Issue #8

Air, Water, Food, Michael Jordan

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.

On Wednesday April 22, the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. With the pandemic-induced slowdown of economies across the world, this will be an Earth Day unlike any other. 

While society-wide lockdowns have temporarily curbed greenhouse gas emissions, countries around the world struggle to enact society-wide plans for permanent emissions reductions.

In the global fight for a sustainable future, the United States has distinguished itself as a laggard—and, all too often, an outright antagonist.

📰 The week in brief

  • More than 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Economists suggest the unemployment rate has already exceeded 20%.

  • Tech giants Apple and Google are tackling COVID-19 through contact tracing but will it come at the cost of user privacy?

  • While scientists warn that safely reopening the economy requires widespread COVID-19 testing on a massive scale not yet achieved, the President this week placed the decision in the hands of state governors. This is where all 50 states stand on reopening.

  • In an interesting twist, Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly was ousted by his liberal challenger, Jill Karofsky. Republicans desperately tried to suppress the vote in progressive leaning areas. Expect to see more battles over the way we vote this November due to COVID-19.

  • Amidst a global pandemic, Trump is suspending US funding to the World Health Organization. The US contributes more than $400 million per year to WHO, nearly 10% of the organization’s $4.8 billion budget.

  • The $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money in two weeks. The program had a rough rollout, with some big banks refusing to fully participate in the program and others curtailing access to the program among their client base.

  • Saturday Night Live cast member Michael Che paid rent for all of the residents in a public housing building in New York where his grandmother once lived. He performed this grand gesture in honor of his grandmother, who died from COVID-19. 

  • This week, Ava DuVernay launched the ARRAY Alliance, which will provide funding for artists creatively telling the stories of underrepresented communities.

  • #ICYMI: The 2020 Essence Festival has been cancelled. Any tickets sold will be refunded.

🏭 Dirtier air for you

The Trump administration has pursued a deregulatory agenda since day one. Amid growing evidence that air pollution increases the likelihood of both contracting and dying from COVID-19, Trump’s deregulatory drive continues unabated.

Adding to its recent rollback of fuel efficiency standards, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week declined to tighten soot emissions standards—contravening analysis done by the agency’s own scientists. Failing to increase the soot standard will reportedly result in more than 50,000 more deaths in the US annually. (For perspective, the COVID-19 death toll in the US at the time of this writing is 39,425).

Also this week, the EPA weakened an Obama-era emissions rule for mercury and other air toxins. According to the EPA, mercury poses health and developmental risks to “women of childbearing age, unborn babies, and young children” while the other toxins governed by the rule cause cancer and “contribute to asthma, bronchitis and other chronic respiratory disease, especially in children and the elderly.”

The Trump administration—a public cabal of racial capitalism—firmly believes the adverse health effects disproportionately borne by black and brown people are well worth the profits generated for the owners of polluting industries.

💧 Water woes

Many cities like Washington, DC and Los Angeles have moratoriums on rent payments; cellular service carriers like Verizon wireless and T-mobile have made changes to their cellular service that include waiving late fees and adding network capacity. For many, not having to worry about  paying rent on time and whether or not they will have cellular service is a godsend as these things are necessities. Even with these gestures by some, there are some utility companies in the midst of our current global health crisis that are acting in ways that are unthinkable.

Political leaders, health care workers, and the CDC have all advised us that one of the best ways we can fortify ourselves against the virus is to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. 

Yet, in Detroit, Michigan many residents do not have access to clean water in their homes. The irony and ridiculousness of the water crisis in the Great Lakes state is far from new. As you may recall,  Flint, Michigan (located 68 miles north of Detroit) has been in its own water crisis since April 2014. According to the 2016 report from Food and Water Watch, Detroit is one of the top ten cities in America with the highest number of water shutoffs for nonpayment. COVID19 has only exacerbated these dire circumstances. 

Before mayors and governors all over the country started issuing shelter in place orders, the folks of the Motor City and elsewhere could have easily taken care of their hygiene needs in schools, offices, churches, gyms, and other public establishments. These places are no longer open; people who have been without water for months or years (yes, years!) have no other option but to do the best they can and pray that they don’t catch coronavirus while they are water insecure. Water insecurity is an issue all its own, but if the water is not clean, then that defeats the purpose entirely. 

Back in 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rollback of Former President Obama’s Clean Water Rule which is part of the larger Clean Water Act. This legislation determined exactly which rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands were protected by the federal government. The Trump administration changed the regulations that protect US waterways last year and 14 states sued the EPA saying it completely ignored the science and benefits behind protecting bodies of water in the US. Notably, the EPA Advisory Board posted a letter at the end of last year, stating the changes made by the Trump administration do not ensure the chemical, physical and biological integrity of America’s waterways.

🛒 Food fragility

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the longstanding flaws in our food system.

Farmers are destroying millions of gallons of milk and burying tons of fresh produce every day. Food producers are closing their doors indefinitely, food banks are seeing a dramatic increase in demand, and grocery store shelves sit hauntingly empty. How can these two worlds exist—where there’s too much food, and yet no food? 

There are two supply chains in our food system, consumer and commercial. With the closing of restaurants, hotels, schools and other food service providers, farmers and producers who are part of the commercial food supply chain are left with a substantially smaller market of potential buyers. Meanwhile, as households consume food almost entirely at home, grocery stores and consumer suppliers are straining to meet demand.

The answer to this conundrum seems fairly straightforward: instead of throwing food away, farmers and food producers for the commercial market should just sell directly to grocery stores and donate to food banks.

Unfortunately, the US food system isn’t designed to turn on a dime.

The switch from a commercial to a consumer market is simply cost prohibitive for individual farmers and producers; commercial packaging and distribution is a very different beast from consumer packaging and distribution. 

By now, a more capable and concerned president could have invoked the Defense Production Act to help the food industry meet the current needs of our country in this time of crisis.

While any short term relief for farmers and families is unlikely, one thing is exceedingly clear: the US has an unsustainable, heavily subsidized, monopoly-dominated, fragile food system that produces 14% of US greenhouse gas emissions.

If there ever was a time to reexamine the current arrangement, it’s now.

🎥 Exploited again

In a bold and familiarly exploitive move, Netflix released a trailer for a documentary about the life of sex trafficking survivor, Cyntoia Brown-Long—a project that she did not sanction. Brown-Long, was released from prison in 2019 after serving 15 years of a life sentence for murdering a 43-year-old man who solicited her for sex.

The sex trafficking survivor neither participated in the filming nor did she have any idea that the documentary even existed. 

While I was still incarcerated, a producer who has old footage of me made a deal with Netflix for an UNAUTHORIZED documentary, set to be released soon. My husband and I were as surprised as everyone else when we first heard the news because we did not participate in any way. However, I am currently in the process of sharing my story, in the right way, in full detail, and in a way that depicts and respects the woman I am today. While I pray that this film highlights things wrong in our justice system, I had nothing to do with this documentary.
April 15, 2020

Brown-Long claimed via Instagram that old footage of her made its way into the hands of a film producer, who struck a deal with Netflix outside of her knowledge and consent.

Who would do such a thing? 

Daniel H. Birman, that’s who.

Birman has spent approximately fifteen years following Cyntoia Brown to bring awareness to her story and the plights of other teens being sentenced to life in prison. This is actually Birman’s second documentary about Cyntoia. The first documentary, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story,followed the early years of her incarceration.

The narrative of white people taking advantage of black people while trying to “help” is nothing new.  Netflix has yet to release an official statement on the controversy.

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story is set to premiere on Netflix on April 29, 2020. 

🏀 “I wanted to be Mike”

Today, ESPN and ESPN 2 will air the first 2 episodes of the 10-part docuseries, The Last Dance. The docuseries provides an in-depth look at the Chicago Bulls’ historic 1997-1998 season. You can watch The Last Dance tonight from 9-11 pm EST on ESPN and ESPN 2.

Sports Illustrated sat down with director Jason Hehir to take a look behind the scenes. (With ESPN airing documentary weeks ahead of schedule, the production team is still working on the last episode of the 10-part series.)

I’ve seen the first eight episodes, and while some might question whether even one of the great team sports dynasties of all time merits such a lengthy treatment, if anything each episode left me wanting more. Not only were the Bulls a team for the ages, they also gave us a sports soap opera for the ages.

- Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times

As I prepare to watch The Last Dance, I do so with a personal connection my soul desperately covets. To revisit a season when my life was beginning to change before I realized what was happening. A moment when two dynasties were ending before my eyes.

- Marc Spears, The Undefeated

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