Everywhere Is War: The American Threat to Iran, Venezuela, and Women

The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain and Jordan Smith, along with Sen. Mike Gravel and archivist Jeff Place join the Intercepted podcast this week as guests.

Photo illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherRadio Public, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.



John Bolton threatens Iran with “unrelenting force” as Benjamin Netanyahu unleashes a new assault on Gaza. This week on Intercepted: As the U.S. moves a strike group and bombers near Iran, The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain discusses Trump’s motley crew of regime-change warriors, what war with Iran would look like, and the strategy behind the economic sanctions. At nearly 90 years old, former Sen. Mike Gravel may be the oldest candidate for president, but he also has the dankest social media memes. Gravel discusses his insurgent run for the Democratic nomination led by his campaign volunteers who are teenagers. Gravel lays out his plan to cut the military budget in half, halt military aid to Saudi Arabia and Israel, and take U.S. hands off Venezuela. Gravel, who played a key role in ending the military draft during Vietnam, also tells the legendary story of how he entered the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. Anti-choice groups are mobilizing to get an abortion case before the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to crush Roe v. Wade. The Intercept’s Jordan Smith talks about her latest reporting. In honor of the 100th anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth, we hear some never-before-released recordings and talk with Jeff Place, the curator and senior archivist of The Smithsonian Folkways Collection’s career-spanning anthology of Seeger’s work.

If you like what we do, support our show by going to TheIntercept.com/join to become a member.


Announcer: Without our membership base, we would have a very, very difficult, nigh impossible task of bringing you the programming that you enjoy. There’s a lot of you out there now that haven’t called in and right now is the perfect chance. Call now.

[Phone ringing.]

Donald J. Trump: You know what’s going to happen, Jeremy? Let me tell you what’s going to happen. You’re not going to get any money if you let this happen. Intercepted, that’s fake news. These people are bad people. They don’t work. They don’t work and they don’t come close to working. These people are stone cold crazy. Look frankly, the way the show is going now, you look at Intercepted. Who knows how long that show’s going to be on? It’s a terrible show.

Announcer: The phones are getting active again. We really do appreciate it. Just please help us pay for this wonderful programming that you enjoy.

[Music interlude.]

JS: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 92 of Intercepted.

John Bolton: I think it’s been clear for a year now from the time President Trump announced he was getting out of the Iran deal, that we were going to return to sanctions and impose pressure on the regime there. And it’s had a very significant effect.

JS: Neoconservative war mongers love the USS Abraham Lincoln. Remember that moment back on May 1, 2003 where George W. Bush landed on the Abraham Lincoln in a warplane, he was wearing his flight suit and then he proceeded to declare the invasion and occupation of Iraq “Mission Accomplished?”

George W. Bush: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and her allies have prevailed.

JS: Sixteen years after that speech by Bush, Iraq remains in chaos and mired in bloodshed. There is a brutal war raging in neighboring Syria. Millions and millions of people remain displaced. It is a living nightmare and it can be directly traced to the invasion of Iraq, the lies that were told and this stunt that then-President Bush pulled on the Abraham Lincoln.

And then 16 years later, almost to the day, Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the Abraham Lincoln Carrier strike group and a bomber task force were being deployed to “send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” Iran subsequently accused the Trump administration of waging psychological warfare.

Juan Gonzalez: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the deployment was made because of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces” but he offered no details. Axios is reporting the threat is based on information passed on from Israel.

JS: Over the past two-plus years, the Trump administration has become increasingly populated by radical extremists with multi-decade records of agitating for the overthrow the Iranian government. These are people, like John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who believe that the 1953 overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected leader Mohammed Mossadegh, and the subsequent rule of the Shah was the high point of Iranian civilization. Iran should be an oil field with a flag and an impoverished, disempowered population.

Newscaster: Attention is focused once again, on the Middle East where events in Iran have taken a dramatic double twist. Forced to flee his palace in Tehran, the shah and his queen arrive in Rome after an alleged attempt by the imperial guard to arrest Dr. Mosadegh and a refusal by the Shah to dissolve parliament at Mosadegh’s request.

JS: Now with Donald Trump in power, a motley coalition has emerged, involving Israel, the Saudis, Erik Prince, the Emiratis, members of the Trump family all united in their goal to damage or destroy Iran. This is one of those issues that could explode in a moment based on a provocation or on outright lies. It is dangerous and it’s incendiary.

At the same time, Israel once again unleashed a deadly assault on Gaza over the weekend, killing at least 25 Palestinians, including two pregnant women and two children. Israel denies that it killed the women and blamed it on Hamas rockets. Four Israelis were also reported to have been killed. This recent round of killings began after Israeli forces reportedly shot and killed two Palestinian protesters sparking lethal battles between Palestinians and Israeli military forces. On orders from Benjamin Netanyahu, fresh off his re-election, Israel bombed buildings and also used drones to fire a missile at a car it claimed was carrying a Hamas leader. While the Trump administration hammers away on the theoretical threat of a nuclear Iran, Israel has a full nuclear arsenal and the passionate backing of the Trump White House. This is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous situations we have seen in recent years in the broader Middle East region.

Reporter Murtaza Hussain Discusses the Trump Administration’s Hostility Towards Iran

Joining me now to discuss all of this is my colleague Murtaza Hussain. He’s a reporter for The Intercept. Maz, welcome back to Intercepted.

Murtaza Hussain: Thank you for having me.

JS: What’s going on in Iran right now? Is it the case that Bolton and Pompeo and others in the Trump administration actually want to go to war against Iran?

MH: Well, when you look at these situations, you have to understand that they’re accomplished in stages. So, the first stage as you can see, is an attempt to degrade and ultimately cause the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal.

DJT: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

MH: The second stage would be to build pressure on Iran economically. If it causes political divisions in Iran, all the better.

DJT: We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction.

MH: And then military conflict is something that happens later down the line and you saw this previously with U.S. policy towards Iraq, which was preceded by decades of sanctions, other forms of pressure. I don’t think the U.S. is looking for imminent war with Iran today. But it is setting the stage for that years down the line. And we’re also in a very dangerous situation where there can be unintended escalations or confrontations between Iranian military in the U.S. and the people who are really suffering at the moment are the civilians of Iran.

DJT: Today’s action sends a critical message. The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.

JS: What has the impact been of the sanctions on Iran specifically?

MH: So sanctions on Iran specifically target its oil sector to try to reduce oil exports to zero in the statements of U.S. administration officials. The problem is that the heavy sanctions on Iranian banks have made it difficult for a lot of things which should get into Iran to get there. Companies and foreign banks do not want to deal with Iranian institutions because they’re afraid of incurring fines and other penalties from the U.S. We’re still at the early stage of these sanctions. As you know, Iraqi sanctions led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. We’re not there yet with Iran. But if you talk to people in Iran, the situation there’s getting more dire month-by-month. People are having difficulties affording meat. They’re having difficulties obtaining medical supplies, which are critical to life. If this continues for many more months, many more years, you’re going to see a very devastating civilian impact comparable somewhat to what we saw in Iraq.

JS: I think it’s no mistake or not unintentional that Bolton makes this announcement that the U.S. is deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to central command and as he said, to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force. Of course, he says this in early May and the Abraham Lincoln was actually the carrier that George W. Bush stood on in front of his “Mission Accomplished” banner in May of 2003. It seems like the symbolism is not coincidental.

MH: There’s a distinct lack of irony in these officials and John Bolton, of course, is a major official from that era, as well. This deployment as far as we know was a routine deployment but it’s being characterized for political purposes by Bolton as a unique threatening measure against Iran. And again, that in itself is dangerous. It’s ratcheting up tension in Iran. There are hardliners who are seeking degradation of relations with the U.S. and the outside world for their own reasons. These measures and this rhetoric is empowering those people and its leading to a situation where you could see a naval conflict between the U.S. and Iran which leads to a cycle of unintended consequences which could lead to a war or strikes against Iran in the near future.

JS: If they were to push forward to this, we know everything we know about Pompeo, Bolton, all that crew, but also we’ve now observed Trump for a couple years — How would this be sold?

MH: Well, after the Iraq war there’s clearly not a great appetite in the U.S. public for an occupation of a foreign country in the long term. I think the way this war will be sold is something close to Gulf War I, very antiseptic from the U.S. standpoint, conflict airstrikes, drone strikes, cruise missile strikes against Iranian targets. What you’d see is a lot of death and destruction on the Iranian side, but less exposure to physical risk by Americans.

And I think that the way that military technology is developing is that we’re going to move towards more of these hands-off wars, hands-off on one side at least. So, there’ll be bombings of Iranian cities, of Iranian military targets, maybe energy-producing facilities, nuclear facilities. But you will not see Trump or anyone else talking about major escalations of U.S. forces inside Iran. Maybe there’ll be special forces raids, but it’ll be a war which to some degree Americans will be able to ignore. That’s the only way politically such an endeavor can be sold after the toxic events in Iraq.

JS: You know, one of the takeaways I think from this two and a half years of the Mueller/Russia investigation is that there was this ongoing conspiracy of people within the Trump administration or the Trump family, interlocutors for Trump and foreign governments like Erik Prince or George Nader, and then foreign powers like the Saudis or the Israelis or Emiratis who all seem to be united in wanting that Iranian regime to be overthrown.

MH: I really see the present behavior by the U.S. as a form of unfinished business from the 2003 Bush era. Now, you have people like Bolton back in power. You have people like Erik Prince in the orbit of the Trump administration many of the same voices who very much wanted to see confrontation happening over a decade ago are now back near the helm of power. And all the same ideas and all the same ideologies and all the same desires for U.S. policy in the Middle East, they’re back and they have Trump.

And I’m not saying that Trump himself is somebody who campaigned on a war with Iran, but in many ways, he’s a cipher for these extremist elements in the United States and with him, they see an open door to achieving the dreams that were unfulfilled many years ago. And the Obama era was sort of [an] obstruction to that and things like the Iran nuclear deal need to be pulled apart in order to achieve their goals, but they’re working at that in earnest now. And if we see a second Trump administration, I think that the odds of confrontation with Iran militarily are very high.

JS: The noted academic Juan Cole, who also is an expert on Middle East politics and history, had a recent piece where he was talking about how CNN’s Fareed Zakaria did a story about John Bolton in which Zakaria depicted Bolton as just a very conservative man who sees the world as full of menacing enemies.

Fareed Zakaria: Bolton has been variously described as a neo-conservative, a paleo-conservative, a conservative hawk. In fact, he is simply a conservative, in the oldest most classical sense. Someone who has a dark view of humankind.

JS: I want you to respond to the following characterization from Professor Juan Cole. He says: “This picture of Bolton is a complete misreading. Bolton is a sadistic bully who wants to dominate people. He never got to be more than temporary U.N. Ambassador under George W. Bush because he had mercilessly tortured his office staff. Bolton likes to hurt people who are weaker than he. He is not after Iran because he’s afraid of it. He’s after it because it is one of the last countries in the world still bucking the U.S. power architecture and which is too weak to resist an all-out assault. He wants to see flies walking on the Iranians eyeballs and wants even their dogs to be fucked.”

MH: Look, Fareed Zakaria is somebody who’s part of a certain establishment, D.C., where he may see John Bolton around or he’s part of a certain polite social set which includes the most powerful people in the United States. So, he chooses not to speak frankly about who these people really are and look the United States has extremists like any country has extremists. John Bolton is an inveterate extremist. He makes no secret about his desire for war.

JB: The declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.

The only solution is to change the regime itself.

And that’s why before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran. Thank you very much.

MH: John Bolton somebody who looked at the past 10 years of horror in Iraq and did not feel sated by that. He wants more war in the region and I think Professor Cole’s characterizations are absolutely correct. And you know, we shouldn’t speak about these people in diplomatic language. They deserve to be spoken about as war criminals, as punitive war criminals. They’re not repentant or shy about who they are and we shouldn’t be shy about describing them as they are.

JS: What’s happening right now in Israel with a newly emboldened Netanyahu and these ongoing attacks on the Palestinians?

MH: It’s a very interesting situation because I feel that Netanyahu, despite his rhetoric, he does not want to invade Gaza again. He does not want to have a major war. He’s someone who’s very risk-averse and this practice that they have periodically of “mowing the lawn” — which is a term that they use conducting airstrikes, killing maybe a few dozen Palestinians, having rockets come back the other way in some number — this is something which is politically convenient. It allows him to posture as somebody tough without taking the political risks — which would entail in the casualties, which would entail in major conflict — and in the end, what happens is that Hamas and Netanyahu have a mutually beneficial relationship to some degree. It’s much more beneficial with Netanyahu, but he is able to portray himself as somebody tough on security and meanwhile, in the end, to achieve the ceasefire, some concessions [have] to be given to in terms of loosening restrictions on Gaza.

On the other hand, you have the West Bank where no concessions are given because there’s no violence in the West Bank on a mass level and the message ultimately sent is that armed resistance will give some sort of concession and they’ll have to deal with you on equal terms, in some sense. Whereas the Palestinians who have chosen a political solution with Israel, they have no outlet for concessions. They’re repeatedly humiliated. There’s not even the pretense that restrictions are going to be lifted and the situation continues on with no end in sight. I think that in Gaza right now the blockade’s been going on for more than a decade. It’s not anywhere close to ending but for many forces mainly in Israel, the status quo is something which is bearable.

JS: Murtaza Hussain, thanks very much for joining us.

MH: Thank you for having me.

JS: Murtaza Hussain is a journalist at The Intercept. You can find him on Twitter at @MazMHussain. Hussain is spelled H-U-S-S-A-I-N.

[Music interlude.]

JS: Coming up on the show, we are going to be looking back at the life and music of Pete Seeger. He would’ve been 100 years old this month. And we’re going to be talking to my Intercept colleague, Jordan Smith, about the war over abortion rights in this country.

Mike Gravel Talks About His Presidential Campaign and Anti-War Platform

But first, the quadrennial frenzy has broken out in the United States as we approach another election cycle and the prospect of a second term for Donald Trump. It’s an incredibly crowded field of Democratic candidates for 2020, the stakes are definitely high, and the memes are flowing. One candidate’s social media is doing remarkably well with some Millennials. I am talking about former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, age 88. He is most well known for reading Daniel Ellsberg’s leaked Pentagon Papers into the public record.  

Sen. Mike Gravel: Somebody released this information. I don’t know who. I read the newspapers like the rest of you. I watch TV and they say it’s Daniel Ellsberg and he apparently has confessed. I think he’s done a service to this country. He’s all alone out there and I think he’s going to have an effect in ending this war.

JS: Nowadays, if you visit Mike Gravel’s official Instagram page, you’ll see “shut up centrist” written over an image of the octogenarian Mike Gravel dabbing, yes, dabbing, all in front of a flaming background. Another meme reads, “You know I had to do it to the DNC.”

This unlikely campaign started when some politically savvy teenagers — still in high school — reached out to the former Senator to start his 2020 bid. Sen. Gravel calls them, “the kids,” and their intention is to get enough small donations to elevate Mike Gravel onto the presidential debate stage. Once there, he plans to go after the U.S. empire and what he calls, pro-war Democrats. At almost 90, Mike Gravel is so old and his is social media game is so fire that we had to ask him if he even knew what the kids were doing with it.

JS [with Sen. Mike Gravel]: Let me ask you something, do you look at your Instagram page?

MG: No, I don’t.

JS: Do you know what a dank meme is?

MG: A dank what?

JS: A dank meme, m-e-m-e —

MG: Is that where you put your elbow in front of your face and you have your arms stretched out?

JS: Alright, all jokes aside, Mike Gravel is actually a legend in the fight against empire and the imperial pursuits of the United States. He played a lead role in ending the military draft, he vehemently opposed the Vietnam war, the Iraq war, and he says he’s actually against all U.S. military intervention. Mike Gravel is calling for reparations to black and indigenous people in this country, he wants all drugs legalized and decriminalized. He wants to denuclearize the United States and bring every single U.S. troop home. Mike Gravel says he would cut the military budget immediately by half, wage war on the military industrial complex and take a fierce stance against Israeli militarism and occupation. He says he would immediately lift the sanctions against Venezuela and would recognize or rather re-recognize Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Mike Gravel hasn’t yet met the threshold to appear in the Democratic primary debates, but he says he believes the kids may actually pull it off. Sen. Mike Gravel joins me now. Sen. Gravel, welcome to Intercepted.

MG: Thank you for having me.

JS: One of the main tenets of your platform that you’re running on is anti-imperialist, anti-interventionist foreign policy. Explain how that would work if you were to win the 2020 election. What a Mike Gavel foreign policy would look like?

MG: Well first off, I don’t think anybody who can win will appreciably change the nature of our foreign policy. It’s imperialistic and it’s endorsed and maintained by the military industrial complex and Wall Street. We have to realize that it’s insanity to really pit one human being against another and try to kill each other. From my point of view, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard and to a degree, Senator Warren, these are my choices. The others, there’s a lot of empty shirts out there that keep saying, “Oh, we’ve got a compromise and we’re going to bring people together.” We went through that scenario with Obama and I had a sense of that way back when I was involved in the debates.

MG [during debate]: Understand that this war was lost the day that George Bush invaded Iraq on a fraudulent basis, understand that. Now with respect to what’s going on in the Congress, I’m really embarrassed. So, we passed and the media is in a frenzy, right, today with what has been passed. What has been passed, George Bush communicated over a year ago that he would not get out of Iraq until he left office. Do we not believe him?

MG: And I’ve been fighting the imperialistic policies of our country for 50 years.

JS: And you also ran against Joe Biden that year in 2008. And actually you called him out on the debate stage, as well.

Brian Williams: Who on the stage exactly tonight worries you so much?

MG [during debate]: Well, I would say the top tier ones. They made statements, oh, Joe, I’ll include you too. You have a certain arrogance. You want to tell the Iraqis how to run their country. I gotta tell you we should just plain get out, just plain get out. It’s their country. They’re asking us to leave and we insist on staying there.

MG: Because he was a really liberal interventionist with respect to Iran but here again, Obama set in motion and it’s carried forward right now, what I call the mother of boondoggles. The reason why I call it the mother of boondoggles is you can refurbish the nuclear capability, but you can’t use the weapons. Anybody that would unload their nuclear capability on anybody else, you don’t even have to retaliate, they would trigger a nuclear winter and we’re all going to die. This is insanity. And this is the leadership, the military leadership of our country and the political leadership of our country and what it is we’re on a suicide pact. There’s two things that are going to destroy the planet: One is a nuclear accident or stupidity or immorality and the other is of course, the environmental question. Until we can muster the will of not only the United States but the will of the world to do something about this, we’re on a long trajectory of destroying the planet with our consumptive ability.

JS: Senator Gravel, you’re talking about climate there. What is your analysis or critique of what is being talked about as the Green New Deal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others pushing this legislation on Capitol Hill?

MG: Now, what the Green New Deal is it’s a commitment. It’s a commitment, a total commitment to do something about the environmental degradation that’s going on in our society. And so, I applaud her leadership in doing this. It is important of the two most things that could destroy our planet not just our country, we’re talking about destroy our planet, it’s going to be the environmental problem and the nuclear problem.

JS: Talk about your plan for U.S. military spending and the U.S. military. What would a Commander-in-Chief Mike Gravel do right out of the gates regarding the military and its policies around the world?

MG: I would close all the military bases that we have abroad and transfer them to the United Nations. And at the same time try to bring about a change in the structure of the United Nations where we do away with the veto power on the Security Council and that we would arrange that the General Assembly would be on the basis of population. Not the way it is right now where every country gets one person. Two, the next problem is to handle the military industrial complex. I’m always reminded by the question that was asked of Robert McNamara as he was leaving office. Secretary of defense, he should know. So, he was asked how much could we cut the defense budget and still not be threatened or be in danger? He said 50 percent. I’ll buy that. What I would do is I would call for a 50 percent cut in the military industrial complex, American imperialism and we don’t need all these weapons if we don’t have to have all these bases all over the world and these continuous wars that we see taking place in fighting the war on terror.

JS: What conditions would have to be present for you to authorize a U.S. war?

MG: There’s no condition. I was asked in the last, when I ran in ’08 —

BW [during debate]: Same question, other than Iraq, three most important enemies to the United States.

MG: And the other candidates were mentioning the various people Russia, China, North Korea. In point of fact —

MG [during debate]: We have no important enemies. What we need to do is to begin to deal with the rest of the world as equals and we don’t do that. We spend more as a nation on defense than all the rest of the world put together. Who are we afraid of? Who you are afraid of? Brian, I’m not and Iraq has never been a threat to us. We invaded them. I mean, it is unbelievable. The military industrial complex not only controls our government lock, stock, and barrel, but they control our culture.

MG: It is absolutely ridiculous to think that there’s a threat to us. There is, for terror. Now, that’s a whole other problem. And we bring that terror onto ourselves by the way we conduct ourselves around the world. Here, just look at the issue of sanctions. Who the hell are we to sanction anybody? Sanctions — like what we’re doing right now in Venezuela — those sanctions are going to cost tens of thousands of deaths primarily children, I might say. And so we do this wantonly and with a level of arrogance. My God, where’s the sense of morality in our leadership today and in the past?

JS: How would a president Mike Gravel handle the situation right now in Venezuela? Would you continue to recognize Nicolas Maduro as the president and what would relations be like?

MG: The first thing we do is we continue to recognize Maduro as the president. He is the president. People can quarrel over the elections. Well, hell, we can quarrel over our own elections, in that regard. It’s up to the people and so what we’ve got to do is to turn around and help their economy get healthy. So, doing away with the sanctions would be the first step. But we’re trying to destroy the economy of their country at arm’s length and we do it through sanctions. The answer to Venezuela is to help them become a viable country. Who cares whether they’re socialists or not? It’s not just Venezuela. It’s we go around the country thinking in our arrogance that we can displace any government, any leader that doesn’t kowtow to our imperialism and that’s got to end. That’s got to end if for no other reason of morality, at least the logic of it is very compulsive.

JS: What about Israel? What would your approach be to dealing with the Israeli government, whether or not Netanyahu is in power? What would your approach be to Israel?

MG: Now, Israel is a different situation and Netanyahu is a far-right, really very bad for Israel. Now with respect to the solution, the leadership of Israel has not been all that keen on arriving at really a peaceful solution. That is a two-state solution. They feel that the only answer is for them to make life so difficult for the Palestinians that they’ll leave and they force them to leave. And so then you, you know, you still got Gaza and you still got what’s left of the West Bank. And when I say what’s left, with all of the settlements, there’s not going to be much left to really affect a solution in that regard. We have to stop the military strength to perpetuate the violence that exists. And there’s violence on both sides, but I think right now is a little more violence perpetrated by Israel. It’s stones against nuclear power.

JS: How do you then change the relationship with Israel? Would you continue to give any military aid to Israel?

MG: No, no, not at all. They don’t they don’t need any military — they export military capability abroad. So if they can export it, they have more than enough to take care of their security. Now, Israel is militarily safe. It’s economically dependent upon us and I buy into if you feel deeply about this and you want to boycott some of the industries of Israel, fine. It’s a free country. You should be able to boycott.

Chuck Schumer: We must continue to stand firm against the profoundly biased campaign to delegitimize the state of Israel through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions.

MG: And I think it’s appalling that the Jewish interest in the Congress are denying us our civil rights in our ability to boycott.

JS: Senator Mike Gravel, what is your big picture view of this two-plus years of Mueller investigation, Russiagate and the allegations that Trump was directly conspiring with Vladimir Putin?

MG: I don’t believe that for a moment. We have done more invasion of Russian elections that they’ve ever dreamed of with us. People lost sight in the fact that when Boris Yeltsin, we not only paid for his campaign. We sent consultants over there to actually physically manage his campaign.

George Gorton: We’re American political consultants who have been involved in the presidential campaign in Russia for the last four and a half months … So, it’s really fun for us and exciting. It was one of the experiences of a lifetime for all of us. That’s for sure. And so we just thought we’d be here and we’re happy and pleased and excited to finally be able to tell the story and so we’ll just be open to your questions.

MG: And that was Yeltsin who was then giving all the resources away to these oligarchs and we were all party to that. And so when we, and of course, the CIA has always meddled in, here, we’ve meddled in the elections in Venezuela. You name it. This is a modus operandi of our intelligence community is to go ahead and try and screw up somebody’s election. Here, this is always going to go on but by talking about it with Russia, we don’t talk about what we do because what we do is considerably more than ever they’ve dreamed of doing.

JS: How would you describe the presidency of Donald Trump on its own terms? How would you describe his governance, his policies, the impact of his policies and ideas?

MG: The impact is of course, it’s made the United States the laughing stock of the world. With respect to his policies, the trade policies are damaging, damaging people unnecessarily. With respect to his stupidity, at home with the immigration issue.

DJT: We’re going to build the wall. We have no choice. We have no choice.

[Crowd chants “Build that Wall.”]

DJT: Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall.

MG: What’s made our country great and he doesn’t have the brainpower to understand this, what’s made our country great is immigration. The whole country was made up of immigrants going back to colonial days. That’s what it’s all about. And so, for him to make that his major, his major issue to fear these people that are coming in. Oh my God, I can’t tell you how injurious he is to America. Now, the flip side to that is that maybe there’s enough frustrations that the people will get off of business as usual — whether it’s the Democrats or the crazy Republicans — and maybe they’ll realize that the only answer to the future of society is a governance that involves the participation of people as lawmakers. The people, that’s the solution.

JS: I want you to tell the story briefly for people, particularly younger people, who may not be familiar with this history of the action that you took when you read as much as you could into the Congressional record of the Pentagon Papers. You had been approached by Daniel Ellsberg who had tried to get some of the foreign policy luminaries of his time to do this and they wouldn’t.

MG [in Congress]: I’m reading summaries of narratives. The narratives are based upon the documents themselves. Congressman, if you’ll permit me, I’ll continue to read.

JS: Explain that story for people.

MG: When Ellsberg called me on the phone saying would I read the Pentagon Papers as part of my filibuster against the draft, I said instantly yes.

JS: You did a five-month filibuster, correct?

MG: Yes.

JS: Against the draft in Vietnam?

MG: Because what was Lyndon Johnson was able to expand the war in Vietnam because of the draft. So, it became very clear that if we stop the draft and we did, well then, we got to negotiate how we’re going to get the papers into my possession. Well, little did I know that one of the editors at the Post was Ben Bagdikian. And he had sequestered a copy that in his own possession. So Dan called him and said get the papers to Gravel and so, Bagdikian negotiates with me. He wants to transfer the papers to me somewhere in the woods, in Rock Creek Park. I said, wait a second, Ben. I’ve got a little more experience than you have in this. What I suggest we transfer the papers is you take the papers, put them in your car, and at midnight park your car right in front of the marquee of the Mayflower Hotel with the lights on, and I’ll speed up in my car right next to yours, open your trunk, we transfer the papers, and I’ll speed off. That’s exactly how we did it.

Now, keep in mind. I was a freshman at this time. I was chairman of the Buildings and Grounds Committee. And so, we wrote up a notice of a hearing, stuffed it — now, this is 10 o’clock at night — stuffed it under the doors of the various members of the committee. And then we got a congressman from upper New York to come in and testify and so I convened the hearing. He said he wanted a federal building and I said, I would love to give you a federal building. I know you need one. But unfortunately, we don’t have the money. And the reason we don’t have the money is because we’re squandering our treasure in Southeast Asia. Now, let me tell you how we got into Southeast Asia and I proceeded to read the Pentagon Papers. And then what happened as I went on for a few hours, essentially, I lost control of my emotions.

MG [in Congress]: Arms are being severed. Metal is crashing through human bodies because of a public policy, this government —

MG: That’s the vision I had as I lost — my staff, my chief of staff leaned over to me. He couldn’t be seen by the cameras because he was kneeling down next to me. He says Senator, you lost it. So, he says, he said to me why don’t you put the papers in the record. And immediately, I straightened up and oh, yeah, that’s the answer. So, here I am. I’m the only committee member there and I ask unanimous consent to place all these papers into the record of the subcommittee of the building through grounds and hearing no objections, I slammed the gavel and they’re in.

JS: Well, Senator Mike Gravel, I want to thank you very much for joining us here on Intercepted.

MG: Thank you. Appreciate it.

JS: That was former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. He is a candidate for president running to get the Democratic nomination. You can visit mikegravel.org to see more of his campaign platform and absorb some of those dank memes from a man who would be 90 years old if he were to win the presidency.

[Music interlude.

The Intercept’s Jordan Smith on How New Laws Restrict and Criminalize Abortions

Newscaster: New at noon, more than a month after the controversial “heartbeat” bill passed the state house, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law. This new law essentially bans abortions after six weeks in Georgia.

JS: On Tuesday, Georgia became the latest state to enact one of the most restrictive abortion laws in this country. In 2019, four states have enacted similar unconstitutional legislation that essentially bans abortion as early as six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant. Meanwhile 10 other states are looking to do the same according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In clear violation of Roe v. Wade, these bills will be met with legal challenges. And that’s the goal, to get one of these cases to the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 decision that protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

In the decades since the landmark Supreme Court rulings, protecting abortions, states have passed numerous laws to restrict abortions, from compelling clinics to meet arbitrary planning codes to physician and hospital requirements. Even when state laws have been found unconstitutional, they’ve had the chilling effect of closing clinics, thereby not only reducing access to abortion, but also access to care.

The Trump administration represents an opportunity to accelerate this vision.

DJT: The Roe v. Wade is probably the one that people are talking about in terms of having an effect. But we will see what happens. But it could very well end up with states at some point.

Dana Bash: Do you still want Roe vs. Wade to be overturned?

Mike Pence: Well, I do but I haven’t been nominated to the Supreme Court. Judge Kavanaugh —

DB: Right, but you’re part of the administration that campaigned, you and the president campaigned saying you will find nominees to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Eric Johnston: This is the first time in 46 years that the makeup on the Supreme Court has changed where there’s possibly enough conservatives on there who will believe Roe v. Wade is incorrectly decided.

JS: That last voice was Alabama Pro Life Coalition President Eric Johnston. States have enacted a growing number of abortion restrictions and bans in 2019, according to a new report issued by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Guttmacher Institute.

Investigative reporter for The Intercept, Jordan Smith writes, “in a race to see who can be first to directly challenge abortion rights before the high court, their proxies in state houses across the country gleefully file legislation that can only be described as draconian.” Up next, Smith explains how the anti-abortion movement has proliferated a set of laws, codes, and regulations across the country to criminalize women and doctors in their efforts to eliminate abortion all together.  

ABC News: The Supreme Court today ruled that abortion is completely a private matter to be decided by mother and doctor in the first three months of pregnancy.

Jordan Smith: The right to abortion exist as long as Roe exists, but that has not stopped lawmakers from sort of whittling away at the edges of that right, as much as they can.

ABC News: During the second three months of pregnancy, it ruled, the state may regulate abortion procedures, but only to ensure the safety of the mother.

JoS: So, it’s not technically illegal to access abortion. It just becomes practically illegal because you can’t actually get the care you need. So a right without ability to exercise your right is truly meaningless. And unfortunately, we’re getting closer and closer to that line.

Scott Pelley: The governor of Louisiana says that he will sign a bill that will likely close most abortion clinics in the state.

CBS News: A growing number of states are beginning to pass laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe vs. Wade is overturned.

ABC News: The Trump administration has moved to cut off funds to family planning clinics that perform abortions or provide referrals for them.

JoS: There are so many restrictions on abortion access that they’re pretty much too numerous to count.

There are things like gestational bans, like a 20-week ban, which bans abortion after a given period of time. There are things called TRAP laws which are targeted restrictions on abortion providers. So, these are things that target doctors like the need for admitting privileges or that a clinic must look like a surgical center. There are all manner of reporting requirements, gathering all manner of information and have to be turned into the state at very sort of arbitrary deadlines. There are requirements that women receive in-person counseling and a lot of these informed consent laws contain really inaccurate medical information. For example, that abortion leads to breast cancer — a debunked myth. It makes it very difficult for doctors to just do their work and provide good care.

As restrictions on abortion have increased, the number of providers has shrunk and you see this all over the United States. There are six states right now that only have one provider and that has an effect across the system.

You know, you make it harder to access care. You’re not making the need for that care go away You’re delaying it. You’re making it more expensive. You get people desperate and frustrated and that’s not a good place for anyone to be.

MP: On this vote, the ayes are 50. The nays are 48. The nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh of Maryland to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is confirmed.

JoS: The sort of anti-abortion right is like sickeningly giddy because we have this reconstituted Supreme Court that has a far more right lean to it. So, lawmakers in any number of states are just sort of falling over themselves to try to codify a law that would directly challenged Roe.

If Roe were to fall, there would be a giant swath of the country that would affect tens of millions of women and their ability to seek care because it would be illegal. Texas House Bill 896 was authored by a guy named Tony Tinderholt. He’s a north Texas Republican. He’s put this bill in before and basically, it is a bill that would immediately criminalize all abortion with zero exceptions and not only that but would also allow for women to be criminally prosecuted for accessing abortion and it would provide for the death penalty for women and doctors who engage in abortion services.

Tinderhold’s bill is definitely dead on arrival. He files a bill like 896 because he truly wants to criminalize this behavior and to penalize women and doctors who access care. But there’s another problem here and that is that when you see extreme measures like this, and they’re pending all over the United States right now in any number of states, bills that are similar to Tinderholt’s. The problem is that they have this really insidious effect of normalizing the other restrictions that are already on the books. Restrictions which are completely unnecessary. So, for example, a 20-week ban doesn’t seem so bad when you consider the alternative is no access, right? But that’s exactly the wrong way to look at it. You have to consider the restrictions on their face and whether they’re necessary, whether they do anything to protect women, whether they do anything to protect families and the truth of the matter is that they don’t.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: Georgia lawmakers have sent a bill banning abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected to the desk of Republican Governor Brian Kemp. The legislation is part of a larger trend this year with many state legislatures taking steps towards banning the procedure early in pregnancy.

JoS: These so-called heartbeat bills, they essentially would ban abortion at six weeks, which you have to say right off the bat is well before most women even know they’re pregnant. It plays on emotion, right, the idea that there’s this heartbeat that has the same sort of meaning as it does for you and I and everybody else walking around on the street as fully formed humans, and that’s just not the case. But it’s very effective because it makes people feel like the embryo at that point has as much sort of agency as a grown woman and that’s neither fair nor true. So, these bills would basically ban abortion at that point way before viability outside the womb which is generally about 23 weeks and the law now protects abortion access up until viability. So this would roll it all the way back to a point where women rarely even know they’re pregnant and criminalize their behavior at that point.

My current favorite is the one in Alabama which takes it a step further and says let’s ban abortion at two weeks. Now, come on, people. You don’t even know you’re pregnant. That’s ridiculous.

Audie Cornish: The legislation is part of a broader anti-abortion strategy to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the right to abortion.

JoS: In explaining how this wouldn’t be a problematic bill, a lawyer for one of the right to life groups there basically demonstrated that he doesn’t even understand how sexual reproduction works. He had some great quote about like well, you know, you can just have sex and then immediately go to the clinic and find out if you’re going to be pregnant. It’s like no, that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. Another piece of this is defining a fertilized egg as a person. The terrible sort of underbelly of a law like that is to say to women that you don’t have agency, that you are not as important a person as a fertilized egg.

When you talk to women who are seeking care, they’re not necessarily, you know all up on this issue. They just know that they’re in a situation and they need to access healthcare. They are generally startled in my experience when they go to a clinic, for example and see people yelling at them from the street telling them they’re baby killers, suggesting that they should just have this baby and that everything will be fine. They’re literally stunned and then when they hear they have to wait, you know an extra 24 to 72 hours. They don’t understand. Why?

It doesn’t make sense to them because what research tells us is that women actually have really high degree of decision-making around abortion and that in fact, they do not regret it that when they are able to access the care that they need when they need it, they have positive feelings about their decisions. Not that they’re happy that they had to do this but because they’ve been able to exercise the right to make choices for themselves. The research also shows us that when women are somehow denied care or have a hard time accessing it that they have higher levels of anxiety and depression that come out of that.

Jeffrey Kauffman: Today, outside the church where Dr. George Tiller was murdered, a small memorial began to build. A reflection of the very divided passions his life provoked. A doctor specializing in women’s health who also provided abortions and was also a devout Christian, serving as an usher at Sunday services when he was killed.

SP: Today, the suspect in that shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs made his first court appearance. He will face first-degree murder charges and perhaps the death penalty. Three people were killed including a police officer. Nine were wounded.

JoS: The providers that I’ve met, the doctors I’ve met are deeply committed to helping women exercise their free agency and take control of their own lives. And they face threats, serious threats to their well-being from protesters who put their pictures and their names on the internet, who stalk outside their clinics and then they also face potential ramifications from, you know, state actions because they didn’t file a report on time. The pressure is tremendous and yet they’re incredibly dedicated to ensuring that women are able to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

A six-week embryo is not a person. You don’t need to have admitting privileges in order to have safe care. You shouldn’t have to have money in order to have care. You should be able to do what you need to do for yourself and your family and make your own health care decisions in consultation with your doctor. I feel like a lot of the reporting just gives too much weight to the idea that any of this stuff is necessary when it’s not and that it’s anything other than just blatant attempts to control women and to conscript them into motherhood regardless whether they want to be mothers or whether they can be mothers.

JS: That was The Intercept’s investigative reporter Jordan Smith. She covers criminal justice and reproductive rights. Her latest piece on the proliferation of abortion restrictions across the country is called, “Lies, Damn Lies, and Abortion.” Smith spoke with our producer Laura Flynn.

[Music interlude.]

Senior Archivist Jeff Place Talks About Pete Seeger’s Legacy

JS: This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legendary folk singer, Pete Seeger. Seeger was a singular voice in the history of American music and political struggle, whose lifelong activism was as central to his personhood as the songs he wrote and sang.

In the purest sense, Pete Seeger was an educator. He connected generations of audiences through his music — music of the U.S. south, of working people, radicals, indigenous peoples, of oppressed communities of the world — music that would have never reached a mass audience in this country had Pete Seeger never picked up a banjo. These songs often carried messages of peace and equality, but were deeply historical, some dating back over a hundred years and having survived through oral tradition alone.

But Pete Seeger paid a price for his beliefs. During the McCarthy era, he was called before the House un-American Activities Committee, where he refused to partake in what he considered a “kangaroo court.” He was subsequently charged with contempt of Congress and ostracized from the mainstream of U.S. public life for nearly a decade.

It was only during the time of the folk revival movement of the 1960s that Pete Seeger achieved broader redemption, emerging as an icon of not only political music, but of political liberation. In the decades that followed, Pete Seeger continued to be a leader in the anti-war, human rights and environmental movements, right up to his death in 2014.

To celebrate Pete Seeger’s legacy, The Smithsonian Folkways Collection recently released a career-spanning anthology of Seeger’s music. One of the producers of this collection is Jeff Place, a curator and senior archivist at The Smithsonian who has been cataloging Pete Seeger’s work for over 30 years.

We spoke to Jeff Place about this collection of songs — some of them never before released until now — and about the life of Pete Seeger.

[“One Grain of Sand” plays.]

Jeff Place: Pete was much like the legendary character Johnny Appleseed who went around in the United States in the pioneer days and throwing apple seeds off the back of his truck and spreading forests everywhere he went. But his were ideas.

[“One Grain of Sand” plays.]

JP: If you’re on a seesaw and you’re fighting against something really, really large, if you have enough people working together, pouring a teaspoon of sand on the other end, eventually you’ll win out.

Pete Seeger: Over a period of twenty years, I must have sung for about every imaginable type of person, respectable and unrespectable too. I’ve sung for churches and I’ve sung for saloons. I’ve sung on street corners and for pacifists and soldiers. I always felt that you know, a good song can only do good and I wanted to sing to people no matter who they were.

[“We Shall Overcome” plays.]

[“If I Had a Hammer” plays.]

JP: Pete Seeger was born on May 3rd, 1919 in New York City and his father was Charles Seeger, the eminent musicologist. He was actually one of the people who founded the field of ethnomusicology and his mother Constance was a concert violinist. Charles Seeger was very political. He was a conscientious objector in World War I. He was a member of the Communist Party. And so Pete grew up in this very rich environment that was very politically charged. These people were very left-wing and they were, you know, coming out of the depression. Most of these people didn’t think capitalism was particularly working for a lot of people.

[“If I Had a Hammer” plays.]

JP: Over the course of time, Charles was traveling around and he took Pete down to western North Carolina, to Asheville and they went to a folk festival run by a man named Bascom Lunsford.

Bascom Lunsford: … mountain up here. I’m going to play over here at big send, and I’m going to get first prize, If we could just get it down just right now, we could walk away with first prize.

JP: It’s the first time Peter saw a long neck banjo and he started hearing Appalachian music and that music kind of stuck with him.

[Song by Bascom Lamar Lunsford plays.]

PS: Around 1935, my father who’s a musicologist took me down to North Carolina and I saw an old lady there playing banjo. She’s leaning back in a rocking chair and wailing away on this thing having so much fun. I thought to myself, I never saw anybody have so much fun playing music in my life. So I wanted to learn it.

JP: Through his father, introducing him to that whole vessel led Pete to go this direction with the banjo as being his main instrument for years.

Alan Lomax: Hello there, Peter.

PS: Howdy.

AL: What’s that funny-looking guitar you’re playing?

PS: Oh, this isn’t a guitar. This is a banjo.

AL: Well, tell me is the banjo something new?

PS: New? About as new as America is. You see American Negro slaves made the first real banjos, a couple hundred years ago, out of old hollow gourds and possum skins, I guess. But they were all over the whole country. Everyone loved them. They traveled West in the covered wagons. Later on, the banjo went out of style, got countrified. Nowadays, you are liable to hear it played by some old farmer. The hands on the strings will be hardened by work and worn by the weather.

Host: What do you say, Pete? Play us one of the tunes you picked up on your trip.


JP: Pete had gone to Harvard in the ’30s and he was studying journalism but the college scene wasn’t really, I don’t think, the perfect place for him.

PS: I never expected to be a singer. I wanted to be a newspaperman but back in 1938, I couldn’t find a job and I started picking up change singing around and I haven’t really looked for an honest job since.

[“John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man” plays.]

JP: Pete fell in with a lot of the younger people who were using music for social justice work in New York.

Host: Well, young Pete, what are you doing here in New York City?

PS: Well, it’s a funny thing. The people in this big town are beginning to like my kind of music too. Out there in big town where the skyscrapers glisten in the sun, where the building’s make canyons in the air, American folk music got lost in the roar of the traffic. But now, the people are listening again. I guess my old tunes remind them of home, of their roots and the land. Seems my country music kind of fascinates them.

JP: They all fell in together and started a commune in New York City in this house The Almanac House. Pete was a member of The Almanac Singers a great political folk group creating songs, you know about like this morning’s newspaper and see what’s going on and like crank out two or three songs about it.

[“Which Side Are You On?” by Pete Seeger plays.]

JP: The Almanacs did a record called “Songs for John Doe” which were all like songs that were anti-war at the beginning of World War II which was, you know, not too many people were speaking that way but they felt really strongly about it.

PS: The old hoots who aren’t afraid to sing a union song or peace song or something griping, or getting mad. And it’s this kind of bite which makes folk music exciting to me and I think a lot of people. Whether it’s an old love song or lullaby or a work song, it has a kind of a teeth in it.

JP: He actually, that record got him into trouble later. What happened was that the members of The Almanac Singers were all very pro-Soviet Union, obviously, their politics. There was a nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and the Nazis. They want to be involved. They think the U.S. should be involved. But once Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, they turned 180 degrees overnight.

PS: The political situation in the world suddenly changed. Woody [Guthrie] arrived on, around the 23rd or the 24th. I opened the door — Woody, you’re here! He says well, I guess we won’t be singing any more peace songs will we? Does this mean we have to support Churchill? He says, yep. I says is this the same Churchill who in 1920 said strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle? And yes,  Churchill’s flipped-flopped. We got to flip flop, says Woody and he was right.

JP: Musicians and people in Pete’s orbit were starting to feel a lot of pressure from the authorities and be investigated and basically it’s for stating their own political views because it was just after World War II, the beginnings of this total anti-Communist feeling throughout the United States. And they were pointing their fingers at them saying, you know, these are these red singers who, you know, chirping for the Communists. They sing for Moscow.

Newscaster: The growing menace of Communism arouses the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee. Among the well-informed witnesses testifying is J. Edgar Hoover, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Hoover speaks with authority on the subject.

Edgar Hoover: The Communist Party of the United States is a fifth column if there ever was one.

[“The House of the Rising Sun” plays.]

JP: One by one people were being brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Parnell Thomas: Are you a member of the Communist party or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

John Howard Lawson: It’s unfortunate and tragic that I have to teach this committee the basic principles of Americanism.

JPT: That’s not the question. That’s not question. The question is have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

JP: A lot of them came up, took the Fifth Amendment. Pete took a different stance.

PS: This group of people are actually, their group, in my opinion, a group of American fascists. Their idea of America: is America where everybody agrees with them.

PS: I feel myself, this committee is harming America a lot more than most people realize. What would we think if they had an un-Mexican committee, an un-French committee, an un-Japanese committee? We would think it’s ridiculous.

JP: He basically said, you know, you have no rights to ask me any of these questions. I’m an American citizen. I’m allowed to have my political views. You know.

Host: What was the question they wanted you to answer?

PS: Well, they questioned me for about one hour. Did I sing for this person? Did I know that person? Was I a member of this? Was I a member of that? Was I ever here? Was I ever there? And I said, I’ve been many places and I’ve got a right to be any place I want. I’ve got a right to sing for anybody I want. I said, I’ve never done anything conspiratorial. I’ve never joined anything conspiratorial. I’ve never sung anything conspiratorial, whatever that could be and whatever my opinions are, I’ve got a right to them. You’ve got a right to your opinions. I got a right to mine, period.

JP: And so, he got slapped with a contempt of Congress indictment.

PS: The fifth amendment in effect is saying you have no right to ask me this question. But I wanted to say you have no right to ask any American citizen this question.

PS: The House Committee wish to pillar me cause it didn’t like some of the places I sang. It so happens that the title of one of the songs mentioned in the trial, “Wasn’t That a Time,” is one of my favorites. The song is apropos to this case.

[“Wasn’t That a Time” plays.]

JP: It was all about people singing with him because he wanted these political movements to be a singing movement where the songs would help glue, to hold people together in solidarity. He’s leaving apple seeds behind like Johnny Appleseed. He’s leaving behind these huge groups of people who are going to carry that on.

[“Wasn’t That a Time” plays.]

[“Guantanamera” plays.]

JP: So he started playing for school groups, you know, when he couldn’t work anywhere else. What’s funny about that is he actually got the last laugh because all those kids he was teaching end up growing up and becoming the whole kids in the folk revival and kids that went into the whole social protest folk music of the 60s. A lot of them got their start listening to Pete Seeger in those situations.

[“Guantanamera” plays.]

JP: His concerts are educational. He’s bringing in political songs. He’s bringing in multiculturalism before anybody else was doing that. He’s going into historical songs. And the whole thing is just an education. He’s trying to get people to sing along with him and get involved.

PS: Well, let me explain the words because they are important. In fact, the only reason I think I sing it — not the only reason, half the reason I sing it — is the words. Jose Marti wrote it in 1893, I think. Marti was born in 1853. At the age of 17, he was exiled from Cuba for being a leader in the Cuban revolutionary movement. Around 40 years old, he came back to Cuba finally after living most of his life in exile including 12 years in New York City. And this is one of his last poems. He was a very prolific writer. He’s famous as one of the greatest writers in the Spanish language. Seventy books, novels, plays, polemics, poems and about a year or two after this poem was written, he was killed in an abortive uprising.

[“Guantanamera” plays.]

JP: The people who felt threatened by him saw that all of a sudden, he was capable of like, you know, creating these groups of people. It wasn’t just this one guy with a banjo, you know.

[“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” plays.]

PS: I was kept off TV for 17 years until the Smothers Brothers put me on. And then they tried to make a big hassle over song called “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.” I didn’t get back on again for another year.

JP: Pete finally ends up on network TV on the Smothers Brothers comedy hour. Two hip young brothers had had a lot of really kind of cutting edge music you’d find people like Johnny Cash on their show.

[“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” plays.]

JP: They wanted Pete Seeger on their show and they had a heck of a battle. The network was like, you know, well you can have them on but we want to know what he’s singing, you know. He had a song called “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” which was sort of an analogy to the Vietnam War and getting in, wading in over your head. He sang two songs and the time came for the show to air, he’s all of a sudden playing a banjo, he’s about ready to break into Big Muddy and it clicks and he has a guitar in his hand and they just cut it out entirely. The Smothers Brothers got real upset. People got upset and they fought about it for a while and eventually got him back on the show and let him sing it.

Tommy Smothers: We’re very proud to have this man on the show. Not only because he’s a great man, a fine man, and a great performer but also because he performs rarely on television. In fact, he’s only made one major television appearance in the last 17 years. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to present on our show for the second time, Mr. Pete Seeger.

[“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” plays.]

JP: Well, in the 60s after all the political pressure on him passed, he eventually was acquitted in contempt of Congress and he moved on to other things. He was involved in like, you know, anti-nuclear stuff, and anti-war stuff, and the Civil Rights Movement and things like that. Over the course of his entire life, he used his music as a weapon to help try to solve these political causes.

PS: I’ve sung this song in 25 different countries of the world. I came to the conclusion it wasn’t just a song for Alabama and Mississippi, but for any member of the human race, any place that gets a little discouraged and wonders what the future is going to bring. And this song has a kind of calm confidence that says we can we can. We can.

[“We Shall Overcome” plays.]

PS: We do. We live on after we’re buried in the people who carry on things that we wanted to carry on. We’re just a grain of sand, ourself, each one of us.

I believe it. Someday.

JS: Jeff Place is the curator and senior archivist of the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collection at The Smithsonian. He spoke to our producer Jack D’Isidoro.

And that does it for this week’s show. You can follow us on Twitter @intercepted. If you like what we do, support our show by going to TheIntercept.com/join and become a sustaining member.  Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our lead producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Our producer is Laura Flynn. Elise Swain is our associate producer and graphic designer. Our executive producer is Leital Molad. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription for this program was done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

Join The Conversation