of religious observance.

She said she and her 89-year-old grandfather ultimately both want the same thing, Jewish safety. But “he is really entrenched in this narrative that the only way we can be safe is by having a country,” she said, while her generation has seen that “the inequality has become more exacerbated.”

In the protest movements last summer, “a whole new wave of people were really primed to see the connection and understand racism more explicitly,” she said, “understanding the ways racism plays out here, and then looking at Israel/Palestine and realizing it is the exact same system.”

But that comparison is exactly what worries many other American Jews, who say the history of white American slaveholders is not the correct frame for viewing the Israeli government or the global Jewish experience of oppression.

At Temple Concord, a Reform synagogue in Syracuse, N.Y., teenager after teenager started calling Rabbi Daniel Fellman last week, wondering how to process seeing Black Lives Matter activists they marched with last summer attack Israel as “an apartheid state.”

“The reaction today is different because of what has occurred with the past year, year and a half, here,” Rabbi Fellman said. “As a Jewish community, we are looking at it through slightly different eyes.”

Nearby at Sha’arei Torah Orthodox Congregation of Syracuse, teenagers were reflecting on their visits to Israel and on their family in the region.

“They see it as Hamas being a terrorist organization that is shooting missiles onto civilian areas,” Rabbi Evan Shore said. “They can’t understand why the world seems to be supporting terrorism over Israel.”

In Colorado, a high school senior at Denver Jewish Day School said he was frustrated at the lack of nuance in the public conversation. When his social media apps filled with pro-Palestinian memes last week, slogans like “From the river to the sea” and “Zionism is a call for an apartheid state,” he deactivated his accounts.

“The conversation is so unproductive, and so aggressive, that it really stresses you out,” Jonas Rosenthal, 18, said. “I don’t think that using that message is helpful for convincing the Israelis to stop bombing Gaza.”

Compared with their elders, younger American Jews are overrepresented on the ends of the religious affiliation spectrum: a higher share are secular, and a higher share are Orthodox.

Ari Hart, 39, an Orthodox rabbi in Skokie, Ill., has accepted the fact that his Zionism makes him unwelcome in some activist spaces where he would otherwise be comfortable. College students in his congregation are awakening to that same tension, he said. “You go to a college campus and want to get involved in antiracism or social justice work, but if you support the state of Israel, you’re the problem,” he said.

Rabbi Hart sees increasing skepticism in liberal Jewish circles over Israel’s right to exist. “This is a generation who are very moved and inspired by social justice causes and want to be on the right side of justice,” Rabbi Hart said. “But they’re falling into overly simplistic narratives, and narratives driven by true enemies of the Jewish people.”

Overall, younger American Jews are less attached to Israel than older generations: About half of Jewish adults under 30 describe themselves as emotionally connected to Israel, compared with about two-thirds of Jews over age 64, according to a major survey published last week by the Pew Research Center.

And though the U.S. Jewish population is 92 percent white, with all other races combined accounting for 8 percent, among Jews ages 18 to 29 that rises to 15 percent.

In Los Angeles, Rachel Sumekh, 29, a first-generation Iranian-American Jew, sees complicated layers in the story of her own Persian family. Her mother escaped Iran on the back of a camel, traveling by night until she got to Pakistan where she was taken in as a refugee. She then found asylum in Israel. She believes Israel has a right to self-determination, but she also found it “horrifying” to hear an Israeli ambassador suggest other Arab countries should take in Palestinians.

“That is what happened to my people and created this intergenerational trauma of losing our homeland because of hatred,” she said.

The entire situation feels too volatile and dangerous for many people to even want to discuss, especially publicly.

Violence against Jews is increasingly close to home. Last year the third-highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States were recorded since the Anti-Defamation League began cataloging them in 1979, according to a report released by the civil rights group last month. The A.D.L. recorded more than 1,200 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment in 2020, a 10 percent increase from the previous year. In Los Angeles, the police are investigating a sprawling attack on sidewalk diners at a sushi restaurant on Tuesday as an anti-Semitic hate crime.

Outside Cleveland, Jennifer Kaplan, 39, who grew up in a modern Orthodox family and who considers herself a centrist Democrat and a Zionist, remembered studying abroad at Hebrew University in 2002, and being in the cafeteria minutes before it was bombed. Now she wondered how the Trump era had affected her inclination to see the humanity in others, and she wished her young children were a bit older so she could talk with them about what is happening.

“I want them to understand that this is a really complicated situation, and they should question things,” she said. “I want them to understand that this isn’t just a, I don’t know, I guess, utopia of Jewish religion.”

Esther Katz, the performing arts director at the Jewish Community Center in Omaha, has spent significant time in Israel. She also attended Black Lives Matter protests in Omaha last summer and has signs supporting the movement in the windows of her home.

She has watched with a sense of betrayal as some of her allies in that movement have posted online about their apparently unequivocal support for the Palestinians, and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. “I’ve had some really tough conversations,” said Ms. Katz, a Conservative Jew. “They’re not seeing the facts, they’re just reading the propaganda.”

Her three children, who range in age from 7 to 13, are now wary of a country that is for Ms. Katz one of the most important places in the world. “They’re like, ‘I don’t understand why anyone would want to live in Israel, or even visit,’” she said. “That breaks my heart.”

Campbell Robertson, Liam Stack and Livia Albeck-Ripka contributed reporting.

Author: Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

Transgender students in Texas would be barred from school sports

Shawn Mulcahy
This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed

Deshaun Watson's lawyer granted hearing over accuser's identity

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — In the wake of two accusers going public, Deshaun Watson’s attorney has filed on Thursday an emergency motion, seeking to identify one woman among the 22 civil lawsuits against the Houston Texans quarterback.In a statement, Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin said the anonymity of those accusing Watson is being used “as a sword” against Watson, who on Wednesday began seeing a flurry of his endorsement deals fall, including those with Nike, Beats by Dre, and Reliant[1].

“We have said this before and we want to say it again: Deshaun did not force, coerce or intimidate anyone to do anything against their will,” Hardin’s statement read. “When we asked (Houston lawyer Tony) Buzbee to identify his clients weeks ago, he refused and told us to file a motion. Today we filed that motion.”A hearing is now scheduled in Harris County 113th Civil District Court on Friday at 11 a.m.

The motion filed Thursday pertains to lawsuit 2021-15937, which was filed March 18. Because these lawsuits were filed individually, Hardin would need to file a motion for each of the lawsuits filed.

Hardin continued, “As discussed in our filing, Mr. Buzbee’s use of anonymous lawsuits violates Texas law and the basic concept of fairness. It is clear that, for Mr. Buzbee, this case has never been about seeking justice in a courtroom, but destroying Deshaun’s reputation to enhance his own public profile and enrich himself. While I understand that anonymity often is used as a shield for victims, Mr. Buzbee is using it as a sword.”

Hardin then accuses Buzbee of using the allegations to “destroy” the 25-year-old.

Earlier this week, two of Watson’s accusers – Ashley Solis and Lori Baxley – went public to retell what they called a traumatic experience with the football player.

SEE MORE: Alleged victim of Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson speaks publicly for 1st time[2]

The two women, along with 20 others, have retained Buzbee to file those civil claims on their behalf. Eyewitness News is reaching out to Buzbee’s firm for response to Thursday’s filling.Since the first lawsuits were filed in mid-March, Watson has denied ever committing wrongdoing[3] against anyone, which was something Hardin repeated on Thursday.

Hardin has also collected testimonials from 18 different massage therapists who said their experiences with the Texans player aren’t consistent with what’s being alleged.

Last week, the Houston Police Department confirmed at least one report involving Watson has been filed, but it didn’t elaborate on details. Buzbee has promised evidence is making its way to police.

Click through this immersive experience to read about each of the 22 lawsuits. For a better experience on the app, click here to see the experience on its own page[4].

In terms of his standing with the Texans and the NFL, the league has launched an investigation into whether Watson violated its Personal Conduct Policy. Texans general manager Nick Caserio[5] said the team is “certainly cognizant and aware” of Watson’s situation, adding the allegations are “certainly troubling” and something the team takes “very seriously.”
Watson, who requested a trade from the Texans back in January[6], has reportedly earned a little over $ 40 million in salary and bonuses during his four seasons in the NFL. He’s due to make $ 10.5 million this coming season, and then, $ 35 million in 2021, the first year of a four-year, $ 177 million contract extension[7].SEE ALSO: Could allegations be ‘career killer’ for Deshaun Watson?[8]

ESPN contributed to this story.

Follow Roxie Bustamante on Facebook[9], Twitter[10] and Instagram[11].

Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.

Roxie Bustamante

Elliot Page gives 1st interview since sharing transgender identity

Page explained to Time Magazine that he felt a responsibility to share his truth as people spread ‘myths and damaging rhetoric’ about transgender people.

WASHINGTON — In his first interview since announcing he is transgender, Oscar-nominated actor Elliot Page is opening up about the past few months, his career, and his continued push for transgender rights.
In Dec. 2020, Page shared that he is transgender. In his first interview since then, the “Umbrella Academy” star told Time Magazine the reaction was about what he expected overall, but he didn’t anticipate just how big of a news story it would become.  
“What I was anticipating was a lot of support and love and a massive amount of hatred and transphobia,” Page told Time. “That’s essentially what happened.”
Since December, Page has remained mostly quiet on social media but has been advocating for the ACLU and other groups fighting anti-trans legislation around the country. 
Last week, Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing on girls, or women’s sports teams. Mississippi was the first state this year to enact such a ban, with more than 20 states considering similar bills.    
“With deep respect for those who came before me, gratitude for those who have supported me & great concern for the generation of trans youth we must all protect, please join me and decry anti-trans legislation, hate & discrimination in all its forms,” Page tweeted on Tuesday. 
He told Time coming out as trans was, on one level just for him, so he could live and be who he truly is, but Page explained he also felt a responsibility to share his truth.  
“Extremely influential people are spreading these myths and damaging rhetoric—every day you’re seeing our existence debated,” Page said to Time. “Transgender people are so very real.”
“My privilege has allowed me to have resources to get through and to be where I am today and of course I want to use that privilege and platform to help in the ways I can,” Page told Time.
As for his career, Page is now filming the third season of The Umbrella Academy. “It’s going to be an adjustment,” Page told Time, as people accidentally use the wrong pronouns. However, Page told TIME coworkers also see an acknowledge him.
According to the Hill, Page is the first openly transgender man to appear on Time’s cover. 
RELATED: Elliot Page, ‘Juno’ and ‘Umbrella Academy’ star, shares transgender identity