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Con Games: If I Only Had A Brain At Aspen Ideas Fest

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(ASPEN, COLORADO) Somebody, somewhere and some time, came up with the idea of The Internet, and then somebody else--Sir Tim to you--came up with the idea of the World Wide Web, and then somebody else came up with the idea of email being able to pop up the name of the addressee without you having to type it out all the way.

The Aspen Ideas Festival is underway at the Aspen Institute and that means the average Joe and Jane Soave Bolla can gorge on the newer new thing until their stomachs distend into the 21st Century. How I love this town, at this time and on this day, because the ideas are going to be flying like 100 per cent dogs at a retro ballpark.

The British historian and big bandwithian Niall Ferguson kicked things off by saying the United States, land that we love, could tipple and then topple faster than you can say leaning Tower of Pizza. I beg to differ, and I do so because I believe, with the fervency of a red-meat Teabagger at a town hall, that ideas--like some of the ones we will hear this week in Aspen--are the only thing that can get us out of this mess.

Example: lithium.

We have all known for years that lithium has been popping up in batteries everywhere with sanguine results for both consumers who tap them and companies who make them. Lithium was on the table at an Aspen Institute seminar attended a few years back by James Calaway, an entrepreneur from Texas whose father Jim happens to be chairman of the lifetime board of trustees at the Institute. The Calaways started to sniff around the lithium business, and went so far as to hire the top consultants in the field. In the course of human events they formed a company with investors called Orocobre that acquired lucrative lithium leases in South America and, in turn, attracted $100 million investment from Toyota. Orocobre, now listed on both the Australian and Toronto Stock Exchanges, is poised to become a major supplier of lithium for car batteries for decades hence.

It all started with nothing more than an idea.

Somebody sitting in Aspen had the lightbulb go on topside and the rest is (or soon will be) history. Nor will all these ideas be driven by the profit motive. You will leave the Aspen Ideas Festival with an inferiority complex if you don't walk away believing you owe humanity something besides increasing personal expenditures. And you likely to leave the Ideas Fest with at least a few new ideas to shake, rattle, and roil your brain. If you're not careful, you might even come up with a new one all by your lonesome.