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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  May 24, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PDT

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tavis: good evening from los angeles. my guest is pulitzer prize- winning james stewart. he has turned his attention to the lack of truth telling in our society and its impact on all of us. the new text is called "tangled webs." also, steve earle, who has a new cd called "all never get out of this world alive. ." we have glad to have joined us. >> 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.
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>> 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 to 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 >> his latest text is called " tangled webs." he was also named a columnist for the business section of "the new york times."
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is an honor to have you here. what do you hope to bring to your column? >> i want to speak out for the individual, in the book tour will shareholders and consumers. we are living in a world that is being accommodated by the wealthy, the big institutions, and i think we need somebody to stand up for everybody else. tavis: what is your sense that this will do in that regard? >> pitbull getting loans that they never should have, interest rates -- we need someone to oversee this and make sure that both consumers are protected, and the institutions. tavis: do you think that conversation can be had, given the focus that is on wall
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street's? how do the people ever get back on the issue that you attempted to raise customer >> for me, step one is getting the truth out there and getting people focused on the backs. operating in secret is what the big wall street firms have always wanted. disclosure, transparency. tavis: now to the book, "tangled webs." the obvious question for meat, what do barry bonds, bernie madoff, martha stewart, have to do with meat or the everyday american customer cracks that are very celebrated individuals. because in different ways they do revealed a consequence of all of us and what happens when perjury goes on in very high places and false statements are
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being made in very high places. it is not just the people who -- some of them have come out ok, they are still rich. they are still celebrities. if you look at the people who are close to them, people who relied on their false statements, investors who relied on it, voters, sports fans who relied on it. you see the damage to the judicial system itself. the barry bonds case is a vivid example of that. many years and many millions of dollars later, he finally came to trollope few weeks ago. practically everyone in that investigation like. the bernie madoff case, investigators knew he was lying. he survived for sec investigations and every time they knew he was committing perjury and they did not do anything about it. they just said, what is the big deal?
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it was not just rich people in those hedge funds. there were middle-class people, poor people, the elderly, who lost everything. and then finally, politics. if we cannot rely on our politicians telling the truth generally, how can we make intelligent decisions in the voting bloc? the consequences are fast and they do affect each and every one of us. tavis: what does this book say about the intersection of money and lying? >> there is a very close connection. it is money and power, and they go hand in hand. we know that. one of the main reasons that people lie, that is clear in this story, is out of some sense of loyalty. someone asked them to life for them. people who otherwise would never have considered lying under oath, in of doing it because someone has said show me the loyalty.
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barry bonds trainer being a vivid example. what has happened i have noticed is the loyalty only runs in one direction. it runs from the less powerful and less wealthy to the more powerful and wealthy. they will let people live and go to jail for them, but they do not show them anything in return. why is that? people want to be close to them. they do not want to lose their jobs. they don't want those fabulous investment returns to stop coming in, and they it compromised by that. they lose sight of their legal and ethical obligations. tavis: at the center of the stories is really a battle that -- of battle of truth versus power. are we going to be truth tellers or power grabbers? what is happening in the world today that makes these people so often choose power over truth,
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and think they can get away with that long term? >> i think you are absolutely right about that. people are looking at the perceived short-term advantages and ignoring the longer-term consequences. why are we in society like this now? i think we are disproportionately valuing wealth, power, success, and celebrity, to the exclusion of traditional values like honesty and integrity and generosity and kindness and concern about other people. our value systems have shifted. tavis: what is driving at, do you know? >> part of the problem with the perjury epidemic is that once people think everyone is doing it, it becomes self perpetuating and we get more of it. people see the class valedictorian at walking across the stage and they know they have cheated and lied to get there. becomes very pervasive in
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society, and we forget the consequences of that. it is so important for people to recognize that truth and the obligation to tell the truth have been a pillar of civilization. it was then in medieval england. if we don't honor that, it becomes only the wealthy and powerful who command the truth, who determine what the truth is, then we are going to live in a society that is essentially a lot of the jungle, the code of organized crime. tavis: you mentioned the 10 commandments. i heard many years ago that the 11th commandment is thou shalt not get caught. isn't lying are cheating eat you don't get caught? >> linney to start by saying, who knows in all these cases -- you know who is telling a lie. there are some who still have a conscience and that is a very heavy burden to bear.
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there are some who come to terms and decide it is more important to be honest and to get away with something by line. nevertheless, obviously these main characters -- why did they like? they thought they were going to get away with it. there has to be a message from the top. there has to be a deterrent. there has to be prosecution and meaningful sentences. each and everyone of us has got to stop condoning this and sweeping it under the rug and reaffirming that success in this country is a great thing, but that opportunity is not going to be there if people do not play by the rules. tavis: you don't extinct -- you don't think the examples of the last decade are sending the kind of message that needs to be sent, that you will get caught and be prosecuted? let me play devil's advocate for
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a second. one could argue that these high- profile people being taken to task, some believe they piled on the market stewart or barry bonds. if you don't get it now, you are really stuck. >> each and every one of these characters made that argument. that is just another life. if anything, these people who are powerful, successful celebrities got treated with kid gloves. that is so clear in these stories. martha stewart? i don't want to prosecute her. barry bonds had total immunity for every crime except except for one thing, and that was not telling the truth before the grand jury. these people got special treatment really because of who they work. you see characters in the book will actually say, i saw martha
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stewart during a brief stint in prison. that does not look so bad to me. i am just going to go ahead and do this. a lawyer takes an oath to uphold a legal system, and he says well, president bush committed libby's sentence, so why should i have to go to jail? tavis: i am glad you raised the commutation of the scooter libby sentence. scudder libby took a dive or got caught and some folks much higher up got away, namely the cheney and george bush. in politics, it always seems to be the case that the guys at the top almost never get caught, but the ad visors, the aids around them into taking the fall. i think oliver north in the reagan administration. is there something about politics vs. business?
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you want the president to send a signal, but the body politic is the worst example where people at the top or always accountable. >> probably the most vivid illustration where you see it raw power tromping of the legal obligation to tell the truth. it is so serious because the president of the united states and the vice-president, these are the two highest law enforcement officers in the country. what message is sent to everyone involved in the legal system when the president of the united states, after saying i will not tolerate this, when confronted with that in his own administration, looks the other way, does not make them go to jail? it is basically condoning this kind of behavior. there has been a long and storied tradition of in the white house lying to cover up the mistakes of the higher ups.
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of all places, this is where it has got to stop. the power of the white house is such that when they say -- and they are extending that message, it takes a strong, honest person to stand up to that. i think obama has a great opportunity to strike a different message. tavis: is a book that a lot of people are talking about by james b. stewart, called " tangled webs." i enjoyed the book. good to have yana. up next, grammy-winning musician steve earle, plus a musical performance. stay with us. always pleased to welcome steve earle to this program. he is out with a new project "called on never get out of this world alive." a book by the same title is
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available. good to have you back on this program. how is that little baby? >> he turned it won about three weeks ago -- he turned one about three weeks ago. this was last november here in l.a. when we were making the record. tavis: i wonder if he even has a choice. his daddy is an artist, his mother is an artist. what choice does he really have? >> he got a ukuleles for his birthday and he has a guitar and piano. my friend has a guitar shop and he says people are always complaining about what
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instrument their musical kid can play. tavis: i thought about that old joke, the chicken and the egg, which won came first? >> as far as the title goes, i have been working on the book for almost eight years. it seems like it should be a bigger book. [laughter] it is not my day job. it is a novel that i started about nine or 10 years ago. most of it was written in the last four or five years. it was always called "i never get out of this world alive" because that was a hank williams song. i was just trying to ride the best songs that i could write and i wanted to make a record with t. bone burnett. i was a little worried that i did not have a title, and then
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we had finished it and were listening to it. i realized it was about some of the same things that the book is about in the big picture. spirituality and mortality. all the songs on this record and most of this book was written during that time leading up to that and right after that. the generation before you bows and you are next. just watching him go through that and the effect it had on my family, you just are thinking about all that stuff. tavis: let me take them one at a time since we are talking about the record now. how does that experience impact the riding the material, the content of the project? >> the first two songs were written right before my dad died. they were written for and joan
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baez to sing because i was producing her record. she showed up with eight songs and i brought out some songs. eight songs is not enough for a record. she said no, you are going to ride the rest of it. so i started writing songs. i did not really think about it. meanwhile, my dad was really ill, and he passed away before we finished the record, between the time we recorded the tracks and the time we mixed it. when i got ready to make my own record, i kept writing songs over the course of the year, and i wrote all this stuff that i was getting out of this sort of existential zone that i do not
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normally get into. i don't know, i was just writing different than i had in a long time. i had finished the book by that time, and i suddenly realized that maybe that is what the connection was, the whole idea -- i watched my dad go through what he went through and passing away, and he was terrified. it is really fighting for breath and he was really scared, and it was really hard. a friend of mine died at woodstock, and he had cancer. it was tough, but he was ill and then he was in remission, and then he got sick again. he was surrounded by people that were more like the way i raised myself after i got out on my
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own. growing up in the 1960's and 1970's and thinking about stuff that was outside of this western culture spiritually, i think he had a little easier time than my dad did. he was a little more ready to go than my dad was, and the people around him gave him permission to go. the process for us in the west is really more about the people who are staying behind than the people who have to make the trip sometimes. i was just thinking about all that stuff as i was writing this. tavis: what does watching your dad goes through all that, what does it say to steve earle about his own were telling the when you watch your dad go through all that? >> the main thing was, maybe there comes a point to not fight so hard, and to accept death as part of life. i think maybe that is what we do a little bit, maybe not quite as
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well as some other cultures. tavis: now to the book, "i'll never get out of this world alive." he wrote these short stories a few years ago. the difference between right -- between writing short stories and a novel is what? >> i am used to telling a pretty elaborate story in four minutes, with the kind of songs that are right. i had really did teachers and i learned how to do that. i had to learn how to slow down to write a short story, and i wrote a play after that. a lot of the writing and rewriting that caused it to take so long had to do with me getting ahead of myself and having to go back and tear everything down and back up and just tell the story a little slower. i read a lot.
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i wish i could write a 700-page book. i have not learned to slow down that much. this is the best i have been able to do so far. tavis: without getting the story away, how would you describe what this is? we know the ghost of hank williams is here. >> i thought it was going to be a ghost story, but it turned out to be a harry potter book for adults. it is about a doctor living in san antonio, texas, in 1963. he is a heroin addict and he supports his habit largely by performing abortions. 10 years earlier, he was traveling with hank williams when he died, andhas followed h, texas. about heroin and hank
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williams. tavis: his book is out now. that is what you call brandon and vertical integration. rebranding and vertical integration. >> good to see you. of next, a special acoustic performance. we will be back in just a moment. from his new cd, "all never get out of this world alive" here is steve earle. ♪ ♪ this city won't wash away ♪
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♪ this city won't wash away ♪ ♪
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♪ ♪
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[applause] >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: join me next time with dick van dyke on his new memoir. that is next time. 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
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and remove obstacles to economic empowerment, one conversation at a time. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ >> be more. ♪ >> be more.
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