Wisdom Engines in Lincoln

The last two weeks, I’ve had the good fortune of speaking with, hearing, or learning from a host of good, very sharp people.  If I had been less busy, I probably would have shared their wisdom in detailed posts every day, and interviewed them for the blog.  But, alas, moving takes time too.  So I just wanted to post about some discussions I had in Nebraska.

I spoke with an activist about open government issues, a state regulator about telecom policy, a former Presidential adviser about Bush’s torture policy, and heard a Nobel economist explain the financial crisis.  And this was all before even getting to DC.

In Nebraska, before leaving, I had dinner with Jack Gould, who is Issues Chairman for Common Cause out in Nebraska.  He has been a tireless fighter on issues of transparency in government and keeping money out of government.  He tells great stories of taking on city hall.  His wise advice: in researching, follow the money.

And his wife made the best bruschetta I’ve ever tried.  Her wise advice: garden grown, fresh picked basil.

I had lunch with the great Anne Boyle, a pro-consumer public utilities commissioner in Nebraska who was once chairwoman of the Nebraska Democratic Party and was instrumental to President Obama picking up an electoral vote in Omaha. She is tough, very funny, and generous.   We ate at the Haymarket’s great Bread and Cup.  Her wise advice: you learn a lot over the years.

For the law school graduation, Ted Sorenson spoke.  Sorenson, who’s from Lincoln, Nebraska, was one of John F. Kennedy’s top advisors and helped write Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning Profiles in Courage. The graduates chose Sorenson to speak.  Sorenson stunned the audience.  We all expected the usual graduation day platitutudes about “Commencement means beginning,” but instead he told the graduates not to disgrace the legal profession like the George W. Bush lawyers who provided the transparently bogus legal justifications for torture.  Here’s an article about that speech.  It was a privilege to be there for the speech.  And I thanked him afterwards.  I heard, later, that most of the graduating families spent dinner discussing the speech.  And I heard, later, from the students, the exact, wildly different, facial expressions of each faculty member on the stage beside me.

The night before, at a high school, Paul Krugman spoke.  Krugman is a Nobel prize winning economist who consistently criticized the Bush administration from the New York Times op-ed pages even during the darkest days of 2001-2003 when the rest of the media gave Bush a pass on everything.  Krugman was brilliant, humble, and, in fact, frightening.  He analyzed the problem, explained that everything anyone ever thought about conventional economics was wrong (I think those were his words), but then said nobody had any answers and he wasn’t sure how it would end.  We were all so happy to see him, but depressed by the message.  It’s not his fault about the message.  From what I hear, it’s probably Alan Greenspan’s.

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