By TOM HONIG
The Panetta Institute Lecture Series starts up on Monday night in Monterey, with Middle East experts Dennis Ross and Fran Townsend.
It's with a sense of relief that the lecture series begins. As the chattering classes continue sticking to their rehearsed talking points, the Panetta series goes deeper. Part of the reason is that most speakers have retired from their positions -- Ross as a Mideast negotiator for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and Townsend as chair of the Homeland Security Council under George W. Bush. That status as "former" gives them latitude to be less partisan and more informational -- more nuanced.
But it's also with a sense of sadness that the lecture series goes on. There's so little reasonable conversation about the big issues of our time -- especially during this presidential election year -- that conversations like the one scheduled Monday night get drowned out.
I'll update the account of the lecture on Tuesday morning. If you want to catch the lecture on television, it'll be on Channel 26 in Santa Cruz starting at 7 p.m. And, go here to the Panetta Institute website for a video archive of past seasons.