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

The IMI Journal—June 2020 Edition: Pandemic, Police Violence and the Problems Facing Democracy

It is a common experience for us all that despite the flourishing of digital media in print, audio and video in the present era, it often comes up short.

Take COVID-19, and the question of whether having antibodies is of any meaningful consequence, or whether the virus is evolving into more potent or weaker strains, or whether the vaccine development process is going to happen, and estimates for when that’s going to happen. Answers to questions like those, when they can be found, are splintered and atomized across many publications and official organizations, hidden like Easter eggs among faulty, vague or useless information, and often lack context and necessary critiques of the politics that surround them.

Or take the way corporate media and local news outlets tend to report the injuries and deaths of innocent people caused by police: “They tripped,” “they posed an immediate threat,” “police departments say these weapons and surveillance are necessary,” etc.

Moments like these are reminders of the value of independent media in difficult times. There is a level of care in providing the public with accurate information from a perspective of what the public might actually make use of. That is so often lost when advertising and the prerogatives of power come into play.

That’s the difference from our approach—here’s some of the recent work we’ve produced with our many publishing partners in the U.S. and all over the world.

Sonali Kolhatkar wrote in her recent column that a big part of America’s racist policing problem is the tendency of “liberal” politicians and Democrats in big cities to support the almost unlimited funding of police departments nationwide, with no accountability. April Short’s powerful interview with activist Aqeela Sherrills tells the story of how one city known for high crime rates and racial tensions kept its protests non-violent.

Another recent article by April Short for Local Peace Economy shows us that many of the world’s best solutions for how to deal with the pandemic are not in the U.S.—many other countries have adopted models that Americans should follow. Jeff Bryant’s latest for Our Schools reminded us that for Trump’s cast of fiendish cabinet secretaries, this is a moment of opportunity. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using the crisis to ram home her agenda at top speed. Earth | Food | Life’s Reynard Loki zoomed in on an overlooked issue of COVID-19, the soaring death rates of laboratory animals. Steven Rosenfeld’s steady coverage on the increased headaches of conducting elections during a pandemic for Voting Booth most recently took him to Georgia’s multifront disaster primary this June, a possible portent of what the national election could look like in November.

For Globetrotter, Prabir Purkayastha described the new arms race the U.S. is racing to start with China and Russia. M.K. Bhadrakumar explained what the friction between China and India is rooted in. Vijay Prashad explored who the rightful recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize might be as humanity works its way through the pandemic.

That’s just a small sampling of the amazing work of our fellows, amplified by the dedicated work of our editors and the rest of the staff.

I hope that if you haven’t already come to the conclusion that independent media is essential and worth supporting, that you will now.

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

The IMI Journal—May 2020 Edition: This Pandemic Shows How Essential Independent Media Is for Our Survival

The pandemic has presented us with new problems, and resurrected old ones. As always, our dysfunctional media system has amplified them or, even worse, pretended they don’t exist.

In some cases, the problems are rooted in the media itself.

The talented journalists and public intellectuals we work with have zeroed in on some of the most pressing causes, educating the public about what the problems are, and also helping decision-makers arrive at the best possible answer. That’s what good media can do—and it’s what you do as a supporter of the Independent Media Institute. I hope the rundown below on what we’ve done recently will inspire you to make the leap to support IMI.

I am so impressed by the quality of the work that our team and writers are producing—and it’s encouraging to see that it has increasingly global appeal. More on that further down.

Our Globetrotter project’s Vijay Prashad made the case for preventing what could be the most disastrous policy of the 21st century: a cold war with China. The amount of time and money spent on defense procurement, on trying to carve out separate spheres of interest, and on demonizing another country will come at an opportunity cost of what desperately needs to happen—educating, feeding, and strengthening the poorest citizens across the world, and building cooperation and solidarity to deal with global challenges, such as pandemics, climate change, and much more. The fault lines are already starting to appear; it will take the dedicated work of journalists and the wider public to prevent it.

Prabir Purkayastha, also writing for IMI’s Globetrotter project, explained why private medicine doesn’t have a good track record of producing vaccines, especially for illnesses in the developing world: it’s not just that there’s not much money to be made, it’s also that vaccines don’t produce an ongoing stream of profits. What’s the business sense in that, right? I am proud that these articles were widely circulated in the independent press in the U.S., and all the more that they found audiences in many newspapers and online journals across the world. The need for quality independent journalism on the issues of our time isn’t restricted to the U.S.

Another recent Globetrotter article, an authoritative overview by Maj. Danny Sjursen on the U.S.’s virtually ignored bombing campaign in Somalia, was widely picked up in the U.S.—and by two of the largest online news publications in Somalia. It’s that second part that indicates a wider definition of what is possible when it comes to educating the public.

For the Trump administration, the pandemic is an opportunity to accelerate its projects to attack our core social programs that form the spine of our democracy.

Trump’s team saw the public need for a continuation of government payments to citizens as a chance to advance the long-term project to destroy and privatize Social Security. It was a brazen affair, as Alex Lawson detailed recently for Economy for All. Marshall Auerback’s latest explains how Germany’s highest court appears hell-bent on destroying the euro, and the political union that underwrites it.

Jeff Bryant, writing for Our Schools, exposed the accelerated effort by Betsy DeVos to defund public education and privatize it to the fullest extent possible as the pandemic unfolds. Thom Hartmann covered the disgraceful behavior of Trump’s attorney general, whose abuse of justice increases by the day. The federal government and private companies do little to protect the safety of meatpacking plant employees, even now that the coronavirus pandemic has made this a life-or-death issue, Taylor Ford writes for Earth | Food | Life.

The only counter to this greed and destructive behavior has to be the growth of a democratic culture. April M. Short, writing for Local Peace Economy, covered the mutual aid volunteerism that is sustaining the neediest in American society. And many of the good news stories that continue to happen among us are practically invisible. Short reveals a very creative way that artists are challenging the gentrification process in Oakland. Perhaps the greatest direct and near-term threat to democratic culture is the assault on the voting process itself. Steven Rosenfeld, writing for Voting Booth, laid out the scenarios that lawyers and elections experts are looking at for November, including what might happen if more than one presidential candidate claims victory.

Sonali Kolhatkar went after a media problem that is getting increasingly more complicated—the truth itself. When you combine the deceptive agendas of powerful interests with media publishing technologies that facilitate the mass production of lies, trust in the media is chipped away with each conspiracy theory, and amplified by the misinformed ravings of a disaffected citizenry.

These articles are just some of what we’ve produced recently, and there’s a lot more in the works—we have so much more work to do, but we can’t do it without your support and encouragement.

Please, if you can, make a generous contribution on behalf of the many readers who can’t.

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

The IMI Journal—April 2020 Edition: The New Global Fault Lines

“The coronavirus pandemic has upended the global economic system, and just as importantly, cast out 40 years of neoliberal orthodoxy that dominated the industrialized world. Forget about the ‘new world order.’ Offshoring and global supply chains are out; regional and local production is in. Market fundamentalism is passé; regulation is the norm. Public health is now more valuable than just-in-time supply systems.” So begins my and co-author Marshall Auerback’s latest essay covering the economic shifts and new fault lines of the global economy after the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, the Independent Media Institute’s many writers have gone the extra mile to cover the problems we face that the corporate media simply will not discuss. Sonali Kolhatkar’s latest article for Economy for All argues that “democratic governments have already used the virus to crack down on freedoms, while those regimes that were authoritarian to begin with have used the pandemic to grab even more power. Meanwhile in countries like the United States, the notion of freedom is being used to undermine public health.” It’s times like these that we need independent media more than ever to challenge the official narrative—or, in some cases, to challenge the absurdity of our political system. Author Bill Blum’s latest piece explains how the Supreme Court is poised to expand gun rights, right at the moment of a national health crisis.

And there are many, many ways to help those affected by this crisis, such as America’s hard-hit organic farmers, who don’t have easy outlets to sell their produce beyond restaurants, and farmers markets, which need to find ways to get to customers. April Short writing for Local Peace Economy explains the challenge, and how we all can participate.

And we want to do so much more to educate the public and decision-makers. If you understand how important and powerful independent media can be, please take the step to support our work. We can’t do this alone!

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

The IMI Journal—March 2020 Edition: Independent Media Is a Medicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

No matter where you look, the global COVID-19 pandemic shows how independent media plays a vital role in a crisis. The public is looking for trustworthy sources, and a check on the corporate media. The propaganda and disinformation rage on—the crisis was largely minimized for weeks, and the right-wing media continue to spread doubt and xenophobia about it. Corporate media has done little to ask questions about the private wealth being generated by for-profit health care companies, or the many shortcomings of our public health systems. IMI’s writing fellows and dozens of partner publications have already done essential reporting. And we’ve only just begun to roll up our sleeves.

This is a public health crisis that quickly has taken over so many important elements in our society, from voting and democracy, to health care, to economic questions. IMI’s reporting educates the public and helps people with authority and responsibility to make better decisions in the public interest.

With the impact of coronavirus forecast to last beyond November and into the next presidential term, we face a series of unprecedented questions during both the nomination process and the national presidential election itself. Steven Rosenfeld has led the way in his coverage for IMI’s Voting Booth project on why the U.S. isn’t ready to switch to a national vote-by-mail system any time soon, and that critical parts of the ongoing Democratic nomination process—delegate selection—are already facing major logistical challenges.

Nancy Altman of IMI’s Economy for All project zeroed in on Donald Trump’s cynical attack on Social Security, right as the coronavirus started to take over the nation. Efforts by the right wing and corporate media to undermine our social safety net in a time of crisis must be thwarted.

Reynard Loki of Earth | Food | Life writes that the international market for critically endangered and trafficked pangolins was a likely intermediary in the initial spread of coronavirus, something that could be prevented if humanity could lessen its appetite for collecting wild animals for their appearance or perceived medical value.

Essays by Marshall Auerback and Vijay Prashad look at the international stage of affairs. Auerback pointed to the cracks in the neoliberal order revealed by the coronavirus, as global supply chains and finance become stretched and stressed. Prashad argued that U.S. sanctions on countries like Venezuela and Iran are likely to vastly increase mortality rates and suffering on their populations.

We have much more high-quality journalism in the pipeline that we look forward to sharing with the millions of readers and key decision-makers in many areas of life who rely on media and reporting like the kind we are producing to make the best of the situation and prevent the worst from happening.

And we can’t do this alone—please consider supporting our work today.

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

The IMI Journal—February 2020 Edition: Are You Up To Speed?

The Democratic primary process started with a thud, exactly along the lines that Steven Rosenfeld, chief correspondent of our Voting Booth project, had been reporting on and warning about for the past year: untested technology and poor training in Iowa fostered greater distrust in our voting systems.

It could have been even worse—Rosenfeld’s reporting earlier last year helped prevent the Democratic Party from adopting a disastrous online and telephone system for the caucus filled with security holes.

Rosenfeld’s reporting is read and trusted by the voting community—and helps them make better decisions in the future. There are certainly many more key decisions to come before November.

Voting Booth has been reporting from Nevada to cover the rollout of yet another poorly tested app that will be deployed to more untrained caucus volunteers and party officials. The more we cover these stories in detail, the less likely we’ll see the same problems in the rest of the caucuses and primaries this year.

Are you up to speed?

Of course the election is pressing and an area of focus for us. And we also have many other projects going on that cover the troubling issues of our times.

Are you familiar with how we operate and what we’re doing? Corporate media simply is failing at its job, digital media has splintered audiences and shrunk attention spans—and there is still important media work to be done.

I’m asking you to consider how important it is to support media in times like these, read about our model below, and please join us. Can you help us with a generous annual gift, or if you prefer, to be a regular contributor? We can’t do it alone.

Our model is to get the maximum audience and impact on the big issues of our times. In a nutshell, we:

  • Syndicate our stories to publishing partners to get our writers’ work published simultaneously in a collective audience that reaches millions, in the U.S. and, increasingly, internationally. Many of the issues we work on are global, and there is a big appetite across the world for good reporting on the environment, and the struggles for independence and democracy.
  • We “publish” our articles in full via our big email lists and partners, reaching hundreds of thousands—did you know that many people prefer reading quality journalism via email instead of through the internet? Seventy percent of the people who open our stories read them to the end.
  • We get our journalists in touch with media outlets to get them booked on radio and TV to talk about the work we produced with them.

Yes, there’s lots to worry about, but it’s more productive to DO SOMETHING about it!

Check out some of the other big stories we’ve been working on recently:

Earth | Food | Life editor Reynard Loki and the journalists he works with go after the big targets: climate change and habitat loss, fossil fuel companies and other big polluters. And they also know that the job of environmentalism is to tell stories that shift our consciousness about the way we live. Read Leslie Crawford’s essay that challenges us to consider how different we are from an octopus.

We worked for weeks to produce a major and totally unreported story with Our SchoolsJeff Bryant on Amazon and other large corporations’ efforts to insert themselves into the public schools, focusing on Virginia. It’s yet another front in the war to defend public education, a pillar of our democracy.

Economy for All’s chief contributor is Nancy Altman, who for decades has been a national leader in defending Social Security from the many attempts in Washington to slash it. Read her response to Donald Trump’s claims in the State of the Union that he has nothing but good intentions toward Social Security.

By supporting IMI, you are on the frontlines of exposing and addressing the systemic threats to our democracy, environment, and most cherished values. Please support us now.

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

Message from the Board of the Independent Media Institute

April 17, 2018, New York City

To Independent Media Institute Supporters:

We wish you could have been with us this week as we met with the staff of IMI to discuss the organization’s future in the aftermath of our recently announced sale of AlterNet. We had the honor of meeting with some of the finest progressive journalists working today. We heard from Kali Holloway, IMI’s senior writing fellow and project director, who will be covering social justice issues and also overseeing IMI’s new annual grant program for emerging women journalists. We received a fascinating preview of Steven Rosenfeld’s series on factors affecting democracy and the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, as well as the latest from Jefferson Morley on his reporting on the secret world of intelligence and security agencies. IMI’s environment and food editor Reynard Loki spoke about his work around the intersection of climate change, animal rights and food. Manager of Editorial Projects and Programs Administrator Jenny Pierson explained the process for editing the journalism produced by IMI fellows. The board was also briefed by Executive Director Jan Frel on Valerie Vande Panne’s Local Peace Economy coverage, looking at activism and visionary efforts to make our society dependent on more sustainable systems and infrastructure. It was inspiring to listen to them talk about their work, and it left us even more excited about IMI’s future as we re-focus the organization on its core mission of using independent media to create a positive impact in the world.

IMI will maintain a strategic partnership with AlterNet, now owned by AlterNet Media, to distribute special media projects on a range of pressing social and political issues, from the economy to the deep state, social justice, gender, equality and the environment. New projects we are exploring include long-form investigative reports, podcasts, book publishing and video. We also want to continue IMI’s many decades of work cultivating emerging voices and diverse viewpoints in independent journalism.

In addition to establishing a robust foundation for IMI‘s work going forward, in recent months we have taken steps to ensure that IMI is the safest and most productive workplace possible. As many of our supporters are aware, IMI is one of many media organizations whose leadership has recently addressed allegations of sexual harassment. Like most of those organizations, we took steps to act quickly and proactively to ensure the safety of the workplace and its employees. At IMI, those steps included removing the organization’s executive director; conducting an independent assessment of current and some former staff—an assessment that revealed no new allegations against previous leadership or anyone else on staff; strengthening anti-harassment policies and updating complaint procedures; offering regular interactive training; and conducting ongoing anonymous employee audits. We are committed to maintaining a fair, safe and productive workplace going forward.

We have great hope for the future of IMI and are actively recruiting new board members to help shape IMI’s direction during its next stage. Many thanks to the longtime readers of AlterNet and supporters of IMI, and we hope you will accompany us on this next iteration of our mission.


The Board and Management of the Independent Media Institute