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Talkin’ about my Generation…

As a college student 50 years ago, I got into arguments with my parents’ Old Left comrades. They criticized my generation for our long hair, ratty clothes and musical taste; they labeled our radical politics as indulgence. They didn’t understand our cultural revolution, didn’t approve of the tactics we employed to end the War in Vietnam and thought the concept of Black Power was madness. They told us we should be fighting for integration and organizing the working class. But we formed the core of a new movement that, along with the draftees in Vietnam who rose up against their officers, helped end the War in Vietnam. Our cultural revolution sparked the second wave of feminism and the gay rights movement. The militant cry for Black liberation echoed down the decades to be resurrected by Black Lives Matter.

In those years we, not our parents, had our finger on the pulse of the nation. We had a better sense of what fights needed fighting. We were inexperienced, impulsive, arrogant and, too often, obnoxious. We made stupid mistakes. But our analysis of what needed to be done at that moment was more accurate than that of the Old Left. In the long run we couldn’t sustain a radical vision and a cohesive movement strong enough to ward off the right’s counter offensive, and our dream of revolution crumbled.

Still, my parents’ generation failed to understand that while they had a lot to teach us, we had much to teach them. Could my generation be making the same mistake today?

Half a century later, radical Millennials echo who we New Leftists were in the 1960’s. We had the draft; they got screwed by the crash of 2008. We had nightmares about nuclear annihilation; they face global famine, resource wars, and mass social breakdown. They understand that the current political/economic system is unacceptable, that the approaching biospheric collapse means that everything has changed, and our politics must change along with it if most of them are to survive. Is it possible that we are too quick to dismiss their perspective just as our parents did with us?

Today, my age-mates argue that the two million young radicals (the core of Jill Stein’s 2.7 million voters) are just stomping their feet and holding their breath because Bernie is not the nominee. My age-mates reject young radicals’ argument that although Trump’s environmental policies are worse, both are unacceptable, since Clinton’s policies will cause us to cross tipping points that will destroy the productive capacity of the planet. Aging New Leftists counter that with Clinton in office we’ll have more time to save the biosphere. But does this ignore the science of tipping points and positive feedback loops? Some claim we can move Clinton towards our position, despite her history and her allies. Radical Millennials tell us no, that the environmental crisis has become so acute that maintaining the status quo against something that is even worse still jeopardizes our survival. Could they be right?

There are a few million aging but engaged 1960’s radicals and left-liberals in this country. What if those who live in deep blue states whose electoral votes will still go to Clinton even without their support, voted Green? What if a significant portion of them joined the Millennials who have picked up our banner? If that happened, the Green Party might reach 5% of the vote, qualifying them to be on the ballot in all states in the 2018 federal elections.

Maybe the growing climate change generated calamities of the coming four years will cause more of my old activist buddies to understand that Millennials who won’t vote for Clinton aren’t throwing temper tantrums, or wasting their vote, but rather, are looking ahead to build a movement for change. Maybe radical Millennials have more to teach us than we realize.  Read More 
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How much time do we have?

Last month the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released the figures for last year’s greenhouse gas emissions. What a grim picture: more greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere in 2015 than in any previous year; the rate of growth was increasing, and these emissions have so far caused an increase of one degree Celsius in global temperature. In response, climate scientists concluded that we have approximately five years to start reducing our fossil fuel usage before we cross tipping points to globe-spanning disaster.

Last week Bill McKibben published Recalculating the Climate Math. He wrote that the most recent numbers released by the think tank Oil Change International (OCI) show “how much of the fossil fuel in the world’s existing coal mines and oil wells we can burn if we want to prevent global warming from cooking the planet…[and] how much more new digging and drilling can we do? Here’s the answer: zero.”

McKibben quotes OCI’s Stephen Kretzmann’s statement that keeping it in the ground does not mean stopping all production of fossil fuel instantly. No new drilling coupled with letting “current fields begin their natural decline, [means] you’ll be using 50 percent less oil by 2033.” McKibben concludes: “That gives us 17 years … to replace all that oil with renewable energy” and we have enough time and the means to make this happen.

One trustworthy source says five years, another talks about 17. But since they are focusing on different aspects of the same problem they actually complement, rather than contradict, each other.

The most recent NOAA data tells us we have until just after the end of the next President’s term in office to start implementing comprehensive changes in our energy policy. This means no more fracking or fossil fuel infrastructure development, as well as a massive investment in renewable energy on a scale we have not seen since the retooling of our economy at the start of World War II. McKibben’s new math article tells us if we plan for this transformation and begin its implementation within five years, we may be able to make substantial enough reductions in our fossil fuel usage in the next 17 years to avoid, just barely, crossing the deadly 1.5 to 2 degree C temperature increase that would spell global disaster.

While this time frame is short and may be overly optimistic, this information is a boon for our movement. The enormity of the problem coupled with its indefinite timeline has paralyzed many of us. While these new numbers do not reduce the challenge, pinning down how much time we have makes our situation more concrete. Setting clear goals and clarifying our time limits makes it easier to activate people.

We have our marching orders. Since any new fracking, or continued expansion of oil extraction, even if coupled with increased use of renewables, will make it impossible to meet our five and seventeen year deadlines, we must organize our movement and its demands around this timetable.  Read More 
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Millennials are Awake; Boomers, let’s join them

Sunday evening Elli and I attended a rally for Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein. It was a great crowd – about 400 people – and I was impressed by the composition of the audience. A few were from my generation, but the overwhelming majority were in their 20’s and 30’s. It was thrilling to see so many politically-energized young people, today’s equivalent of my SDS comrades from the 1960’s. It gave me hope for the future.

I was also inspired by Jill’s speech. How refreshing to hear a presidential candidate articulate so many positions that I agree with. Not only did she put climate justice front and center, but I could enthusiastically support virtually everything she said, from her attacks on the military industrial complex to her plan to cancel student debt to her understanding of institutional racism and desire to create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants.

On our way home afterwards it dawned on me that I was reviving the simple concept I first heard in elementary school: we vote for the person we agree with. I felt grateful to Jill for giving me the chance to do that.

There are those who will call me self indulgent for voting for the candidate I agree with, but I do this out of necessity. Many of us are aware that Dr. James Hansen (formerly head scientist at NASA) and other climate scientists predict that we face climate change generated biospheric collapse by 2050. Fewer understand that because it takes 30 years for the climate to react fully to today’s emissions, that we have only until 2020 to change course to avoid that catastrophe. Yes, that means that this hellish summer of record, drought, flood, fire and heat was caused by our pre-1986 emissions, and we’ve already locked in so much worse for the next thirty years.

Some ask, why vote for someone who can’t win? That’s a good question. Is it better to vote for someone whose policies guarantee that we will cross climate tipping points by or shortly after 2020? Some claim that Clinton’s acknowledgement of climate change will buy us more time to address the problem. This reflects a failure to understand tipping points, positive feedback loops and the 30-year lag between emissions and their full impact. Clinton’s history shows that it will be virtually impossible to separate her from oil and gas companies, other multinational corporate giants, their Wall Street backers and the military-industrial complex. This guarantees that, despite her “acceptance” of climate change, that she will follow policies that will cross those tipping points, and thus, lock in ecological disaster.

Regardless of whether the tactics of lesser evil Democrats had any positive effect in the last several decades, they are the politics of the past. It might be too late already, but the ONLY way to save the upcoming generations is to act on the understanding that there can be no more business as usual. Millennials are figuring this out, but are my age-mates too set in our politics to embrace the new reality? Let’s not repeat the rigidities of our parents’ generation. We must wake up. If we want civilization, or more than a tiny fragment of our species, to survive the current century the lesser evil is no longer viable.  Read More 
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August break

I am taking August off. Will post again in September.

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That’s Not Progressive

The day after Hillary Clinton chose Tom Kaine as her running mate, a story on my NBC app was titled, “Boring? How Tom Kaine’s Faith, Upbringing Make Him Anything But.” The article’s pro-Kaine bias was difficult to swallow, but its second sentence, which described him as “a white male progressive Senator,” really stuck in my craw.

Tom Kaine is no progressive. The article touted his moral compass because while he’s personally opposed to abortion, as Governor of Virginia he supported a women’s right to choose because it was the law of the land, and while he opposed the death penalty, he presided over several executions for the same reason. That sounds more like slavish adherence to the status quo than being either moral or progressive.

But there is a bigger issue in play. We’ve heard the word progressive bandied about with nauseating frequency at the Democratic National Convention this week. It was used to boost LBGTQ rights, to reject the blanket exclusion of Muslim refugees and indiscriminate, mass deportation of the undocumented, to understand that Black Lives Matter has a point, to acknowledge human induced global warming, to support a gradual increase in the minimum wage and free public college tuition.

All of these things are fine, but we can’t let centrist democrats, or anyone else, be anointed progressive simply because they have cherry-picked items from our agenda. A progressive program must also include a fundamental restructuring of neoliberal, globalized capitalism. It should place human needs before the profits of Wall Street financial manipulators and the military industrial complex. It must demand the redistribution of wealth from the 1% to the rest of us. It needs to elevate diplomacy over warfare, and address the root causes of terrorism, rather than counter their violence with that of our own.

I don’t always agree with Bernie Sanders’ positions. But he has confronted the masters of capital and, therefore, deserves the progressive mantle he wears so proudly.

It is not progressive to buddy-up to Wall Street. It is not progressive to back fracking and nuclear power. It is not progressive to support agribusiness and global extractionism. It is not progressive to bomb Bosnia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. It is not progressive to embrace Henry Kissinger, AIPEC and Benjamin Netanyahu.

I fear that the mainstream media and the centrist democrats they support are attempting to redefine progressive to delete any critique of our economic system from the term. We can’t let them hijack that word. One way to thwart that is to refuse to use it as they do. Whether you hold your nose and vote for Clinton and Kaine, decide to vote for Green Party Candidate Jill Stein, or sit out the election entirely, don’t accept that you are voting for a “progressive” unless you are voting for someone whose program at least seeks to restructure, if not destroy, today’s rapacious capitalism.  Read More 
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Climate Change & White Privilege

Recently my daughter Rachel argued that my refusal to vote for Clinton because of her climate change policies is a reflection of my white privilege.

Her argument went this way: Because I am a relatively affluent older straight white male, I don’t have immediate concerns that poor people, people of color, women and the LGBTQ community have about a Trump presidency. Rachel did not belittle my climate-change concerns. She agreed about the gravity of environmental situation, but said I have the privilege of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, while the more vulnerable people in our country can’t afford to do that.

It makes sense that some people are more fearful than I am of a Trump victory - people whose children are in danger of being shot by a cop, whose family members could be detained and deported as undocumented or denied access to a needed abortion. However, while that argument justifies their position, it does not undercut mine.

Trump could make matters worse, but cops are already murdering young African-Americans under the current administration and there is no evidence that a Clinton presidency would change that. As Secretary of State, Clinton facilitated the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected President of Honduras, transforming that nation into a killing zone which, in turn, has created a flood of refugees we are now trying to deport. Clinton also has a long history of supporting policies that have screwed poor people.

While Trump might increase the oppression of the poor and undocumented in this country, Clinton’s neo-liberal economic policies in support of multinational corporations and extractionism will accelerate the destruction of habitats and livelihoods of tens, even hundreds, of millions of indigenous people in Latin America, Africa and Asia. A Clinton presidency is an immediate and dire threat to those people. And ask the people in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere who will be bombed to smithereens when hawkish Hillary takes over if they’d find her presidency acceptable in order to avoid Trump. It may seem insensitive, but just as I may be more insulated from a Trump presidency, at least some of the domestic poor can afford a Clinton presidency more easily than those on other continents whose lives her policies will destroy.

Finally, I will not vote for Clinton because my reading of the science teaches me that her policies will push us over tipping points that will generate positive feedback loops that will destroy the productive capacity of the planet. It may appear less immediate because of the lag between the production of greenhouse gases and their full impact, but we have run out of time. It won’t matter what color, gender or age you are when we face biospheric collapse. We are all in the same boat and we will all go down with the ship.

We need more people withdrawing support from those whose policies will spur climate chaos. Perhaps my privilege enables me to do so, but it is still imperative.  Read More 
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Brexit: Right Choice for the Wrong Reasons?

My first response to the Brexit vote was “good.” No, I haven’t become a Trump supporter or a right-wing nationalist with immigrantophobia. I liked the result for environmental reasons. The European Union is a key element of globalized capitalism that puts profit ahead of people and ecological concerns, consumption before of conservation, and is rapidly depleting the world’s resources. As a radical environmentalist I believe that de-globalizing or re-localizing the world’s economies is necessary to avoid climate change tipping points that will decimate the productive capacity of the planet before the end of the century. Anti-globalization sentiment was at least in part responsible for the pro-exit vote and that is a good thing.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. Nationalism and xenophobia also played a role, and preventing global warming had little to do with Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Those who voted to leave did the right thing, at least in part, for the wrong reasons. That’s not surprising and it parallels the seemingly contradictory path the world must take to insure our species’ continued existence.

Our survival depends upon replacing the world-spanning networks of financial institutions, extractive corporations, agribusiness, the military-industrial complex, and the governmental entities that enable them, with localized, egalitarian, self-governing communities that not only produce sufficient food, clothing and shelter sustainably, but also provide cultural and intellectual sustenance. However, since we face a planetary crisis, a successful 180-degree turnabout of this nature will require worldwide coordination and cooperation. A globally coordinated plan of localization almost seems like a contradiction in terms, but it won’t work if it is done in a random or patchwork quilt-like manner.

Such localization can’t be achieved by pandering to nationalism or racism. It won’t produce the desired ecological result as long as one nation acts more entitled than the next, one race exploits, or attacks another, or one religion knows it has a god-given right to impose its beliefs on all others. Such attitudes are antithetical to the viability of our species; the survival of more than a fragment of the human race over the next hundred years will also require an equitable redistribution of resources.

This is a new kind of globalization. Some on the left think we can utilize multi-national impulses such as the European Union to move in this direction. However, any institution dominated by neo-liberal capitalism will impede rather than facilitate global environmental progress, even if it becomes somewhat greener within its borders. Capitalism’s regulations and structures are designed to serve the 1% by facilitating growth and consumption. It can never be transformed from within into the collective green savior we need.

While it is a mind-boggling task, we must reconstitute all major, top down, neo-liberal entities from the bottom up. To paraphrase the revolutionary chant of the 1970’s, we need “one, two, many Brexits,” but we need them for the right reasons.  Read More 
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Father’s Day Execution Anniversary

June 19th, the day my parents were executed, fell on Father’s Day this year. Perhaps that’s ironic because for the first time in many years, rather than holding an event to honor them both, this year, my focus is on building the campaign to exonerate my mother, Ethel.

Some supporters of efforts to reopen my parents’ case and the Rosenberg Fund for Children have expressed concern that by singling out Ethel, we’ve neglected the injustice done to my father. Exonerating my father is more complicated. Morton Sobell’s admission in 2008 that he and Julius provided military industrial information to the Soviet Union, coupled with other evidence, prevents us from claiming his innocence. Still, he was executed for stealing the secret of the atomic bomb, a crime he did not commit, and the trial testimony necessary to convict him was false.

The Exonerate Ethel Campaign emphasizes that “the Rosenbergs” were two separate people. After their arrests, however, they acted in concert. While Julius spied and Ethel did not, they both refused to falsely confess to acts they did not commit and implicate others.

Julius grew up during the great depression on Manhattan’s impoverished Lower East Side. He joined the Communist Party after witnessing its efforts to alleviate suffering in his neighborhood. He saw the rise of fascism in Europe and admired the young men who volunteered to fight Franco’s Nazi-supported army in Spain. When World War II erupted, he determined to help the Soviet Union defeat what he called “the Hitler beast.” Bad eyesight kept him out of the armed forces, so he organized several young scientists and engineers to share cutting edge military-industrial information with the USSR.

By 1950, when the government arrested him, Russia, our WW II ally, had become our enemy. In order to avoid confronting more powerful atomic scientists who had shared atomic information with their Russian counter-parts, Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents conspired to transform my passionately idealistic father, whose goal was to help the Soviet Union defend itself, into a master atomic spy. Next, they arrested Ethel, even though they knew she was not a spy, and involved the Judge in their conspiracy. With Judge Kaufman’s connivance, they used the death penalty to attempt to coerce my parents to confess to a crime they did not commit and to rat out the friends Julius had recruited.

Facing death, Julius and Ethel agreed that they would never bow to the government’s demands or betray their comrades. Even though both believed that helping to defeat Hitler was essential, they thought Ethel was insulated from Julius’ illegal activities. If he were imprisoned, they expected that she could stay home with their children.

They never considered that Julius might face execution, or that the government would develop a diabolical plan to arrest and hold Ethel hostage to the death penalty. I don’t know this, but I expect and believe what happened to Ethel was my father’s greatest regret.

My father’s day gift to Julius is working on the campaign to exonerate Ethel. It is what he would have wanted.  Read More 
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I’m not as worried about the possibility of a Trump Presidency as many of my friends.

This could be because I tend to look on the bright side. Often, my initial reaction to bad news is to think that it can’t be that bad. But this is about more than denial.

I don’t take the possibility of armed Trumpomaniacs patroling the streets lightly. I had family members killed in the holocaust. Roy Cohn, one of the principal engineers of my parents’ frame-up and execution, was Trump’s mentor. I understand the danger of his potential Supreme Court appointments and his racist, misogynist policies. I know a Trump victory could hurt a lot of people and would never advocate voting for him.

But I’m more concerned with the underlying anti-Trump message. Supporting the “lesser evil,” because we can’t live with a Trump victory, is a tacit admission that the status quo is tolerable. It isn’t. While Trump could be deadly for more of us domestically, our current system already is toxic for hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and is in the process of destroying the productive capacity of the planet. Both Trump’s and Clinton’s environmental policies would be disastrous for most of the world’s population.

A willingness to vote for the status quo because Trump is worse is also a subtle form of cognitive dissonance. It is a refusal to acknowledge, or to act on the knowledge, that we are about to run out of time and so must make climate change the number one priority. Instead of confronting a longer-term, but qualitatively deadier, environmental impact, some progressives propose we vote for Clinton, a candidate whose policies make that end result more likely, in order to avoid the more immediate sociopolitical threat of Trump. I admit this is not an easy choice, but choosing the latter over the former could be our worst mistake.

Some progressive people say it isn’t that bad. We can adjust capitalism to make it greener, a new technological breakthrough will save us or a mass movement could push a Clinton Presidency to change course. Clinton’s history of support for war, global, neo-liberal corporate control, and the fossil fuel industry, indicates the last is extremely unlikely. Science suggests that four or eight more years of Obama-style energy policies, plus incremental greening, will not save us. Capitalism, with its grow or die imperative, is not sustainable.

Other progressives reject capitalism, but insist there is no viable alternative. That’s admitting defeat. We might not succeed, but if radical change is needed, then, by definition, we must step outside of the current political framework to bring it about. We must take to heart Naomi Klein’s brilliant insight that everything has changed and act on it.

Our civilization, even our survival as a species, is at stake. Like so many who have researched this issue, I live every day with that understanding. My fear of Trump pales in comparison.  Read More 
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The Birth of a Nation

Most of you probably know about D.W. Griffith’s horrible 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation. It glorified the Ku Klux Klan. President Woodrow Wilson, a virulent racist, showed it in the White House.

African-American filmmaker Nate Parker’s new film with the same title is the story of Nat Turner, who led the great Virginia slave rebellion in 1831. There is already a lot of buzz about this film, which will be released on October 7. It has generated rave advance reviews and sparked an unprecedented bidding war for distribution rights at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I’m eager to see the film, which I hear is presented from Turner’s point of view. The trailer (link to the left) features Nina Simone singing Strange Fruit, written by my father, Abel Meeropol.

Some may wonder what Strange Fruit, a song about lynching written in the late 1930’s, has to do with a slave uprising that took place over 100 years earlier. I don’t know if Strange Fruit is played in the body of the movie, so I don’t know how entwined the song is with the plot. But despite the 100-year gap, given what I know about Nat Turner’s rebellion, the film and song are well matched.

Strange Fruit is often referred to as a “sorrowful dirge,” or as a “protest song.” While it does fit within the protest song category, I think that term misses its essence. Strange Fruit is an attack song. With his couplet “Pastoral scene of the gallant South. The bulging eyes and twisted mouth,” Abel was saying that beneath its genteel facade the South was rotten. Its scornful tone infuriated many whites so much that its performance was banned in some cities and radio stations refused to play it. There were riots at some of the venues where it was performed. In 1940, my father was called before a committee investigating communist school teachers and asked if the Communist Party paid him to write the song.

Similarly, the 2016 version of The Birth of a Nation is an attack movie. It isn’t about the moral superiority of non-violent protesters peacefully asking for desegregation and civil rights in the 1960’s. Instead, it is a justification – and possibly a glorification – of an armed rebellion.

How would my father feel about the use of his greatest work in this manner? He once said he wrote Strange Fruit because he hated lynching and he hated the people who perpetrated it. Abel was no turn-the-other-cheek pacifist. He would have applauded the slaves taking up arms. He would have loved having his song used in this new film.

I look forward to seeing the movie. I intend to watch it through two sets of eyes, my own and my father’s.  Read More 
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