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Exonerate Ethel

Last week the Rosenberg Fund for Children launched an online petition campaign to exonerate my mother, Ethel. I urge everyone to click on the picture to the left (it's a link), to sign the petition, and to spread the word throughout your communities.

I’ve wanted this for decades. I can’t recall when I first thought of separating my mother’s case from my father’s. I think the women’s liberation movement of the late 60’s planted the seed. As we began the reopening effort in 1974, I noticed that while almost everyone on both sides talked about “the Rosenbergs,” the debate focused almost entirely on whether Julius was an atomic spy. I remember saying that Ethel was “disappeared” into Julius.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980’s information began to dribble out that raised the possibility that Julius was a spy. The release of the Venona transcriptions in 1995 added force to this possibility, but also provided powerful proof that Ethel never spied. The KGB gave all its operatives code names; Ethel had no code name. At that time, I proposed that we accept that Julius might have engaged in non-atomic military-industrial spying, without conceding this was certain, and that we concentrate on Ethel, whose innocence seemed more likely. Our lawyer, Marshall Perlin, disagreed, saying that would be perceived as giving up on Julius and that would defeat efforts to reopen our parents’ case. I regret accepting his argument.

For the next decade, I groused to close comrades that we should emphasize Ethel more, but met with similar resistance about abandoning Julius. I gave talks that focused on my mother’s innocence, but did nothing further.

Two events in 2008 strengthened my determination to do more. The first was the release of Ruth Greenglass’ Grand Jury statements that demonstrated Ruth lied at trial about Ethel’s involvement. The second was my parents’ co-defendant Morton Sobell’s admission that he and Julius engaged in military-industrial espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Still, it wasn’t until 2012, when I realized that September 28, 2015 would mark Ethel’s 100th birthday, and that was the ideal time to stage a major event all about her. Now I had the answer when people asked, “but what about Julius?” Ethel was almost two years older than Julius; it was neither his birthday, nor his centenary.

With the help of several others I began the work that resulted in New York City Council Members and Manhattan’s Borough President issuing proclamations honoring Ethel on her centenary and declaring her execution wrongful. I had no way of knowing that this plan would get a boost from the release in July, 2015, of David Greenglass’ Grand Jury testimony denying Ethel’s involvement. This release also led to the New York Times publishing an Op Ed piece, written by my brother and me, calling on the Obama Administration to exonerate Ethel.

It took a few more months, but this cascade led to the RFC’s launch of the online petition campaign to pressure the Obama Administration to acknowledge the injustice done to my mother. Regardless of what the administration does, the growing public acceptance of Ethel’s innocence is a triumph. It has been a long, but ultimately fruitful, journey.

Post Script: I would also love the government to declare Julius’ execution wrongful because he did not engage in atomic espionage. Such a declaration from this administration appears impossible, but what would have been Julius’ 100th birthday is still more than a year away. Perhaps the Sanders’ administration will be more accommodating.  Read More 
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As a teenager I considered myself a communist, but rarely described myself that way to others because it could be dangerous. As an adult I’ve become ambivalent about such designations. That’s because when people hear words like “‘socialist” “feminist” “liberal” “conservative” or “fascist,” to name a few, they make inaccurate assumptions about what the terms mean. Without further explanation, labels are as likely to obscure as to clarify.

I was proud of composing the four guiding principles of the Rosenberg Fund for Children: All people have worth; people are more important than profits; society must function within ecologically sustainable limits; and world peace is a necessity; because they were written in plain language without “ists” or “isms.” They reflected my loss of ideology as I aged. When asked to describe my core politics, I wouldn’t answer with an “ist,” but rather, by quoting Tom Paine: “I am a citizen of the world. My religion is to do good.” That baker’s dozen of words is clear, and if you think about it, says a lot.

Recently I’ve started to apply a new “ist” label to myself despite these misgivings. I’m convinced that “radical environmentalist” is a succinct and effective way to describe my politics.

Environmentalist: I see the impact on the environment of global warming induced climate change as an overarching issue. It trumps all others because if we continue on our current course, even with the recent, dramatic expansion of photovoltaic and wind power, we will cross climatic tipping points and deplete resources so thoroughly that mass starvation will cause civilization to collapse, or worse.

Growing up in the Jewish community, I knew people who asked “is it good for the Jews?” I ask instead “is it good for the environment?” That’s how I assess everything from personal choices to jobs programs and Presidential candidates. Everyone deserves a decent job, but if those new jobs result in significantly more consumption, they facilitate climate change disasters. So I question any jobs program that does not include plans to reduce consumption. It also means that I will not vote for any presidential candidate who does not pass environmental muster, even if other candidates are worse.

Radical: This means we can’t solve this challenge within the capitalist framework. The combination of capitalism’s profit motive and its grow-or-die imperative foster compulsive consumption and worldwide military domination. These are incompatible with stabilizing our planet’s climate. We can’t attack this problem as long as countries and individuals compete to secure the most resources and accumulate as much wealth as possible. The psychological pillars of capitalism – individualism and getting ahead – also work against us. Solving the global crisis requires collective action, and egalitarian leveling. This is why green capitalist solutions may temporarily slow down, but will not prevent, our plunge into the abyss.

I’m still wary of labels. But I hope that adopting this one and explaining what it means will frame the discussion in terms that enable me to be more persuasive.  Read More 
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The NY Times Gets Some of it Right

Last Sunday the New York Times published “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.” The article posed 16 questions and answered each in two or three short paragraphs.

The article is valuable because it provides readable, useful information while indicating that we are approaching a crisis. However, the answers lack systemic analysis of the root causes of this crisis and sugar-coat the problem.

For example, in response to Question 3, “Is there anything I can do?” they write:

“You can reduce your own carbon footprint in lots of simple ways, and most of them will save you money. You can plug leaks in your home insulation to save power, install a smart thermostat, switch to more efficient light bulbs, turn off the lights in any room where you are not using them, drive fewer miles by consolidating trips or taking public transit, waste less food, and eat less meat. Perhaps the biggest single thing individuals can do on their own is to take fewer airplane trips; just one or two fewer plane rides per year can save as much in emissions as all the other actions combined. If you want to be at the cutting edge, you can look at buying an electric or hybrid car, putting solar panels on your roof, or both.”

“In the end, though, experts do not believe the needed transformation in the energy system can happen without strong state and national policies. So speaking up, and exercising your right as a citizen matters as much as anything else you can do.”

The emphasis is entirely on personal acts. Even attempting to influence public policy is focused on individual acts and is included as an afterthought. We can’t expect the New York Times to encourage mass action to transform our energy system, but that is what’s needed. There is also no acknowledgement that unprecedented production and resource consumption under globalized neo-liberal capitalism is the source of the problem.

Then there’s the sugar coating of the problem. Question 6 asks, “What’s the worst-case scenario?” They answer:

“That is actually hard to say…. Perhaps the greatest fear is a collapse of food production … and mass starvation. Even with runaway emissions growth, it is unclear how likely this would be, as farmers are able to adjust their crops and farming techniques to a degree…. Another possibility would be a disintegration of the polar ice sheets, leading to fast-rising seas that would force people to abandon many of the worlds great cities…. [it concludes with the failure of the monsoon rains]”

This is not the worst case. The worst is not any one of these problems, but all of them and more at once. The possibility that farmers could adapt “to a degree,” is not the worst. The worst is that they can’t adapt. The answer ignores one recent model that projects temperatures in the Middle East could reach 170 degrees, rendering swathes of our planet uninhabitable, or that methane gas releases might turn our atmosphere toxic.

Hopefully, none of these nightmares will be realized, but ignoring them does not help educate the public. And it borders on disinformation, since another answer states “all of this could take hundreds or even thousands of years to play out,” when we could see these kind of changes begin in as little as 50 years if we continue with business as usual.

More generally, the problem with the NYT piece can be summed up by the language I quoted in a recent blog: “The worst climate change deniers are not the ones who say it is not happening, but the ones who recognize the problem but refuse to confront its most basic sources and causes.”

Given the New York Times’ cozy relationship with corporate capitalism, this is hardly surprising.  Read More 
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