Pete Seeger at the Clearwater Festival 2007. Photo by Anthony Pepitone.

"My job is to show folks there's a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet." - Pete Seeger

"The world will be saved by people fighting for their homes. Homes will be saved by people who fight for the world." - Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, the activist/singer/songwriter who tried to change the world with every note he uttered, died January 27 at age 94, and we are all the poorer for it.

A longtime friend whose letters I treasured for their hand-drawn embellishments and whose words of encouragement urged me to keep on fighting, Seeger belonged to a dying breed of Americans who cared more about making a difference using whatever resources were available to them than luxuriating in creature comforts and basking in the glow of their greatness.

Long before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan, there was Pete Seeger, a lone ranger fighting injustice with little more than a five-string banjo in hand and a gift for putting words to music. Unarguably one of the most important musical influences of the 20th Century, Seeger helped to lay the foundation for American protest music, singing out about the plight of everyday working folks and urging listeners to political and social activism.

It wouldn't be a week in America without another slew of children being punished for childish behavior under the regime of zero tolerance that plagues our nation's schools. Here are some of the latest incidents.

In Pennsylvania, a 10-year-old boy was suspended for shooting an imaginary "arrow" at a fellow classmate, using nothing more than his hands and his imagination. Johnny Jones, a fifth-grader at South Eastern Middle School, was suspended for a day and threatened with expulsion under the school's weapons policy after playfully using his hands to draw the bowstrings on a pretend "bow" and "shoot" an arrow at a classmate who had held his folder like a gun and "shot" at Johnny. Principal John Horton characterized Johnny's transgression as "making a threat" to another student using a "replica or representation of a firearm" through the use of an imaginary bow and arrow.

Here's a recipe for disaster: Take a young man (or woman), raise him on a diet of violence, hype him up on the power of the gun in his holster and the superiority of his uniform, render him woefully ignorant of how to handle a situation without resorting to violence, train him well in military tactics but allow him to be illiterate about the Constitution, and never stress to him that he is to be a peacemaker and a peace-keeper, respectful of and subservient to the taxpayers, who are in fact his masters and employers.

Once you have fully indoctrinated this young man (or woman) on the idea that the police belong to a brotherhood of sorts, with its own honor code and rule of law, then place this person in situations where he will encounter individuals who knowingly or unknowingly challenge his authority, where he may, justifiably or not, feel threatened, and where he will have to decide between firing a weapon or - the more difficult option - adequately investigating a situation to better assess the danger and risk posed to himself and others, and then act on it by defusing the tension or de-escalating the violence.

I'm not talking about a situation so obviously fraught with risk that there is no other option but to shoot, although I am hard-pressed to consider what that might be outside of the sensationalized Hollywood hostage-crisis scenario. I'm talking about the run-of-the mill encounters between police and citizens that occur daily. In an age when police are increasingly militarized, weaponized, and protected by the courts, these once-routine encounters are now inherently dangerous for any civilian unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We now find ourselves operating in a strange paradigm where the government not only views the citizenry as suspects but treats them as suspects, as well. Thus, the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) is routinely operating outside of the law and overstepping its legal authority by carrying out surveillance on American citizens is not really much of a surprise. This is what happens when you give the government broad powers and allow government agencies to routinely sidestep the Constitution.

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these newly revealed privacy violations by the NSA are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider that the government's Utah Data Center (UDC), the central hub of the NSA's vast spying infrastructure, will be a clearinghouse and depository for every imaginable kind of information - whether innocent or not, private or public - including communications, transactions, and the like. In fact, anything and everything you've ever said or done, from the trivial to the damning - phone calls, Facebook posts, Tweets, Google searches, e-mails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc. - will be tracked, collected, catalogued, and analyzed by the UDC's supercomputers and teams of government agents.

By sifting through the detritus of your once-private life, the government will come to its own conclusions about who you are, where you fit in, and how best to deal with you should the need arise. Indeed, we are all becoming data-collected in government files. Whether or not the surveillance is undertaken for "innocent" reasons, surveillance of all citizens gradually poisons the soul of a nation. Surveillance limits personal options - denies freedom of choice - and increases the powers of those who are in a position to enjoy the fruits of this activity.

"How can you thank a man for giving you what's already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what's already yours? You haven't even made progress, if what's being given to you, you should have had already. That's no progress." - Malcolm X, 1964

In 1964, the United States was in the throes of racial conflict. Civil-rights activists were leading black Americans and their white allies in a struggle against institutionalized racism, segregation, and disenfranchisement. The situation was bleak, activists were being murdered, the government seemed deadlocked on the issue, and many were losing hope. However, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act set the stage for a positive transformation in race relations in a country that had been plagued by racial tension since its inception.

We have yet to live up to that hoped-for transformation. Almost 50 years later, despite having made demonstrable progress on the race issue, the idea that we live in a "post-racial" society is simply a myth - a myth that was given a boost last month when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, legislation enacted during the Civil Rights Era that was critical to the enfranchisement of black Americans living in the Jim Crow South. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts claimed that times had changed since thae 1960s, and the section of the law requiring historically racist sections of the country to have changes to their elections laws vetted by the federal government was anachronistic.

Superficially, Roberts' claims ring true. Obviously Americans have made great strides in confronting issues of race since the 1960s. De jure segregation has been eliminated, minority groups have greater access to essential goods and services, and we have seen what many thought would never happen: the election of a black man to the office of the president.

Yet looking past the veil of progress that clouds the vision of well-meaning people who believe the issue of racism has been solved, we can easily see that there are many policies and practices in America that perpetuate the inequality of races. The following is a brief rundown of the many fronts on which America continues to fail to live up to its "post-racial" ideal.

U.S. Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Fifth Amendment Right to Remain Silent During Police Questioning, Leaves Citizens With Burden of Knowing Rights

WASHINGTON, DC –In a blow to the fundamental right of citizens to remain silent, the United States Supreme Court has ruled that persons who are not under arrest must specifically invoke their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in order to avoid having their refusal to answer police questions used against them in a subsequent criminal trial. In a 5-4 decision in Salinas v. Texas, the Court upheld the conviction of Genovevo Salinas, who was found guilty of homicide after prosecutors argued that Salinas' silence during a police interview prior to his arrest was a "very important piece of evidence" and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that Salinas "was required to assert the privilege in order to benefit from it," even though a person questioned while under arrest could not have his silence used against him. The Rutherford Institute filed an amicus curiae brief in the case, arguing that a person's refusal to answer police questions, even before arrest and before Miranda warnings are given, does not indicate guilt in light of the well-known "right to remain silent," and exclusion of evidence of silence is in keeping with the Fifth Amendment's guarantee that "[n]o person... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

The Rutherford Institute's amicus brief in Salinas v. Texas is available at www.rutherford.org.

"What today's ruling by the Supreme Court says, essentially, is that citizens had better know what their rights are and understand when those rights are being violated, because the government is no longer going to be held responsible for informing you of those rights before violating them," said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. "Mind you, this is the same court that agreed that cops who tasered a pregnant woman couldn't be held accountable because they were not aware that repeated electro-shocks qualified as constitutionally excessive and unreasonable force."

In 1992, Juan and Hector Garza were found murdered in their apartment. Genovevo Salinas, an acquaintance of the men, was suspected by police as being responsible for the murders. The police approached Salinas at his home and asked him to accompany them to the police station so they could question him and clear his name. Salinas was never handcuffed and was not given Miranda warnings. At the police station, Salinas was taken to an interview room where, during the course of the interview, police questioning became more accusatory, and Salinas was asked whether his father's shotgun "would match the shells recovered at the scene of the murder." Salinas remained silent and did not answer the question. The interview proceeded. At the conclusion of the interview, police arrested Salinas for outstanding traffic fines. The district attorney charged Salinas with the murders, but Salinas wasn't arrested on the murder charge until 2007. During the trial, the prosecutor suggested that Salinas' silence during the police interview prior to his arrest was a "very important piece of evidence" and that only a guilty person would have remained silent when questioned about his connection to a crime. The jury found Salinas guilty of murder and sentenced him to twenty years in prison. On appeal, Salinas argued that the prosecution's emphasis on his pre-arrest silence as evidence of his guilt was a violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against self-incrimination. Two Texas appeals courts ruled that Salinas was not under government compulsion during the time of the police interview, thus he had no Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. In upholding the lower courts' rulings, the Supreme Court majority asserted that a person claiming the benefit of the Fifth Amendment's privilege "must claim it" and a person does not normally claim the privilege by remaining silent. In Justice Stephen Breyer's dissenting opinion, he argued that the fact that Salinas was a suspect in a criminal investigation gave rise to a reasonable conclusion that his silence derived from an exercise of his Fifth Amendment privilege.

"Any darn fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple."?Pete Seeger

Before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Jim Hendrix, Bob Dylan and others, there was Pete Seeger. With his five-string banjo in hand, Seeger helped to lay the foundation for American protest music, singing out about the plight of everyday working folks and urging listeners to political and social activism. In fact, Pete Seeger is one of the most important musical influences of the 20th century.

Born in New York City on May 3, 1919, Seeger, whose father was a pacifist musicologist, was plunged into the world of music and politics from an early age. He studied sociology at Harvard University until 1938, when he dropped out and spent the summer bicycling through New England and New York, painting watercolors of farmers' houses in return for food. Looking for but failing to get a job as a newspaper reporter in New York City, he then worked at the Archives of American Folk Music at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In 1940, Seeger met Woody Guthrie at a Grapes of Wrath migrant-worker benefit concert. Seeger, Guthrie, Lee Hays and Millard Lampell joined together to form the Almanac Singers, which became known for its political radicalism and support of communism.

In 1942, Seeger was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Saipan in the Western Pacific. After the war, he helped start the People's Songs Bulletin, later Sing Out! magazine, which combined information on folk music with social criticism. In 1950, Seeger formed The Weavers with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman. Targeted for the political messages behind some of their songs, the group was blacklisted and banned from television and radio.

In 1955, the House Committee on Un-American Activities subpoenaed Seeger to appear before them (read his testimony at http://www.peteseeger.net/HUAC.htm). During the hearings, Seeger refused to disclose his political views and the names of his political associates. When asked by the committee to name for whom he had sung, Seeger replied, "I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches, and I do this voluntarily. I have sung for many, many different groups?and it is hard for perhaps one person to believe, I was looking back over the twenty years or so that I have sung around these forty-eight states, that I have sung in so many different places." He was sentenced to one year in jail but, quoting the First Amendment, successfully appealed the decision after spending four hours behind bars. However, he has been blacklisted most of his life from normal radio and television work.

During the 1960s, Seeger traveled around the country, continuing to play his folk songs for the peace and civil rights movements. Deeply offended by the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Seeger, along with other folk singers such as Joan Baez, led many protests.

"Wherever he was asked, when the need was the greatest, he, like Kilroy, was there. And still is," said his long-time friend, Studs Terkel. "Though his voice is somewhat shot, he holds forth on that stage. Whether it be a concert hall, a gathering in the park, a street demonstration, any area is a battleground for human rights."

In 1963, Seeger recorded the now-famous gospel song "We Shall Overcome." In 1965, he sang it on the 50-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, Jr. and 1,000 other marchers. That song would go on to become the anthem for the civil rights movement and be translated into many languages. Seeger also turned his attention to cleaning up the Hudson River that ran past his home. In 1966, he helped form Clearwater, an organization dedicated to educating the public on environmental concerns such as pollution and protecting the river. The group offers educational programs for children on a 76-foot replica of a traditional Hudson cargo sloop and holds a two-day festival on the banks of the Hudson River every June.

Seeger was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts and the prestigious Kennedy Center Award in 1994. In 1996, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his contribution to music and to the development of rock and folk music. In April of that year, he received the Harvard Arts Medal, and after decades of creating songs, in 1997, Seeger won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album for his album, Pete.

Seeger, however, has not always been so lavishly praised. Often chastised for his "communist beliefs," Seeger has dealt with criticism and misunderstanding. "I say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other," he says.

While many of the legendary men and women Seeger associated with are gone, he continues his political and environmental endeavors. He still seems to subscribe to the same philosophy he held to four decades ago, when he advised young people to follow their hearts and take initiative: "Well, here's hoping all the foregoing will help you avoid a few dead-end streets (we all hit some), and here's hoping enough of your dreams come true to keep you optimistic about the rest. We've got a big world to learn how to tie together. We've all got a lot to learn. And don't let your studies interfere with your education."

At 94 years old, Pete Seeger is still speaking out. Indeed, in an interview I conducted with Pete Seeger several years ago, I asked him whether he had found an answer to the question "When will they ever learn?" which he repeatedly posed in his song, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." Seeger's response is one for the books:

We will never know everything. But I think if we can learn within the next few decades to face the danger we all are in, I believe there will be tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, of human beings working wherever they are to do something good. I tell everybody a little parable about the "teaspoon brigades." Imagine a big seesaw. One end of the seesaw is on the ground because it has a big basket half full of rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air because it's got a basket one quarter full of sand. Some of us have teaspoons and we are trying to fill it up. Most people are scoffing at us. They say, "People like you have been trying for thousands of years, but it is leaking out of that basket as fast as you are putting it in." Our answer is that we are getting more people with teaspoons every day. And we believe that one of these days or years?who knows?that basket of sand is going to be so full that you are going to see that whole seesaw going zoop! in the other direction. Then people are going to say, "How did it happen so suddenly?" And we answer, "Us and our little teaspoons over thousands of years." But I don't think we have forever. I now believe that all technological societies tend to self-destruct. The reason is that the very things that make us a successful technological society, such as our curiosity, our ambition and determination, will also cause us to fall.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson corresponded for 13 years before they died on the same day. They asked, "How can one have prosperity without commerce? How can one have commerce without luxury? How can one have luxury without corruption? How can you have corruption without the end of the Republic?" And they really didn't know the answer. Today I would ask, "How can one have a technological society without research? How can one have research without researching dangerous areas? How can one research dangerous areas without uncovering dangerous information? How can you uncover dangerous information without it falling into the hands of insane people who will sooner or later destroy the human race, if not the whole of life on earth?" Who knows? God only knows!

The Seeger interview in its entirety is available at www.rutherford.org.

(Editor's note: A response essay to this commentary can be found here.)


"Of all the tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." - C.S. Lewis

Caught up in the televised drama of a military-style manhunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon explosion, most Americans fail to realize that the world around them has been suddenly and jarringly shifted off its axis, that axis being the U.S. Constitution.

For those such as myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of a city placed under martial law leaves us in a growing state of unease. Its citizens were under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase "shelter in place" to describe the mandatory lockdown), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal-imaging devices buzzed the skies, tanks and armored vehicles were on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches in search of two young and seemingly unlikely bombing suspects.

Mind you, these are no longer warning signs of a steadily encroaching police state. The police state has arrived.

"The unspoken power dynamics in a police/civilian encounter will generally favor the police, unless the civilian is a local sports hero, the mayor, or a giant who is impervious to bullets." - Journalist Justin Peters

From time to time throughout history, individuals have been subjected to charges (and eventual punishment) by accusers whose testimony was treated as infallible and inerrant. Once again, we find ourselves repeating history, only this time, it's the police whose testimony is too often considered beyond reproach and whose accusations have the power to render one's life over.

In the police state being erected around us, the police can probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts. Making matters worse, however, police dogs - cute, furry, tail-wagging mascots with a badge - have now been elevated to the ranks of inerrant, infallible, sanctimonious accusers with the power of the state behind them. This is largely due to the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling in Florida V. Harris, in which the court declared roadside stops to be Constitution-free zones where police may search our vehicles based upon a hunch and the presence of a frisky canine.

This is what one would call a slow death by a thousand cuts, only it's the Fourth Amendment being inexorably bled to death. This latest wound, in which a unanimous Supreme Court determined that police officers may use drug-sniffing dogs to conduct warrantless searches of cars during routine traffic stops, comes on the heels of recent decisions by the court that give police the green light to taser defenseless motorists, strip-search nonviolent suspects arrested for minor incidents, and break down people's front doors without evidence that they have done anything wrong.

WASHINGTON, DC ? In a 9-0 decision in Florida v. Harris, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police may use drug-sniffing dogs to carry out warrantless searches during routine traffic stops. Citing studies raising serious doubts about the reliability and training of drug detection dogs, The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the practice of using drug detection dogs as the sole basis for warrantless searches unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Published scientific studies show that drug dog alerts are wrong as much as 56% of the time, and are heavily influenced by the biases of the dog's handler.

"This ruling undercuts the entire basis of the Fourth Amendment, which was designed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "When dog sniffs, which have proven to be unreliable, are considered probable cause for police to search your property without a warrant?whether it's your home, your car or your person?then none of our rights are secure."

In June 2006, a Florida county sheriff stopped a vehicle driven by Clayton Harris for an expired license tag. When Harris refused the sheriff's request for consent to search the vehicle, a drug-detection dog was deployed and conducted a "free air sniff" of the exterior of the vehicle. When the dog alerted to the door handle on the driver's side, the officer conducted a warrantless search of the interior of the vehicle and found materials used for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Harris was arrested and charged. However, before trial, Harris' attorneys moved to suppress the evidence found as a result of the search of his vehicle, asserting that the search violated the Fourth Amendment. At the suppression hearing, the state introduced evidence that the dog had gone through training and was certified for drug detection, but presented no specific evidence documenting the dog's overall performance nor records of the dog's false alerts. In fact, Harris presented evidence that the dog had alerted to the same vehicle two months after his arrest, but a search of the vehicle revealed no illegal drugs. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, but the Florida Supreme Court granted the motion on appeal, ruling that evidence that the dog has been trained and certified to detect narcotics, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish the dog's reliability for purposes of determining probable cause. The court held that the state has the burden of showing the officer had a reasonable basis for believing the dog was reliable by presenting evidence on matters such as training field performance records.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the lower court's ruling, The Rutherford Institute documented empirical research showing dog alerts are not inherently reliable. One recent study at the University of California?Davis, showed that in a test where handlers were told drugs might be found at the test site, but no drugs were present, dogs gave false positive alerts an astonishing 85% of the time. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on a related case, Florida v. Jardines, which challenges the use of drug-sniffing dogs by police to carry out warrantless searches of private homes. The Rutherford Institute also filed an amicus brief in Florida v. Jardines.

This Press Release is also available at www.rutherford.org

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