Universally derided in the UK press today following his multiple gaffes on what should have been an easy day Thursday in London, his debut on the international stage, Mitt Romney is struggling to move on from his unforced errors.
** QUICK HITS. While some wild rumors fly around, the California Department of Finance is closing in on finishing a crash audit of various special funds ordered by Governor Jerry Brown. It has only lately become known that the finance department and the state controller’s office frequently have very different numbers for the special funds, which are separate from the general fund which forms the basis of the state budget and are usually funded by user fees, or so I understand. The controversy of course stems from the previously unknown $54 million cached away in two special funds at the troubled state Department of Parks and Recreation. And different accounting methods are sometimes used as well, which can account for differing numbers. … In any event, most of the money is probably not applicable to the California general fund, which is what the battles over cuts and taxes are all about. … Mitt Romney is eager to move on to the next stop on his three-nation world tour as he continues to be derided far and wide in Britain following his three big London gaffes on Thursday’s eve of the Olympics.
** NEW SURVEY: ROMNEY’S NEXT STOP WILL HELP WITH HIS BASE VOTE, AS ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER HAS INCREASED POPULARITY WITH REPUBLICANS, THOUGH NOT WITH DEMOCRATS OR INDEPENDENTS. Reeling from his derisorily received international debut Thursday in London, Mitt Romney heads next to Israel, where he will find a decidedly friendlier reception.
After all, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is Romney’s old friend from the ’70s, when they both worked at the Boston Consulting Group.
Netanyahu was fresh from a stint as an officer in Israel’s elite Sayeret Matkal special operations force, in which he was a decorated veteran of several combat operations. His brother Yonatan was commander of the unit, and was the only Israeli killed in the legendary raid on Entebbe. (Romney, in contrast, sat out the Vietnam War, which he vociferously supported, as a Mormon missionary in France.)
A new Gallup Poll survey finds that Romney’s next host has a net positive rating in the US, though it’s the same as it was when he was prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
Actually, Netanyahu’s rating has declined since then among Democrats and independents.
But it has shot up among Republicans.
Netanyahu and Romney have both been talking up a potential war with Iran, occasioned by the Iranian nuclear program.
That seems to be a popular position among Republicans, but not among independents or Democrats.
Americans have a more positive (35%) than negative (23%) view of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though four in 10 are not familiar enough with him to rate him. Views of Netanyahu are similar to what they were in Gallup’s last measurement — in May 1999, during the latter part of his first term as prime minister. …
The July 9-12 poll was conducted in advance of Netanyahu’s scheduled meeting with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this weekend in Israel as part of Romney’s overseas trip. The Netanyahu-Romney meeting may take on added significance, given the controversy over remarks Romney made about London’s preparation for the Olympics during his visit there, which could call into question his readiness for the international stage.
Netanyahu traveled to the U.S. earlier this year and met with President Obama. The relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has been tense at times due to their public disagreements about possible borders in an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.
Romney’s visit to Israel may be designed to show he would be in closer agreement with Netanyahu and Israel as president than Obama is. Israel is a key U.S. ally and Americans generally have a positive view of the country. In Gallup’s February World Affairs survey, seven in 10 had a favorable opinion of Israel and six in 10 said their sympathies lie more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Middle East conflict.
The Romney-Netanyahu meeting may also help put the Republican candidate in a positive light among Republicans. That is because Republicans are especially positive toward Israel — with 80% viewing the country favorably, compared with 71% of independents and 65% of Democrats, according to the February poll.
Republicans also show much greater affinity toward Netanyahu than Democrats do. The July poll finds 50% of Republicans viewing him favorably and 16% unfavorably, for a net favorable rating of +34. In contrast, Democrats’ opinions of Netanyahu are more negative (31%) than positive (25%). Independents’ opinions are slightly more positive than negative. …
Bells rang out across Britain and the Olympic flame traveled down the River Thames in the sumptuous royal barge, as London made its final countdown to the opening ceremony. The Olympic torch was rowed on Friday along the Thames on board the Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth II’s vast red and gold barge, on the last day of its 10-week, 12,800-kilometre relay around Britain and Ireland.
** OBAMA TODAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the daily intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
Obama then signed the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act in the Oval Office.
This move, on the eve of conservative Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s visit to Israel, gives Israel more military assistance.
Obama and Biden then met with US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker in the Oval Office.
Following that, Obama and Biden met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.
There is a lot to talk about with regard to the big geopolitical pivot.
Nuclear negotiations with Iran, which have gone nowhere, are on the verge of collapse with Tehran demanding a scaling back of sanctions before discussing anything of substance.
As the diplomatic track drags, Iran has ramped up its forces, threatening attacks on US Navy ships in the Gulf.
And halfway round the world, China’s moves in the South China Sea are increasingly aggressive.
Obama then attended a fundraiser at the Jefferson Hotel.
At 1:45 PM Pacific, Obama departs the White House en route McLean, Virginia.
At 2:25 PM Pacific, Obama attends a fundraiser at a private residence in McLean, Virginia.
At 4:35 PM Pacific, Obama makes remarks at a fundraiser at a private residence in McLean, Virginia.
At 5:25 PM Pacific, Obama departs McLean, Virginia on Marine One en route the White House.
At 5:35 PM Pacific, Obama lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
Meanwhile, Obama’s conservative Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was roundly ripped on all sides yesterday and today in the UK and US media for his various gaffes yesterday on the first day of his big international trip.
Romney’s unaccountable errors made him a figure of derision in London the day before the Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
I discussed those in detail in the Thursday edition of NWN.
Mitt Romney on the international stage. Oh, my. London Mayor Boris Johnson declared his city ready to host the Olympic Games as he and a large and raucous crowd responded with derision to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s description of London’s preparations as “disconcerting.”
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Syria, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
** SUNRISE IN CALIFORNIA? In his inimitable fashion, Governor Jerry Brown declared during Wednesday’s roll-out of his peripheral canal, er, tunnels plan to ship water from the Sacramento River to agriculture and thirsty populations to the south while protecting the Sacramento Delta, that he wants to “get shit done” as governor. By which he means pushing forward the water, renewable energy, high-speed rail priorities he has identified and shares with some of his predecessors, as well as stabilizing the state’s present budget, for which he has enacted major cuts and seeks new revenue.
“Analysis paralysis is not why I came back 30 years later to handle some of the same issues,” Brown declared in a Sacramento appearance with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, part of working with the Obama Administration on these issues.
Mindful of significantly improved economic news of late, he continued Thursday with an event to start up the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, a 117-mile long project which now links solar and wind farms in the Imperial Valley with the grid in the San Diego metropolitan area, carrying more than 1,000 megawatts. This is especially key with the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been offline for months due to problems with corroded pipes, continuing to be offline during peak energy usage in the summer and may be offline into next year.
Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger presided over the groundbreaking of the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line in December 2010. As of now, Sunrise is carrying renewable power from solar and wind farms in the Imperial Valley to the grid in the San Diego metropolitan area, critical with the San Onofre nuclear plant off-line for months if not longer.
Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined Brown at this event. Schwarzenegger started the Sunrise project in the middle of his time as governor, and fought a hard slog to get it over numerous hurdles.
Schwarzenegger presided over the groundbreaking in December 2010 and was on hand to join Brown and a few others in flipping the large industrial switches for the transmission line.
The night before, Schwarzenegger told me that it had been a long struggle getting the Sunrise project through, but very much worth it. Backed by business and labor organizations, it was opposed by a variety of mostly local groups, as frequently happens with development projects, but not the major environmental organizations.
“We worked through 11,000 pages of environmental impact report,” said Schwarzenegger, “and answered many concerns to move it through the desert. The important thing always was to move forward to bring clean energy power of wind and solar from a place where it is abundant to places which need it.”
Brown says that his job as governor is “to build for the long-term future.” Which means new infrastructure for a sustainable California, in energy, transportation, and water, infrastructure that takes advantage of new technology to avoid traps of the past.
Brown was the original champion of renewable energy and energy efficiency as governor in the 1970s and 1980s, derided by some of his same media critics today for supposedly “flaky” policies which most thinking people now view as correct. But it is Schwarzenegger who amped up those efforts during his governorship, after backing and then expanding the renewable portfolio standard enacted by Brown’s former chief of staff, then Governor Gray Davis.
Mindful of the start of the Olympics, the sportsman Schwarzenegger told me that in building for the future, it is “like a relay race, with one governor taking the torch from the other and handing it off to the next, always seeing the vision of the finish line ahead.”
Like the renewable energy and conservation issues he continues to push as an advocate working with the United Nations, water and high-speed rail are two more “building for the future” issues that he shares with Brown.
Brown pushed a comprehensive water development and environmental protection program through the state legislature in 1982, only to see it shot down at the polls in a strange bedfellows referendum campaign conducted by conservative Central Valley farmers and Northern California environmentalists. The new plan is different. Some environmental critics worry that the North will be sucked dry through these “straws.” Brown promises that won’t happen, and says also that much will be done to protect the Sacramento Delta, which I’ve boated through in my Navy days and beyond. This time, water users will pay for the conveyance system.
Schwarzenegger got the first big water bonds measure in nearly 30 years through the legislature in 2009. But electoral conditions had it postponed from 2010 to 2012, then to 2014, with some trimming likely. Critics say it has some pork that needs to be eliminated. While one person’s pork is another’s deal maker, that has to be done to gain passage at the ballot box.
Meanwhile, Brown has the new proposal to move water from one of the West’s great rivers to thirsty and growing environs to the south.
And there is high-speed rail, controversial, with major elements of the right wing, the old energy economy, and the media out to kill it as has happened everywhere else in Tea Party-ized America, but failing to do so despite very concerted efforts.
Schwarzenegger, as I wrote two weeks ago here on the Huffington Post, championed the project till the very end of his governorship and champions it now.
“We have to keep moving forward,” he says. “We have to stay focused on the big picture and find ways to make government more efficient and rein in an out-of-control pension system and figure out how to finance the next phases of high-speed rail.”
Schwarzenegger’s predecessor as governor, Gray Davis, who played a key part in most of this as well — first renewable energy standard, first greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions law, crafted the $10 billion high-speed rail bonds measure and got it through the legislature — says there is a big spur that will ultimately trump those who oppose the Think Big agenda.
“When I worry about all the opposition to doing these important things,” he told me, “I think of China. Soon it will pass the United States as the biggest economy in the world.” (Incidentally, California is the world’s ninth largest economy.)
“In China,” Davis said, “they are building for the future, doing all these things. Renewable energy, bullet trains, water projects, they are doing it all. If we don’t keep up with our own needs, we will be overwhelmed.”
Davis praised Schwarzenegger, who defeated him in the dramatic 2003 recall election but with whom he since became friendly, for thinking big on infrastructure, noting that he had planned a big infrastructure package for his second term but that the $42 billion-plus bond measure Schwarzenegger won enactment of in the November 2006 election was much bigger than he had dared.
Governor Jerry Brown, decrying “declinists,” signed legislation authorizing the start of construction of California’s high-speed rail program, the only one in America. Most of the rest of the advanced industrial world has high-speed rail.
The first phase of the high-speed rail program that Davis pushed into being as governor and Schwarzenegger championed is moving forward, with opponents dropping their ballyhooed campaign to block it with an initiative in 2014.
On July 18th, Brown joined state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other state and local officials as he signed the high-speed rail funding and construction authorization bill at Union Station in Los Angeles, and later at the future Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.
This is the $8 billion program for the first phase of the the bullet train project, fueled with federal grants and state bond dollars, encompassing some $2 billion for improvements and high-speed prep for the existing systems in the Metro LA and San Francisco Bay Area regions and the rest for construction of the spine of the system in the Central Valley.
Like the Sunrise transmission line, as Schwarzenegger notes, it will give a boost to a job market that has been very anemic since the great global recession hit very hard four years ago. But there were already signs of better days ahead.
With California’s economy, and the job market in particular, perking up notably in the last two months, could it be time to retire the sack cloth and ashes of the past few years?
Brown had decidedly mixed news on July 20th. On the one hand, a very promising report on the state economy. On the other, a bizarre controversy around the state parks department.
First, he had to get rid of the top two officials at the California Parks & Recreation Department after two things emerged when he put new financial managers in place: A scheme for a secret vacation buy-out program, which cost a few hundred thousand dollars, and a secret surplus of some $54 million even as parks were closing.
So state parks director Ruth Coleman, who has served since 2003 after becoming chief deputy director in 2002, has resigned, and the department’s number two official, Michael Harris, was fired.
California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said that the department had under-reported its funds for the past dozen years. Oddly, while the state finance department did not have records of the funds, the state controller’s office did. Why the logical communication did not take place is very unclear.
The unexpected $54 million is in two special funds generated by user fees of the state Parks and Recreation Department. Neither is part of the state’s general fund. It’s interesting to note that less than half of that money could be readily used to prevent the closure of parks, since most of it is in an account for off-roading having nothing to do with parks.
So the funds wouldn’t have gone all that far in keeping parks open over the past few years.
And the larger issue of the parks, which have a billion dollar-plus of unfunded needed improvements, is not addressed at all by the hidden funds.
In the bigger news, California economy expert Steve Levy reported in missives to journalists and others that the state added over 38,000 jobs in June and about 46,000 jobs in May, for half the national job growth in the past two months.
“The state’s unemployment rate is down to a still very high 10.7%, third highest in the nation,” reports Levy. “And the number of unemployed Californians fell below 2 million for the second month in a row.
“This two month surge takes place in a national and world economy under tremendous strain from the European recessions, slowing consumer spending and the upcoming fiscal tightening (fiscal cliff) still scheduled for January 1 next year.
“On the other hand the idea that California is a lagging economy being passed by in comparison to other states can now, hopefully, be put to rest. Tech, trade, tourism, a strong agricultural sector and the stirrings of a construction recovery give hope for the near and long term future. This week’s successful IPOs provide another hopeful sign on what will still be a long recovery to regain pre-recession job and unemployment levels.”
Bad news indeed for the doom and gloom about California crew.
** FROM THE JERRY FILES. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
** CHINA MOVES SWIFTLY ON NEW “CITY” ENCOMPASSING SOUTH CHINA SEA, GULF CRISIS SIMMERS. …
From my July 24th feature.
** THE DARK KNIGHT SHOOTINGS: “ALL IT TAKES IS A LITTLE PUSH.” … From my July 21st column.
** MITT WHITMAN = MEG ROMNEY. … From my July 19th column.
** CRISES CHAOTIC AND BUBBLING: THE GULF AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. … From my July 17th essay.
** WHY THE CLINTONS NEED OBAMA TO WIN: UNCERTAINTY AS HILLARY PUSHES THE BIG GEOPOLITICAL PIVOT. … From my July 13th essay.
** A TICKET TO RIDE: HIGH-SPEED RAIL MOVES FORWARD ON A HISTORIC (AND BUMPY) TRACK IN CALIFORNIA. … From my July 11th feature.
** DARK KNIGHTS, AVENGERS, BONDING RETRO ACTION HEROES: HOW LONG WILL THE SUPERHERO PHENOMENON LAST? … From my July 7th essay.
** FOUNDED IN ENLIGHTENMENT, AMERICA FACES IGNORANCE AND CONFUSION AS THE CHALLENGES GROW EVER MORE COMPLEX. … From my July 2nd essay.
** THE “MOMENTARY MEDIA” STRIKES: EPIC FAILS BY CNN AND FOX NEWS HIGHLIGHT DYSFUNCTIONALITY. … From my June 28th column.
** THE “SLOW BORING OF HARD BOARDS” IN AN ERA OF LIMITS. … From my June 27th essay.
** 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.
Big Ben, the hour bell of the landmark Palace of Westminster clock, has chimed for three minutes from 8:12 to ring in the London Olympic Games.
** 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 $90 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $56 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 $2r per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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