Institute for Policy Studies – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Peace groups react to Syria crisis Wed, 04 Sep 2013 01:11:28 +0000 Peace groups are launching a petition drive — calling on members of Congress to vote against authorizing military action against Syria — with a rally at Representative Jan Schakowsky’s office, 5533 N. Broadway, on Wednesday, September 4, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“U.S. military intervention is far more likely to make matters worse, not better,” argues an online petition from the Illinois Coalition for Justice, Peace and the Environment.

Schakowsky joined local representatives Danny Davis and Bobby Rush last week in signing a letter initiated by Rep. Barbara Lee of California calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval for any action, which he has since decided to do.  But yesterday Schakowsky’s husband, political consultant Robert Creamer, posted a “progressive case” for authorizing military action on Huffington Post.

Those responsible for chemical attacks should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court, and the U.S. should maintain humanitarian aid for refugees and step up diplomatic pressure for a negotiated settlement to the two-year conflict in Syria, said Marcia Bernsten of Chicago Area Peace Action, one of the groups organizing the Wednesday rally.

“Using chemical weapons is completely atrocious, but we don’t have the facts, and even when we do, it’s not the job of the U.S. to punish the perpetrators, it’s the international courts,” she said.  Not only has there been no attack on the U.S., she argued, but the risk of attacks on the U.S. increases “if we go around bombing people.”

She cited a statement from former president Jimmy Carter pointing out that “a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate…would be illegal under international law” and “will only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely-needed political process to put an end to the catastrophic violence.”

An attack would also risk extensive civilian casualities, would further destablize the region and potentially provoke retaliation by Syria or its allies, Bernsten said.

The American Friends Service Committee is also urging people to contact Congress and ask for a “no” vote on military authorization, said Mary Zerkel.

“While we unequivocally condemn any use of chemical weapons along with continued indiscriminate killing of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law, military strikes are not the answer,” the group said in a letter to President Obama signed by 26 national organizations.

“Rather than bringing an end to the violence that has already cost more than 100,000 lives, they threaten to widen the vicious civil war in Syria and undermine prospects to de-escalate the conflict and eventually reach a negotiated settlement.”


A citywide coalition has called for a march and rally at noon on Saturday, September 7, at the Federal Plaza.  The Syrian American Forum is supporting the action, in part because a military attack on Syria is simply “not in America’s interest,” said Dr. Matar Matar.

“As an American citizen I don’t see how it helps American national security in any way,” he said, stressing the danger of being drawn into a wider war — and of giving a military boost to groups allied with Al Qaeda now fighting the Syrian government.

“They are the most powerful component of the military opposition,” and include groups and individuals identified as terrorist by the State Department, Matar said.  “They are not there to bring democracy and freedom to Syria.”

A military attack will increase the refugee problem and further damage the nation’s barely-functoning economy, Matar said.  “People in conflict areas are vulnerable to radicalization when they see no jobs, no education,” he said.

The U.S. should pressure the Gulf States to stop arming and financing the Islamist militias and convince the political opposition to join negotiations that were discussed last month but dropped, he said.  He believes negotiations could result in new national elections, supervised by the U.N.

Not enough is known about the chemical weapons attack last month, Matar said.  But once documented, “it doesn’t justify a war on Syria,” he said. “It’s not the whole country that is responsible.  They should bring the people responsible for those attacks to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.”


In the wake of reports of a chemical weapons attack, analysts warn against the “false binary” choice between two options only: military action or (as Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies put it in an internet forum sponsored by “they get away with it.”  (This, by the way, is Creamer’s approach.) There are other options.

Diplomacy in this situation is not going to be easy, they say — not with a fractured opposition fighting among itself, and a range of agendas at play in Syria, from the “new cold war” between the U.S. and Russia to the rivalry of Iran and the Saudis — but it’s the only approach with the potential to actually bring an end to the killing.

The Obama administration initially gave diplomacy short shrift because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked weak, writes Trira Parsi for Reuters.  It’s clear now “that Assad is neither so weak that he will lose, nor so strong that he can easily win. In short there is a stalemate, which provides fertile ground for negotiations to achieve a durable cease-fire.”

“What we’re going to have to have — and it’s going to be now or it’s going to be later — is more diplomacy, tougher diplomacy, harder diplomacy,” Bennis tells Real News. “It’s going to take diplomacy and negotiations to end this war, to stop any possible use in the future of any weapons, certainly including chemical weapons….

“That means engaging directly with the regime in Syria, as well as with the opposition. It means engaging with those who support both sides. So the U.S. needs to be engaging directly with Russia, as well as with Iran.”   The Obama administration previously opposition Iranian participation in talks, a position Bennis calls “crazy.”

The U.S. needs to pressure Russia and Iran to stop resupplying the regime with arms, and in turn ensure that U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia stop funding and arming opposition groups, Bennis said.  “Until we have a halt to the new weapons coming in, there’s no way that talks toward a ceasefire are going to work.”

Comments Glenn Greenwald: “There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the ‘credibility’ of those doing the bombing.” He adds, “it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national ‘credibility’ depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”

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Protests target trade pact talks Sun, 04 Sep 2011 20:13:49 +0000 A Labor Day rally will kick off a week of action targetting negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement that critics fear will favor sweatshop manufacturers, agribusiness, and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of workers, farmers and consumers.

It’s yet another area where President Obama’s progressive supporters find themselves at odds with his administration’s policies, and it comes days before a major address on jobs in which the president may push for action on free trade deals.

Labor, environmental, community and health groups will rally Monday, September 5, at 11 a.m. in Grant Park at Columbus and Congress and march to the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan, where talks start Tuesday.

The rally will “demand a fair deal — one that stops corporations from reaping big bucks by sending good manufacturing and service jobs overseas [and] depressing wages and benefits in Chicago and around the country,” according to Stand Up Chicago, a local labor-community coalition.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, who recently announced that Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is becoming entirely fair-trade-sourced, will speak – and provide free ice cream.

Trade officials from eight countries – and hundreds of corporate executives involved as “official trade advisers” – will participate in ten days of talks at the Chicago Hilton, 720 S. Michigan, starting September 6.

As talks start Tuesday, Ben and Jerry will join fair trade advocates (11 a.m. outside the Hilton) delivering 10,000 postcards to negotiators calling for protection of labor, environmental, and human rights standards. (See below for more activities.)

Exporting jobs

While President Obama is expected to push a set of free trade deals as a “bipartisan solution” to the jobs crisis, a spokesperson for Stand Up Chicago argued that the U.S. trade deficit has steadily increased under the WTO and NAFTA-style agreements.

In Illinois, NAFTA resulted in a net loss of 35,000 jobs, many of them manufacturing jobs, with a particularly strong multiplier effect on local economies, according to the Citizens Trade Campaign.

Illinois has lost over 100,000 jobs as a result of China’s admission to the WTO, according to CTC.

The group points out that since individual trade agreements already exist with the Trans-Pacific nations that have significant consumer markets, the main impact of the current treaty will not be increased U.S. exports, but more jobs shifted to extremely low-wage countries.

In addition, the treaty is designed as a “docking agreement” so other countries can join later – possibly including Japan, India, and perhaps most threatening from a jobs perspective, China.

The rhetoric of “investment” and “growth” masks an agenda of “ruthless exploitation,” writes Michelle Chen in Colorlines.

Human rights and investor rights

Fair trade advocates argue that several of the participating nations have well-documented records of labor and human rights violations.  According to CTC, those nations are strongly opposed to including enforcement provisions in the treaty.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama criticized “investor-state” provisions that allow corporations to bypass domestic courts to challenge national laws and regulations as infringements on trade.  CTC reports that the administration is now “fully committed” to such provisions.  Such mechanisms have been used to challenge environmental and consumer safety rules.

Obama has “reversed his earlier commitments” and is currently pushing free trade agreements that feature “prohibitions on financial sector regulation and capital controls, foreign investment incentives that encourage off-shoring, separate legal regimes in which corporations can sue governments in specialized tribunals, weak environmental standards, vague and toothless labor standards, and intellectual property rules that monopolize knowledge needed for the public good,” according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

Civic groups have called for release of treaty drafts, noting that once finalized, they’re extremely hard to amend.  Currently multinational corporations are privy to the deal-making, but the press, public, and even members of Congress are in the dark.

Further actions:

On Wednesday, September 7, at 11:30 a.m., AIDS activists led by Health Global Access Project plan a direct action at Van Buren and State to protest treaty provisions recently leaked that would increase patent protection for pharmaceutical companies and raise the price of medications to prevent and treat AIDS/HIV.

On Thursday, September 8, at 6 p.m., AFL-CIO trade policy specialist Celeste Drake joins other experts in a teach-in at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan.  Among the topics: how free trade agreements put the global economy at risk by deregulating the financial industry.

On Saturday, September 10, at 12:30 p.m., activists from Stand Up Chicago will picket outside the Hilton.

Petition: Close Dresden, Quad Cities nukes Wed, 15 Jun 2011 21:30:21 +0000 The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering an emergency petition from watchdog groups to shut down reactors at Dresden and Quad Cities along with other U.S. reactors with the same design as plants that have melted down in Fukushima, Japan.

It’s rare that the agency decides to investigate such petitions, said Dave Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service of Chicago, which joined the petition filed by Beyond Nuclear, a national organization. “They couldn’t ignore Fukushima,” he said.

The agency held a preliminary teleconference hearing on the petition last week.  Another hearing will be held before a ruling later this year.

The petition calls on NRC to suspend operating licenses for GE Mark 1-type reactors until spent-fuel pools are provided with emergency backup power systems and housed inside protective containment structures.

It also calls for a complete review of the pressure-suppression system NRC approved in 1989 for backfitting on Mark-1 reactors, which failed to operate as designed at Fukushima

Critics have long raised concerns about the reactors’ containment structures and the raised spent-fuel pools, and the still-unfolding disaster at Fukushima confirmed those concerns, said Kraft.

A recent report from the Institute for Policy Studies highlights the danger of decades’ worth of highly irradiated spent fuel collected at U.S. reactors.  Many U.S. reactors store far greater amounts of spent fuel than the reactors at Fukushima, according to the report.  No other nation has generated as much radioactivity, according to Robert Alvarez, author of the report.

Several Exelon reactors in Illinois are among those with the largest accumulations of spent fuel, according to the report:  reactors at Dresden, Byron, Braidwood, and Quad Cities have spent fuel inventories containing more than 200 million curies of radioactivity.

“Spent fuel pools are vulnerable,” according to a fact sheet from IPS – not just to earthquakes or terrorist attack but to human and mechanical error, even to an extended electrical blackout.  “If the water were to drain entirely from a spent fuel pool, it could trigger a catastrophic radioactive fire that would spew toxins” and could render thousands of square miles uninhabitable.

The report notes that the risks associated with spent fuel storage have increased over decades of storage and accumulation. With spent fuel rods packed more densely, barriers that prevent nuclear chain reaction in the pools subject to corrosion and cooling systems are “overtaxed,” it argues.

Intensified production methods have also increased risks: reactor cycles have been lengthened to generate more electricity, creating more spent fuel with higher radioactivity and thermal heat; and  increased levels of uranium 235 to allow longer operating periods can cause cladding on fuel rods to become brittle.

The report calls for moving spent fuel from storage pools to dry sealed casks.

NEIS is opposing further power uprates at Dresden and Quad Cities and calling for an independent engineering review of Exelon’s proposed power uprates at the rest of its reactor fleet in Illinois.  With the cost of new nuclear construction prohibitive, Exelon has embarked on a $3 billion effort to increase power production at its existing fleet.

NEIS has also called for a review of the state’s disaster plans – including consideration of the American Thyroid Association’s recommendation that all households within a 50-mile radius of a reactor be supplied with potassium iodide to protect against radiation poisoning in the event of an accident.

[CORRECTION: The level of radioactivity stored at Illinois reactors, given in paragraph 7, has been corrected: over 200 million curies, not 200 curies.]

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