Panetta Institute series lines up powerhouse players for revolutionary 15th year.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
The 15th annual Panetta Institute Lecture Series returns to the Monterey Conference Center beginning this Monday, under the umbrella theme “Revolutions of the 21st Century: Changing Our Way of Life.”
Since its inception, the series has brought 100 speakers to the Peninsula to talk about public policy issues, from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and broadcast journalist Cokie Roberts in 1997, to former Vice President Al Gore and former SEC chairman Harvey Pitt in 2010.
This year opens March 19 with a high-powered foreign policy conversation, moderated by former CNN Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno, between Dennis Ross, former National Security and Iran advisor to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, respectively, and Fran Townsend, former assistant to President George W. Bush on homeland security and counter-terrorism.
Sylvia Panetta, chair of the board of directors and director of the Panetta Institute, oversees the series, which she helped launch with her husband, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, when they both thought his public service career was at an end.
“First, we choose the theme for the year,” she says. “Then, topics that are timely. Then we look to speakers who can bring solid, substantial information to folks in California.”
Coming speakers and topics include presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss, and Rice University history professor and author Douglas Brinkley, moderated by PBS NewsHour co-anchor Judy Woodruff, on the presidency, May 7; Google vice president and chief Internet evangelist Vinton Cerf, AOL Huffington Post Media Group president and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington, and CBS News and KCBS technology analyst Larry Magdid, moderated by Frank Sesno, on the Internet and social media, May 28.
Panetta says it is a forum for open and informed talk, a haven in the “partisan conflicts” of an election year.
Last year, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson said, “I feel, at the age of 79, I’ve achieved life’s zenith, because I’ve irritated everyone in the U.S.”
Simpson returns April 9 with economist, author and UC Berkeley professor Robert Reich, on the topic of the economy. Panetta says the high-profile odd couple (Simpson is 6 feet 7 inches tall; Reich is 4 feet 10 inches tall) playfully refer to their pairing as “The Long and Short of It.”
But other juxtapositions explain the more thoughtful bipartisan discourse.
“We bring in different views,” Panetta says. “Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal. It’s worked beautifully.”
Past lectures, covered by C-SPAN, have paired Bush campaign manager Karl Rove and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, and two former secretaries of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department: Jack Kemp, who served under President George Bush, and Henry Cisneros, who served under President Bill Clinton.
Another component of the series, symbiotic with the institute’s other flagship program, Monterey County Reads, brings in students for seminars led by Dr. Richard Kezirian, former history chair at Monterey Peninsula College.
“We like to make sure we prepare and include students,” Panetta says, “particularly from underserved communities.”
The live audience lectures often sell out, but $40 stand-by tickets are available, and the series is broadcast live on MCAET public access channels 26 (Comcast), 104 (Comcast Hometown Network), 29 and 8 (Charter Cable) and 26 (Suddenlink), radio station KAZU 90.3FM, and streamed at http://media.csumb.edu/stream.html. Video archives of past lectures can be viewed at www.panettainstitite.org.
“We’re 3,000 miles away from Washington,” Panetta says. “You cannot participate in a democracy without information.”