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.
Booker T. Washington was born on this day in 1856. In 1896, Washington published The Awakening of the Negro in The Atlantic.
📰 The week in brief
The Trump administration gutted Obama-era automobile fuel efficiency standards that were the government’s single most forceful initiative against climate change. The new standards will cut fuel efficiency improvements by 80%, increase fuel costs for drivers, and pump 1 billion more tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Barack Obama tweeted a direct rebuke.
While the world is focused on flattening the curve of a global pandemic, North Korea is firing more ballistic missiles than ever.
The state of Florida brought charges against wide receiver Antonio Brown this week following an incident earlier this year in which he and his trainer allegedly assaulted a delivery truck driver. This isn’t Brown’s first time running into legal trouble.
NASA and SpaceX are on track for a May 2020 launch of the first human spaceflight from the US in nearly a decade.
Gas prices will remain low a little longer. As the world waits for Russia and Saudi Arabia to resolve their differences and agree on oil production cuts, a meeting of OPEC+ has been delayed.
Is your recycling in vain? In a joint investigative series, NPR and the PBS series Frontline found that in the last 40 years less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. The makers of plastic have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling you otherwise.
🌈 LeVar Burton reads
Former Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton is doing what he has always done best—inspire people of all ages through storytelling.
With adults working from home and children learning from home, Burton launched a Twitter livestream show that airs three times a week:
Mondays at 12pm ET / 9am PT (for children)
Wednesdays at 6pm ET / 3pm PT (for young adults)
Fridays at 9pm ET / 6pm PT (for adults)
We’ll definitely be tuning in!
(P.S. - Levar Burton has a podcast, Levar Burton Reads. We highly recommend it.)
📈 Race and COVID-19
In a March 27 letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL), along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), lay out the case for collecting racial data during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Without demographic data on the race and ethnicity of patients being tested, the rate of positive test results, and outcomes for those with COVID-19, it will be impossible for practitioners and policy makers to address disparities in health outcomes and inequities in access to testing and treatment as they emerge. This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in vulnerable communities. It will also hamper the efforts of public health officials to track and contain the novel coronavirus in the areas that are at the highest risk of continued spread.
Within days, demographic data from states and localities began painting a dire picture of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black Americans.
In Michigan, where black people make up 12% of the population, black people account for 34% of COVID-19 cases and 40% of COVID-19 related deaths. Detroit, where nearly 80% of the population is black and nearly a third of the population lives in poverty, is a hotspot for the global pandemic.
In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, where black people make up less than a third of the population, black people account for half of all COVID-19 cases and 80% of COVID-19 related deaths.
In Illinois, black people account for 30% of all COVID-19 cases and 41% of COVID-19 deaths; black Illinoisans make up 14% of the state’s population. In Chicago, black people make up 29% of the city’s population yet 70% of COVID-19 deaths.
Without national racial data on COVID-19 testing, cases and outcomes, any response to the coronavirus pandemic is flying blind. And black people will continue to pay the price.
🗳 Biden’s buried campaign
Democrats turned out in droves in state primaries to solidify Joe Biden’s place as the presumptive Democratic nominee. However, sandwiched between an incumbent President and a global pandemic, Biden’s momentum is waning.
Without neither political power nor governing authority, Biden is holed up in his basement doing television interviews and recording videos saying what he would do—if he actually could do something. But is that enough?
The answer is no. The former Vice President finds himself being upstaged by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose daily briefings on the pandemic display a competence and empathy that are so lacking in the President’s daily appearances.
Before the coronavirus really became the all encompassing epidemic that it is now, Joe Biden was doing one campaign event per day and giving very short speeches. If the Biden campaign was waiting for the Democratic National Convention to galvanize Democrats, then there is more bad news: this week the DNC announced the convention has been pushed back to mid August.
The last we heard, Biden was moving forward in selecting a Vice Presidential nominee. But if he doesn’t figure out a way to stay relevant soon, that may not even matter.
🇭🇹 The Haitian mobilization
Apparel products make up 90% of Haiti’s exports. When Haiti shut down its economy to prevent the spread of coronavirus, some 50,000 textile workers were unable to work.
The Miami Herald reports on how apparel manufacturers responded.
Superior Group of Companies, a publicly traded conglomerate, manufactures most of its medical garment products in Haiti. The company struck a deal with the Haitian government to reopen its factories on the condition that a percentage of the scrubs it produces will remain in Haiti.
As part of the same agreement, Group Apaid, a family-owned company that operates several garment factories, has repurposed 4 of its plants to produce protective face masks for the Haitian government. The company took inspiration from a Los Angeles-based t-shirt manufacturer that quickly converted to produce cotton face masks for first responders and medical personnel.
Perhaps the most novel approach is that taken by Magalie Noel Dresse, owner of Caribbean Craft. Instead of reopening her factory, Dresse is working with local partners to organize “a grassroots sewing army” to produce protective face masks:
We are building partnerships and also sourcing every single person at home, who has a machine and needs to work. It’s one thing to say stay home, but it’s another thing when you cannot find anything to eat. This is what we are addressing: How to stay home, earn a living and include every single workshop in the country who can help people protect themselves and do something to put food on the table.
You can support the Koud Konbit (“sewing together”) campaign here.
🚨 Waffle House Index Red
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year, Waffle House is many things to many people.
To church-goer and club-goer alike, it is a reliable source of sustenance.
To college students, it is a place where you can after-party; 24 hours later, you return to cram for a midterm exam.
To the road weary cross-country traveler it is a waypoint, a beacon of comfort and relative safety; why book a hotel when you can get a hot meal and catch a few hours of sleep in a Waffle House parking lot?
To those in the dating game, it is a judge of character; if someone you’re dating is above eating at Waffle House, you know what you have to do.
To FEMA, Waffle House is an informal gauge of the impact a disaster has had on a local area.
The so-called Waffle House Index is quite simple:
Green — Waffle House is open for business
Yellow — Waffle House is serving a limited menu
Red — Waffle House is closed
Waffle House is known for its extensive disaster planning:
They stock the stores with extra food and supplies. They enact the necessary protocols to set up the temporary warehouse system so that it can store food and protect the supply chain, and they work with in-state vendors to develop a plan that extends through the expected recovery period. They plan for a pared-down menu, if necessary, and acquire the inventory needed to continue operations for the duration of the emergency. Emergency generators are installed outside of restaurants if power outages are a possibility.
To date, Waffle House has closed 22% of its 1,992 locations, the most widespread series of closures in the company’s history—and the first ever for a non-weather event. Ominously, lack of foot traffic is doing more damage than a hurricane.
There’s no doubt Waffle House is a special place. (To understand why, check out this dope podcast episode from the Bitter Southerner.) Here’s to the day when we can all sit down at Waffle House—where the hashbrowns are scattered, smothered, and covered.
🎤 Dave Chappelle has something else on Netflix
Dave Chappelle received the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor last fall at the Kennedy Center. Dave joined comedic geniuses Richard Pryor, Whoopi Goldberg, Eddie Murphy and others in accepting this honor. Netflix is currently streaming Dave’s tribute, which includes behind the scenes footage from the ceremony and a stand-up set performed the night before.
🎶 Remembering Bill Withers
The music of Bill Withers has been used by the likes of John Legend, The Roots, Talib Kweli, and Kanye West as building blocks for more top 40 hits that we can name. The Soul Man, adept at “spinning a good yarn” grew up in a small coal mining town in West Virginia. Withers started his career “late” because he came to the music industry after first serving in the navy as an aircraft mechanic, and then later as a worker in an aircraft parts factory.
Withers taught himself to play the guitar and used his break time at the factory to play music and write songs. He similarly taught himself to play the piano without taking formal lessons. Bill was discovered by Clarence Avant, a black executive with his own indie record label when he was in his early thirties.
The musical son of Slab Fork, West Virginia, wrote about the beautiful complexities of black life in songs like Harlem, Ain’t No Sunshine, and Grandma’s Hands—all written in 1971 on his debut album, Just As I Am. Withers is best known for the forever famous, constantly covered Lean on Me, which earned him a Grammy in 1972. The matter-of-fact storyteller blended soul, spiritual, folk, and funk to build a signature sound that was unlike anything or anyone, before or after him.
Withers walked away from his lucrative career after eight short years of writing and recording his soulful tunes. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. Still Bill, a documentary chronicling the artist’s life and career, was released in 2009.
We know music has the all encompassing power of giving hope and healing. Our era was blessed with Bill Withers’ musical legacy; may we continue to use his music to get us through these trying times as we wait for our next Lovely Day.
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