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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 28, 2011 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. this evening, george soros. his organization helped democracy around the world and made him a leading voice on the world stage. despite all of the talk of a debt crisis, george soros believes the u.s. could absorb more debt if it made improvement in the struggling u.s. economy. we are glad you have joined us. our interview with george soros is coming up right now. james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports
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tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: george soros is, of course, a very successful businessman and chairman of open society foundation, which helps foster democracy around the
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world. george sorus survived the nazi occupation under hitler, thanks to the remarkable efforts of his father, and the text based on those experiences is called "masquerade." george soros, delighted to have you. it seems impossible to have a conversation with you without talking about your father, about "masquerade." it seems to inform so much of what you do today. so let me start off by asking you to tell us about your father. >> well, he was a lawyer. in the first world war, he was a volunteer in the austrian-ton gary and army. he was taken prisoner and taken to siberia, and there, he was elected as a prisoner representative for because he was very outgoing and gregarious
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and so on, and then, he organized a breakout of prisoners, and they escaped, and they sailed down the river they wanted to go to the ocean, on a barge, but they forgot that all the rivers of siberia go to the north sea, so it got colder and colder, and then they realize that they had made a mistake, and they had to make their way back to the forest, and then they got caught up in the russian revolution in siberia, and that was his formative experience, where he learned, you know, that property is not much use. that life can be easily lost, so
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he came back. he lost his ambition. he wanted to enjoy life. and he brought this up, being different from other middle- class children, and then came the german occupation of hungary, and then he was more prepared for that than most other people because of the previous experience, where he learned that normal rules do not always apply, and so he was mentally prepared, and he managed to take care, not only of his immediate family but a lot of other people, and that was, i recall, his finest hour, and that turned out to be my formative experience, because
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when confronted by really an evil force, a real danger, we prevailed. we managed to get by and also help other people, so adversity turns, for me, it into a very positive experience, and that was due to my father's guidance, so i absorbs his values, and i would say that he is with me at this age. tavis: tell me more. i hear what you are saying, but since the nazi occupation turns out be in your formative experience, tell us how it egg shaped your life. -- how it shaped your life. >> how important it is what kind
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of political regime prevails. here, i was a middle-class kids, 13 years old, and my life was in danger, and if we had not done what we did, we might have perished, so it is a matter of life and death, what kind of government you have, so that got me interested in what you might call it politics, and also, it taught me that adversity can be a positive force, so for me, the holocaust in that period was a positive experience because you could overcome the difficulties,
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and because of that, i have tended to gravitate towards difficult problems, and the difficulties are kind of a challenge that rise to the occasion. >> i have seen a lot of people who have survived adversity, not like what you have experienced, but i have seen people come up against evil, and on the other side, while they indore, they survive in, they come out better, not necessarily better -- while they endure it. i have always been taken aback by the fact that you endorse such evil, -- in georgia such evil -- endured such evil. >> my father was my model, because it actually gave him pleasure to help other people,
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so he did it on a small scale, and he got very involved with people. i have a more abstract frame of mind. it would be more on an abstract level with the problems. >> speaking with how you deal with the problems, let me ask a question about that since you raised it. you suggested a few moments ago that governments do matter and the kind of government that one lives with and works under matters. describe to me what kind of government, not by name but by description, which kind of government works best for everyday people? >> well, i call it an open society, which is just another more general term for a democracy that is -- you call it may be a liberal democracy.
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it is not only majority role, but also respect for minorities and minority opinion and the rule of law. it is sort of institutional democracy. >> what is the danger, say, of a place like the united states of america thinking that exporting democracy, exporting and open society, is the best way to go. we are still on this bully pulpit, talking about democracy, democracy, democracy, and we try to impose it on other people. >> democracy by its mary nature cannot be imposed on people. it has to be the people deciding for themselves, and we in united states -- and we have national
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interests. and they have to adopt american interests, and that is a contradiction because democracy is people determining what their ideas are. it is often being taken, and not without some justification, so the important thing in a democracy is that it does not necessarily have to be what america's interests are. it does not necessarily have to be serving american interests. >> -- tavis: your own
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assessment as how much our decision -- decision making, based on what is in our best interests, how much has that harm us? >> every country has to take care of its interests. and there are some things that are common to all countries. human interests. we also need international cooperation. and we sometimes have confused it with dictation and i was particularly critical of george w. bush in that respect but at the same time, america is a
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leading light in the world. in the second world war, when america fought nazi germany, america was a liberator, and also, with the communist america has regimes, been a force for freedom, individual freedom, and very much a mired, and even germany, after the collapse of the regime, america has been very supportive, not making the mistakes of the first world war, imposing rather harsh terms of punishment, and germany became
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one of the most faithful allies. aboutce we're talking being a liberator versus an occupier, and since you mentioned a minute ago that you were very outspoken and very critical of george w. bush, i am wondering where the spread of democracy is concerned, how you would assess president obama. he has been sending more troops to afghanistan, pakistan, etc., and even more aggressive than george bush, who you were very critical of, so i am interested in that. >> let me leave afghanistan out of it, but when you take the arab revolutionary ways, i think
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that the way he handled it was absolutely the right way, and even in regards to iran, which is a very koran this regime, he was, in my opinion, right in not addressing regime change from the outside. this is for the iranians to decide, because if you remove america as the devil, the regime could condemn, and because of that, the iranian people started demanding democracy and less oppression.
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this in a very ugly ways suppressed, taking that sense. that was actually the right thing. to mischa and others that have a pressure of regimes, but they were on our side in the world, " and the obama administration used its influence to really discourage the military to shoot, allowing the revolution to succeed? that is also a very good way of handling it.
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i am critical of obama even though i was supporting him but i am a critical supporter, but in this respect, i give him high marks. >> -- tavis: i asked you to abstract afghanistan out of that. put it back in now. >> they got them to continue the bush administration policies. it is doomed to failure.
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i think he is trying to do it, but it is not a success. tavis: my dear friend dr. cornell west uses the same phrase, that he is a critical supporter of president obama. oxymoron it. >> on the contrary, that is as it should be. i am a great believer in
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critical thinking. this is what i learned. tavis: copen society. >> open society. nobody is in possession of the ultimate truth. we can never be sure that we are right. we therefore must grope towards it, and in order to get there, we have to have a critical discussion and recognize that we may be wrong, and be willing to review, so critical thinking is, at the very heart, of an open society. tavis: be critical thinking is really about, to my mind, challenging people to reexamine these, having people expand inventory of their ideas, and to
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your point, that is necessary in open society. i wonder whether or not that in this society, that is the u.s. of a., we are interested in that, but are we tone deaf to hearing other points of view? our folks so entrenched that we are past really listening to each other? >> well, unfortunately, america has gone in the wrong direction. america is, in a sense, the oldest living democracy, and it has a constitution that is very actively debated, and a lot of thought and critical thinking went into creating this.
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this has diminished. people are more interested in making their point and using whatever technique to get their point across, and there ought to be a striving for the truth, which has really gotten eliminated almost in this contest, so i am very, very concerned about america as an open society. tavis: the debate about the debt ceiling and all around that.
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you were saying that the u.s. could take on more debt at the moment. tell me. >> well, exactly how much is too much? that is a very big question. and there is no real hard and fast rule. when you have a cyclical downturn, then it has been shown very effectively by basically john maynard keynes that you need to run a budget deficit to offset the amount from the private sector, and then when the economy gets overheated, that is when we are supposed to put on the brakes and reduce the
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debt, running a surplus to keep the economy on an even keel, and, naturally, in a sense, we did have a surplus, and then bush came back and build up the deficit, and allowed the real- estate boom to develop, which then collapsed. we had national crashes. to get out, we should steady the economy, and we are not yet at that point where we should be going for a balanced budget. this is a matter of concern because the accumulation of debt makes the economy sort of less
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flexible. the burden of paying the interest ways on the economy, -- weighs on the economy, but it has been pushed for a political purpose, because i think republicans, and particularly the far right, they are using it to reduce the role of government to eliminate as far as possible the government services, reduce taxes, and reduce services, and even further, to destroy it one of the financial supporters of the
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democratic party, so is it is a political objective, and i think it does potentially put in danger the recovery. tavis: i have just got 45 seconds left. the time goes so fast. in all that we discussed tonight, what are your top priorities at this point? >> well, improving the democratic discourse is one. there are many others, particularly abroad. the resources, that is one of the major things that we are now following, so there are so many things to do, and i cannot tell you in 45 seconds. >> -- tavis: the lectures at the
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university, a good treatises on what you believe about the world and how it can be made better. a pleasure to have you on the show. that is it tonight. back next time with movie mogul harvey weinstein. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i am tavis smiley. join me next time. a conversation with one of the industry's most powerful players in hollywood, harvey
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weinstein. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles of economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute >> be more. pbs. >> be more. pbs.
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