Antonio’s First Test

29 March 2006 |permalink | email article

As todayís front-page analysis by the Los Angeles Times’ Jim Newton points out, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosaís best moment in the wake of last Saturdayís massive pro-immigrant rally may have been to urge rebellious students to return to class.

But the telling photo of the mayor, speaking with the media, as school board member David Tokofsky whispers in his ear, is a strong metaphor of the difficulty he faces in fortifying his electoral base while not appearing to pander to ethnic politics.

Ace Smith, one of his political sidemen, calls him ìthe voice of reason.î I had a very different view after hearing him make a political statement to students at noon on Monday and then hours later urge them to go back to school. That hardly shows command presence by a charismatic and nationally ambitious politician entering his 10th month in office.

Aside from the fact that tens of thousands of downtown workers were inconvenienced for two days this week because Spring St. between Temple and First Street was shut down to deal with the student protest and the loss of millions in government aid, there is a larger issue here.

It is that Villaraigosa, who showed little interest in education politics during much of last yearís campaign, and was initially ambivalent after taking office, has now made taking control of Los Angeles schools a key centerpiece of his otherwise overcrowded political agenda.

His recent pilgrimage to see how New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg runs city schools attracted a gaggle of L.A. media. A great photo op on both coasts, it serves to raise expectations about local reform. But Villaraigosaís halting first reaction to the student walkout does not inspire confidence regardless of the spin.

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A Sleeping Giant Awakes

29 March 2006 |permalink | email article

The politics of illegal immigration, reflected in last Saturdayís peaceful march by 500,000 in Los Angeles - born as an eleven-family Spanish pueblo - in reaction to a harsh Republican-passed House bill in December, has triggered a national firestorm, action in the Senate and a test of President Bushís remaining power.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, almost certainly affected by televised images of tens of thousands of Latinos, together with union and religious demonstrators waving banners and flags, found a bipartisan compromise. It sent a more lenient bill to the full Senate that would create a temporary worker program and a process for legalizing the nationís illegal immigrants -but arguably not granting amnesty.

Late Tuesday it appeared that Republican conservatives, fearing a huge loss of the crucial Latino vote in this yearís mid-term elections, might strike a compromise which would prop up a slumping W. His major problem remains Iraq which incredibly still lacks a functioning government and is in a predictable sectarian civil war. Unfiltered news still trumps White House optimism and Rummy spin.

It is quite possible, however, that strident opponents of illegal immigration, such as Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), egged on by conservative talk radio hosts and Lou Dobbs, CNNís pompous, one-man answer to FOX News, may cause enough commotion to force the delay of any GOP decision on the issue until next year. Too risky now?

A survey of legal immigrants by the respected Florida-based Latino pollster Sergio Bendixen, a Democrat, finds that 67% of legal immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa believe anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in the U.S., and 64% feel that sentiment is fueled by racism. The pollster thinks the White House is more concerned about Tancredo that the Democrats.

The immigration issue has suddenly impacted on the California gubernatorial election. In an adroit and timely response after the Los Angeles eruption, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. îI am an immigrant,î he said, calling for a comprehensive new law that respects immigrants and protects the nation.

His two Democratic opponents were not as quick on the draw. LA Weekly columnist and blogger Bill Bradley quoted state Controller Steve Westlyís press secretary as opposing the House bill because ìit criminalizes undocumented workers.î

Bradley cited a transcript in which Univision reporter Pablo Espinoza asked state Treasurer Phil Angelides about the infamous HR 4437 which House GOP leaders in the last 24 hours have soured on as a realistic solution. Angelides said he didnít know about it.

While Angelides has overwhelming support among elected California Democrats my hunch is Westly may win the June primary.

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Arnold’s $$$$$$ ‘Artillery Shell’

26 March 2006 |permalink | email article

Itís certain that Arnold Schwarzenegger, seeking a second term, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, each seeking the Democratic nomination, will raise tens of millions of dollars to be competitive. The expenditures to the governor’s campaign manager is whatís raising eyebrows.

Consider the sum paid to Steve Schmidt, his new manager. Capitol Weeklyís Shane Goldmacher reported last week that in less than two months on the job Schmidt - with three $26,250 paychecks - is on a pace to earn more than $470,000 during the governorís race. A source close to the campaign said there was ìa signing bonus componentî to the salary figures ñ a practice not unprecedented but said by operatives in both parties to be uncommon in California.

Like Schwarzenegger, state Treasurer Angelides and Controller Westly are serious multimillionaires. But the sums theyíve paid to their campaign managers marks each so far as cheapskates. By contrast, the governor has spent over $14 million on campaign consultants since 2003.

Cathy Calfo, Angelidesí campaign manager has received more than $215,000 in payments stince she joined the campaign dating back to September 2004. Jude Barry, managing Westly, with the campaign since April 2005, has been paid $60,000, with another $10,000 going to his consulting firm.

Is Schmidt, 35, worth it? His resume suggests that the Californian is a budding GOP star ñ player in the 2004 Bush re-election campaign; senior media adviser to Dick Cheney; overseer of the nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito; and with close ties to Karl Rove.

Schmidt, who ran Republican Matt Fongís unsuccessful 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, insists his issues are policy and issues. But a talent for uncanny media spin and rapid response, which prompted Newsweek to call him a political ìartillery shell,î appealed to the macho Schwarzenegger.

Regardless of who wins the June primary, Angelides and Westly each has tested media operatives quite capable of engaging Schmidt whose candidate remains highly unpopular in current polls. Donnybrook best describes the general election.



























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Bush v. Thomas: Lost in Translation

22 March 2006 |permalink | email article

Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the White House press corps, has never minced words in asking presidents tough questions since John F. Kennedy. But she once called George W. Bush the worst president in U.S. history and was not called on at a news conference for over three years.

On Tuesday, in his macho ìbring ëem onî campaign to convince Americans that the unpopular war in Iraq is worth fighting, the president joked with Thomas and granted her a question.

Suggesting that every reason heís given has turned out not to be true, Thomas asked: ìWhy did you really want to go the war?

Bush said: ìI didnít want war.î

Thomas interrupted twice before he replied ìno president wants war,î

Bush said his rationale for the defense of the country changed after 9/11: ìWhen we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American peopleÖ.make sure that we didnít allow people to provide safe haven to an enemyÖ. thatís why I went into Iraq.î

Thomas: ìThey didnít do anything to you, or to our country.î

Bush: ìExcuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for Al Qaeda. Thatís where Al Qaeda trainedÖ.î

Thomas: ìIím talking about IraqÖî

Bush: ìHelen, excuse me. Thatís where ñ Afghanistan provided safe haven for Al QaedaÖ.thatís where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.î He explained that he also saw a threat in Iraq, which he hoped to solve diplomatically.

Thomas: Ögo the warÖî

Bush: Since Saddam Hussein did not get the message of the world, ìI had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did and the world is safer.î

Any objective analysis of this exchange suggests a stunning presidential non sequitur. Thomas pressed him on Iraq. His bizarre, amnesia-like response focused on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan where the real problem was and is ñ not on Iraq as the rationale for a war the administration has since admitted lacked any connection. Bush said his successors would decide when to remove all American troops from harmís way. It absolves him of responsibility for the end game, exposes the incompetence of a failed expedition and confirms why Americans donít trust him.

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Tagliabue, Rice and L.A. Football

21 March 2006 |permalink | email article

The retirement of Paul Tagliabue as National Football League commissioner after a 16-year tenure that created the nationís richest and most powerful sports empire is a momentous event. Who will succeed the czar who brought long-term labor peace to the league, and how will his departure affect the return of pro football to the Los Angeles Coliseum?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the noted football groupie, has long made no secret of her interest in the job and Tagliabue has spread some catnip by saying the process is wide open. But any decision by her to leave the White House at a time when the Bush presidency is in a free fall appears very remote.

Just as Tagliabue, a league lawyer who was the NFLís representative and unofficial lobbyist in Washington before he succeeded Pete Rozelle when he stepped down in 1989, the odds heavily favor the new commissioner coming from inside. Roger Goodell, the NFLís chief operating officer, and Atlanta general manager Rich McKay are the leading contenders.

The more intriguing question is Tagliabueís known interest in trying to get a team back to Los Angeles. He was quoted Monday as saying his biggest regret as commissioner was allowing both the Rams and Raiders to leave after the 1994 season ñ the Rams to St. Louis and the Raiders to Oakland.

Rumors are hot on both coasts that the commissioner, who made a tour of possible stadium sites in the greater Los Angeles area last fall, may return again for a fresh visit in late April or early May before a league meeting later that month ñ the last before October.

This visit, with the NFL-labor collective bargaining issue now settled, could be crucial in jelling an agreement to fulfill Tagliabueís wish. That said, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission must get its ducks in order. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa need to step up and make a deal happen.

As for Condi Rice, I see her as owner of the new NFL Los Angeles Bulldogs when the 1940sí era Pacific Coast League franchise is reborn on the Coliseum gridiron in 2010.

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Arnold the Moderate: Will Voters Buy It?

20 March 2006 |permalink | email article

Any doubts about the political orientation of Arnold Schwarzenegger will be reinforced by the presence of so many moderate Republican fat cats at his big Beverly Hills fundraiser tonight. As the Brentwood governor fights off criticism from his once strong conservative base that he is too liberal, this money crowd will fuel his re-election bid.

The business-friendly New Majority, an expanding California GOP political action committee, will have at least four members at the head table as $100,000 donors ñ a windfall collectively that will give the campaign and the state party over $500,000.

The governorís campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, told the Associated Press that the PAC ìcares deeply about the future of California.î(A top W. 43 aide, Schmidt most recently was press secretary for Vice President Dick Cheney and a key media strategist in the successful confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.)

Schwarzennegerís relationship with the group coincides with his 2002 debut in state politics when PAC supporters contributed heavily to a successful ballot proposal to fund after-school programs. Some members have been among the governorís top donors since he took office in 2003, raising over $10 million for his political projects.

One of his biggest donors is Paul Folino,, chairman of the computer-components maker Emulex Corp., who has given more than $1 million in cash and services to Schwarzenegger. He told AP ìthe governor is a moderate Republican.î

Many PAC founding members are longtime donors to former moderate Republican governor Pete Wilson. They include Irvine Co. developer Donald Bren who spent more than $350,000 for lobbying in 2005-06 on several state matters, including dealings with the governorís office.

But this sometimes cartoon-like governor, who flexes to his own drummer, faces serious re-election problems. He needs 80% of the Republican vote but today is far short among conservatives The latest Field Poll has him favored by just 37% of all voters.

His political failure to persuade legislators to put a huge public works on the June ballot denies him a crucial campaign leadership tool. Specifically, Republicans rebuffed his call to borrow up to $68 billion for construction costs, balking at the cost of over $3.7 billion a year to pay it off. Gov. Wilson, faced with legislative resistance in 1991 to raising income taxes during a budget crisis, had enough clout with Republicans to get the votes he needed. It’s a bad omen for this governor.

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Retired Justice O’Connor Speaks Out

15 March 2006 |permalink | email article

Thanks to, a transcript of NPR News legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg’s coverage of Sandra Day OíConnorís tough and news worthy speech at Georgetown University last week became available. While not broadcast, it was ignored by the Washington media establishment.

Totenberg described the opinionated remarks by the retired Supreme Court justice as forceful, noting that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms.

OíConnor began by conceding that courts do have the powers to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it, ìreally, really angry.î But she continued, if we donít make them mad some of the time we probably arenít doing our job as judges.

She said the nationís founders wrote repeatedly that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from other branches of government those rights and privileges would mean nothing.

Taking aim at former House GOP leader Tom DeLay without naming him, she quoted his attacks on the courts at a meeting of the conservative Christian group Justice Sunday last year when he took after the courts for rulings on abortions, prayers and the Terri Schiavo case.

Worse still, OíConnor noted death threats against judges are increasing. It doesnít help, she said, when a high-profile senator suggests there may be a connection between violence against judges and the decisions the senator disagrees with. She didnít name the senator but Totenberg said it was Texas senator John Cornyn.

OíConnor said she is against judicial reforms driven by naked partisan reasoning, pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish.

The Arizona Republican, long a swing vote on the Supreme Court, said it takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship but we should avoid those ends by avoiding those beginnings.

During his State of the Union address W. took note of the presence in the House chamber of newly sworn Justice Samuel Alito. He also paid tribute to the retired OíConnor. I then expected the camera to zoom in on the gallery. But, tellingly, she was not observed.

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Iraq: The Long Goodbye

14 March 2006 |permalink | email article

With Iraq on the precipice of civil war, an optimistic President Bush blindly continues to insist to the chorus that ìwe have a comprehensive strategy for victory.î But two-thirds of Americans disagree and the refrain from his conservative allies grows significantly more muted.

The president joked at the Gridiron dinner: ìYou know there are all these conspiracy theories that Dick runs the country, or Karl runs the country. Why arenít there any conspiracy theories that I run the country?î Well, whatever the truth the buck stops with the commander-in-chief. But he is in such denial of reality that unless Iraq stabilizes within months his legacy in history will be sealed.

I mean, hereís a president who three years ago this coming Monday unilaterally attacked Iraq to make the U.S. safer without any viable strategic post-war plan, and now is suddenly sounding the alarm against isolation and making the case for international cooperation. Goodbye, Freedom fries. Hello, French fries!

The real story is how prominent conservatives have turned on W. The columnist George Will pointed out that Iraq, Iran and North Korea are ìmore dangerous than they were.î Blogger Andrew Sullivan said, ìWe have learned a tough lesson.î

William F. Buckley, Jr., the conservative high priest, said Bush has ìa very difficult internal problem here because the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-blown pronouncements ñ the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.î

The most significant defection and powerful indictment of the war on Iraq and the role of neoconservatives ideas in shaping that decision ñ in terms of implementation and its aftermath ñ is a new book, “America at the Crosroads,” by Francis Fukuyama, - a provacative must read. It shatters any doubts about W.ís mishandling of this catastrophe.

Fukuyama, whose best-selling 1992 book, ìThe End of History and the Last Man,î was a classic neo-conservative text on the end of the cold war and the global march of liberal democracy. A star neoconservative himself, Fukuyama studied with or was associated with such leading neoconservative luminaries as Paul D. Wolfowitz and William Kristol. 

Beginning in 1998 he urged President Clinton to take a harder line on Iraq and after 9/11 called for a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Two years later, in a Washington Post op-ed article, he began to voice concerns ìabout how the reaction to 9/11 will lead to a world in which U.S. policy and its policies remain the chief focus of global concern.î

Fukuyama wrote a blistering critique of the neoconservative push for war that was published in The National Interest in the summer of 2004 which summarizes many of the arguments detailed in the explosive book which Michiko Kakutani reviewed in The New York Times on March 14. He writes, ìneoconservativism, as a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something that I can no longer support.î





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W. Loses His Groove

09 March 2006 |permalink | email article

The Financial Timesí headline said it all about the collapse of the Dubai Ports World deal: ìArab Ally Senses Bush No Longer in Control in Washington.î The president may not be a lame duck yet but Congress has asserted itself; Republicans are no longer rubber-stamps; and Democrats get a midterm boost.

My previous posts - (2.19); (2.22); (2.26); and (2.28) ñ made the point that, aside from the firestorm over the pre-9/11 connection the United Arab Emirates had with Osama bin Ladin, the real national security issue involves container inspection. Foreign companies manage most of the terminals at American ports, and foreign governments control some. The Dubai fiasco, still unravelling, is another case of a tired administration and president asleep at the switch.

The two busiest ports in terms of cargo value in the billions ñ Los Angeles and Long Beach ñ lease space to foreign operators. At the former,  China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Denmark; Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong at the latter.

Itís absurd to assert that inspection of containers by the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection is really effective regardless of who operates the terminals. The reality is that the level of inspection is no more than 5% and, in the case of the Department of Homeland Security, reportedly about 1%.

In foreign ports, there is little sophisticated surveillance of container cargo headed for U.S. ports which could contain weapons of mass destruction. DHS spent about $1.6 billion on port security in FY 2005.

As with U.S. troops, proper protection at the ports matters. Consider that as the U.S. begins its fourth year in Iraq, the annual cost of military spending is growing. Monthly expenditures there are running at $5.9 billion. The U.S. commitment in Afghanistan ñ now zooming out of control - is about $1 billion.

The major domestic issue in the midterm elections must be to divert some of those billions into real homeland security at the ports. While nervous Republicans are jumping into lifeboats and rowing away from a sinking W., fumbling Democrats should seize the moment - and the issue. 



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Humor Politic: God’s Lawyers Upset

07 March 2006 |permalink | email article

The British public and press are not reacting well to Prime Minister Tony Blairís recent invocation of divine intervention in the Iraq war. Heís ignored the counsel of his former communications guru, Alastair Campbell, who quipped: ìWe donít do God.î

The Spoof, a British, online humor publication, satirized Blairís finding-religion moment in playing a Bush toady with this headline: ìGod considering legal action over Blair invasion claim.î

It declared that ìThe British government…[is]Öengaged in last-ditch attempts to avert a diplomatic crisis between Heaven and 10 Downing Street following claims byÖBlair that God himselfÖpersonally ordered the liberation of the Iraqi oil fieldsÖî

The Spoof added that Blairís claim was ìimmediately condemned by Godís lawyersÖî

I am unable to confirm a similar effort by the U.S. Justice Department to avert a crisis between Heaven and the White House. Alberto Gonzales is known to be very concerned about leaks.

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W. Order: Target Journalists

06 March 2006 |permalink | email article

The Washington Post reported Sunday the White House has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. Presidents since FDR have complained about leaks but W. could surpass Nixon in media paranoia.

Not since 1969, when Nixon, Atty. General John Mitchell, and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger determined to crack down on ìnational security leaksî ñ which led to RNís downfall and his inability to prevent publication of the Pentagon Papers, the most massive leak in history ñ has there been anything comparable to this multi-pronged federal probe.

The investigations involve possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSAís warrantless domestic surveillance program. It was the NSA program, which caused W. to call the leak ìa shameful actî that ìwas helping the enemy.î

No president since the disgraced Nixon has been more willing to take on journalists in an overt and aggressive campaign if necessary. W. may vent about the U.S. being in a state of war. But such rhetoric has an Orwellian ring, implying that any responsible editor would deliberately provide aid to terrorist groups.

The response to the Post story by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, was blunt:

“There’s a tone of gleeful relish in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries…and the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public’s business risk being branded as traitors…some days it sounds like the administrationís declaring war at home on the values it professes to be promoting abroad.î

Sen. John D. Rockefeller, the intelligence committee vice chairman, cited the case of Valerie Plame, the CIA agent whose identity was leaked to the media. He suggested damaging intelligence revelations comes primarily from Executive Branch officials with an agenda - not rank-and-file operatives employees of the intelligence agencies.

There is the testimony of ìScooterî Libby, former chief of staff to Dick Cheney, who said in federal court papers that his ìsuperiorsî authorized him to disclose a classified government report.

A powerful refutation of the obsession with undue secrecy was once offered by Richard Neustadt, professor of government at Harvard who said ìleaks playÖa vital role in the functioning of our democracy, adding ìleaks generally do not occur in dictatorships.î

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God and Iraq

05 March 2006 |permalink | email article

The dramatic shift in U.S. opinion against the Iraq war revives the moral debate among all Christians about invoking God to justify it. The decision by President Bush, approved by Prime Minister Tony Blair, festers anew.

On CBS Newsí í60 Minutesí, in April 2004, journalist Bob Woodward, talking about his new book, ìPlan of Attack,î was permitted by the president to quote him directly. Having given the order to go to war, W. told the Washington Post reporter:

ìIím surely not going to justify war based on Godís willÖNeverthelessÖI pray that I be as good a messenger of his will as possible. And then, of course, I pray for forgiveness.î

Woodward asked Bush whether he asked his father, former president, George H. W. Bush, for any advice:

ìWell, noÖHe is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength. Thereís a higher father that I appeal to.î

Blair, also a Christian, in a ITV talk show broadcast Saturday said for the first time God influenced his deliberations when he sent British troops to Iraq.

ìThat decision has to be taken and lived with. I think if you have faith about these things, then you realize that judgment is made by other peopleÖIf you believe in God, itís made by God, as well.î

Forgiveness and good conscience, while moral attributes, do not remove the question about whether Bush rushed to war without exercising proper discernment. Despite affirmation by White House propagandists, the decision lacked support of the Catholic Church.

Just before the war, Pope John Paul II sent his personal representative, Cardinal Pio Laghi, a friend of the Bush family, to Washington. The message: God is not on your side if you invade Iraq.

Pope Benedict XVI, then the ranking Cardinal at the Vatican, said in September 2002 he did not believe a unilateral military attack by the United States would be morally justifiable, under the current circumstances, adding that the phrase ìpreventive warî does not appear in the Catholic Catechism.

The morality of the war also has consequences for the 2008 presidential campaign. A majority of Democratic senators supported the war, but soul-searching to renounce their votes in view of new facts remains almost nonexistent.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the putative favorite for the party nomination, is a classic study in timidity and equivocation ñ a poor substitute for decisive new leadership.

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Arnold the Gladiator

02 March 2006 |permalink | email article

Just asking: Is Arnold Schwarzenegger really serious about being governor or is the former world-class bodybuilder and Hollywood action star reverting to type? Barring a last minute stay for critical state business, he’ll star as a ìgladiatorî god to launch a weekend fitness expo in Ohio.

A blood-and-guts gladiator match is touted as the spectacular kickoff of the annual Arnold Fitness Expo and Arnold Classic, a mixture of competitions and challenges in 30 sports this weekend in Columbus.

But critics wonder anew whether his current political role is really a cover for an unrequited passion for an emergent sport, touted in ads, the San Francisco Chronicle noted, ìas pure might battling pure fear,î a marriage of ìraw power and brute forceî complete with girls, guts, blood and plenty of grit.

Last fall, the governor signed legislation paving the way for gladiator fighting to be legal in California ñ where the first such state-sanctioned card, described by a pay-for-view fight promoter as ìlegalized barroom brawlsî, is planned for next week in San Jose.

The sport is also known as cage fighting or mixed martial arts. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who will headline a $$$$  fundraiser for the governor this month in Beverly Hills, has condemned it as ìbarbaricî cockfighting with humans.

Schwarzeneggerís fascination with bread and circuses comes as a new Field Poll reveals that while he’s still unpopular with voters, his studied remake has given a slight boost to his re-election prospects. Field pollster Mark DiCamillo says many voters are still reappraising him. It’s not surprising.

ìTheyíre a little puzzled because theyíre not sure which Schwarzenegger theyíll see, the more bipartisan governor or the partisan Republican of 2005.î Hereís a hint: On ìMeet the Pressî this past Sunday he described himself as an ìArnold Republican.î

Will his machismo play, especially with women and conservative voters, succeed? He needs 80% of the Republican vote to win re-election. The new survey notes his conservative support has fallen from 61% last fall to 54% today. Perception matters in politics and the image of the ìgladiatorî card, which finally caught up with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, could send Arnold back to Muscle Beach. 

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