Robert Meeropol

Robby, Abel, Michael and trains

my perennial chaos

"Robby & Elli" 1968

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

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You can’t make everyone happy

December 24, 2015

Tags: Clinton, Sanders, Black Lives Matter

At one point in the Democratic Party debate Saturday night, Sanders and Clinton were asked if corporations would be happy if they were elected. Sanders bluntly answered “no,” but Clinton said her goal was to make everyone happy.

Clinton’s desire to please everyone is like countering BLACK LIVES MATTER with ALL LIVES MATTER. With replacing WE’RE THE 99% with WE’RE FOR THE 100%.

At first these responses may sound reasonable. Of course the President should work on behalf of everyone. Of course all people’s lives are important. However, they fail to recognize the divisions in our society along race and class lines, and that our laws, police, courts, educational system, tax code, zoning regulations and so much more are designed to keep it that way. At best these broadening statements are meaningless platitudes that miss the point. At worst they are evidence of racism, class bias and acceptance of corporate criminality.

Those who respond ALL LIVES MATTER either don’t get, or refuse to accept, what the slogan really means: black lives should matter as much as white lives. BLACK LIVES MATTER attacks the systematic devaluation of African-American lives; the ALL LIVES MATTER position refuses to admit that the United States is racist. It refuses to acknowledge how our society forces African-Americans into ghettos, denies them meaningful education and employment, and imprisons an alarmingly high percentage. ALL LIVES MATTER doesn’t view the police as an occupying militarized force that shoots and kills hundreds of African-Americans every year. The WE’RE FOR THE 100% position argues that singling out the 1% is divisive and destructive. This position ignores the fact that our economic/political system is owned by and run by the 1%, and those who serve them, for their exclusive benefit. This position ignores how the rich and powerful have rigged our system.

Sanders doesn’t go far enough, but his response indicates that he understands that giant corporations are at the core of our problems, fattening their own wallets while sucking the rest of us dry and destroying the environment. Clinton, on the other hand, is a corporate democrat. She will never accept that it is necessary to attack corporate power in order to drag a hundred million Americans out of debt and poverty, as well as prevent globe-spanning climate-related catastrophes.

Clinton ignores the corporate rot in our system, dismissing the need for basic change. Whatever she says about change or improvement, at the heart of her program is an acceptance of the status quo. If, like me, you find the status quo unacceptable, you will reject candidates who and the slogans that espouse it.

A Warm December Day

December 12, 2015

Tags: December warmth

Friday, December 11. The morning fog has finally burned off, ushering in another warm sunny afternoon in interior Southern New England. We’ve had a string of them recently and the next several days are predicted to get even warmer. In fact, it is so mild that I’m planning to mow the lawn once I’m finished writing. Great to spend time outdoors in such comfortable temperatures at this time of year, but it is disquieting too. I’ve lived here for over four decades and I’ve never had to mow the lawn in December.

I know the difference between weather and climate. No spell of weather in any region is necessarily a manifestation of global warming induced climate change. But it has been so consistently mild at my house and in all of the northeastern United States, that it is hard not to believe that we are sampling what will become “normal” in a couple of decades.

This weather seems a boon to the neighborhood’s plants and animals. I still see flies, and even bumblebees pollinating the remaining flowers in my yard. Thankfully the mosquitoes are gone. Chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and many seed-eating birds have a much easier time gorging themselves when there is no snow cover. But whether flora or fauna, the local species have evolved in conjunction with the region’s climate. Weather that is far outside the expected range of climatic variation is disruptive of their life cycles.

At first, the plants and animals will adjust. The climate has always changed. Sometimes, even without human influence, those changes are too sharp for some and some species face extinction, but most survive. This time the change is happening with unprecedented rapidity, and it appears to be gathering momentum with each passing year. To begin with there will be a few species who are “winners,” but planetary life is a vast interconnected web. It will disintegrate once too many strands are lost.

I’ve observed later autumns and earlier springs over the last forty years, but for the most part the changes haven’t been sufficiently dramatic to shock us. While generally warmer, we haven’t had a horribly hot summer or a snowless winter… yet. Last December was our warmest on record, but February was very cold and snowy. So although it was short and statistically average, many perceived last winter as overly harsh. That could happen again this year, but sometime soon, we’ll have a winter that will feel more like Northern California than Southern New England. Hopefully, that will goad a few more neighbors into swelling the ranks of climate change-related activists.

In the meantime, while New Delhi and Beijing endure their worst pollution ever and an unprecedented December tornado was reported in Eastern Washington State, voting members at the COP21 conference in Paris have adopted a woefully inadequate plan. No matter how foggy it gets on these weird December mornings, it has never been clearer that our leaders will only take the actions needed to save us when we force them to.

Could it Happen to You?

December 5, 2015

Tags: Secret US detention, WWI repression

Elli and I are speaking at an Amnesty International Human Rights Day program in Amherst this afternoon. Our talk is entitled, “Disappeared in American: Secret Detention and Interrogation in Fiction and Fact.”

First, Elli will read from her novel, ON HURRICANE ISLAND. It is the story of a 60-year-old math professor who is whisked away by the TSA at JFK airport to a secret detention center for interrogation. In the words of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner, “On Hurricane Island is a chilling, Kafkaesque story about what happens when the United States does to citizens at home what it has done to others abroad.”

By the time Elli is finished, I expect many in the audience will be wondering if such secret centers actually exist in our country. I will attempt to answer that question by looking at the last 100 years of U.S. history.

Our entry into World War I provided the watershed for repressive governmental laws and institutions. Woodrow Wilson’s successful re-election campaign slogan was, “he kept us out of war,” but within a year he had to whip up support for the war effort from a reluctant public and silence contrary voices. His administration helped establish the American Protective League, a public-private partnership that at its height boasted 250,000 members in 600 cities. Its members acted as a vigilante auxiliary security force – rounding up, detaining, and beating subversives, dissenters and draft dodgers. Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917, which, among other things, criminalized anti-war speech. Remarkably, imprisoned anti-war socialist Eugene Debs ran for President in 1920 and garnered a million votes.

This repressive atmosphere led to the Palmer Raids of 1919. In response to an anarchist bombing campaign, Attorney General Palmer’s minions rounded up, detained, brutalized and summarily deported over a thousand foreign-born anarchists and communists, the most famous of whom was Emma Goldman.

These actions apparently had the support of a majority of Americans. The politicians, the newspapers, and the radio news (TV didn’t exist yet) warned that foreigners and radicals would steal their property, impose tyranny and destroy their way of life. In this crisis, the authorities claimed that national security and the strict implementation of draconian laws were necessary. Human rights, civil liberties and the constitution could not be allowed to stand in the way. The government, media, powerful corporations, and local small business interests combined with conservative religious institutions and xenophobic whites to promote this authoritarian ideology. To a large degree, it worked.

In the ensuing decades, these same forces combined to bring us the Japanese Internment, summary mass deportation of migrant workers in the 1950’s, the McCarthy era Red Scare, the USA PATRIOT act, post 9/11 round-ups of Muslims, mass detention of the undocumented, as well as Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the rest of those dangerous clowns.

Today, if the government designates you a terrorist, or an enemy combatant; can you be disappeared and detained indefinitely? The courts have yet to decide this issue, but in the 14 years since 9/11, they haven’t ruled that the government can’t.

I don’t know if what happened to Elli’s protagonist could happen to any of us, but I wouldn’t bet against it. We don’t have the American Protective League any more, but every night on TV tens of millions watch heroic federal agents save us from terrorists while shredding the constitution. While many courageous people would protest against such governmental overreach, the majority would not. Although Elli’s book is fiction, it is also frighteningly real.

Selected Works

"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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