Issue #13

Cookout chunes, You ain’t black, Michigan floods, Da 5 Bloods

This is The Dossier.

Each Sunday we deliver the latest developments in world affairs, political economy, and culture straight to your inbox, served with a generous side of soul.

We spend the week scouring the internets for essential information and meaningful content to keep you informed, inspired and mildly entertained.

Nine years ago—on May 25, 2011—The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its last episode. We all know that was anything but the last chapter of Oprah’s story. Check out Chicago Public Radio’s hit podcast trilogy Making Oprah to learn the backstory of Oprah’s rise to media moguldom. 

FYI: Jenn White, creator of Making Oprah, begins hosting the NPR-syndicated show 1A in July.


📰 Week in brief

  • 2.4 million more people filed for unemployment for the week ending May 16, bringing the total number of unemployment claims to 38 million over the last nine weeks.

  • Despite growing tensions with the US and internal economic fallout from the coronavirus, China signaled it will maintain the China-US trade agreement signed in January. 

  • Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will be released to home confinement as the Justice Department stems the spread of COVID-19 in federal prisons. Kilpatrick is currently serving a 28-year sentence on corruption charges.

  • The FBI opened an investigation into the murder of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police. Prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges against Kenneth Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend. 

  • Hertz joined a growing list of major companies filing for bankruptcy.


🇯🇲 Cookout chunes 🎶

We’ve admittedly been a bit obsessed with VERZUZ, but we think the latest match up between Beenie Man and Bounty Killer should be the playlist for your Memorial Day quarantine cookout.


🦠 COVID-19

  • As of Sunday May 24, the United States has 1.56 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 94,011 deaths. That’s 30% of all confirmed cases globally and 28% of confirmed deaths. (source: World Health Organization)

  • As communities across America continue to loosen restrictions, The New York Times is tracking reopening plans across the 50 states.

  • Days after re-opening some schools, France closes seven schools yet again after a localized flare-up in cases.

  • Moderna executives cashed in after the company’s stock jumped 30% on reports of its progress toward a vaccine, leading some to call for an investigation. The stock fell after analysts suggested Moderna didn’t release enough information to make informed assessment of its self-reported success. 

  • Former Presidents and their families issued public tributes to honor Wilson Roosevelt Jerman, a former White House butler who served in the executive mansion for a half-century. Jerman, 91, died of COVID-19 on May 16.

Map of global COVID-19 cases

source: World Health Organization


🌍 Triple threat

Global pandemic? Check.

Economic crisis? Check

Extreme weather caused by climate change? Check.

In January of this year Michigan inspectors assessed the 96-year old Edenville Dam as unsafe. When the privately-owned dam failed this week after record rainfall, mid-Michigan communities found themselves contending with a trio of crises: a public health crisis, an economic crisis and the climate crisis. Although no deaths or injuries have been reported, more than 11,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes. While some communities are underwater, others are left without running water. As emergency shelters take pandemic-era precautions, it is unclear whether or not floodwaters will accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

This is unlike anything we’ve seen before. I feel like I’ve said that a lot over the last number of weeks. But this truly is a historic event that is playing out in the midst of another historic event.
- Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmore

Prior to the floods, Boyce Hydro, the company that owns the Edenville Dam, was in a long-running dispute with local governments over who should pay for upgrading the aging dam. The company is now facing several class-action lawsuits.

Michigan, however, is not the only place reeling from extreme weather events amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

This week, Cyclone Amphan killed more than a hundred people, displaced millions of people and created billions of dollars of damage in India and Bangladesh.

In eastern Europe, a 100-year drought is compounding the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

And before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, several countries across Africa were already experiencing food shortages from climate change-induced droughts and floods.


👀 “You ain’t Black”

(If you haven’t watched the full 18-minute video, please do so now. It is worth every minute.)

Joe Biden seems to have always embraced his propensity for political gaffe.

The putative Democratic nominee has also long considered himself a friend of what he calls “the African American community.”

This week, we all learned that Joe is the type of white friend that gets too comfortable—so comfortable, in fact, that they start using the n-word. 

While Biden didn’t actually say the n-word, what he did on The Breakfast Club was no less disrespectful.

Here’s what happened.

In an interview with Charlamagne tha God, the former Vice President bristled at a battery of questions about his vote for the 1994 crime bill and what he intends to do for Black Americans as president.

At some point, Charlamagne posed a question:

Sean Combs—also known as Diddy—said what I believe a lot of black voters, including myself, feel and that is that Democrats take black voters for granted. Votes are quid pro quo. It is not like I don’t want to vote; I just want to know what candidates will do for us in exchange for our vote, [which is] the same way progressives, young Latinos, or LGBT activists ask political candidates. We want the same thing. Do you feel like black people are owed that from the democratic party?

After parrying with Charlamagne for another 12 minutes, Biden wrapped up the interview with quite the closing volley:

You have more questions, but I’ll tell you what: if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.

Joe Biden’s interview with Charlemagne is Exhibit A for what is wrong with the predominant racial mentality of the Democratic Party. 

In summary, the interview went as follows:

Charlamagne: What are you going to do for Black people?

Biden: Look at my record!

Charlamagne: I find your record lacking.

Biden: Then you ain’t Black!

The Dossier has previously outlined how Democrats lose when they take Black voters for granted. Instead of consistently earning the support of Black voters, some candidates appear to be offended when specifically asked how they will address the priorities of Black voters. This evinces a not-so-subtle contempt for Black Americans and a thinly veiled disregard for their concerns. Ibram X. Kendi puts it this way:

White swing voters are largely treated like political free agents who must be persuaded to vote for candidates they like. People of color and young people are treated like political cattle who must be whipped into shape to turn out for candidates they often don’t like. 

Joe Biden seems to be dead set on a “better of two evils” strategy for mobilizing Black voters.

We know how that story ends: Black turnout isn’t high enough to push Democrats over the edge in swing states, and we wake up Wednesday morning in a daze, wondering what happened.


🗳 Veepstakes: Leading Ladies, Act II 

Joe Biden has yet to name the woman who may be helping him run the West Wing. While no one knows exactly which way the former Vice President is truly leaning (outside of his braintrust) there is a strong possibility that history will be made on two levels.  Historically, there has never been this many black women candidates being considered and black activists are counseling Biden against picking someone who won’t excite black Dems. Last week, we profiled the women most likely to be placed on the ticket, but these next five ladies could also easily become Biden’s winning woman.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: The Southern Reformer 

Mayor Keisha (daughter of R&B singer Major Lance) has come to national prominence due to her stance opposite Governor Kemp on reopening Georgia’s economy in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic. In Atlanta, Mayor Bottoms has successfully eliminated cash bail citywide and closed the city’s detention center for ICE detainees.

Pros: Having her on the ticket could help Biden appeal to a younger audience and win Georgia--a state that typically goes to Republicans. KLB could help Biden atone for his vote on the contentious 1994 crime bill while solidifying his campaign’s stance on criminal justice reform. Mayor Bottoms has been advising Biden’s campaign on the issues of systemic discrimination, recidivism, and prison programming.  

Cons: The lawyer turned politician has a resume that is  light on foreign policy experience and the GOP may dredge up issues she had with campaign contributions in her mayoral election. The issue got resolved, but it may be blown up and used as a distraction. 

Representative Val Demmings: The Good Cop 

The first female police chief in Orlando’s history, Val Demmings, is now a Congresswoman representing Florida’s 10th District. Serving as one of the House managers that made the chamber's case against President Trump in his impeachment trial gave Demmings a temporary spot in the limelight. 

Pros: She could lend extensive experience to Biden concerning criminal justice reform as well as community and police relations, and deliver Florida for the Democrats; she also recently went on record publicly criticizing Mike Pence. 

Cons: Outside of Washington and Florida, Demmings isn’t very well known. While her presence on the ticket could be persuasive with black voters, Demmings is less likely to appeal to young Democrats and swing voters. 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth: The All-American 

L. Tammy Duckworth, the first Thai-American woman elected to Congress and the first woman with a disability to be elected to Congress serves as a U.S. Senator for Illinois. Following in the footsteps of her father, who served in World War II, Duckworth joined the U.S. Army and got deployed to Iraq in 2004. Duckworth lost both of her legs when her helicopter was shot down. She is an advocate for veteran support and backs what she calls “common-sense” gun legislation. 

Pros:  Retired Lieutenant Colonel Duckworth’s valiant military service and her stance on issues of the military could make her more appealing to more conservative Democrats and even some Republicans. 

Cons: Senator Duckworth hasn’t served a full term in Congress. She has also faced criticism for her tenure at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto: The Protege 

Catherine Cortez Masto served as Nevada Attorney General from 2007 to 2015 before becoming both the first Latina and the first woman elected to represent Nevada in the Senate in 2017. Cortez Masto is known for being an advocate for women and children; she is a cosponsor of the Healthy Maternal and Obstetric Medicine (MOM) Act which ensures that mothers and babies have healthcare both before and after birth; she is also a cosponsor of the DREAM Act.  

Pros: Her presences on the ticket could mobilize Latino voters and deliver Nevada to the Democrats. The lawyer turned politician has been groomed and endorsed by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which means she likely knows the ways of Washington more than her Congressional experience might suggest. 

Cons: With very little name recognition, Cortez Masto is a bit of a dark horse in the Veepstakes. She has not gotten the media attention that many of the other Veepstakes candidates have; and some are even wondering if she actually wants the job. 

Susan Rice: The Foreign Policy Phenom

Washington, DC native Susan Rice, served in the Obama administration as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2009-2013) and as National Security Advisor (2013-2017). Rice also served at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.  During her tenure at the United Nations, Rice championed a human rights and anti-poverty agenda, elevated climate change and women's rights as global priorities.

Pros: Having served in national security and diplomatic roles in two Presidential administrations, she would be a foreign policy advisor like none else. This week, in an effort to discredit her, the Trump administration declassified an email that Rice sent to herself this week during the Obama administration that referenced then-President Barack Obama’s demand that the misconduct of Trump’s incoming National Security Advisor (Michael Flynn) be handled above reproach. There is no evidence that this hurt Rice’s chances—it actually may have helped her. 

Cons: The sting of the Benghazi incident (i.e. the 2012 attack on the U.S Consulate in Libya that killed two American officials) caused her to be a lightning rod for Republican attacks, effectively taking her out of the running for Secretary of State in 2012. Biden may not have much interest in revisiting the issue.


🎥 Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods chronicles four black veterans who return to Vietnam more than 40 years after the war in search of buried gold and the body of their former squad leader (played by Chadwick Boseman). The film offers cinemagraphic commentary on a range of themes, including black politics, the experience of black servicemembers in the military, and American individualism.

In honor of Memorial Day, and ahead of the film’s June 12 release, we’re reading the following articles:

Spike Lee and the Battlefield of American History (New York Times)

‘America told us to get over it’: black Vietnam veterans hail Spike Lee film that finally tells their story (The Guardian)

Black and White in Vietnam (New York Times)