In America, Business Profits Come First Over the Pandemic

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on Newsclick.

Click to read the full article online.

Blaming the deadly virus surge on individuals and their risky behavior ignores that the real fault lies with a government that chooses to prioritize the health of businesses over that of humans.

By Sonali Kolhatkar

January 10, 2021

Los Angeles, California, is now considered one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation. LA mayor Eric Garcetti assessed grimly that there is one new infection every six seconds and a death every 10 minutes from the virus. Hospitals are turning away ambulances, and health facilities in LA County are quite literally running out of oxygen. But last spring, as the pandemic was first declared, the city was an early adopter of mandated mask wearing and benefitted from California enacting the first statewide shelter-in-place order that helped curb the worst spread of the virus. So, what happened?

There is a possibility that the deadly surge in cases may be a result of a new, more transmissible strain of the virus circulating in the area. But more likely the spread is the result of the message that authorities are sending of a premature return to normalcy. As social media platforms are filled with angry Angelenos blaming and shaming one another for brazenly vacationing and flouting social distancing guidelines, in truth, the burst of infections is the price that officials are willing to pay for ensuring that corporate profits are protected.

California’s latest shelter-in-place order is quite different from its first one. Whereas in March 2020 the state ordered all non-essential businesses to remain closed, in early December, at the peak of the holiday shopping season, all retail stores were allowed to remain open, even as outdoor parks were closed. So outraged were Californians by the obvious double standards that state officials caved and reopened parks—instead of shutting down retail stores.

Predictably, infections at malls soared as shoppers, eager to salvage Christmas, rubbed elbows with one another in their rush to fulfill holiday wishes. After all, authorities had okayed such actions, so they must be safe, right? Rather than enact strict rules to prevent such congregating, some Californians rightfully terrified of the disease simply blamed the shoppers. Even LA County health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the Los Angeles Times, “If you’re still out there shopping for your loved ones for this holiday season… then you are missing the gravity of the situation that is affecting hospitals across LA County. Though they may seem benign, these actions are extremely high-risk.” LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said to Angelenos, “stay home,” but has refused to consider shutting down non-essential businesses.

In other words, officials kept retail stores open but then chastised residents for shopping. There are two ways to interpret the muddled messaging. If authorities are allowing all businesses to remain open, surely it must be safe to frequent them. Or, authorities are being driven by financial stakes, not public health, so surely it is not possible to trust them.

Read the rest at Newsclick.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer, (CC BY 2.0), via Flickr

House GOP Recited Trump’s False Vote Theft Claims—Even After Historic Attack on Congress by His Supporters

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on Big News Network.

Click to read the full article online.

The 2020 presidential election may be over. But Trump’s lies and doubts linger.

By Steven Rosenfeld

January 9, 2021

It was past midnight on Thursday, January 7, when the House began its debate on whether to accept Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes.

Earlier on Wednesday, allegations of illegal and fraudulent voting in Pennsylvania and other swing states where President Trump lost led his supporters to storm the Capitol. The mob came after a Trump rally, where the president recited numerous falsehoods that long have been debunked.

It was a stunning spectacle. More than a dozen Republican congressmen rose and condemned the violence. Then, as if the cause of the rampage lay elsewhere, they opposed certifying Pennsylvania’s votes by reciting many of the same allegations that Trump uttered that day—atop innuendo that Democrats had widely cheated.

“To sum it up, Pennsylvania officials illegally did three things,” said Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC. “One, they radically expanded vote by mail for virtually any reason. Two, they removed restrictions when a ballot could be sent in. And three, they removed signature verification on those very ballots.”

Budd did not mention that Pennsylvania’s Republican majority legislature had approved the election reforms that laid the ground rules for 2020’s election. Nor did he note that the Republican National Committee had pushed Pennsylvania’s Republicans to vote with absentee ballots—and hundreds of thousands did.

Instead, Budd and other Republicans said that the election was illegitimate because Democratic officials—such as Pennsylvania’s secretary of state—issued rules to make it easier for voters and election officials to manage in a pandemic. They said the Constitution had been violated because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had agreed with those steps. Only state legislatures could set election rules, they said, making a novel argument that ignored decades of election law and court rulings.

“I rise in support of this objection and to give voice to the 249,386 men and women of Ohio’s 6th Congressional District,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, “who have had their voices silenced by the rogue political actors in Pennsylvania, who unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered voting methods to benefit the Democratic candidate for president.”

“Secretaries of state and state supreme courts cannot simply ignore the rules governing elections set forth in the [U.S.] Constitution,” he fumed. “They cannot choose to usurp their state legislatures to achieve a partisan end, Constitution be damned.”These representatives were joined by others who said that Trump’s mob was “shameful,” “unacceptable” and “un-American.” Yet they went on to recite many of the same claims that Trump made before his mob acted. These claims filled the 60-plus lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies since the election—claims federal and state judges have overwhelmingly rejected as baseless and lacking in evidence.

Read the rest at Big News Network.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

US Capitol by Richard Ricciardi, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), via Flickr


Special Report: Decades of Inequality Shadow Voter Turnout in Rural Georgia

The following is an excerpt of an article that was originally published on BillMoyers.com.

Click to read the full article online.

Decades of Inequality Shadow Voter Turnout in Rural Georgia

A small-town voter drive reveals why only trusted family, friends and local leaders can boost turnout in the Senate runoffs.

By Steven Rosenfeld

December 15, 2020

Commerce Street, once the heart of downtown Hawkinsville, Georgia, is easily overlooked. A visitor following state highways through the Pulaski County seat would glance at a row of faded brick buildings, awning-covered storefronts and dusty windows. Parking and getting out feels like stepping into an old postcard. In the sunlight’s glare and morning quiet, you might not know that Black businesses were once barred from the street. Or that the Ku Klux Klan held some of its largest rallies in America nearby. Or the street’s cluster of Black-owned businesses as a small-town triumph.

But quick assessments are out of sync with the rhythm of life and pace of change here. Below buildings painted in pastels, antique-style streetlamps and blue banners labeling Hawkinsville as a “Historic River Town” are two barbershops, a Southern bar and grill, a Caribbean takeout restaurant, clothes and gift shops, a small accounting firm, and a tobacco vape store. Most intriguing of all is what lies below the street’s largest sign, “The Newberry Foundation.”

The Hawkinsville African American Heritage Center is a Black history museum with a faded pine board saying “COLORED ENTRANCE” above its door. Next to it is the Plough and the Pew Reading Room, a ballroom-size space with a dozen large tables and shelves of leather-bound books. Its volumes range from Jet magazine, to the Journal of Negro Education, to The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. A block away is the county courthouse and its large Confederate monument.

On a recent Saturday before the December 7 registration deadline and the December 14 start of early voting, this crossroad of past and present rural Georgia was the setting for a voter registration drive for the upcoming Senate runoffs on January 5. That contest will determine which political party holds the Senate’s majority and with it, the fate of legislation proposed by President-elect Joe Biden. While the biggest concentrations of Democratic voters surround Atlanta, voting rights groups believe that rural communities of color could tip the balance or cement Democratic wins, if they voted.

A small colorful caravan drove to the center of Pulaski County, where the early unofficial results showed that 4,081 of its 5,687 registered voters cast ballots in the November 3 election. Most were white voters backing Republicans. Like the 1960s’ Freedom Riders, whose buses crossed the South to register voters, the registration drive had a similar task: engage and turn out voters.

Read the rest at BillMoyers.com.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

Map of the results of the 2020 Georgia Senate elections, by TheSubmarine, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The IMI Journal—October 2020 Edition: Voting in a Pandemic—The COVID-19 Election

The two big challenges of the moment that we face are to make sure that everyone’s vote is counted, and getting the federal government to develop a real plan to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. And increasingly, the two issues are intertwined.

We are bombarded on a daily basis with faulty and misleading information about COVID-19 from federal agencies and the White House. The Department of Justice is a bubbling pot of misinformation about the election and voter fraud, and the all-too credulous media refuses to dismiss the lies out of hand.

IMI’s projects like Voting Booth and Local Peace Economy and writers like Sonali Kolhatkar have not let up in this crisis. Steven Rosenfeld’s recent article explains why Attorney General Barr has no legal authority to interfere in the 2020 vote count, as much as the Trump administration might wish. The failure of government at all levels to address the COVID-19 crisis has inspired many a community to find ways to provide mutual aid. April M. Short’s article on community fridges has been read by a wide audience—and helped spread the idea of finding ways to help support the fundamental issue of hunger.

Please support this work now and keep us going into the election and its aftermath—and during the COVID-19 crisis, which has no clear end in sight.

Have you kept up with our most recent stories?

How BlackRock Is on Track to Infiltrate a Biden Administration

Max Moran – Economy for All

In Trump’s America, There Is Death Before Due Process

Sonali Kolhatkar – Economy for All

The Terrible True Cost of Milk, Cheese, Butter and Ice Cream

Reynard Loki – Earth | Food | Life

Latest Election Stunt Proves Uber and Lyft Are Their Own Worst Political Enemies

Steven Hill – Economy for All

Please support our work now if you haven’t already this year.

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the rest of the IMI team.

The IMI Journal—September 2020 Edition: D-Day for Democracy: Media Makes Sure Our Votes Are Counted

500,000 mail-in votes in Wisconsin might not have been counted in November—that is, until our reporting helped identify what could charitably be called a “clerical error” in that state’s Republican-created ballot application process with enough time for voters to be educated about it. Wisconsin’s electoral votes, by the way, were determined in 2016 by fewer than 25,000 votes. Voting organizations in September have a clearer idea of whose absentee votes are most likely to be rejected—younger voters, at as much as triple the average rate. Poll workers and voters can expect bottlenecks almost as soon as precincts are open—the more we know about these potential Election Day issues, the better the public can prepare for them.

These are just a selection of the recent articles Steven Rosenfeld has done for IMI’s Voting Booth project. Supporting democracy isn’t just about sending money to candidates running for office—this country needs skilled reporting that can spot problems in real time. Those two things need to go together for the process to work.

Voting Booth has prevented so much error and malfeasance in our election systems—and we are asking you to step up and support this work at a critical moment.

If you aren’t up to date with the important work being done by our other writers, please catch up with their recent work!

Dems Mock the GOP for Denying Climate Science, But They Are Still Addicted to Fossil Fuel Funders by Sonali Kolhatkar

Our Food System Is Broken and Inhumane, but It Can Be Fixed by Reynard Loki

Europe Is Perversely Causing the Destruction of U.S. Forests in the Name of Fighting Climate Change by Danna Smith

Community Fridges Are Popping Up Across America for Mutual Aid Amid the Pandemic by April M. Short

Online Charter Schools Are Not a Solution to Education in a Pandemic by Florina Rodov

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the rest of the IMI team—help us prevent the worst from happening.

Voting Booth Now Has Its Own Web Magazine

Announcing VotingBooth.media Website

The Independent Media Institute’s Voting Booth project has a new website that will feature the latest news and trends about how people will vote this fall—and how their votes will be counted and verified.

The website, VotingBooth.media, is reported and edited by Steven Rosenfeld. It will continue to feature in-depth reporting but introduce shorter takes on the latest news and trends, such as:

IMI will continue to produce a selection of Voting Booth articles in-house. Thanks for reading, and please support the work we do—we are here to educate, inspire, and help people make better decisions.

The IMI Journal—August 2020 Edition: COVID-19 Reveals America’s Inequality

The Trump administration’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly the worst by any country on the planet. Corporate media have blanketed us with daily coverage about each idiotic, corrupt and despotic decision that the White House has made along the way. If that’s all you were paying attention to, you might think that Trump was the sole author of a death rate many times higher than the rest of the world.

But there’s a bigger truth, one that the corporate media simply haven’t told us: a catastrophe may well have happened if there weren’t a Trump administration. Privatized health care, wealth inequality and systemic racism are the soil from which this pandemic has sprung, and the devastation we are seeing fits with a pattern of how the U.S. has failed at responding to three other major pandemic outbreaks since World War II, especially considering how much Americans pay for health care.

I have to admit I had thought it was mostly Trump’s fault until I worked with IMI contributor Marshall Auerback on his recent essay making this persuasive case for a wider perspective. The consequences are that change isn’t just a matter of pulling the lever for a president who will have a competent public health strategy—it’s about chiseling away and finding ways to resolve the big social challenges of our times.

IMI’s mission is to produce important journalism that can shift attitudes and provide powerful insight to help the public and policymakers make better decisions. We work with dozens of publications to get the work read by large audiences, we distribute our media in full through email, and then we work hard to connect our authors with multimedia interview opportunities to talk about their work.

Please channel your frustrations about our times and your hopes for a better future through IMI—your donation will make this world a better place.

And if you aren’t up to date, please catch up with our recent work!

Primaries and Elections in 2020 Show That Vigilance and Planning Are the Best Medicine to Prevent a Disaster in November

Steven Rosenfeld – Voting Booth

The Hoopla Over the Kamala Harris VP Selection Obscures the Many Young People of Color Who Are Winning Offices Nationally

Sonali Kolhatkar – Economy for All 

Trump Administration Plan Puts Endangered Species on Path to Extinction

Reynard Loki – Earth | Food | Life

How Donald Trump Has Constructed a Legal Infrastructure of Fascism

Bill Blum – IMI 

Community-Based Farms Rise to the Occasion as Big Food Supply Chains Stall

Elizabeth Henderson – Earth | Food | Life 

If Biden Wins, Get Ready for Trump to Punish America

Thom Hartmann – Economy for All

Why 5G Is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China

Prabir Purkayastha – Globetrotter

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the rest of the IMI team—please join our cause to produce media that can change the world.

2020 Fall Voter Guide: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts

Make a plan to vote. Know your options. Ignore partisan noise.

Nobody needs to be told about the stakes in 2020’s fall elections. But what has been missing from coverage of ongoing presidential smears, postal service worries and questions about more congressional aid in a pandemic is information for voters on how to successfully vote.

Never before will so many Americans vote from home using mailed-out ballots. Yet many voters, especially in communities of color, cherish voting in person. They want to see votes cast and received, even if that means waiting for hours in primaries with far fewer polling places.

The Independent Media Institute’s Voting Booth project has studied 2020’s spring and summer primaries and produced a guide for voters to successfully cast a ballot this fall. The “2020 Fall Voter Guide: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts” is based on the latest trends, lessons learned, the legal and procedural landscape, and what will not be likely to change for voters this fall.

The guide urges voters to have a plan. That plan starts with ensuring that one’s voter registration information and signature are current. The voting guide explains how to do that. The guide also reminds voters that there are three ways to vote—from home via a mailed-out ballot, before Election Day at an in-person early voting site, and on Election Day, November 3, in most states. It discusses the pros and cons of each way to vote, including what voters need to do if something goes wrong.

New ways of voting are always challenging for voters and officials. But even in a pandemic, the surest way to have elections with irrefutable results is when the turnout is historic, the process is orderly and victory margins are wide. Voting Booth’s “2020 Fall Voter Guide: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts” tells voters how to cast a ballot that will be counted this fall.

Read more at the National Memo, or download the guide.

The IMI Journal—July 2020 Edition: Trump’s Pandemic Disappearing Act

We are all trying to make sense of this bizarre moment, where the sitting president was forced to cancel his own national political convention as a result of a pandemic that could have been prevented had he not dismissed it.

America’s rightward march culminating in Trump’s presidency has brought us to this moment where we are dying from a virus that other nations have managed to control.

And now we are watching a calculated effort by the Trump administration to dismantle the government’s capacity to collect and share information about the spread of COVID-19. How can we know how bad the pandemic is without this data? It’s an audacious act, and IMI contributor Sonali Kolhatkar goes right to it:

“Trump has repeatedly told Americans that the virus would simply go away—like magic. Now, he has even taken steps to control hospital data on the virus, just like the sleight of hand that a magician requires in order to perform an illusion. The trick is to manage the illusion until the November election.”

The illusion can only be shattered by a vigilant media that reports in the public interest. Journalism that fights for the facts that actually matter is what keeps our society going. The reporting and impact by IMI and its contributors are produced with that vision.

IMI continues to expand the roster of publications that we work with—now reaching South Africa through the Mail & Guardian, and the New School’s Public Seminar. Please check out the important recent work from our fellows and contributors.

Steven Rosenfeld’s widely read report for Voting Booth makes the case that Trump’s efforts to thwart an accurate 2020 election are best defended by citizens volunteering for training to work as poll workers.

Earth | Food | Life’s Nina Jackel reminds us that the next pandemic is always around the corner, and the disastrous methods of the coffee industry could provoke the next outbreak.

Our Schools’ Jeff Bryant covers Trump’s perplexing effort to expose public school teachers to higher COVID-19 infection rates.

The writers of Globetrotter have produced important work on key pressure points in Africa: Vijay Prashad surveys the clash of regional powers and global players that is tearing Libya apart. Danny Sjursen covers the diplomatic crisis between Ethiopia and Egypt over the former’s damming up the Nile. Prabir Purkayastha calls on societies to prevent Western pharma monopolies from controlling the distribution of medicines to fight COVID-19.

Economy for All’s Richard D. Wolff explains how in a rigged economy, government helps the people who need it least. Marshall Auerback covers the breakdown of EU-U.S. talks over the establishment of a multinational tax system.

Would Trump resist leaving office quietly? Bill Blum explores the possibility and the constitutional challenges that he might face. Thom Hartmann wonders if Libertarianism can survive now that the public has seen what happens when government doesn’t step in to fight a crisis.

We can’t produce this work, and get it read by decision makers and wide audiences, without a group of loyal donors who understand our mission and the work we are producing—please join us!

Thanks from Jan Ritch-Frel and the team at the Independent Media Institute