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Billionaire Soros blasts Bush, calls on President to honor world opinion

Friday, February 28, 2003

By Len Boselovic, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Billionaire capitalist George Soros, whose shrewd speculation conquered world markets, delivered a scathing denunciation of Bush administration policies yesterday, accusing the White House of shirking its responsibility as the world's only superpower.

George Soros: "President Bush is pushing the wrong buttons when he says, 'Those who are not with us, are against us.'" (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

In a speech before 500 at Carnegie Mellon University, Soros said the Bush administration had a "visceral aversion to international cooperation," which is why it is willing to ignore world opinion in its rush to wage war with Iraq.

"President Bush is pushing the wrong buttons when he says, 'Those who are not with us, are against us,' " Soros said. "This is an imperialist vision in which the U.S. leads and the rest of the world follows."

Soros characterized some members of the Bush administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, as having "an exaggerated view of their own righteousness."

Bush's willingness to exert U.S. military power existed prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, which only served to enforce that tendency, Soros said. His solution, Soros said, is for the Bush administration to live by the rules it seeks to impose on the rest of the world.

Soros said he liked former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, though he thought the ex-Alcoa chairman "was not terribly well qualified" for the Cabinet post.

The bigger problem at the Treasury Department, he said, was its neglect of responsibilities in regards to the international financial system. Soros added that he felt O'Neill, whose blunt and open style sometimes grated other members of the administration, was a breath of fresh air.

Soros made his billions by betting on swings in the British pound and other currencies, a single-minded strategy some countries claimed complicated their financial problems.

Soros earned investors in his Quantum Fund an average annual return of 31 percent over a 32-year period despite placing his share of losing bets during his career. He retired in 2000 after what for everyone else would have been crushing losses from Russia's default and a premature bet on the demise of Internet stocks.

These days, the Budapest-born philanthropist who is a naturalized U.S. citizen spends his time giving his money away through the Soros Foundations, including the Open Society Institute, which supports civil liberties, education, media, public health and human and women's rights, as well as social, legal and economic reform in more than 50 countries. The foundations distribute about $500 million annually.

Soros compared the failure of Bush policies with his success at investing, saying he had made bad investment decisions but had been willing to admit he was wrong and acted to correct his mistakes. "As a financial speculator, you have to be constantly living in the fear of being wrong," he said.

The visit by Soros, 72, coincided with his being named by Forbes magazine as the world's 38th richest person with an estimated net worth of $7 billion.

A French court in December convicted the New York resident of insider trading in a case dating to a pending takeover of French bank Societe Generale 14 years ago. Soros, who was ordered to pay a $2.2 million fine, denied having any inside information when he traded his shares.

Len Boselovic can be reached at lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.

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