Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today issued a formal apology for US troops posing with trophy body parts in Afghanistan. The veteran California political figure is getting rather practiced at issuing apologies for embarrassments in the Afghan War.
** QUICK HITS. Heads are rolling in the Secret Service scandal which broke over the weekend. We’ll see what sort of measures are taken in Afghanistan to improve discipline in the wake of the repeated embarrassments there. … Sacramento Mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, a Democrat, endorsed independent Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher today for mayor of San Diego. Johnson picked Fletcher, the former Republican rising star, over a fellow Democrat, Congressman Bob Filner. … The Service Employees union gave $1 million to Governor Jerry Brown’s November revenue initiative. That brings the campaign’s fundraising total to date to more than $11 million. …
** NEW COLUMN COMING UP … THE PERSISTENCE OF TUNNEL VISION.
** JERRY-RIGGING: RIDING THE RAILS. Following a negative report from the Legislative Analyst Office, which merely repeated the obvious that funding for the entire long-range project is not secure, late yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown’s new high-speed rail chief, Dan Richard, testified today before a pair of legislative committees holding hearings on the project’s proposed start later this year.
Richard, former president of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system board, noted that most big transit projects are not funded in full in advance.
The project has some $3.3 billion in federal funds and some $10 billion in approved bond funding, more than enough to make a strong start on the long-range project.
Brian Weatherford, an analyst who wrote the report criticizing the latest funding proposal, said lawmakers are being asked to approve funding “while some of the details still aren’t worked out, which increases the risk.”
Richard countered that the report only looked at the continuing risks of building a 520-mile system linking Northern and Southern California, and failed to consider the state’s infrastructure needs in the coming years.
“There is a risk that what we have to do to maintain mobility will cost more. I only ask that we balance those risks,” he said.
The LAO report makes the obvious mistake of proceeding from the premise that a reactionary Congress will be in place for decades to come.
It’s only the advent of the Republican House in elections held little more than a year ago that put a serious crimp in federal support for the project. But since then, Tea Party Republicans and their allies in the old energy economy — and, hey, just maybe, the order of that should be reversed — have shot down the Obama Administration’s high-speed rail projects everywhere but California.
This is a struggle that has taken place, on and off, for decades, as the rest of the advanced industrial world moved ahead with rail.
Actually, and quite ironically, you don’t have to look much farther than the crowning infrastructural achievement of the old energy economy to see what Richard is talking about.
That’s the Interstate Highway System, naturally. The advent of freeway-oriented transit was key for killing off the rail approach and for driving sprawl development patterns.
But it was originally supposed to be completed in 12 years. In the end, it took three times as long, at five times the cost projected in 1956 when the massive project began.
President Dwight Eisenhower had wanted to finance the project with bonds paid off from the proceeds of gasoline taxes, which had gone directly to the treasury. Congress instead decided to go with a pay-as-you-go approach.
The point being that the course of infrastructure development frequently does not run very smoothly.
Knowing some history helps in good public policy analysis.
Today at a NATO conference in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that things are actually going well in Afghanistan, while Defense Secretary Leon Panetta apologized for the latest big embarrassment there, newly published photos showing American soldiers posing with the body parts of Taliban attackers.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington, Ohio, and Michigan.
Obama received the daily intelligence and economic briefings and met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
Obama then flew on Air Force One to Cleveland, Ohio.
At 10:15 AM Pacific, Obama arrives in Cleveland, Ohio.
At 10:55 AM Pacific, Obama holds a roundtable with unemployed workers who are students in Lorain County Community College job training programs at Lorain County Community College.
At 11:30 AM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks on the economy at Lorain County Community College.
At 12:45 PM Pacific, Obama departs Cleveland on Air Force One en route Detroit, Michigan.
At 1:30 PM Pacific, Obama arrives in Detroit.
At 3 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
At 4:50 PM Pacific, Obama delivers remarks at a campaign event at a private residence in Bingham Farms, Michigan.
While Obama pushes his now well-honed economic themes in Midwestern battleground states, his administration grapples with yet another major embarrassment in Afghanistan.
Pictures have surfaced of US soldiers posing with trophies, in this case the body parts of Taliban attackers who blew themselves up.
Not surprisingly, this is a fresh source of outrage for Afghans, who are already outraged with the long and widespread US presence in their country.
US commanders had better get what seems to be a serious and widespread discipline problem under control.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Iraq, AfPak, and North Korea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Arabian Gulf is eleven hours ahead of Pacific time, and Afghanistan is twelve and a half hours ahead of Pacific time.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Sacramento.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
Brown, speaking yesterday at a California Medical Association legislative conference, said that he expects the state’s budget deficit to be a billion or more higher next month than the $9 billion he projected it at in his January budget proposal. Less money is coming in and more money is being spent than forecast.
And legislative Democrats balk, as they have so hopefully for years now — with Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis before him — at his latest budget cuts.
As the legislature begins hearings on the massive and long-range high-speed rail project, Brown has a report issued late yesterday by the Legislative Analyst Office to contend with.
I’ll have more to say about this, but the short form is that the report — which is very brief, mostly consisting of a reiteration of the project with maps and charts — urges that the legislature not move forward with major construction activities until the project’s entire funding is assured. Since this is a project that will take decades to do, and this is an old objection, the report seems fairly superfluous.
It makes the mistake of assuming that a reactionary Congress will be in place for decades to come. When in reality it was just a few years ago that major federal funds were enacted to fund the first phase of the program.
Had the 2010 elections for the U.S. House of Representatives gone differently, the objection would be irrelevant.
** MAD MEN: ROUNDING SOME HAIRPIN PLOT CURVES. This week’s Mad Men offered up a much more insular episode, though the sense of decay and decline in New York which I wrote about earlier in the season is evident. The American studies social themes, aside from the trademark dissatisfaction with success and a sense of impending change, are absent. … From my April 17th essay.
** FIRST WEEK: A RAGGED START, OBAMA’S BIGGER PROBLEMS. It was an interesting first week in the general election campaign. After Rick Santorum’s sudden withdrawal essentially handed the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney, on the 100th anniversary of Titanic setting sail on its fateful voyage, President Barack Obama had a mostly good week. But the big flap over foolhardy comments by a Democratic lobbyist on a cable chat show demonstrated alarmingly, again, how debate can be derailed by trivial pursuits even in the face of far more consequential issues. And though the domestic dynamics of the campaign — economic fairness and women’s rights — mostly favored Obama, geopolitical crises that could seriously damage Obama’s presidency loomed very large. … From my April 14th essay.
** MAD MEN‘s MASTER CLASS IN AMERICAN STUDIES ROLLS ON TO SOME MYSTERY DATES. … From my April 10th essay.
** JERRY BROWN HITS 74. … From my April 7th essay.
** IS ROMNEY “INEVITABLE,” AGAIN? … From my April 5th column.
** MAD MEN: WHOSE SIDE IS TIME ON, ANYWAY? … From my April 3rd essay.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS IN CRISIS: ANOTHER BIG SHOE DROPS. … From my March 29th essay.
** MAD MEN (FINALLY) RETURNS: WORTH THE WAIT? … From my March 27th essay.
** THE REAL GAME CHANGE: PALINISM’S RISE AND MODERATE REPUBLICANISM’S ECLIPSE. … From my March 23rd essay.
** CALIFORNIA REPUBLICANS HAVE ONLY THEMSELVES TO BLAME. … From my March 22nd essay.
** JERRY BROWN DEALS AWAY TROUBLE ON THE LEFT. … From my March 16th column.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 feature.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
The International Energy Agency’s latest forecast for oil consumption growth is virtually unchanged from last month. Increased output from OPEC coupled with sluggish demand could pull down prices. The agency said in its monthly report that there had potentially been a rise in global oil stocks of one million barrels per day over the last quarter, and the impact on prices had not yet been fully realized.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in major military operations in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer from the Russia Today channel. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the state-run channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil is trading around $103 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $69 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down about $11 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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