tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 5, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with usc law professor edwin smith about the fallout from the nsa leaks which detail the effects of our government surveillance at home and abroad and whether or not edwards noted should now be considered a whistleblower or brought to trial as a traitor. should he be convicted, snowden could face 30 years in prison. then we will turn to a conversation with bela fleck, who, as the world's premier banjo player, has been nominated for 30 grammys. excerptg a performance from his new cd, "the imposter". we are just -- we are glad you can join us for those conversations and a performance by bela fleck, coming up right
programs at home and around the world. snowden remains in russia, where he refuses to return to this country to stand trial. the intelligence data he revealed just how extensive the nsa's data collection was and continues to be. here to talk about the fallout and where the story goes from here is edwin smith, law professor at usc's school of law and an expert in international law. good to have you on the program. >> thank you. tavis: i want to take the story to where we think it might be headed. there are a number of places. let me start by asking what you make of the statements from attorney general eric holder that he would be open to a conversation with him. how do you read that? back to the initial case that was filed and basically, this is the suggested a kindhe suggestion of of negotiation that anyone who is involved in a criminal charge
can pursue. can you make an arrangement? are their discussions he can have with holder to let him think differently about what he ought to be charged with. that he will be charged, that there will be a criminal, federal indictment. there is no doubt it will be a full indictment. the question is, what will the charge be? tavis: it would be perhaps in edward snowden's best interest to engage in a conversation. >> i would assume so. from a whole different perspective, i think if we are going to treat edward snowden as someone acting in the public , what he is pursuing is a form of civil disobedience. one of the things that dr. king told us, yes, if you break the law, you have to assume that you will pay the price. if he is serious about being a whistleblower, he ought not to
expect to get off scott free for having blown the whistle. whistleblowers must understand there is a price to pay if they are serious about the public interest. pride inng took breaking unjust laws, immoral laws, unethical laws. just because it is the law, does not mean it is moral. his conversation in new york, he suggested there was another way, that edward snowden could have done this differently. the president, for obvious reasons, is not going to give mr. snowden the obvious respect that many believe he deserves. but snowden will not get any credit for rethinking how this program will work. the president is the head of the empire, but there is no doubt of the fact that we would not be in this conversation if it were not for edward snowden. so is he a whistleblower or is he a traitor? >> i think he could be both.
i would not call him a traitor, but is he a whistleblower and guilty at the same time? is he acting in the public interest? absolutely. tavis: the president suggested a remedy that there was another way to do this. what would be the other way? >> the pentagon papers. daniel gave the information to a member of the senate, who read the pentagon papers on the floor of the senate and, in that circumstance, was immune from any prosecution. it is entirely possible. if there are members of the senate, members of congress that snowden believes would have supported him, he might have gone that way. tavis: that is a big if. it is the same senate that is wearing him out every day, who have started smearing him,
suggesting he was working with rogue nations. there has been no evidence of that, but it is not just republicans that said that. diane fox out of california has suggested that he may have been working with others. when you have democrats and republicans making those suggestions, i asked who he would turn to. >> there are individual senators that have come out supporting snowden. those are the people you should be pursuing. tavis: how would he have known that? they say that now. politicians can say that when they see the wind blowing. they see the new york times saying we need to rethink how we are treating edward snowden at this point. senators can get courage most easily after-the-fact. how would he known on the front side that he had friends in the senate? >> to the extent that he has access of what goes on in the hearings. he could ask who might be questioning the process in terms
of collecting information. if you are serious about pursuing this, he may well have pursued it. the question is, did he ever consider it seriously? tavis: your comment a moment ago, your reference to dr. king. i regard him personally as the greatest american this country has ever produced. that is my own assessment. he was willing to take the price for his actions and he paid the ultimate price with his life, as we all know. the reference i made tongue-in-cheek was to something that my co-panelist and i had been discussing. david remnick, james carville, peggy noonan, and i were in the green room before we got to the set for the live show. i made a joke that who knows how
this story is going to end up. years from now, i said that edward snowden may end up on a postage stamp as an american hero. on air, i reprieved that conversation we had somewhat tongue-in-cheek in the green room and all hell broke loose on the internet. tavis smiley suggested edward snowden might be on a postage stamp one day. it kicked off a huge firestorm of conversation. i want to ask whether or not you think that 25, 50 years from now, we might be viewing edward snowden differently. >> i think that is entirely a possibility. i am not averse to saying he is serving the public interest in what he has done. there may be a price to pay. he may be looking -- he could be in violation of the law without question. that does not mean that his violation of the law does not serve the public interest under the circumstance and it may take the long view to get people beyond the vehement responses
they are having at this moment. tavis: what does this say for whistleblowers, for those who do regard him as a whistleblower, what is the message to whistleblowers in the future? >> the message to whistleblowers is that the idea of the protection of a whistleblower is a relatively recent idea. it is not an idea martin luther king had at the time he was talking about civil disobedience. these were people who understood that to disobey requires payment of a price. but it is doing the moral thing. to the extent that that is what comes out of this, whistleblowers auto understand that there is a higher value being served by whistleblowing. they should not necessarily look to a protective law in order to blow the whistle. tavis: this is your area of
expertise. what does the punishment look like? i know i am putting the cart in front of the horse, because he and his people, whoever will have the conversation with eric holder, the attorney general, that has not happened yet and we do not know what happens behind the scenes. when that conversation happens, given the punishment that he could ultimately receive, what do you think the conversation -- if you were his lawyer, what kind of conversation would you be having? >> look at the public benefits that have been generated. the president is talking about adjusting the surveillance processes in ways that most people in the united states agree with. this discussion started because of my disclosures. >> and holder says, but son, you broke the law and you have to pay a price. what is the price? >> there are a number of people who have broken the law and
served a year, two years, three years. it does not have to be maximum-security in terms of the service. the choice is up to holder. he has lots of leeway. there was no stated sentence, no fixed sentence, no required minimum sentence that i saw in the statute. tavis: even if holder, in private, deep in their soul, as obama has a bust of dr. king sitting in the oval office, the ultimate quintessential example of the government being spied on, maybe he had done the right thing, but i cannot say it in public, how much trouble are they putting themselves in, the administration, if they were to live that down? i can see the republicans and the right wearing them out over being soft on crime,
particularly with our nation's security at stake. how do they negotiate anything now? >> the fact that we will not have a third obama administration, if people are serious about this, president clinton granted pardons at the end of the term. that is the extreme possibility. the fact that there will be republican criticism, right-wing criticism, internet criticism, is a guaranteed result. tavis: the ultimate irony is that hillary clinton is regarded by many as much more of a hawk than barack obama has been. were hillary to be elected president, it is no foregone conclusion that it will be treated any better by her then it will be by the obama administration. >> as secretary of state, she was in a situation where her people were at risk as a result of disclosure of information. tavis: edwin smith out of usc. this conversation will continue
for months and maybe years. if i am around in 25 or 30 years, i am interested to see how snowden is regarded a few years down. good to have you on the program. coming up, a conversation and performance from banjo virtuoso bela fleck. stay with us. tavis: bela fleck has pushed the limits of the banjo, working in just about every form of music playing in jazz, blues, bluegrass, even classical. his hero, banjo legend earl scrubs. along the way, he has collected 30 nominations and has won 15 times. his latest cd is called "the imposter" and marks his first foray into classical concerto. good to have you back.
have you been good? >> i have been great. tavis: a lot has changed since i last saw you. i heard there is a little baby in the house. >> there sure is. and my wife is a banjo player. this little guy is getting a lot of banjo music. he listens. it is amazing. tavis: what is he going to play? banjo? >> right now, he is concentrating on the piano. tavis: at eight months? [laughter] is he composing already? >> yes. i am stealing right and left. tavis: i am laughing, but i know you are serious. you are probably recording. >> every once in a while, he does something that is so perfect that i never would think of. he plays with a lot of space. he will play a chord and just let it ring. the banjo does not last very long, so he is good at hitting long chords and letting them
hang. he will always find the most dissonant, interesting interval possible. i am getting a lot of inspiration from him. tavis: he is very, very serious about this. how is having the eight-month-old other than the music? how has that changed your life? >> i am trying to figure out how to be home more. composing is a good way to be home. somebody commissions me to write a piece and i can spend time at home now. it does not actually work. if i go out and play dates, i will make a lot more money. it feels good that people are willing to pay me to write music and i love being home now. i am still touring a lot and having a good time doing it. writing these pieces for the banjo in a classical setting. finding a way to make it a more legitimate instrument overall, which is sort of my mission. tavis: how would you describe a banjo concerto? >> in this case, i am looking for a role for the banjo, the way i play it, in an orchestra setting. concerto is a tricky composing
job. you have to figure out how to offer what the other instruments do not have. in this case, it was actually kind of simple because none of the other instruments in the orchestra can do what the banjo does. i will not go into depth about the components, like you have to figure out, do you have them all play at the same time or do you get them to stop so you can be heard? what kind of textures to you use? one of the most fun things about writing for the orchestra is my notes are so short. i can have a violin hold its note for two minutes and have other notes come in on top and hold for long. so time to create tension. it is fun and very hard to do with this. as a composer, i can find ways to make dense chords that i cannot make and cannot be played on the banjo and have them held in the air, which is very exciting. tavis: you asked the question i wanted to ask, which is how the sound of the banjo blends with those strings.
>> i have this great friend, who is an incredible virtuoso on the upright bass. it is hard for him to come through in an orchestra than it is for the banjo. he is more like the cellos and violins and violas. he has to get everyone to stop so he can come through. the banjo is so different. it works well in terms of the physical setup. then it comes down to, are you going to write anything worth listening to and that is up to the listener. tavis: why call this "the imposter"? >> there are a lot of reasons for that. because i am often doing music that banjo is not normally in. i am afraid someone is going to tell me, hey you, with the banjo, you do not belong here. african musicians, indian musicians, different things that i am so fortunate to do. i always feel like i am the outsider. this is a classic case of that. i am the composer and i am
walking in front of an artist like, here i am. it is a good time for people to say, what do you think you are doing here? get out of here immediately. i feel a little like an imposter. i do not have the classical training. well, there is no classical training for banjo, so i had to figure it out myself. tavis: no banjo in the orchestra. >> well, there was. tavis: when? >> the early 1900's. there was a banjo part in "rhapsody in blue." there were orchestras which were masses of banjos. tavis: what happened? >> i guess they just had their day. both of those instruments were more popular before guitar came on the scene. the banjo, when you strum a banjo, it is loud. in early jazz, looking for an instrument to play next to a trumpet, the banjo is the perfect instrument for that.
it is not loud the way i play, but in early jazz, when the banjo was part of that music, yeah. tavis: i have been fortunate to have you as a guest a number of times. you and herbie hancock remind me of each other even though you play different instrument. herbie has this drive to play everything with everybody. where does that drive come from for you? >> probably insecurity. tavis: [laughter] you have to explain that one. >> if you are feeling awesome about yourself, you do not have anything to prove. i think i have that kind of makeup, where i am always trying to make sure i do something that impresses me. if people going to say i'm good, i am like, i better be that good and be the person that i have always been trying to be. tavis: what a great philosophy. a man named bela fleck once told me, there is always something to screw up, always something to get wrong. >> music is very humbling.
a musician who walks around thinking he is perfect is about to hit the wall. tavis: the new project is called "the imposter". coming up, he will play an excerpt from his concerto. stay with us for that. i would like to thank you for coming back on the program again. looking forward to the music you are about to do and thank you for watching tonight. as always, keep the faith. ♪
>> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with grammy-winning singer-songwriter shelby lynne. that is next time. see you then. ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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