Great Decisions announces 2022 events


By Janice Sheftel
Great Decisions

The Durango Great Decisions International Affairs Discussion Program, now in its 20th year, will begin its 2022 schedule on Jan. 25 at the Durango Public Library, with a facilitator-led discussion on the topic “Russia.” 

Great Decisions meets every other week thereafter, for a total of nine sessions, on Tuesdays, with one exception, from 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., at the library. Programs are free of charge and open to the public. 

Attendees should be vaccinated against COVID and should wear a mask. Individual students are welcome. The Great Decisions program is sponsored by the library, AAUW and the La Plata County League of Women Voters (LPLWV). In 2019, programs were attended by over 75 thoughtful community members and almost as many attended each Zoom session in 2021.

Timely international affairs discussion topics are suggested annually by the Foreign Policy Association, which prepares a briefing book, a teacher’s guide and a DVD on the nine topics. The DVD on the current topic is often shown at each Durango discussion session. 

Briefing books on the 2022 topics, until sold out, can be ordered for $25 from Susan McGinness, 756 East 6th Ave., Durango, CO 81301. Include your check made out to LPLWV and your physical address, email address and phone number. Once these books are all reserved, books may be ordered from the Foreign Policy Association at or (800) 477 -5836 or from online retailers. The library keeps one copy on reserve.

In summary, the 2022 Great Decisions program is as follows (note: The topics are in a different order from those in the briefing book and the last program is on a Thursday, not a Tuesday):

• Topic: -Russia, Jan. 25, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Climate Change, Feb. 8 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Drug Policy in Latin America, Feb. 22, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Outer Space, March 8, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Biden’s Agenda, March 22, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Myanmar and ASEAN, April 5, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Demographics, April 19, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Industrial Policy, May 3, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

• Topic: Quad Alliance, May 12, 11:45 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

Changing Demographics

The world experienced remarkable demographic changes in the 20th century that continue today and have resulted in far-reaching social, economic, political and environmental consequences all over the globe. These consequences are creating mounting challenges to development efforts, security, climate and the environment, as well as the sustainability of human populations.

Facilitator: Holly Vaughn. Vaughn is the senior exercise planner for Summit Training and Exercises LLC. For the last decade, she has created, facilitated and managed training exercise programs based on terrorist scenarios involving radioactive material. 

Sponsored by the Department of Energy and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, these programs of tabletop exercises are presented to U.S. and foreign civilian and military agencies. She also was the project manager for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s counterterrorism exercise program and development team for three years. 

Retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a captain, Vaughn also served over 25 years providing direct operational support to military forces worldwide as a career intelligence officer. Her jobs included the director, Joint Military Intelligence Training Center; and commander, Naval Element, Defense Intelligence Agency. She has an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, and an M.A. in war studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. She also has a certificate in terrorism studies from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Outer Space

The launch of Sputnik I in October 1957 marked the beginning of the space era and of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the 21st century, there are many more participants in space, including countries such as India and China, and commercial companies such as SpaceX. How will the United States fare in a crowded outer space?

Facilitator: Dick White. White is professor emeritus of astronomy at Smith College (MA), where he also developed a public policy course on climate change. He took early retirement in 2002 to become a sustainability and climate protection advocate, moving to Durango in 2003. After serving on several nonprofit boards and citizens committees, he served for eight years on the Durango City Council, including two as mayor. He has since received a climate change professional certificate from the Association of Climate Change Officers and started a part-time business, Enduring Green Globe Consulting.

Climate Change

The ideological divide in the United States on the subject of climate change has impeded progress in curbing greenhouse emissions. But, extreme weather events at both ends of the thermometer have focused attention on the consequences of inaction. What role will the United States play in future negotiations on climate? 

Facilitator: Guinn Unger. Unger grew up as an Army brat, living in many different places. He graduated from Frankfurt American High School in Frankfurt, Germany. He then attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering.

Unger worked for McDonnell Douglas at the NASA Johnson Space Center for two years on the space shuttle design team. He also worked as a computer software developer, computer consultant and small business owner. He and his wife purchased their house in Forest Lakes in January 2013.

Unger got involved with the Colorado Care Amendment 69 campaign in 2016 and served as the regional coordinator for southwest Colorado. He served as co-chair for the Health Care and Senior Issues committee of Indivisible Durango. He was elected to the Board of Directors for La Plata Electric Association in 2017 and ran (unsuccessfully) for the Colorado State Senate District 6 seat in 2018.


Russia and the United States have many areas of conflict and some possible areas of mutual interest. Arms control, Russian interference in U.S. elections and support of cyberattacks, the status of Ukraine, and the fate of opposition politicians in Russia all continue to be concerning. How will the new administration in Washington approach these issues?

Facilitator: Paul DeBell. DeBell is an assistant professor of political science at Fort Lewis College (FLC). His teaching and research interests span political psychology and comparative politics, with particular focus on democratic governance, post-communist politics, the psychology of political division and the role of emotions in political behavior. He has studied and lived in Russia and Hungary, and his dissertation analyzed the link between populist outrage, polarization and the decline in democratic governance in Hungary. 

DeBell’s current research, teaching and advocacy revolves around the psychology of democratic citizenship in light of 21st century challenges to self-governance. Outside of the classroom, he spearheads FLC’s civic engagement and voter education efforts through the FLC Engagement Collaborative and the Community by Conversation series.

DeBell received his doctoral and master’s degrees in political science from Ohio State University and he studied government, philosophy, and Russian and post-Soviet studies at the College of William and Mary in his home state of Virginia.

Myanmar and ASEAN

The situation in Myanmar, including the coup by the military in February 2021 and the ongoing human rights crises, coupled with civil resistance by those opposed to the regime, has led to chaos in the Southeast Asian country. How are neighboring countries reacting, and what role will ASEAN play?

Facilitator: Ruth Alminas. Alminas is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at FLC, where she teaches courses such as international politics, armed conflict and its management, global environmental politics, international political economy and Middle Eastern politics. Her research interests include persons displaced by armed conflict, secession, international law, international nongovernmental organizations and social upheaval. She received her Ph.D. in political science — specifically, international relations with a focus on armed conflict — from the University of Arizona. She received an MA in religion from the University of Chicago and a BA in religious studies from the University of Colorado. 

The Quad Alliance

As part of the U.S. pivot to Asia, the United States has been in dialogue with Japan, Australia and India in an effort to contain China. Recently, the Quad countries held joint naval exercises in the South Pacific. How effective will the actions of this alliance be?

Facilitator: Katherine Burgess. Burgess spent more than 15 years overseas in Africa, the Middle East and Europe with the Department of State. She earned her Ph.D. in the humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2006 and taught many humanities courses at the southwest campus of Colorado Community College. After retiring from the State Department, she and her husband, Dwight, were owners and operators of Uptown International Travel in Dallas. They moved from Dallas to Durango in 2004. Burgess has most recently worked as a home-based independent travel agent, forced into retirement by COVID. She also currently serves as the chairman of the City of Durango’s Board of Ethics. 

Industrial Policy

The current discussion of industrial policy in the United States is not simply about whether or not to support specific companies or industries, but about trust or mistrust of the government and its ability to manage the economy and deal with a rising China. The upheaval in supply chains during the pandemic exposed weaknesses in the international economy. What policies can the United States implement to deal with trade and the economy? 

Facilitator: Alex Lemmel. Lemmel is a financial professional and certified public accountant with experience as an auditor, analyst and executive at multinational, manufacturing and consumer goods companies. Through this work, Lemmel has developed a keen understanding of international supply chains, inventory movements, value chains and costing.

Drug Policy in Latin America

The issue of migration to the United States from Latin America has overshadowed the war on drugs, which has been underway for decades with little signs of progress. What are the roots and the bureaucratic logic behind today’s dominant drug policies in Latin America? Is it time to reconsider punitive drug control policies that disrupt supply chains and punish drug possession?

Facilitator: Mike Todt. Todt, who retired in 2013, has lived in Durango for five years, with his wife, Tammy Hoier. He is involved in the community with the Boulevard Neighborhood Association, volunteers at the Center of Southwest Studies in the archives and acts as a steward for an ancient Puebloan site in Canyon of the Ancients. His hobbies include biking, hiking and travel, and reading history with a focus on health care and the West. 

Prior to coming to Durango, Todt taught U.S., North American (Canada, Mexico, U.S.) and health care history at West Virginia University. Other employment included hospital CEO, international management consultant and private practice psychologist. He has a Ph.D. in history from West Virginia University (2011) and a Ph.D. and M.A. in organizational behavior from the University of Chicago, 1983.

Biden’s Agenda

The new administration in Washington promised to reverse many of the policies of the past administration, especially in foreign policy. How will issues such as climate, the pandemic and alliances be treated under the Biden administration?

Facilitator: Laurie Meininger. Meininger has spent her entire adult life in service to her community and country. In November 2017, she “retired” to Durango after nearly 20 years of diplomatic service abroad. She has been honored to lead multicultural teams in Africa, Iraq, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Micronesia. Her last assignment was as the deputy chief of mission and charge d’affaires (acting ambassador) at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There she led an interagency team of 250 to strengthen that nation in the aftermath of the world’s worst Ebola epidemic and 11 years of civil war.

Meininger’s career started in social work and community and organizational development, working in fields as diverse as mental health, hospice care and in the design of day care and respite centers and caregiver training programs for people affected by various types of dementia.

Meininger has master’s degrees in both social work and public administration; speaks French and Romanian; and is the recipient of numerous professional awards, including the JC Penny Golden Rule Award. In 2018, she was awarded the James A. Baker Outstanding Deputy Chief of Mission Award by the U.S. State Department.

Currently, Meininger is the president of the LPLWV. She also serves on the City of Durango Ethics Commission and keeps trying to find time for long road trips in her camper van.