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Outside My Comfort Zone

Last Friday evening Elli and I attended an “open to the public” plenary session at the Northeast Environmental Organizers Conference. Our response was mixed. We were frustrated because the program was very late and chaotic. We were encouraged to see over a hundred committed young activists, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, focusing on how to reach out beyond themselves to build a mass movement for radical environmental change.

I appreciated their emphasis on outreach. After all, to change the basic orientation of our economy, to prevent biospheric collapse, we must involve huge numbers of people.

But reaching out to those unlike you is easier said than done. It got me thinking about my own inability to chart an activist course of environmental action. Yes, I write blogs, have read extensively and facilitated study groups about the subject. I’ve also attended demonstrations and discussed the issue with friends, but I have neither gotten involved in, nor helped create, an organization doing ongoing outreach to build the movement I feel is essential to our survival.

I find this baffling because, like so many of my contemporaries, as a not-so-old-yet recent retiree I have the flexibility and energy to get more involved. I’ve thought about this and decided that given my personal history the most effective work I could do was to reach out to my contemporaries, those who were active in the late 1960’s, to persuade them to jump on the environmental bandwagon.

But that hasn’t worked out as I expected. Plenty of my SDS buddies have stayed active, but the majority are not focused on climate change and don’t seem willing to make it their central focus. Others retain leftist, or now perhaps liberal politics, but aren’t inclined to get involved in ongoing organizing. I could not move those I felt most qualified to activate.

I talked to an organizer from the Green Party about my inability to make headway. She told me I had the wrong focus. She said people my age, unless they were already actively engaged, were too set in their ways or comfortable with their circumstances, and so would do no more than engage in liberal politics as usual. I hope she was wrong.

She told me we would find more fertile ground with younger people. They’ve been screwed by the crash of 2008. They are struggling to find decent work. Some live at the margins of society, others are stuck as low-paid corporate serfs, while those who climbed the professional ladder are saddled with massive educational debts that render them higher-paid corporate serfs. She concluded that young people see the crisis coming and that’s who will make and build the movement.

This, plus the conference, has been marinating in my mind. I realize that the growth of our movement shows many are receptive to working for basic change to short-circuit environmental disaster, and that my problem is my reluctance to engage with those outside my comfort zone. I must internalize the same lesson the conference attendees were learning. I’m not yet ready to give up on my contemporaries, but let’s also take this outreach perspective to heart and focus upon the young people who are more receptive and are the biggest stake-holders.  Read More 
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But the Republicans Are Worse

I few days ago I read a piece on a progressive list-serve that postulated Hillary Clinton’s “coronation” would be a disaster because it would pave the way for a “Scott Walker presidency.” I didn’t read much of it because I’m more concerned about the environmental consequences of a Clinton victory. I also saw a poll a few days ago that indicated 69% of democrats want Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s candidate. A lot can happen between now the convention, but for now it seems likely that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee despite progressive democrats’ wishes that someone like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders get the nod.

When I tell friends I won’t vote for Hillary, some agree, but more say they feel compelled to vote for her to keep a Republican out. When I respond that I won’t vote for her because I fear her environmental policies and war-mongering, they respond “but the Republicans are worse.”

This frustrates me because I feel it changes the subject. I object to Clinton’s positions and I hear about Republicans in return. This avoids discussing her positions and their consequences. Even the Warren or Sanders boosters want them to enter the race to counter Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street, rather than because they are alarmed by her environmental and hawkish record.

I’m terrified of Clinton’s environmental policies and her military adventurism. Clinton’s history demonstrates that she’s an interventionist. She voted for the Iraq war, and insiders report that while Secretary of State she argued against Obama’s plans to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently she favored intervention in Syria, on Gaza she appears to be channeling Benjamin Netanyahu, and has been urging more military involvement in Iraq, and a more hostile policy towards Iran. Given that a large swath of the globe from Nigeria to Pakistan is aflame, a vote for Hillary is a vote for more American intervention. When it comes to foreign policy she is essentially a neoconservative.

Clinton’s environmental record is also poor. For instance, despite her recent silence, she supported the XL pipeline several year ago. According to USpolitics.about.com environmentalists don’t like her because, among other things, of “her ties to the [XL pipeline] project developer, her support of the pipeline and her apparent willingness to alienate more liberal members of the party who are concerned about the environment.” When she was Secretary of State her idea of combating climate change was to promote a world-wide fracking boom. Coupling this with the oft-overlooked fact that war is also a huge environmental disaster demonstrates why I feel a Clinton Presidency is a deadly step in the wrong direction.

So many of my liberal and even leftist friends won’t deal with this. If Clinton’s policies make devastating environmental destruction and increased warfare a near certainty, isn’t a vote for her the same as giving up on saving the coming generation from misery and death because she’s a little less evil? Does that make sense?

I’d welcome a counter argument that her policies aren’t really that bad, but if that is your position please show me some proof. I’d love to be wrong about this and I’m desperate to hear more than “but the Republicans are worse.”  Read More 
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Annual Annoyance

I write this on April 5th, exactly 64 years after Federal Judge Irving R. Kaufman sentenced Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to death. I can’t help being annoyed that today the New York Daily News, and the TV news station New York 1 both incorrectly reported that my parents were convicted of “espionage.”

Ethel and Julius were actually charged with and convicted of “Conspiracy to Commit Espionage.” Lawyers will tell you that there is a significant difference between conspiracy and espionage charges. The former requires that two or more people get together, plan espionage and take one act in furtherance of their scheme, while the latter requires the actual commission of espionage.

But wait a minute, you ask. Why should it matter now? After all, in 2008 Morton Sobell admitted that he and Julius committed espionage in the 1940’s. So while accurately reporting the details of the charge might matter to legal scholars, what is the political consequence now?

It might not matter in Julius’ case, but it’s a game-changer for Ethel.

David and Ruth Greenglass’ testimony at trial was the only evidence against my mother. The Greenglasses claimed that Ethel was present at a September, 1945 meeting and that she typed David’s handwritten espionage notes. In 2001 David admitted that this testimony was perjury and we now know that the September meeting never took place. Ruth Greenglass also testified that when Julius asked her to help enlist David in a spy ring, she was reluctant and Ethel pressed her by saying let David decide. However the KGB files indicate that Ruth was enthusiastic, and that Ethel just said “be careful.” While giving encouragement might qualify as an act in furtherance of a conspiracy, the ambiguous statement “be careful” is subject to a range of interpretations.

And to be clear, those statements are the only evidence presented against Ethel. Beyond that, both the US and USSR governments’ files indicate that Ethel was never an active espionage agent. Our government knew Ethel was not an agent but held her as a hostage to coerce her husband into cooperating with the authorities. The FBI files never claimed she was guilty, but consistently described her as “cognizant and recalcitrant.” Whatever Julius did, Ethel was neither charged with, nor did she commit, espionage.

Given this, I hope you can understand my annoyance when the media gets it wrong. New York City area mainstream media outlets have reiterated this “mistake” for 64 years. To repeat inaccurate information – without mentioning that we now know Ethel never committed espionage – is outrageous.  Read More 
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