- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mitt Romney has returned to public radar: He’s no longer the docile guy meandering around the suburbs or grocery shopping in a post-campaign world. He’s granting strategic interviews and he’s got aggressive notions about the Republican Party, seeking to pull it from a wallow of social issues and combative identity crisis and into a business-minded mode.

Welcome, then, to “Experts and Enthusiasts,” a three-day summit organized by Mr. Romney and underway in Park City, Utah, pairing up high-profile politicians, tycoons, investors and fancy “thought leaders.” On the motley guest list: Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman and — amazingly enough — David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama.

“They represent very different perspectives in the Republican Party,” explains Mr. Romney.

The conference has a $5,000 registration fee, incidentally. Eldest son Tagg Romney also plays a role. His private equity firm Solamere Capital is a partial sponsor of the gathering, which includes skeet shooting, golf and horseback riding amid breathtaking scenery, and in the company of Mr. Romney and wife, Ann. What does it all mean?

“It would be odd for Mitt Romney to stay out of the limelight. He clearly wants to be a force, to play a meaningful role in strengthening the Republican Party in the best way he knows how, which is through his business acumen,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean tells Inside the Beltway. “This is a practical conference with definite intentions, and one which could also yield donors to GOP candidates in 2014 and beyond.”

And about that next big interview. CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger will parse “the future of the Republican Party” with Mr. Romney and his spouse, to air Thursday.

BUILT BY BILDERBERG

It’s Day One of the 61st Bilderberg Conference, now underway at the swank Grove Hotel in the town of Watford, 20 miles northeast of London. Though police have no specific intelligence about terrorism threats against the very private meeting of global luminaries, the area is essentially cordoned off.

There is a no-fly zone overhead. The hotel is surrounded by a new concrete barrier now deemed “The Great Wall of Watford” by the local press. Pedestrian and auto traffic has been halted near the hotel through Sunday. It’s a challenge. Hundreds of protestors, activists, performers, stray journalists, bloggers and musicians have gathered on streets and camp grounds, hoping for an encounter with the 138 guests who include everyone from former CIA Director David H. Petraeus and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Google Inc. CEO Eric Schmidt.

On the Bilderberg agenda, from a 12-item program: “how big data is changing everything,” “nationalism and populism,” plus “cyber warfare and the proliferation of asymmetrical threats.”

The Times of London will have none of it, though. While other publications still frame the conference as shadowy and sinister, the British paper dismisses the forum as “not so much conspiracy — more Rotary Club.”

BUILT BY AL-JAZEERA

There’s a brand new newsroom and a sleek studio with a view of the U.S. Capitol, plus news bureaus in multiple cities, not to mention 800 incoming employees. Here comes Al-Jazeera America, a news channel set to launch in August as the replacement for Al Gore’s old Current TV, which he sold to the Qatar-based ownership in January.

The channel has hired Emmy Award-winning former NBC correspondent Michael Viqueira as its White House correspondent; he’ll be a presence at all daily press briefings and all presidential events, management says.

“Every political activity in the nation’s capital has an impact on the average American,” says Ehab Al Shihabi, executive director of international operations for Al-Jazeera. As for Mr. Viqueira, he vows his new network is committed to “straight-forward, hard-nosed journalism” and “real, unfiltered and fact-based news.”

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