Washington Ideas Forum

 

The Atlantic Magazine with the Aspen Institute presented another impressive Washington Ideas Forum  last week featuring three dozen speakers, most of whom have held high government or business posts. The program was informative, useful and entertaining, with much it now available for free viewing on the Atlantic's YouTube channel, C-SPAN, and elsewhere.

One overall impression is how smooth and otherwise compelling most leaders can be, even when questioned at length by well-known journalists. Another takeaway is that at least some topics remain to hot to handle. Therefore, the forum sessions complements, but should not replace, investigative fare from alternative outlets.   

The format for most speakers was a one-on-one interview lasting 15 minutes. Among the featured speakers were former Vice President Al Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee shown below being interviewed by Atlantic senior editor James Fallows.

Gore described television as powerfully distorting and worsening the 2016 presidential campaign because, among other things, it is expensive for candidates and fundamentally a top-down, non-interactive communications channel. “When our country was founded, our information ecosystem was formed by the printing press, and it had certain characteristics where individuals could easily enter the public square," Gore said. "The ideas were treated more according to a meritocracy.” The 25-minute interview can be seen in the video below:

Sharing their views also were: Carlyle Group Founder and CEO David Rubenstein, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN), and two GOP former presidential nominees, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Among many others were White House advisors Valerie Jarrett and Benjamin Rhodes, former Secretaries of States Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, and Linked In CEO Jeff Weiner and Martine Rothblatt, founder of both Sirius XM and United Therapeutics. A complete agenda can help readers locate video and other coverage via a web search.

Significant news announcements were made by several of the speakers. Others made newsworthy comments on larger developments over recent days, such as the launch of Russian air attacks this week against U.S.-based anti-government fighters in Syria and the resignation a week ago of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

MSNBC host Chris Matthews made an impassioned denunciation of elites in American politics who, he said, have scoffed at enforcement of immigration law and thus angered ordinary Americans enough foster the rise of GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump. Atlantic writer Amanda Ripley narrated an engaging and information commentary on a video presentation on the growing problems presented by the growth of drones within the United States.

Other speakers — such as Martine Rothblatt, #BlackLivesMatter Co-Founder Opal Tometi, Defense Advanced research Projects Agency Director Arati Prabhakar and documentary director Stanley Nelson — provided insights on long-running cultural issues. Rothblatt, for example, has been listed as the highest-ranking female CEO in the business world after becoming also one of the nation's best known and pioneering transgender pioneers in 1994.

Nelson directed the documentary "The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution" now opening in theaters nationally. Under questioning by Atlantic editor James Bennet, the director explained the curious historical quirk that the panthers in the mid-1960s learned that carrying loaded rifles was legal under California gun law if the rifles were in plain view and so the a relatively few members achieved nationwide publicity for their start-up group by carrying the weapons to California's legislature, where Gov. Ronald Reagan complained they were justifiably arrested for bearing arms.

In such ways, the program provided a valuable overview of major civic problems and solutions. The access to top names was impressive but creates inherent limitations: One can hardly guaranteed the access of a Sen. John McCain if is grilled too harshly on such topics as the actual identities of the "rebels" (whom some allege were Al Qaeda and future ISIS leaders) he met in Syria on a notorious 2013 visit, which we reported in Does Turkey Secretly Support ISIS?.

David MilibandSimilarly, it is difficult to attract such speakers as International Rescue Committee President and CEO David Miliband, recently a Labour foreign minister in the United Kingdom, if one's questions might probe too deeply.

For Milliband, his basic message is that he and his organization are humanitarians. In that spirit, they demand of Western nations such as the United States mass invitations for resettlement of Syrian and Libyan refugees in particular these days, as well as far more financial support for the refugees and his workforce of 21,000.

 

 

 

 
 
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Related News Coverage

The Atlantic, Washington Ideas Forum: Newsmakers Speak to Year's Most Pressing Issues and Ideas of Consequence, Staff report, Sept. 30, 2015. Al Gore, Theo Padnos, Madeleine Albright, Lonnie Bunch, Jeff Weiner, Stanley Nelson, and others to participate in two-day summit.  It's a time of landmark change and challenge: the Supreme Court has secured the future of the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage is now the law of the land. While the U.S. tests new relationships with old foes, from Cuba to Iran, the brutality of ISIS continues to stun the world and perplex policymakers. At home, a gripping debate has been revived on race and justice in American society. Such pressing issues and ideas of consequence will define the seventh annual Washington Ideas Forum, presented by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute on September 30 and October 1, 2015. The two-day program, to be held at the Harman Center for the Arts, will play host to speakers shaping dialogue around politics, business, education, culture, media, science, art, and technology. Tickets are available now.

"There is something very powerful about what unfolds on stage at Washington Ideas," said Margaret Low Smith, president of AtlanticLIVE. "Some of this country's leading thinkers and doers open up and talk about issues and ideas in a very candid way. We have a fascinating line up this year and expect two memorable days." Journalist Theo Padnos, who was held hostage in Syria for almost two years by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, will discuss his experiences for the first time in a live forum setting. Padnos' mother Nancy Curtis and cousin Amy Rosen, who both worked to secure his release, will join the conversation, along with Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who recently authored a detailed account of the private efforts of families to rescue loved ones from Syria. The Atlantic's editor-in-chief James Bennet will moderate the discussion.

Washington Ideas Forum will also feature conversations with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who now chairs the Albright Stonebridge Group; Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture; former Vice President and Chairman of Generation Investment Management Al Gore; Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson; DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar; Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics and founder of Sirius XM, who is transgender and the country's highest paid female CEO; and Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn.

The Atlantic, Al Gore Blames the 2016 Election's Craziness on Television, Robinson Meyer, Oct. 1, 2015. “Politicians spend 75 percent of their money on 30-second TV ads.” Many have blamed not only Citizens United for the strangeness of the 2016 president election, but also the Internet and social media. Speaking at the 2015 Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday, Al Gore did blame a technology for the race’s unpredictableness — but not the one people might think of. “I think there’s a big wheel turning slowly and we’re now in a phase where our politics have been debased,” he told The Atlantic’s James Fallows. He described this wheel — this cycle — as profoundly technological. “When our country was founded, our information ecosystem was formed by the printing press, and it had certain characteristics where individuals could easily enter the public square. The ideas were treated more according to a meritocracy.” See full interview here on YouTube.

Atlantic via YouTube, Mitt Romney Surveys the 2016 Field, Molly Ball, Sept. 30, 2015. The former Republican nominee on his would-be heirs, including Donald Trump. As he looks back on 2012, Mitt Romney has some regrets. “I wish I could do it again,” he told The Atlantic's James Bennet on Wednesday during an interview at the Washington Ideas Forum. “You learn from your experience.” Bennet interjected, “You could!”  Romney reiterated that he’s not considering getting into the current presidential race. But, he said, “There’s some things I’d do differently.”

Atlantic via YouTube, Loretta Lynch / Washington Ideas Forum 2015, Oct. 1, 2015. 

C-SPAN, Washington Ideas Forum, Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Oct. 1, 2015. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) was interviewed at the 7th annual Washington Ideas Forum. Topics included the outgoing Speaker of the House’s legacy, the battle to fund the government, and Planned Parenthood funding.

 

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Justice Integrity Project, Does Turkey Secretly Support ISIS? Andrew Kreig, Aug. 31, 2015. Turkey is a covert supporter of the brutal regime of ISIS, according to expert critics who are becoming increasingly outspoken. McClatchy, for example, a chain of 29 newspapers in 28 U.S. markets, published an investigation last week reporting that Turkey "orchestrated" the kidnapping by radical Islamists of about 50 newly deployed "moderate" Syrians trained by the U.S. at a cost of $500 million. The result was the deaths of nearly 10 percent of the recruits regarded as America's major strike force against ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Huffington Post, U.S. Dodges Responsibility For Saudi Airstrikes That Kill Yemeni Civilians, Jessica Schulberg, At the same time, the U.S. provides Saudi Arabia with targeting assistance and bombs. The Obama administration is moving to distance itself from the mounting civilian casualties in Yemen’s civil war, while simultaneously providing targeting assistance to a Saudi Arabian-led coalition that has been conducting airstrikes over Yemen for the past six months. United Nations officials say the coalition is responsible for the majority of the country's civilian deaths, which recently surpassed 2,300. Last Saturday, airstrikes targeting Taiz, a city about 170 miles south of the capital, killed over 130 people attending a wedding. Yemen’s International Red Crescent Society reported that two of its volunteers, Qaed Faisal, 28, and Omar Fareh, 31, were killed by the shelling in a neighboring area on the same day. But human rights groups accused the Saudi coalition of conducting indiscriminate airstrikes and unnecessarily endangering the civilian population. The International Red Crescent Society has already lost eight staff members and volunteers from the shelling. See video of allied air strike killing an estimated 130 at Yemeni wedding, prompting outrage at civilian deaths.