Founded in 1950 by Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke, the Aspen Institute (AI) seeks “to foster values-based leadership, encourag[e] individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and … provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.” The organization pursues these objectives by way of seminars, public conferences, issue-analysis forums, and young-leader fellowships.
Encompassing a broad range of issues, many of AI’s policy-work programs are rooted in the belief that the United States is a nation whose history amounts largely to an unbroken narrative of injustice; that government intervention frequently represents the best remedy for social and economic problems; and that America’s deep-seated “structural racism,” while “harder to see than its previous incarnations,” is just as likely as its forerunner to “perpetuate racial group inequity.” This latter perspective is consistent with the views of a prominent AI board of trustees member, Henry Louis Gates.
Among AI’s major programs are the following:
The Ascend Program for Family Economic Security contends that nearly 40 percent of all U.S. children “live in low-income families” headed disproportionately by unmarried black women, and seeks “to increase the economic security and educational achievement of [these] vulnerable families.” Toward that end, Ascend has secured philanthropic commitments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and several private family philanthropists.
The Global Health and Development Program supports “innovative strategies for global health and poverty alleviation.” One such strategy is the creation of “government-led” and “community-based” health financing mechanisms that “increase access to equitable and quality health care.”
AI’s Center for Native American Youth is dedicated to “improving the health, safety and overall well-being” of this allegedly maltreated demographic by means of policy development and advocacy, with special emphasis on suicide prevention.
The Commission on No Child Left Behind seeks to “build support for improvements in federal education policy to spur academic achievement and close persistent achievement gaps,” particularly between white students and their black peers.
The Economic Opportunities Program focuses on helping low-income individuals and communities “gain access to mainstream financial services,” and providing skills-training to prepare them to eventually succeed in the workplace.
The Energy and Environment Program warns that “the circumpolar Arctic region is experiencing significant ecological change due to global climate change” caused by human industrial activity. This program partners with several organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Center, and the World Wildlife Fund. Among the guest speakers who have appeared at some of AI’s annual Environment Forums are Bill McKibben, Carl Pope, Van Jones, and Cathy Zoi.
The Middle East Programs (MEP) seek to foster “a peaceful resolution of all Middle East conflicts” and the development of “partnerships between the United States and the Muslim world.” One MEP initiative — rooted in the premise that Palestinian terrorism is caused by poverty — is the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership (USPP). This program aims to discourage Arab militancy against the West and Israel by “stimulating the Palestinian economy through sustainable economic development, job creation and training, and attracting foreign investment in the West Bank.” Key leaders of USPP include Ziad Asali and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The Agent Orange in Vietnam Program, supported by the Ford Foundation, endeavors “to raise awareness of the long-term effects” of the toxic defoliant used by U.S. troops in Southeast Asia during the 1960s.
The Council of Women World Leaders is a network of current and former female presidents and prime ministers who strive to “mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women,” and to increase “the number, effectiveness, and visibility of women who lead at the highest levels in their countries.”
The Global Initiative on Culture and Society “promotes the increasing recognition of the power of artistic and cultural expression to enrich human lives by provoking reflection, stimulating creative solutions to societal challenges, sustaining livelihoods, and illuminating the conditions necessary for social change.”
The Congressional Program, professing political neutrality, “provides lawmakers with a stronger grasp of critical public policy issues” via high-level conferences that bring legislators together with academics and experts to explore various policy alternatives in such areas as energy security, U.S. relations with the Muslim world, nuclear proliferation, and education reform. In 2011, this program was bankrolled by the Asia Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the ClimateWorks Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
AI has numerous noteworthy connections to the billionaire philanthropist George Soros. For example, in August 2004 Soros and other wealthy Democrats gathered at the Institute to brainstorm ways in which they could use their fortunes to engineer the defeat of George W. Bush in the upcoming presidential election. That same year, Soros spoke at an AI seminar (which also featured an appearance by Al Gore) titled “America’s Role in the Fight Against Global Poverty.” In 2006 Aspen sponsored a Soros talk where the billionaire promoted his book The Age of Fallibility: Consequences of the War on Terror. Jim Spiegelman, Aspen’s director of communications, formerly worked as a “special assistant” to Soros. And Arjun Gupta, who serves on Aspen’s board of overseers, is a vice president with the Chatterjee Group which advises Soros and the Soros Fund Management Group.
Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI) has awarded the Aspen Institute numerous large grants over the years, including $50,000 in 2004, another $50,000 in 2005, $195,000 in 2008, and $125,000 in 2009. The latter grant was earmarked for “international human rights and international humanitarian law and their application in American jurisprudence.” In 2011, OSI funded AI’s publication of a report blaming the overrepresentation of blacks and Latinos in U.S. prison populations on “the failure of so many of our society’s institutions.”
Soon after the inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, AI developed a close working relationship with the U.S. State Department. Said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that year: “We can’t imagine a better partner than the Aspen Institute.”
For additional information on the Aspen Institute, click here.