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Riki Rafner
Director of Media & Public Relations

For Immediate Release
Guest speakers available on request

Big Solutions for Big Problems: The 2016 August Series at The Commonwealth Club

SAN FRANCISCO (July 20, 2015) — How is it possible that slavery still exists in the 21st century?  What can the state of Israel teach us about curbing climate change, improving our health, and fixing our nation’s economy?  How might technology help us end the gun violence epidemic in our country?  These are just a few of the questions The Commonwealth Club’s 2016 August Forum will investigate during its “Big Solutions for Big Problems” series. The Commonwealth Club will feature solutions. New thoughts about ancient social issues, new approaches to intractable problems, new versions of hoary healing techniques and new technical fixes previously unimaginable.

Environmental problems, homelessness, mass incarceration, an aging population, geoengineering concerns, smart gun technology, the resurgence of restrictive racial rules and much more.  Hope through change—changes in thinking, that is.

Dr. Carol Fleming, director of the Commonwealth Club Member-Led Forums, who spearheads and founded our popular August series says, “In today’s tumultuous time, we felt it appropriate to tackle problems that affect us on a societal scale. We are hoping to see whether together we might be able to brainstorm options and solutions to those issues which seem unwieldy.” She added, “In light of the recent atrocity in Orlando and those around the world, we found it imperative to examine viable solutions to the epidemic of gun violence, amongst the many other struggles we have in America.  There is certainly an urgency to this particular issue and we are optimistic that Forbes’s Matt Drange and President of Smart Tech Challenges Foundation Margot Hirsch will offer solutions beyond the paralysis Congress demonstrates in Washington.” 

From slavery to gun violence, to global warming and homelessness, these programs will attempt to present alternatives and pathways to ending overwhelming challenges we face today.  The Commonwealth Club is holding the series in its interim headquarters at 555 Post St. in San Francisco.  Those who attend will undoubtedly have many of their questions to greater world problems addressed, if not answered.

This 2016 August Platforum series “Big Solutions for Big Problems” is sponsored by Ernst & Young.  

The Club’s August Forum series is a month of programming organized by the volunteer Member-Led Forums annually.

"Big Solutions for Big Problems" August Lineup:

Race and Relationships in Health Care: Basic Psychology I Didn't Learn in Med School (But Wish I Had)

Thurs., July 28 - 5:15pm

Denise L. Davis, M.D., Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California San Francisco; Fellow, American Academy on Communication in Healthcare

In 2014, health professions students around the country staged White Coats for Black Lives protests, which focused the attention of UCSF and other medical schools on issues of race, power and health. Dr. Davis will discuss the art and science of improving doctor-patient communication that could change the culture of medicine, helping doctors to move beyond "White Coat Silence" on race and power.

Why are Class Action Attorneys’ Fees so High and Judicial Oversight so Low?

Wed., August 3 - 6:00pm

Lawrence Schonbrun, Attorney Representing the Petitioning Class Member in Laffitte vs. Robert Half International

Schonbrun will investigate whether excessive legal fees in class action lawsuits can be reined in without eliminating the incentives needed to prosecute such actions. His talk will focus on the recent California Supreme Court case, Laffitte v. Robert Half Int'l., Inc., which establishes the rules that courts must follow in awarding reasonable attorneys' fees from class action settlements.

Ending Slavery

Mon., August 8 - 6:00pm

George Hammond, Author, Rational Idealism and Conversations with Socrates

Hammond will take a close look at the resilience of slavery in the 21st century. Ending slavery was a 19th century obsession that appeared quite successful, as did the attempt to end intemperance. But was slavery, like drunkenness, just pushed underground when it was criminalized? The intense psychological desire for hierarchical status, and the economic desires that reinforce that, explain why slavery is as hard to eliminate as other social ills, as is evidenced by the continuing mass incarceration of African-Americans and the endurance of various forms of female slavery.

Hammond will argue that the big solution to this big problem is an easily understood and almost as easily adopted perspective that effectively undermines the psychological need for hierarchy. There are also legal incentives, and technical half-solutions, which could help minimize the demand for enslaving each other in the meantime.

Understanding Evil

Tues., August 9 - 6:00pm

George Hammond, Author, Rational Idealism and Conversations with Socrates

The dichotomy between good and evil was popular long before Zoroaster was born, and it will probably continue to be long after Manichaeism's last influences subside. But is evil a useful concept? Or a confusing one? Hammond will explain how the big solution to this big problem in understanding reality comes from comparing the concepts of good and evil to the less emotionally fraught concepts of hot and cold. They appear to be opposites at first, but are actually relative labels we apply to our experiences that depend both on an objective reality and on the relative perspective of the perceiver.

Hammond will discuss how understanding evil this way vastly reduces the fears that have scared us silly for centuries, and provides a tremendous boost to the effectiveness of our pursuit of happiness—a big solution indeed.

Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice

Wed., August 10 - 6:00 pm

Lorraine Bannai, Professor of Lawyering Skills and Director, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, Seattle University School of Law; Author, Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice

The vulnerability of minority communities has always been a big problem, but it is particularly so when fear exacerbates ignorance. Not long ago, it was Japanese Americans; now it is Muslims. Professor Bannai will illuminate this theme through the story of Fred Korematsu, a 22-year-old Oakland welder who refused to comply with orders that led to the incarceration of more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In Korematsu v. United States­, the wartime Supreme Court rejected his challenge to the government in one of its most infamous cases. More than 40 years later, Professor Bannai was part of the legal team that successfully challenged Korematsu's conviction based on proof that the government had falsified the record.

For Korematsu’s courage and for his work warning of the dangers of prejudice, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Is There a Safe Way to Use Geo-Engineering to Address Climate Change?

Thurs., August 11 – 6:00 pm

Leslie Field, Ph.D., Founder and President, Ice911 Research; Founder, SmallTech Consulting
Armand Neukermans, Ph.D., Founder, Xros; Author; Inventor

Gerald Harris, Program Organizer

Dr. Field and Dr. Neudermans will be interviewed by Gerald Harris, chair of The Commonwealth Club's Science & Technology member-led forum, about the latest approaches of geo-engineering to address climate change, the need for such work, the risks involved and the potential benefits.

Israeli Innovations in Solving Big Problems

Fri., August 12 - Noon

Ravit Baer, Deputy Consul General for Israel for the Pacific Northwest
Nathan Miller, President, Miller Ink; Consultant, Israel 21c
Riva Gambert, Director, East Bay International Jewish Film Festival—Moderator

A distinguished panel will discuss the impressive contributions the tiny state of Israel (known as the Start Up Nation) has made in finding and sharing solutions to big problems threatening the environment, health and economies throughout the world. In particular, Deputy Consul General Baer will speak to how the government supports Israeli technology, research and development, as well as assisting other societies, such as California with our drought.

Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon

Mon., August 15 – Noon

Larry Tye, Author, Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon

Nobody was better, half a century ago, at thinking about the biggest solutions for the problems of his age than Bobby, whether that be race riots roiling in cities across America, and especially in California; the war raging in Vietnam; or the general issue of inequality that was dividing people along lines of class, race, gender and generation.

Tye will explain how those issues, of course, are a mirror of those facing the country today, when Bobby Kennedy’s message is more resonant than ever. Kennedy predicted we'd have a black president almost to the day, when no white politician dreamed of it. He talked about how our problems made us ripe for demagogues, though he'd never met Donald P. Trump but did know George Wallace better than anyone. And he offered ways out of all of that, in compelling enough terms to win the California primary and seem poised for the presidency. 

This program is part of our Good Lit series, underwritten by the Bernard Osher Foundation.

Women at the Table: Leaders in the Good Food Movement

Mon., August 15 2016 - 6:30pm

Joann Lo, Executive Director, Food Chain Workers Alliance; Vice President, Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s Leadership Board

Brittni Chicuata, Government Relations Director, American Heart Association | American Stroke Association

Shakira Simley, Community Development Director, Bi-Rite Market—Moderator

Additional Panelists TBA

Critics argue that the industrial food system in the United States is beset with big problems: corporate consolidation of the food supply, huge inequities in pay and benefits for food workers, lack of rights for farm workers, and farming practices that prioritize profits over the health of the planet. But there is a growing movement demanding that these problems be addressed, and we have called together the women at the helm of the movement. Our women at the table will discuss the powerful work they are doing to create change and provide solutions to build a food system that is good, clean, and fair for all.

 Safer Guns: A Tech Remedy for the Gun Violence Epidemic

Tues., August 16 – 6:00pm

Margot Hirsch, President, Smart Tech Challenges Foundation

Matt Drange, Technology and Business Writer, Forbes

Hirsch and Drange will explore technological solutions to gun violence in America.  With federal standards for smart guns coming this fall, along with grants for law enforcement to purchase smart firearms, there is renewed interest in technology to prevent the harm done when guns fall into the wrong hands. Each year there are 20,000 injuries and deaths caused by accidental shootings and teen suicides, nearly all of which advocates say could be prevented with personalized firearms. A recent Johns Hopkins study found that 6 in 10 Americans support the development of smart gun technologies, including modifications to the existing 300 million guns in America today—a rare middle ground politically.

American Political Decay or Renewal?

Thurs., August 18 - 6:00pm

Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and Professor by Courtesy, Department of Political Science, Stanford University; Author, The End of History and the Last Man (1992) and Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy

Professor Fukuyama will present the keynote lecture of our special August series, Big Solutions for Big Problems. He will ask whether our current “vetocracy” has made it easier to stop our government from doing anything than to accomplish something for the common good. Meanwhile, the presidential race has caused a lot of apprehension. The Republican Party has succumbed to Donald Trump’s hostile takeover, and the ultra-insider Hillary Clinton had to face surprisingly strong competition from Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.

Whatever the issue—from immigration to financial reform to trade to stagnating incomes—large numbers of voters from both ends of the spectrum have rejected what they see as a corrupt, self-dealing establishment, and turned instead to radical outsiders in the hopes of a purifying cleanse. But is that what we will be getting?

Interfaith Power and Light

Tues., August 23 - 5:15pm

Reverend Sally Binghim, Executive Director, Interfaith Power and Light's Regeneration Project
Rabbi Marvin Goodman, Executive Director, Northern California Board of Rabbis
Michael Pappas, Executive Director, San Francisco Interfaith Council—Moderator
Additional Panelists TBA

Representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths will discuss each of their faith's views about protecting the Earth, caring for the environment,  and being proactive in combatting climate change, which many believe is Earth's biggest problem. Rev. Bingham will also describe the work of the Regeneration Project, which promotes renewable energy and conservation as part of Interfaith Power and Light, an interfaith climate change initiative.

Music As an Alternative to Adversity

Wed., August 24 – 5:15pm

Peter Lewis, Musician; Composer; Songwriter; Guitarist; Founding Member, the San Francisco Rock Band Moby Grape

Arwen Lewis, Musician; Composer; Songwriter; Guitarist; Primary Artist and Lead Singer, Recent Album of Classic Moby Grape Compositions

Peter is Arwen's father, and together they travel and perform acoustic shows featuring original music written by both of them as well as classic Moby Grape compositions.

Peter and Arwen Lewis will discuss how music, from the perspectives of both the composer and the audience, has been used throughout history to "escape" from adversity. They will talk about the healing components of music and how music allows people to connect with each other. Peter and Arwen will also perform songs composed by Alexander "Skip" Spence and songs written by Peter and Arwen. The presentation will include their own personal experiences with the healing components of music; they also will talk about the process of composing and how this takes the composer into an alternative reality.

There will be live music during their presentation, including wonderful Moby Grape songs, and this presentation will be a treat not to be missed.

Can Technology Make Aging Better and Cheaper?

Wed., August 24 – 5:15pm

Richard G. Caro, Ph.D, Physics, Oxford University; Rhodes Scholar

While much of the Western world worries about the economic and human costs of an aging population, Dr. Caro will argue that there is room for optimism—and that by harnessing the power of technology and the untapped wisdom of the older adult population, we can improve the quality of life as we age, expand the capabilities of caregivers, and perhaps even make the process of aging less costly.

The University of California's Role in Confronting Climate Change and Leading the World on a Sustainable Environmental Path

Mon., August 29 - 6:00pm

Teenie Matlock, McClatchy Chair of Communications and Professor of Cognitive Science, University of California, Merced

Christine Gulbranson, Senior Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Entrepeneurship, University of California

Daniel Kammen, The Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy, University of California, Berkeley; Parallel Appointments in the Energy and Resources Group, The Goldman School of Public Policy, and the Department of Nuclear Engineering

Joel Makower, Chairman and Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group Inc.; Producer,; Lead Author, The Annual State of Green Business Report - Moderator

California and the University of California are leaders in confronting one of the world's most complex and daunting issues: climate change. Three distinguished UC professors from across the University system will discuss how the UC and the state of California lead and plan to continue leading the world on a path to a sustainable environmental future.

Helping the Homeless of San Francisco: What Works?

Tues, August 30 - 6:00pm

Sam Dodge, Director, Mayors Office of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE)
Mark Farrell, San Francisco Supervisor, District 2
C.W. Nevius, Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle

How can we address the ongoing homeless problem in San Francisco, which on a daily basis is becoming even more of a haven for the very wealthy who continue to move in and a seemingly hopeless situation for The City’s ever growing poverty stricken population?  We see the sad lives of the homeless in our beautiful city, and our hearts sink. But is there an answer? In different ways, our three panelists have given a great deal of attention to the problem. They will share their observations and possible remedies. 

Cultural Odyssey's Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women and HIV Circle

Wed, August 31 - 6:00pm

Rhodessa Jones, Co-Artistic Director, Cultural Odyssey; Actress; Teacher; Writer; Director, Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women and HIV Circle; Former Visiting Artist in Residence, University of California, Berkeley Black Theater Workshop; Visiting Professor at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California; Spring 2014 Interdisciplinary Artist in Residence, College of Letters and Science and the School of Human Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In 1989, on the basis of material developed while conducting classes at the San Francisco County Jail, Rhodessa Jones created “Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women,” a performance piece based on the lives of the incarcerated women she encountered. Based on this observation, Jones founded The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women to explore whether an arts-based approach could help reduce the numbers of women returning to jail.

In 2008, The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women joined forces with UCSF’s Women’s HIV Clinic to create theater that explores what it means to be living with the virus in the 21st century. For the past seven years, The Medea Project: HIV Circle has performed shows all around the United States, sharing the truth and the stories of what it means to be female and infected or affected.

ABOUT THE COMMONWEALTH CLUB:  Founded in 1903, The Commonwealth Club of California is the nation’s largest and most active public affairs forum, with about 22,000 members.  Based in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the Club hosts over 450 conversations, town hall meetings, lectures, performances and discussions each year on issues of regional, national and international significance.  At least one million people hear The Commonwealth Club’s weekly radio broadcasts on more than 230 stations across the country. The Club hosts Climate One, a dialogue on climate change, and the program series Inforum.  The Club is temporarily located at 555 Post Street in San Francisco.  The Club’s new headquarters is currently under construction at 110 The Embarcadero in San Francisco.

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