Robert Meeropol





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"Robby & Elli" 1968


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Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

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Doing it for Our Kids/Grandkids?

October 29, 2015

Tags: Climate change strategy

I read an interview with Avi Lewis, Naomi Klein’s husband, about his new environemntal documentary. Avi’s answer to a question about whether becoming a parent motivated him to work against global warming surprised me. He said: “I don’t like talking about it … because I actually have an allergy to this notion that we’re ‘doing it for the children’ and that somehow becoming a parent gives you some magical insight into the future and makes you ‘care about stuff.’ …. [I]t’s so indefensibly exclusionary toward people who decide not to have children or who can’t have children. …. But also, it kicks the can down the road… [when] it’s happening now….”

His comment made me think. I’ve written many times that although I have been aware of and concerned about climate change issues for decades, the birth of my first grandchild seven years ago goaded me to become more active in combating global warming. I agree that urging people to act for the benefit of future generations could deflect attention from the need to act now, and it could ignore that climate change is already fueling 200mph hurricaines, drought-triggering regional wars (Syria), and much more. But this is a reason to carefully qualify and explain your motivations, rather than reject another’s urging because it doesn’t apply to everyone. Climate change is already having disasterous effects AND it will get qualitatively worse for future generations.

Focusing only on the present could be just as problematic as concentrating solely on the future. It could promote the false notion that future disasters will be nastier, more frequent versions of what we are seeing already. Unfortunately, it is worse than that. If we continue business as usual we will produce a planet that is inimical to almost all avian and mammalian lifeforms, including our own. Some say such nightmares won’t happen for hundreds of years. I hope they are right, but climate model projections, which to date have been overly conversative, indicate there is a good chance we will face civilization-ending threats before the close of this century. That puts the second half of my grandchildren’s lives in jeopardy. I can’t speak for everyone, but that knowledge motivates, rather than paralyzes, me.

While I don’t wish to exclude those who can’t or won’t have children, and I believe childless people can be as foresighted and caring as those who have them, having children, and then grandchildren, changed my perspective. If some get involved because they have children or grandchildren, so much the better.

My problem with Avi Lewis’ answer is its either-or approach. Climate change is multifaceted, and coalition building requires engaging people with a range of motivations. One person’s reason for becoming involved is not necessarily wrong because it doesn’t apply to others. So long as those reasons aren’t oppressive, or lead someone to support the production of more greenhouse gases, we need as many as we can get.

Green Program

October 21, 2015

Tags: 7 point green program

I’m encouraged by the growth of the movement to stem global warming and the resulting climate change and resource depletion. Activists worldwide are confronting the corporate despoilers on many fronts and localities, but we lack agreement about how to make basic change with so many important variables and connected issues. With these seven demands, I’m trying to define the building blocks of a climate justice movement.

1. Tax fossil fuel extraction: Based on the government’s estimates of the social cost of carbon pollution, some green capitalists have proposed a tax of $38/ton on carbon produced by burning fossil fuels. As capitalists, they want to tax the end product, because that primes the engine of our system – intermediate profit-driven exchanges – and the end-user can pass on the cost of the tax to consumers. Instead, we should impose this tax at the point of extraction. This will dramatically raise the cost at the well/pipe/mine, and would increase costs for all intermediate profiteers, thus discouraging extraction.

2. Clean-up toxic sites: These sites usually are located close to low-income neighborhoods populated by people of color. Since the military has declared climate change a national security issue, we should demand that funds be taken from the military budget to clean toxic sites, starting with those located near densest populations in the poorest places.

3. Vatican divestment: The Vatican has given no indication that it will divest from fossil fuel companies, but such action follows logically from the Pope’s environmental encyclical. As I wrote in a recent blog. “Vatican divestment, coupled with the Church’s urging its parishioners to follow suit, would have a momentous impact. The divestment movement would become an exponentially more powerful international force once the Catholic Church jumped on its bandwagon.”

4. Wages up, hours and consumption down: Labor wants full employment and a living wage. These are legitimate demands, but if they lead to more production and consumption, even if generated by “green jobs,” greenhouse gas emissions will increase. Substantial wage increases, beyond $15/hr, must be accompanied by a reduced work-week of 25 hours and a radical decrease in consumption of disposable items. Together, these three changes will not only produce a living wage and less production, but also free people to pursue artistic, intellectual, and leisure activities with minimal carbon footprints and maximize comunity building.

5. Subject the military to environmental regulation: The United States military is the institution with the largest carbon footprint in the world. For stated national security reasons the military is exempted from environmental regulation and reporting requirements. We must demand that the military be subject to all environmental regulations and that its annual carbon footprint be made public.

6. Universal education for girls: Nothing brings the birthrate down more quickly than providing universal primary and secondary school education for girls. Unlike the veiled racism of mainstream family-planning organizations’ drive to prevent third-world women of color from giving birth, there is nothing racist about educating young girls. This is a positive way to contain population growth and ultimately reduce it to sustainable levels.

7. Know your footprint: States should develop a clear and precise online application for taxpayers to calculate their carbon footprint and grant a tax credit for doing so. Knowing your carbon footprint will not cause systemic change, but it will enable millions to make informed energy-related choices and spark further discussion of how to reduce greenhouse gas output.

This list is not complete, but these seven items take on the fossil fuel companies and the military-industrial complex, encourage alliances between people of color, labor, peace and green activists, and begin to address the important issues of over-population, divestment and personal responsibility. That’s my beginning. Please critique and add your thoughts.

Is Joe Biden Corporate Plan B?

October 15, 2015

Tags: Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden

The mainstream media is flush with stories that it is decision time for Joe Biden. Will he enter the race for President?

I don’t watch as much network news and political talking-head television as I used to; it’s too repetitious, scandal and poll-focused. But I’ve watched enough in the last couple of weeks to note the media spin on Biden’s indecision. Without exception, pundits frame the question in terms of its impact on Clinton’s chances. They conclude Biden is more likely to enter the fray if Clinton is stumbling and that, personal reasons aside, he is less likely to run if her lead is robust.

Despite the pundits’ obsession with the polls, and polling evidence that Biden’s entry would significantly decrease Clinton’s lead over Sanders, their analysis still ignores Sanders. Biden’s positions aren’t very different from Clinton’s. He’s a Senator from the corporation-friendly state of Delaware and is a foreign-policy hawk, particularly when it comes to confronting Russia in Ukraine. If Biden enters the race and mounts a vigorous campaign he and Clinton might split the corporate-oriented Democratic vote.

In other words, Biden’s immediate entry into the race could substantially boost Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination. I haven’t heard this opinion on air. Could the mainstream media be ignoring it to prevent viewers from considering the possibility? Is this part of promoting the “Bernie Can’t win” theme to discourage people from voting for him?

Voting for Sanders in the Massachusetts Presidential Primary next spring feels like a no-brainer. Until recently however, I was almost certain he would lose the nomination to Clinton. I’ve wondered if, in that case, my Sanders-supporting friends and neighbors will hold their noses and vote for a war-mongering, environmental disaster (Clinton) in the general election, even if doing so brings us closer to signing our grandchildren’s death warrants.

Two things have changed my thinking. The first is that Sanders has done better than expected, although perhaps not well enough to secure the nomination in a two-way race. Throwing Biden into the mix adds a crucial ingredient. If Biden and Clinton split the votes of their overlapping constituencies, Sanders could actually win the nomination.

If my analysis is correct, powerful corporate insiders would rather Biden remain on the sidelines for now. They want him available to step in at the convention as the “compromise” candidate, if Sanders manages to catch Clinton. For that reason, I predict that Biden will decide not to run at this time. And I predict he will be held in reserve as plan B in the hope that a corporation-friendly candidate will be the Democratic Party nominee, even if it isn’t Hillary Clinton.

PS I wrote the above before the debate. The corporate media’s effort to cover-up Bernie’s victory is further evidence of what I wrote.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

October 7, 2015

Tags: Pope Francis, Laudato si, divestment

Most of us are familiar with the title phrase above. It is the capitalist version of the Civil Rights’ movement’s aphorism “if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.” I’ve thought about this in relation to Pope Francis’ recent 180-page encyclical on the environment.

The Pope’s “Laudato si” encyclical has given a tremendous boost to the movement to combat human-induced warming and climate change, resource depletion, and mass extinction. I stumble when reading something that is couched in such deeply religious terms, but despite my difficulties, this document can open the eyes of millions to our growing peril, and propel large numbers to take good actions. Moreover, his document attacks capitalism and its deification of the market. For these reasons, I believe the Pope’s environmental statements are the best things that have happened to our growing movement this year.

While I am elated that the Pope has issued this statement and spoken so forcefully about it in the belly of our consumerist, military monster, it is mistake to treat him as a hero who is, therefore, above criticism. This was driven home to me when the progressive British newspaper, The Guardian, recently reported that Peter Turkson, a key papal advisor, announced that the Vatican did not plan to divest from its holdings in fossil fuels.

I don’t know the size of the Vatican’s fossil fuel holdings. Nor do I know enough about the financial structure of the Catholic Church to know if Vatican divestment would result in every Catholic Church, School and Social Service Agency worldwide divesting. However, I expect such Catholic Institutions would follow the Vatican’s lead and that those among the world’s one billion Catholics who hold stock would, at least, think about doing the same.

While I doubt such action would bring the oil and gas companies to their knees, Vatican divestment, coupled with the Church’s urging its parishioners to follow suit, would have a momentous impact. Despite our nation’s backwardness on the issue, the Catholic Church is one of the primary reasons that three quarters of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty. The divestment movement would become an exponentially more powerful international force once the Catholic Church jumped on its bandwagon.

I raised the Vatican’s disinterest in divesting with an environmental activist friend last weekend. She responded that I shouldn’t attack the Pope now; she believes Pope Francis personally favors divestment. Her understanding of the Pope’s personal feelings could be wishful thinking, but if the Pope favors divestment, wouldn’t agitating for Vatican divestment support, rather than attack, him?

Regardless of the Pope’s beliefs, as long as the Vatican holds fossil fuel company stock it is setting a bad example. Now that he has issued his encyclical, the next step for this Pope of the poor is to put the Vatican’s money where its mouth is.

September 28th, 2015, Ethel Rosenberg Day Of Justice

October 2, 2015

Tags: Ethel Rosenberg Proclamations

Monday, September 28th, 2015 would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. The material reproduced below details the very special events that marked the occasion.

Proclamation of Manhattan’s Borough President

We are proud to acknowledge those individuals and organizations that have remained committed to improving our city and vibrantly enriching the community; and

WHEREAS, Ethel Rosenberg, née Ethel Greenglass, was born in 1915, grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and excelled at Seward Park High School, wishing to go to college but taking a clerical training course instead because she could not afford college; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg found work as a clerk at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company and, showing great bravery, helped lead a strike for union recognition and a pay raise, for which she was fired; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg filed a claim for wrongful termination with the newly formed National Labor Relations Board, which found in her favor, and remained active in union organizing, using her singing talents to raise funds at benefit performances—and it was here she met Julius Rosenberg, whom she later married; and

WHEREAS, during World War II, Ms. Rosenberg became the only full-time volunteer at the East Side Defense Council—the first such organization in the nation and a model for others—organizing blood drives and giving speeches on the importance of the war effort; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg’s first son, Michael, was born during the war, and her second son, Robert, was born after it ended; and

WHEREAS, in August 1950, Ms. Rosenberg was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage, but FBI documents reveal that chief prosecution witnesses—David and Ruth Greenglass—provided no evidence against Ms. Rosenberg in their initial confessions, and Grand Jury testimony of the Greenglasses recently released excludes mention of Ms. Rosenberg’s involvement; and

WHEREAS, FBI documents show that the prosecution determined that Ms. Rosenberg should be convicted and given a “stiff sentence” so she could be used as a “lever” to induce her husband to cooperate, and that after this strategy was devised, first Ruth and then David Greenglass provided oral testimony against Ms. Rosenberg—testimony on which the judge relied to sentence Ms. Rosenberg to death; and

WHEREAS, shortly before the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, an FBI document listed questions to ask Julius Rosenberg if he cooperated—one of which was “Was your wife cognizant of your activities?”—but there was no such list created for Ms. Rosenberg; and

WHEREAS, in 2001, David Greenglass admitted that his testimony was false, and National Security Agency files indicate that the Soviet Union never gave Ms. Rosenberg a codename—meaning that she was not an active espionage agent;

Now therefore, I, Gale A. Brewer, do hereby recognize the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family, and on the occasion of her 100th birthday on Monday, September 28th, 2015, proclaim “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”


Proclamation of 13 members of the New York City Council

Ethel Rosenberg, nee Ethel Greenglass, was poor and lived on New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1920s and 1930s where she excelled as a Seward Park High School student and dreamed of college. Her teachers considered her singing voice exceptional. She graduated three months before her 16th birthday but, unable to afford college, she took a clerical training course; and

WHEREAS: In 1935, at the age of 19, Ethel worked as a Clerk at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company, and, demonstrating great bravery, helped lead a strike for union recognition and a pay raise. The New York Times reported that “about 150 young women pickets moved in squads through the garment district… They lay on the pavement in front of trucks and dared the drivers to move”; and

WHEREAS: Ethel was fired and filed a claim for wrongful termination with the National Labor Relations Board, which found in her favor: “There is no allegation or evidence that she was not an efficient employee. The [company’s] antagonism to Ethel Greenglass undoubtedly arose by virtue of the fact that she was active in organizing the Union.” Ethel remained active in union organizing and used her singing talents to raise funds. While performing, she met Julius Rosenberg, whom she later married; and

WHEREAS: During World War II, Ethel joined the East Side Defense Council as its only full-time volunteer. It was the first such organization in the nation and became a model for others. She organized blood donation drives and gave speeches on the importance of the war effort. Her first son, Michael, was born during the war and her second son, Robert, was born after it ended; and

WHEREAS: In August 1950, Ethel was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage. FBI documents reveal that chief prosecution witnesses David and Ruth Greenglass provided no evidence against Ethel Rosenberg in their initial confessions. The Greenglass’s recently released Grand Jury testimony also excludes mention of Ethel’s involvement. FBI documents show that members of the prosecution team determined that she should be convicted with a “stiff sentence” and be used as a “lever” to induce her husband to cooperate. After devising this strategy, Ruth and David Greenglass provided oral testimony against Ethel. The judge relied upon this new testimony to sentence Ethel to death. In 2001, David Greenglass admitted the testimony was false; and

WHEREAS: National Security Agency files indicate that the Soviet Union never gave Ethel Rosenberg a code name and that she, therefore, was not an active espionage agent. And that shortly before the Rosenbergs’ executions, an FBI document listed questions to ask Julius Rosenberg if he cooperated. The FBI did not create such a list for Ethel and did not ask if Ethel was involved. Instead, one question on the list was: “Was your wife cognizant of your activities?” Since despite this, the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg; now therefore

BE IT KNOWN: That we, the undersigned Members of the New York City Council, honor the life and memory of Ethel Rosenberg in observance of the 100th anniversary of her birth.


My statement in response

On behalf of our family; many of whom are here today, I thank all who have brought this to fruition: Councilor Daniel Dromm who initiated the effort, his staff member Michael Mallon who guided it, and all the Council Member co-signers. Thanks also to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for her statement declaring today “Ethel Rosenberg day of Jusrtice” in Manhattan, and to Letitia James, New York City’s Public Advocate, for her support.

We are grateful to Tibby Brooks and Charles Bayor, of the Rosenberg Family Ethel Rosenberg Centenary Campaign for their hard work and good counsel, to my daughter, Rachel’s, partner, Tomas Hunt, for obtaining the support of so many elected officials, to Amber Black at the Rosenberg Fund for Children for her press work, and to attorney Daniel Meyers, who first suggested this idea. I apologize to those I’ve missed.

When I was born, I was brought home from the hospital to an apartment about a mile from here. To have so many Council Members of my parents’ hometown – my hometown, my brother’s hometown – acknowledge our mother’s achievements and note that she was wrongfully executed is a dream come true. Today, a major elected institution of this great city and Manhattan’s Borough President have taken important steps towards acknowledging a terrible injustice. Next, it is time for the Federal Government to step up and do the same.

One final thank you: to my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, for their courage, their faithfulness to their ideals, and their activism to create a better world for their children.


My brother’s statement in response

This past summer, the Grand Jury testimony of the chief witness against our parents, our mother’s brother David Greenglass, was unsealed. We believe that this testimony provides the final piece of evidence that leads to an inescapable conclusion. Our mother, Ethel Rosenberg, was not an espionage agent. She was framed by the government to put pressure on our father. In effect, the government took her as a hostage -- and then murdered her when our father refused to falsely confess to atomic espionage and name names.

Let me echo Rob’s thanks to the members of the City Council, the Manhattan Borough President and the Public Advocate for recognizing the injustice that was done to our mother and, as a result, to her entire family.

We also want to make it clear that the unjust prosecution and execution of our mother damaged our country as well. The Rosenberg case was based on perjured testimony and guilt by association arguments. It culminated in the outrageous statements of the sentencing judge and President Eisenhower – that our parents had caused the Korean War and a future nuclear war. These combined to fuel a dangerous climate of fear and intolerance in our country which permitted political opportunitists like Senator Joseph McCarthy to poison our society.

We believe that the issuance of these proclamations implicitly calls upon the federal government to take corrective action. We would like to make this request explicitly.  Therefore, we call upon Attorney General Lynch and President Obama to acknowledge the injustice done to Ethel Rosenberg back in 1953 as a way of learning from our past in the hope that similar injustices will be avoided in the future.

Selected Works

Memoir
"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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