Issue #9

Oil, Electricity, Joe Biden, Babyface v. Teddy Riley

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.

This week the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Here’s how the global pandemic is affecting climate change.

📰 The week in brief

  • Over 4.4 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the five-week total to about 26 million. According to the AP, that's more than the population of the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.

  • The President signed a $484 billion supplement to the CARES Act which includes $321 billion in funds for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The New York Times reports how big banks prioritized or offered unfair advantages to wealthy clients to secure PPP loans. This time, about $60 billion will be set aside for rural and minority-owned businesses. The SBA warned publicly traded companies that they probably won’t qualify for the new funds.

  • Banks and private debt collectors are seizing Americans' $1,200 stimulus payments. The Treasury Department is reviewing whether it has the authority to prevent this from happening.

  • Plant shutdowns caused by coronavirus are moving the US closer to meat shortages.

  • The President signed an executive order suspending immigration for 60 days. Temporary workers with nonimmigrant visa are still permitted to enter.

  • In Ramos v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court overturned itself (Apodaca v. Oregan) and ruled that the Constitution requires an unanimous jury verdict to convict anyone accused of a serious crime. According to Slate, "the justices used Ramos to shadowbox over long-running debates, including abortion.”

🎶 Smile 🎵

📉 Oil tanks

20 companies account for 35% of global emissions since 1965. This list of companies reads like a Who’s Who of global mega corporations.

Topping that list is Saudi Aramco, the most profitable company in the world. After issuing the largest IPO in history in December 2019, Saudi Aramco was briefly valued at $2 trillion—which, at the time, was the equivalent of two Amazons. (Fun fact: Saudi Aramco is a state-owned enterprise, which means some of those profits are ploughed into Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which in turn invests in companies like Uber, Lyft and WeWork.)

Like the other 19 companies on the emissions hall of shame list, Saudi Aramco is in the fossil fuel business, specifically oil. (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP also make the list; those four companies alone account for 10% of all global emissions.)

Oil has been the world’s principal fuel for the better part of the last century. Advances in military technology during World War I, along with the mass production of the automobile, gave rise to oil as a fuel. From the very beginning, oil companies had what was purportedly a symbiotic relationship with national governments: in exchange for public subsidies and favorable treatment in domestic and foreign policy, oil companies kept a steady supply of cheap energy flowing.

That bargain, however, was unsustainable. In every sense of the word. Indeed, scientists had been predicting fossil fuel emissions would trap more heat within the earth’s atmosphere as early as the 1880s. To counter this growing body of evidence, fossil fuel companies waged a multi-year, multi-billion dollar disinformation campaign that continues to shape American politics today. It is no accident that the American Republican Party is the only conservative party in the world that denies the reality of climate change.

And it is no accident that, in the midst of a pandemic-induced economic crisis, Republicans are crafting a bailout for oil companies while proposing bankruptcy for states.

But the fact of the matter is that domestic oil producers were in financial trouble even before global oil markets collapsed. US drillers use an expensive and especially toxic form of oil extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. With $200 billion in debt coming due over the next five years, US drillers needed oil prices to be relatively high and stable. That was an unlikely scenario before the crisis, and most certainly will not be the case for the next few years.

With oil markets tanking and the need for fiscal stimulus growing more intense by the day, the US faces a clear choice: spend billions of public money to prop up the dirty and non-viable industries of the past, or invest in a clean energy future.

The choices we make over the coming weeks and months will determine the direction of the country—and the world—for the next 100 years.

⚡️ Egregious electricity

The numbers paint a grim picture of the US energy system:

These numbers are only heightened by the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant economic fallout. While terminations and furloughs make household energy costs unbearable, previous exposure to air pollution dramatically increases the risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.

A motley web of states, localities, regulators and utilities have suspended energy shut-offs. Still, many households are falling through the cracks.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, a city council meeting in Lake Worth Beach, Florida was thrown into chaos over electricity shut-offs. District 2 Commissioner Omari Hardy publicly lambasted the city manager for shutting off the electricity of approximately 50 customers just prior to announcing the moratorium on doing so. (Sounds shady, doesn’t it?) 

Both the mayor and the city manager of the Palm Beach County town had ignored the councilman's request to meet in early March to discuss an action plan regarding shut offs. Hardy was upset with the mayor for allowing the city manager to proceed with suspending services; tensions boiled at the council meeting in which Commissioner Hardy’s argument with the mayor went viral. 

COVID-19 lays bare the structural weaknesses and inherent injustices of America’s energy system.

It’s high time we fix it.

🌎 Joe Biden to the rescue?

The 2020 general election is the most important election of our lifetime. Joe Biden has emerged from a crowded field to be the Democrat Party’s standard bearer in the quest to defeat Donald John Trump.

As we bring to a close this duo of Earth Day themed issues of The Dossier, the question remains: what will Joe Biden do?

We can answer that question with two metaphors and science.

Thermometer vs thermostat

In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, written this month 57 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr., 34, wrote about the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat:

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Admonishing his fellow members of the clergy, King continued:

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

Joe Biden, the quintessential moderate Democrat, exemplifies a brand of political leadership that is more reminiscent of a thermometer than a thermostat. This moderation is the driving force behind Joe Biden’s climate policy—an incrementalist approach to an existential threat.

Chick-Fil-A vs Popeyes

For the yardstick by which we can measure Joe Biden’s climate plan, we turn to none other than the agenda pacesetters for the 2020 Democratic primary, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The best way to compare Biden’s climate plan with that of Sanders and Warren is to recall the chicken sandwich wars of 2019.

If climate plans were chicken sandwiches, Joe Biden is Chick-Fil-A, while Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are Popeyes. 

In the words of one chicken sandwich reviewer, “they’re not even playing the same game” (see thermometer vs thermostat above).

The furthest yet, but not far enough

To be sure, Joe Biden will have the most ambitious climate plan of any Democratic candidate nominated for the presidency to date. And he has welcomed ideas to strengthen his climate agenda. 

Still, Biden’s goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 is based on assumptions that are currently out of date; as global emissions continue to rise unabated year after year, emissions reductions need to happen on a much more aggressive timeline. Otherwise, the world will continue to warm in ways that make human life unbearable and, in some places, impossible. (Notably, Africa will be the hardest hit.)

All said, America—and the world—needs Joe Biden to be more of a thermostat than a thermometer.

In every way.

🎧 Who really won?

It finally happened.

Babyface vs. Teddy Riley was the most anticipated musical event in quarantine history.

Although there were some minor glitches, we were able to watch 18 of 20 rounds of two top R&B producers spinning their hits from the 90s.

If the first attempt on April 18 exposed Teddy Riley’s lack of familiarity with Instagram, the Verzuz rematch revealed the limits of Instagram itself.

According to Swizz Beatz, over 3 million fans overwhelmed Instagram’s 500,000 viewer limit for the Verzuz battle, eventually crashing the livestream.

Simply put, Instagram couldn’t contain The Culture.

While the verdict is out on who won the epic musical match up, Babyface and Teddy Riley saw their songs double in streams the following day.

But there was one clear winner, hands down. And it’s the same winner for every Verzuz battle to date:


Roland Martin explains why.

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