‘Broken world’ topic of Aspen conference
Talk about broadening your horizons.For four years, the State of the World Conference in Aspen has primarily examined issues affecting the American West, such as energy, land development, water and grazing.But this year the five-year-old event aims to lives up to the “world” in its name.John and Kate McBride, the father-daughter team who started the Sopris Foundation and the annual conference it presents, are exploring the world with the gusto of Leif Ericson.The conference is taking on a decidedly broader view, with speakers who are experts on counter-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and the Bush administration’s preparations for invading Iraq. It’s titled “Creative Minds Address a Broken World.”The conference will be held at Paepcke Auditorium, July 9-11.The biggest name among the speakers is Richard Clarke, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council and the terrorism czar for the Clinton and Bush administrations. He is speaking fresh on the heels of his testimony before the 9/11 Commission and the release of his book, “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror – What Really Happened.”His book criticizes both the Clinton and Bush administrations for not taking the threats of terrorism seriously enough. He has insisted that Bush administration officials ignored his warnings – well before the attacks – that Osama bin Laden was planning to strike the United States.
Another featured speaker is Joe Wilson, a former ambassador who earned the Ron Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling from the Fertel Foundation and the Nation Institute after writing in July 2003 that the Bush administration trumped up charges against Saddam Hussein to justify its invasion of Iraq.His whistle-blowing apparently came at a price. His wife’s identity as a secret CIA operative was leaked to a national newspaper columnist. That prompted a federal investigation that is still seeking the source of the leak.Not taking sidesOther high-profile speakers are Joseph Cirincione, director of nonproliferation for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who is critical of the Bush administration’s dealings with countries such as Iraq and North Korea; populist author and commentator Jim Hightower, also no fan of Bush; and Amy Goodman, host of the independent radio news program Democracy Now!Past conferences have featured speakers on the cutting edge of science, energy and the environment, but to the layman, this year’s group appears distinctly political. The McBrides insist, however, that they aren’t making any deliberate anti-Bush statement. Speakers were selected because they are experts in their fields and they can illuminate some of the top issues facing the United States today, said Kate McBride.”We don’t take a side nor do we encourage them to take a side. We want to get to the truth,” she said.”We’re not asking them to come here to be political,” John McBride added. “I think that’s an important distinction.”
He said they always try to find speakers “who aren’t sheep” and who “think outside the box.” This year’s lineup happened to include speakers with expertise in issues of worldwide importance.Referring to speakers such as Clarke and Wilson, who were part of the Bush administration, John McBride said, “the fact that they jumped ship doesn’t make them enemies of the state.”Clarke, for example, has served seven presidents from both major political parties, Kate McBride said. “They’re on the inside. Why wouldn’t you want to know?” she asked.Call to actionJohn said he believes the country is so polarized these days because issues are too often examined from a partisan position. The conference, he claimed, is designed to examine the truth, not take sides.”Forget labels. This conference is about ideas,” John said.That professed goal would be easier to swallow if more speakers defended the Bush administration or presented another side of the issues. But when it comes to Bush’s approach to the environment, the McBrides believe the administration is just plain wrong. Said Kate, “There is no other side.”And in a year with such a highly charged presidential campaign, it’s probably impossible to have speakers such Clarke and Wilson and not open the conference to charges of being “politicized,” John McBride acknowledged.
To try to avoid that quandary – and potentially jeopardize the Sopris Foundation’s tax-exempt status – the speakers were asked to steer away from Bush-bashing. The McBrides said they weren’t trying to censor anyone, but wanted to stick to their long-standing policy of offering solutions rather than just identifying problems.”I don’t want this to be a doom-and-gloom conference,” said John McBride. Their goal for the event is a one-two punch – they said they hope to give the audience an in-depth view of the issues, to provide information people haven’t heard before. Then they’re hoping that attendees are inspired to take action on some of the topics.Surveys of past conference audiences indicate 70 percent of respondents changed their behavior in some way because of what they learned, Kate McBride said. “We hit home somehow,” she said.The survey also showed that audiences yearned for even more emphasis on calls to action – examples by the speakers of how they can get involved, she said. It’s too early to tell if the big-name speakers at the conference this year will draw a larger audience, she said, but it has definitely raised the profile of the event. More media will attend this year than for any of the prior four conferences, she said.’Creative Minds Address a Broken World’To see the complete list of speakers and events at the State of the World or to register, visit http://www.soprisfoundation.org. The cost is $234.25 for adults. Teachers and military personnel can attend for free. Students 18 and under can also attend for free.