Archive

May 3rd, 2016

Can civil rights law stop racial discrimination on AirBnb?

    Everyone knows that it's illegal for a hotel such as a Marriott or a Hilton to refuse you a room because of your race. But what about someone who temporarily rents out their own apartment on Airbnb? May he refuse to rent to someone of a particular race? If two people want to rent out the same room, may the landlord prefer a person of one race over another? Moreover, what if the preference is subconscious and a landlord doesn't even realize she is discriminating? Although Airbnb currently offers more rooms than most major hotel chains, the answers to these questions are far from clear.

    Questions such as these are increasingly important in the "sharing economy" in which businesses connect people offering goods and services with other people who want to pay for them. Some businesses, such as Airbnb and VRBO, allow individuals to rent out rooms in their homes, while others like Lyft and Uber allow people to use their personal cars to transport strangers in their city. In some instances, sharing economy businesses arguably reduce discrimination. For example, some black passengers have noted that Uber is an improvement over the perennial difficulty in hailing a cab.

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Candidates' Claims of American Decline Are Hype

    As in any U.S. national election without an incumbent president, the candidates are painting a not very pretty picture: The country is "going to hell," bluntly asserts the Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

    The Democratic challenger, Sen. Bernie Sanders, isn't much kinder and even Hillary Clinton is starting to focus more on challenges than successes.

    To many voters the message is: The economy is terrible, the social fabric is disintegrating and America is losing respect around the world.

    Certainly, problems abound. The recovery from the 2008-09 recession has been uneven and is characterized by widening income inequality; wages for the average working family have stagnated for decades; racial tensions in some places have worsened, suicide rates are up, terrorism is on the rise, Russia and China are threatening and the political system is dysfunctional.

    But that is hardly the whole or even the dominant story. Politics aside, there is more good news than bad.

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A Hail Mary, full of delusion

    Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's selection of former campaign rival Carly Fiorina to be his running mate, when he has not even come close to defeating Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, is an exercise in pure delusion.

    The longshot gamble to choose a fellow loser who shares Cruz's contempt for Trump only magnifies the desperation of the stop-Trump effort, which polls suggest will suffer another and perhaps decisive defeat in Tuesday's Indiana primary.

    Fiorina had already been campaigning for Cruz and continuing her acidic criticism of Trump that had drawn media attention in earlier televised Republican debates. Trump's mockery of her appearance -- "Look at that face; would anyone vote for that?" -- only spurred her to go after him.

    As Cruz's running mate, she likely will be cast as his principal surrogate, characterizing Trump as a misogynist for his recent accusation that Hillary Clinton is "playing the woman card" to solidify her wide female support. But Carly's presence isn't likely to put much of a dent in it.

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Seeking pest control for women against trolls

    "On the Internet," according to a famous New Yorker cartoon caption, "no one knows you're a dog." No, but some internet users amazingly turn into skunks.

    That's a mild description of the mean and nasty tweets that male volunteers read to two Chicago-based female sports journalists in a four-minute video that went viral after it was produced and posted Tuesday by sports website Just Not Sports (JustNotSports.com).

    The two Chicago-based women -- Julie DiCaro, a radio host and Sports Illustrated reporter, and Sarah Spain, an espnW reporter and ESPN Radio host -- knew the vulgarity of the tweets beforehand because they had received them. The male volunteers did not.

    You can tell by their obvious surprise and discomfort as they haltingly and apologetically read the insults to women sitting right in front of them:

    "You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck and killed."

    "Hopefully, this skank Julie DiCaro is Bill Cosby's next victim."

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Young people discover politics through Bernie

    There have been a lot of unexpected twists to the 2016 primaries, including: the sudden disappearance of frontrunner Jeb Bush; the appeal of the outsider; and the astounding success of Donald Trump. But the biggest surprise of all has been the appeal of Bernie Sanders to young people.

    I first discovered it in May 2015, while visiting Cuba with The Nation magazine. Among members of our delegation were Jonathan Kalb and Julie Ann Heffernan of Brooklyn and their sons Oliver and Samuel. At dinner one evening, 19-year-old Oliver, a freshman at Oberlin, told me how totally turned-off he was by politics. Until, he quickly added: "Until I heard about Bernie Sanders."

    Oliver didn't hate politics any longer. In fact, he'd not only decided to register to vote for Bernie, he'd enlisted the help of friends to organize a Students for Bernie organization on campus. And, of course, he wasn't alone. Sanders for President operations popped up on campuses across the country and college students flocked to his campaign rallies.

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May 2nd

Wrath of the Conned

    Maybe we need a new cliche: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

    Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

    And now here we are. But why did Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the GOP establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

    Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

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Breathalyzers, 'textalyzers' and the Constitution

    New York's Legislature is considering a proposal to give police officers "textalyzers," gizmos that would enable roadside checks of drivers suspected of using mobile phones behind the wheel. Given the dangers of texting while driving, the technology may be a good idea. But is it constitutional?

    The answer requires looking at two issues. One is the constitutional status of smartphones. The Supreme Court unanimously held in 2014 that the police need a warrant to search a phone. That implies that using a textalyzer without a warrant would be unconstitutional.

    The second issue is the comparison between the textalyzer and the Breathalyzer. Under current law, states can take a driver's license away from someone who refuses to take a Breathalyzer sobriety test, which measures alcohol levels in blood circulating through the lungs. Just last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether a state can also make it a crime to refuse the breath test - and it seemed to think it could.

    So which is more intrusive: checking your phone or checking your body chemistry?

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The One Thing Worse Than Trump

    Ted Cruz continues to astound. Every time it appears he can’t get more awful, he finds a new avenue, like a ground mole sniffing out a beetle. Right now, he’s in Indiana, trying to save his presidential career by ranting about transgender people and bathrooms.

    “Even if Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he shouldn’t be using the girls’ restroom,” Cruz declaimed at a rally. It’s his new favorite line. He is constantly reminding Republican voters that Trump, when asked which bathroom transgender people should use, simply replied the one that they felt most appropriate.

    That was possibly the most rational moment of the Trump campaign, and of course he has since started fudging on it. But not enough for Cruz, who has earned the distinction of being a presidential candidate who can make Donald Trump look good. “I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” said the former House speaker, John Boehner. He also called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

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The Many Faces of Dennis Hastert

    For a lesson on the riddles of human nature, look no further than Dennis Hastert.

    Go back to early 1999, when he became the speaker of the House of Representatives. Revisit the reason he got that job. His Republican colleagues were sick of provocateurs, had been burned by scandal and wanted a reprieve — an antidote, even. Hastert fit the bill. In their view he wasn’t merely above reproach. He was too frumpy and flat-out boring to be acquainted with reproach.

    “Like an old shoe” was how one prominent Republican described him to a reporter at the time.

    In the closet with that old shoe were skeletons, but no one around him knew it or could have guessed which kind.

    And somehow Hastert wasn’t haunted by them, or at least had never been impeded by them. Despite a history of sexually abusing boys as a high school teacher and coach, the old shoe stepped into politics, a line of work that invites examination and raises the stakes of any revelation, ensuring the most public shaming imaginable.

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If Trump were a woman

    Regarding Donald Trump's insulting, diminishing assertion about Hillary Clinton that she is only succeeding by playing "the woman's card" and that if she "were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote": If Trump were a woman, he'd be lucky to do that well.

    Clinton is on the verge of becoming the first female presidential nominee and perhaps the first female president. Certainly, gender and the historic nature of her candidacy have been a boost in that quest -- maybe not as much as she might have hoped, but not the hindrance it would have been not many years ago.

    Yet to imagine the female Trump is to recognize the lingering, embedded nature of gender stereotypes, and the continuing obstacles -- the not-so-buried campaign land mines -- that face women running for office.

    To say "female Trump" is to summon the memory of Sarah Palin, the major candidate who most closely resembles Trump in their joint and stunning lack of policy knowledge. But Palin's ignorance cost her. Trump's is scarcely impeding his march to the nomination.

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