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How Airbnb failed its own anti-discrimination team

Morning Brew (06/15/2021)
  • In 2015, Airbnb launched its Smart Pricing algorithm that analyzes seasonality and market popularity to automatically set nightly rates that attract and maximize bookings.
  • While partially devised to close the earnings gap between Black and White hosts, the tool made the gap 20% larger because Black hosts are 41% less likely to use it.
  • Airbnb’s anti-discrimination team receives minimal internal support (less than 0.1% of marketing budget) to rectify the issue.
  • Without more support, the disparities will persist.

Farewell, Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy

The New York Times (NYT) (06/08/2021)
  • After years of venture capital-subsidized losses to gain mass adoption, millennial-targeted services (eg Uber, Airbnb, food-delivery) seeking profitability are sharply increasing prices.
  • From 2012 until pre-pandemic 2020, these platforms were collectively losing billions; at one point Uber was losing $1M per week in San Francisco alone from offering discounts.
  • The average Uber ride and Airbnb rental are currently 35-40% higher than 1 year ago.
  • The “Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy” will continue fading as more companies go public and face shareholder scrutiny to generate profits.

Despite Ample Shots and Incentives, Vaccine Rates Lag Far Behind in the South

The New York Times (NYT) (06/09/2021)
  • As public restrictions lift nationwide, experts worry that Southern states (eg Alabama, Mississippi) with low vaccination rates could spark a virus resurgence.
  • Less than half of all adults in many Southern states have started vaccination.
  • 13 states (mostly Northeast) have reached Biden’s 70% vaccination goal.
  • The South’s low vaccination rates are attributed to strong resistance among Republicans and Black communities as well as scheduling constraints.
  • Despite mobile vaccination campaigns and incentives (eg sporting event tickets), vaccination efforts across the South face an uphill battle.

Hundreds of PPP Loans Went to Fake Farms in Absurd Places

ProPublica (05/18/2021)
  • The US Small Business Administration relied heavily on Atlanta-based Kabbage, an online lending platform, to help distribute PPP loans to businesses struggling during Covid.
  • Reliant on automated loan screening and underwriting, Kabbage processed 300,000 PPP loans, 2nd only to Bank of America.
  • However, fraudsters created fake businesses such as non-existent farms (eg “Beefy King”) to apply for PPP loans.
  • To avoid detection, criminals used stolen social security numbers to create seemingly-legitimate credit profiles.
  • The SBA paid Kabbage 5% of each loan processed under $350K.

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

ProPublica (06/08/2021)
  • ProPublica’s analysis of the 25 wealthiest Americans (secretly obtained) tax returns uncovered an average true tax rate (income taxes paid relative to net worth) of only 3.4% since 2014.
  • The wealthiest Americans avoid the top US income tax rate (37%) by minimizing their income.
  • Instead of taking large salaries or selling shares, the wealthiest borrow money using their massive shareholdings as collateral; interest payments on the loans are much lower than taxes.
  • Article also details the history of asset-appreciation being excluded from income taxes.

Disputing Racism’s Reach, Republicans Rattle American Schools

The New York Times (NYT) (06/01/2021)
  • Across the US, Republican-led state legislatures are passing bills banning public schools from teaching about systemic racism.
  • The bills specifically target “critical race theory”, a graduate-school framework examining the modern inequalities deriving from Jim Crow segregation and slavery.
  • In Ohio, Republicans introduced a bill banning curriculum teaching that any individual is “inherently racist” or “bears responsibility” for past racism.
  • In North Carolina, legislators passed a bill limiting teaching that America was “created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress”.

How US cities are preparing for a potentially bloody summer of gun violence

CNN (06/10/2021)
  • With states lifting Covid restrictions, police units are preparing for a surge in summer shootings.
  • Last year, major US cities reported a 33% increase in homicides; Q1 2021 homicides were 24% higher.
  • Proactive policing efforts include increasing patrols across high-crime neighborhoods, deploying more rookie officers and expanding overtime officers.
  • The spike in shootings is attributed to many factors including economic hardships, post George Floyd de-policing efforts and the massive increase in gun purchases.
  • Monthly gun purchase background checks have increased 77% since 2019.

China’s Secret War for U.S. Data Blew American Spies’ Cover

Foreign Policy (12/21/2020)
  • In 2010, China’s leadership was infuriated after discovering the CIA was leveraging its systemically corrupt pay-for-promotion government bureaucracy to secure spies among the top ranks.
  • In China, many government officials pay their superiors “promotion fees” to get promoted.
  • The CIA leveraged this corruption by paying top Chinese government assets up to $1M/yr to rise and spy.
  • To counter-attack (2010-2012), Chinese intelligence exploited a flaw in the CIA’s online system to jail/execute dozens of corrupt Chinese officials and track undercover CIA staff worldwide.

ICE Meant to Capture Drug Lords. Did It Snare Duped Seniors?

The New York Times (NYT) (06/07/2021)
  • In 2013, ICE launched ‘Operation Cocoon’ to disrupt international drug trafficking.
  • However, many elderly Americans have been convicted during the operation via romance and business scams whereby they’re convinced to travel to foreign countries to receive and unknowingly carry drug-lined suitcases.
  • The operation has resulted in 180 Americans being arrested at airports; 70% were older than 60.
  • Seeking a promised $10M windfall, in 2019 78-year old Virginia native Victor Stemberger (pictured) was tricked into carrying a drug-lined suitcase from Brazil to Spain (currently serving 7-year prison sentence in Spain).