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Institute for Policy Studies: History and Agendas

By Discover The Networks

A clearinghouse for the hard-left agenda, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) lays claim to the title of “the nation’s oldest multi-issue progressive think tank.” It was founded in 1963 as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) by Richard J. Barnet and Marcus Raskin, who shared a vision of transforming the United States by altering public attitudes, changing laws, and reversing foreign policy through an Academy that reached every nexus of the national nervous system. The IPS’s seed money came from the Samuel Rubin Foundation, based on a fortune made in cosmetics sales under the Faberge trade name. Rubin, father of Cora Weiss, was a Russian Bolshevik and is reputed to have stolen the Faberge trade name. To this day, the Rubin Foundation continues to contribute heavily to such leftwing publications as The Progressive and The Nation

Throughout its history, the IPS has committed itself to the task of advancing leftist causes, working with agents of the Castro regime, championing environmentalist and anti-war positions in the 1960s and 1970s; declaring against the Reagan administration’s efforts to roll back communism in the 1980s; joining the vanguard of what the IPS hails as the “anti-corporate globalization movement” in the 1990s; and, most recently, furnishing policy research assailing the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq.  

Begun in Washington, DC, IPS headquarters quickly became a resource center for national reporters and a place for KGB agents from the nearby Soviet embassy to convene and strategize. Cora Weiss headed one of the IPS’s most successful forays – into Riverside Church in Manhattan. She was invited there in 1978 by the Reverend William Sloane Coffin to run the church’s Disarmament Program, which sought to consolidate Soviet nuclear superiority in Europe – in the name of “peace.” In 1982 Weiss helped organize the largest disarmament rally ever held. Staged in New York City, the rally was a coalition of communist organizations.  

During her decade-long tenure at Riverside, which became home to the National Council of Churches in Christ in the USA, Weiss regularly received Russian KGB agents, Sandinista friends, and Cuban intelligence agents. Weiss became infamous for her role in the psychological warfare conducted against U.S. prisoners of war held in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War. She made one trip to Hanoi by invitation and returned with two American POWs; at a press conference, she described Hanoi’s jails as “immaculate,” and she reported that American prisoners were well fed and cared for. When the two POWs with whom she had returned later objected to her portrayal of North Vietnamese prison conditions, she replied that one of the two was a “war criminal.” Weiss also made it plain that she knew the names of other prisoners, and passed on Hanoi’s hint that if the prisoners’ families would join the anti-war movement, they might find out if their loved ones were alive, or perhaps even win their release. Weiss’ husband, Peter, is chairman of the IPS board of trustees. He is also a member of the National Lawyers Guild and the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, both of which were created as Communist Party fronts (the latter because the American Civil Liberties Union was deemed “too liberal.”  

The Liberation News Service, which is a news source for hundreds of “alternative” publications nationwide, was founded in 1967 with IPS assistance. The alternative press was conceived by antiwar- and Marxist-oriented activists to provide information with a leftist slant, chiefly to small publications that are free to the public and which are sustained by classified sex ads.  The Center for Security Studies was a 1974 IPS spin-coff and strove to compromise the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence agencies. The mastheads of two anti-FBI and anti-CIA publications, Counterspy and the Covert Action Information Bulletin, were heavy with IPS members.  

The anti-Israel Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) was begun in 1971 by IPS fellow Joe Stork, who is now a director with Human Rights Watch. The magazine Mother Jones was founded in 1975 by the IPS spinoff Foundation for National Progress. In These Times, founded in 1976 as a leftwing tabloid, was financed by the IPS until 1982.  

Also spawned by the IPS were: (a) the North American Congress on Latin America, created in 1966 as a New Left intelligence-gathering agency; (b) the Holland-based Transnational Institute, a major source of anti-American, anti-capitalist propaganda; (c) the Institute for Food and Development Policy (a.k.a. Food First), which has spent years finding fault with the quality of America’s food gifts to the Third World and helped to spawn the radical organization Global Exchange; (d) the Data Center in Oakland, a major database that cross-indexes the annual reports of a thousand corporations to detect any signs of incipient monopoly; (e) the Institute for Southern Studies, which has compiled a similar database on more than 400 Southern corporations; (f) the Council on Economic Priorities, which received IPS money with a view to exposing corporate skullduggery and passing judgment on companies’ social conscience; and (g) the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility.  

The IPS is also linked to the phalanx of leftwing anti-war groups, either through funding or leadership. Among these are the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE); Fellowship of Reconciliation; Promoting Enduring Peace; and Business Executives for National Security. Moreover, the IPS is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, and has many links to the Tides Foundation. 

The IPS has opposed the use of nuclear energy not only for military purposes, but for peaceful ones as well. The organization was a signatory to an April 2001 petition opposing further development of nuclear technologies; this petition was presented to the Chairman of the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development. It read, in part: “We, the undersigned NGOs, active in environment, development, disarmament and human rights issues, express our deepest regret and extreme concern that nuclear energy has been included in the draft agenda of the ninth session of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, and that this dangerous and unsustainable technology might, in effect, be given a fresh start by the actions of the CSD.”  

The IPS, which created the Chicago-based socialist newspaper In These Times, has consistently tried to derail American efforts to combat Communism. In 1985, for instance, as President Reagan pressed Congress to fund the beleaguered Contras in Nicaragua, IPS fellow Peter Kornbluh arranged for Senators John Kerry (D-Michigan) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to fly to Managua to meet with Communist Sandinista leaders. Convinced by the Kerry-Harkin report on the allegedly happy atmosphere in Managua, Congress denied the funds, though it reversed itself a few weeks later when Sandinista President Daniel Ortega met with his Soviet friends in the Kremlin.  

The consistently anti-American positions adopted by the IPS are frequently expressed in tandem with condemnations of Israel. In February 2005, for instance, IPS Fellow Phyllis Bennis published a commentary deriding the U.S. role in “orchestrating” the Sharm al-Sheikh peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Abu Mazen. Characterizing the negotiations as a “sham,” Bennis condemned the Bush administration’s “regional strategy” of deceptively “reassuring Arab governments [and] populations that U.S. calls for ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ in the region include dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, even if ending the Israeli occupation was never on the U.S. agenda.” She criticized what she called the “Palestinians-must-provide-security-for-Israel approach to these talks.” In short, she depicted the United States as a cynical manipulator seeking only to extract a favorable deal for its ally, Israel, no matter how negatively it might affect Palestinians.  
Bennis further denounced Israel’s use of “Caterpillar armored D-9 bulldozers and other U.S.-provided military equipment to attack Palestinian towns [and] demolish Palestinian homes” – offering no acknowledgment that the referenced “attacks” are directed wholly against terrorist-related targets. In fact, the word “terrorism” did not appear a single time in Bennis’ commentary; she spoke only of “militant attacks against the Israeli occupation.” She further objected to Israel’s “assassination policy” (a reference to the targeted killings of Palestinian terrorist leaders) and the “land-grab known as the Apartheid Wall” (a reference to the anti-terror security fence designed to stem the tide of suicide bombers). 

A central factor in the history of the IPS is the think tank’s unyielding opposition to free markets particularly and capitalism broadly—an opposition that finds transparent expression in the IPS mission statement. “At a time when other think tanks celebrate the virtues of unrestrained greed, unlimited wealth, and unregulated markets, IPS is striving to create a more responsible society,” the IPS proclaims. This anti-capitalist animus informs several IPS-run programs aimed at providing a corrective to the “unrestrained markets and individualism” so disesteemed by IPS staffers.  

One such initiative is the Global Economy project. Overseen by Sarah Anderson and IPS director John Cavanagh, two of the think tank’s leading critics of trade liberalization, the program aspires to four basic aims. First, it seeks to undercut the Free Trade Area of the Americas—an initiative designed to eliminate barriers to trade and promote investment in every country in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba. Decrying the proliferation of free trade under the FTAA, the project urges the creation of a countervailing force of labor unions and nongovernmental organizations across the Americas to repulse its further spread and act as bulwarks against the extension of economic freedom.  

Second, the IPS, proclaiming itself “a watchdog on the world’s wealthiest corporations,” works through the Global Economy project to foment grassroots resentment against the World Trade Organization (WTO). The think tank charges that the WTO is little more than a creature of multinational corporations.  

Third, the project endeavors to incite antagonism toward NAFTA. In particular, the project targets workers in Mexican factories, known as maquiladoras. By pushing trumped-up claims of worker abuse at the U.S.-Mexico border, and promulgating the tendentious notion that NAFTA has had a deleterious effect on workers’ lives, supposedly depreciating both wages and working conditions, the project strives to inculcate in Mexican laborers a resentment of free-trade and globalization. The IPS’s devotion to this anti-NAFTA campaign extends beyond the Global Economy project. IPS’s Sarah Anderson, for instance, is also a member of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, a San Antonio-based group that rails against NAFTA.  

The fourth pillar of the project is a version of the think tank’s typical operations writ small. It is geared toward drafting policy papers and hosting “educational” workshops to promote “economic alternatives” to globalization. No rigorous amount of inspection is necessary to reveal that what the IPS fobs off under cover of “educational materials” is in reality patent political propaganda. Examples include a book authored by Anderson, Cavanagh, and Thea Lee, an economic policy director at the AFL-CIO. Called Field Guide to the Global Economy , the book’s objective is less to inform than to incubate an opposition to free trade. Thus, the book purports to chronicle “corporate-driven globalization and the growing citizens backlash.”

Related to this is an August 2002 policy paper titled “Rethinking the NAFTA Record.” Written by Anderson and Cavanagh, it charts what the authors consider the unequivocal failure of the free trade initiative, calling on policymakers to reconsider free trade as a worthy economic model. Clearly aiming to emphasize to Mexican laborers the wrong-headedness of NAFTA, the IPS makes a copy available in Spanish. The most recent addition to this anti-globalization genre is Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World Is Possible. Penned by Cavanagh and Jerry Mander, president of the IPS board of directors and a longtime critic of globalization, the book contends that capitalism is, as one chapter has it, “a system in crisis,” and appeals to “an alliance of leading activists, scholars, economists, researchers, and writers,” to take up the ideological cudgel against its globalization.

Even as the IPS opposes the trinity of capitalism, big corporations, and globalization, it professes an unquestioning faith in the righteousness of the United Nations. Evidence of this faith can be discerned in the think tank’s “New Internationalism” project. Introduced in 1996 and directed by IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis, this project is concerned with blueprinting a foreign policy attuned to the edicts of the UN, rather than concerns of U.S. national interest. The IPS proposes this new internationalism to be nothing less than a “defense of the United Nations against U.S. domination,” a theme echoed in Bennis’s 2000 book, Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN 

Working in concert with leftwing groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus, the project sets its efforts towards hamstringing U.S. foreign policy. Previous campaigns launched under the auspices of the New Internationalism project include an attack against NATO military intervention in the former Yugoslavia, tarred as “illegal” by IPS voices for its sidelining of the United Nations; an assault on what IPS pronounces “unilaterally-imposed” U.S.-British no-fly-zones in Iraq, as well as “educational work” intended to arouse criticism of economic sanctions against Iraq (though the project conveniently glosses over the fact that the sanctions were imposed by the UN); a drive to align U.S. policy toward Israel more closely with the ritually critical stance of the UN; and lastly, an ongoing bid to impugn the U.S.-led war on terrorism, specifically its reliance on unilateralism and preemptive strikes, both of which the IPS interprets as hostile to the function of the United Nations.  

A corollary of the New Internationalism campaign advises European nations to assume a more assertive role in the Middle East. To this end, the IPS contends, European nations must “challenge more directly U.S. control of the diplomatic process.” This position is frequently voiced by Bennis in various op-ed articles and interviews, and she has even made the case for more vigorous European opposition to U.S. foreign policy before the European Parliament in Brussels. Behind Bennis’s argument is the belief (a core principle at the IPS) that the United States, like the autocratic regimes in the Middle East, is at bottom a rogue nation and, as such, poses an equal threat to international peace and stability. Bennis made the point more succinctly in a July 2004 article in the leftwing journal Tom Paine, in which she asked, “Haven’t we – and the rest of the world – had enough of Washington’s rogue behavior?”   

Similar sentiments are purveyed by IPS policymakers. Recruited by the IPS since 1999 in order to boost the institute’s stature, these scholars are regularly tapped from the farthest reaches of the ideological Left. In 2002, for instance, the institute’s in-house stable of “scholars” featured such radical activists as Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Gore Vidal, Norman Birnbaum, and Richard Falk. With similar designs, the IPS courts leftwing celebrities to publicize its various projects. For instance, “Cities for Peace,”an IPS-sponsored project that urges American cities to pass resolutions in opposition of the war in Iraq, has attracted the notice of actor-activists like Danny Glover, who in 2004 attended a “Cities for Peace” event in Boston.  

Prominent leftwing foundations and university administrations have also embraced the institute’s work. The Ford Foundation, for example, is the one of the principal sponsors of the Center for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development (CESD). A joint environmentalist project of the IPS and Stanford University, the CESD was inaugurated in March of 2003. Publishing advocacy literature, holding workshops and conferences, and affording research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students, the CESD hopes to foster what the IPS calls “environmentally responsible tourism.” Focusing on Latin America, Asia, and Africa, the CESD intends to publish “guidelines for interactions between tourism and indigenous/local communities.” The Ford Foundation provided IPS $20,000 to develop CESD in 2001.  

Another key IPS supporter is the Ploughshares Fund, a public grant-making foundation that coordinates anti-unclear and anti-war causes. In February of 2003, the Fund disbursed $30,000 to the Institute’s anti-nuclear project, the Nuclear Policy and Security Project. The Fund provided the IPS with another $30,000 in May of 2004, “to support advocacy for a technical solution to improve the security of spent fuel storage facilities at U.S. nuclear power stations and recommend changes to U.S. plans for radioactive waste management policy.”

Still another backer of the IPS is the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which doled out $30,000 to the former between 2001 and 2003, in order to convene a conference at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January 2003. According the Mott Foundation, the conference was meant to spotlight the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network (SEEN). A joint environmentalist initiative of the IPS and the Transnational Institute, SEEN extols the use of renewable energy over fossil fuels and endeavors to assemble a global network of environmental activists to champion this cause.

Additional funders of the Institute for Policy Studies include the Arca Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Turner Foundation.

The IPS was a signatory to an April 2001 petition opposing further development of nuclear technologies; this petition was presented to the Chairman of the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development. It read, in part: “We, the undersigned NGOs, active in environment, development, disarmament and human rights issues, express our deepest regret and extreme concern that nuclear energy has been included in the draft agenda of the ninth session of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, and that this dangerous and unsustainable technology might, in effect, be given a fresh start by the actions of the CSD.”  

The IPS also endorsed a May 1, 2003 document titled “10 Reasons Environmentalists Oppose an Attack on Iraq,” which was published by Environmentalists Against War.

The IPS is a member of OneWorld Network, an umbrella organization of more than 1,500 leftwing groups that, according to the OneWorld website, seek “to promote sustainable development, social justice, and human rights.”

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