Monday, July 31, 2006

Welcome Back, Soriano --I was prepared to write a post titled "Sayonara Soriano" (he did play in Japan once). I'm relatively pleased, but definitely surprised that the Nats did not deal him. Obviously, there were a lot of reasons: The Nats were asking too much, other teams just didn't come up with the right package, probably waiting for Nationals GM Jim Bowden to blink...and the loud chorus of Nats' fans urging the team to keep Soriano (this blog was just one small voice in a very big chorus).

So, where does that leave the Nationals? They are desperate for pitching -- they need live arms for the rotation and the bullpen. With a little luck, John Patterson will be healthy and strong next year. Perhaps, O'Connor will be, too. They're pretty thin down on the farm, with Shawn Hill and Jason Bergmann, who've both struck out in prior call-ups. They can probably piece together a full rotation for the rest of the year...and next year, too. Decisions will have to made, though, on whether the team will want any of the current starters to return. No one is a sure thing, though Armas and Ortiz have pitched well enough to deserve another tour of duty. If the Nationals want to put a competitive team on the field next year, they will have to bring in at least one front-line starter. Of course, two starters would be better...and they will have to bring in two good relievers (Cordero, Bowie and Rauch are keepers, and Ayala should be back, but they will need help).

The good news is that the Nationals could field one of the best lineups in the National League. Re-sign Soriano and the Nats will have as good an outfield as any (Soriano, Ryan Church, a healthy Alex Escobar, and Austin Kearns). The infield is not set in stone, as second base is a question mark going into next year. Jose Vidro is too fragile to rely on, and there is a whispering campaign critical of his hitting, too -- I can't join in this whispering. Vidro can still hit. Although he doesn't have the slugging percentage he's had in the past, no manager should have any qualms about penciling in Vidro's name on the lineup card. Still, he can't stay healthy, and that leaves second base as a serious concern.

One other pressing question will be whether the Nats want to give Christian Guzman a third chance to claim the shortstop job? If so, they would shift Lopez to second, and everything would be copasetic -- assuming Guzman hits better than he did in his first go-around. The Nats also need more production out of catcher Brian Schneider, but his job is secure for next year.

What do the Nats have to deal? Minor league first baseman Larry Broadway. He might be someone to keep down on the farm as insurance against an injury to Nick Johnson, but the Nats need too many other things to hang on to Broadway.

Does it seem to early to post this stuff? This is the kind of chatter that usually comes at the end of the season. For the Nats, all the suspense has gone out of this season...and it really is time to start thinking about next year. They've held on to Soriano, so the Nats can take the field with a team that can win any day -- they won't win so many, but at least they'll be worth a look.

And that's the last word -- maybe my last word on the Nats for quite a while. During the remainder of the baseball season, I'll try to confine my baseball-related observations to teams that still have something to play for. Readers can look forward to chatter on the Mets and Red Sox, the pennant races, and the playoffs.
MLB trading deadline -- 90 minutes left. I'm sitting here nervously, waiting for the hammer to come down on the Soriano deal. It seems so unlikely that the Nats won't trade him -- the latest sctuttlebutt is that the teams still in the hunt are all surprising latecomers to the sweepstakes: the Twins, Marlins and Red Sox.

I know I've written that the Nats will probably be much better off not dealing Soriano -- and trying to re-sign him. That doesn't mean that I'm not getting antsy, wondering if Bowden will go that way...and wondering whether I'm as wise as I pretend to be. Forecasting this stuff can be a crapshoot -- so, I sympathize with the GMs. Maintaining confidence in your judgment can be hard. I have enough trouble picking off the menu in a restaurant, without second-guessing myself. I've done a fair amount of second-guessing of Jim Bowden in the two years he's been running the Nationals...but that's just part of what makes baseball so much fun.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

First Week In Review -- I've spent a week now blogging, and I thought I'd comment on my first week as a blogger. Over two dozen people have found my blog, just in the last 2 days. Before that, I didn't have a counter. I feel as if I am just beginning the process of learning the ins and outs of publishing a blog -- and I'd welcome any and all input, comments, advice, suggestions -- However you want to frame it, I would welcome it.

In this first week, I've introduced myself (somewhat), and the basic concept of this blog. I've also covered a pretty wide range of topics. I've blogged about being a blogger, but mostly I've tried to hit on less metaphysical topics, including: The war on terror and the war in Lebanon; the Mexican Presidential election; and politics in Maryland (2 races) and Virginia; and, in sports, I discussed Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer (and a little about the World Cup). Tonight, I put in my 2 cents on the minimum wage/estate tax bill debate, and I revisited the war in Lebanon.

I'm humbled, very surprised, delighted and excited that so many people have found my blog so quickly. I hope I can sustain a regular readership -- and I will try to refrain from bad puns about "hooking" catch for The Fisch Fry.

Along those lines, I thought I'd conclude by previewing the coming week on The Fisch Fry (should that be "on" or "in" The Fisch Fry?): Tomorrow, I am sure to discuss the passing of the baseball trading deadline, and give you my take on it. Tuesday, might bring a report on DC United's Open Cup match. After that, it's a little more open. I've been so busy with other matters that I haven't posted my reaction to what I thought was one of the week's most extraordinary events -- the press conference held by Pres. Bush and P.M. Blair on Thursday. I promised an essay on the significance of soccer ("the beautiful game") on our little planet. I'm thinking that might fit nicely with this weekend's game between the MLS All-Star team and the English champion, Chelsea. And of course, I'll be sticking my nose into whatever I smell cooking on the newsfront.

So, ya'll come on back, now, ya'hear?
Serious Issues: 2) Israel in Lebanon – I’ll be brief here, but today’s events certainly invite comment. Reportedly, Israel is going to observe a 48-hour pause in the bombing campaign, after the calamity in Qana. This certainly is a decent response to a tragic error. It is also probably being taken in response to the enormous outcry that has followed the horrifying display of images of death and destruction, from the collapsed building.

The question has to be asked – What are the Israeli policy-makers actually thinking? They rail against Hezbollah for using civilian areas as platforms for their missile launches. Israel seems to be saying that Hezbollah is doing this to use Lebanese civilians as human shields, in the belief that the launchers will be protected from Israeli attack because of the proximity of civilians. This is utter nonsense.

If you want my opinion, Hezbollah doesn’t locate their launchers in populated areas because they hope they will be immune from Israeli attack. Actually, they are inviting the Israelis to attack -- in fact, they are counting on it. This is a propaganda war, as much as anything else. Hezbollah has been hoping Israel would go after their rocket launchers because this tragedy was so predictable.

It happens in every war. Remember the U.S. strike on the bomb shelter in the first Gulf War? There were similar strikes on civilian targets in the second Gulf War, too. It’s inevitable. Military planners delude themselves and their civilian leaders into believing that their intelligence reports and their high-tech weapons will enable them to conduct a war without making a mistake like this. This is the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

Israel faces an amazingly well-entrenched enemy that has no compunction against putting the local civilian population in danger. Yes, Hezbollah’s strategy is unethical and against the Laws of War. The thing is – this a war…and they know it. The only real commandment in a war is to win it. All the other “laws of war’ hold no meaning to the loser. In a war, the losers can take no solace from the knowledge that they observed the laws of war. If they could win by ‘cheating,’ they would do so – that’s true of every side in every war.

Hezbollah must know that Israel has the firepower to occupy South Lebanon, if Israel is wiling to suffer the casualties it will take to accomplish that objective. By this, I mean both the casualties on the Israeli side, and the civilian casualties in Lebanon caused by Israeli action. Hezbollah doubts that Israel is ready for its own casualties, but they are banking on the high-stakes international pressure that follows events like Qana. Israel has been down this road before, with the first "Qana Massacre' in 1996. Israel should know that massive civilian casualties are inevitable – if the campaign continues, the events in Qana are likely to be repeated somewhere else.

I began by asking 'what are Israel’s leaders thinking?' Are Israel’s leaders so stupid to believe this would not happen? Were they just hoping against hope that they could achieve their goals much more quickly – before such tragedies could occur, or before the international community could force the Israelis to stop? I’m at a loss.

Israel’s bombing pause suggests its leaders know they’re losing the propaganda war. But didn’t they have enough foresight to know all this would happen? I’m still trying to understand what Israel is trying to achieve. How do they imagine an endgame that will achieve whatever objectives they have in mind? Today’s events leave me even more confused.
Serious issues: 1) Minimum Wage -- I took advantage of the weekend to get into blogging about sports, but I need to return to serious issues – at least for 24 hours, until the end of the baseball trading deadline. First up is the debate over increasing the minimum wage and the Republicans’ incredibly cynical and underhanded maneuver, tying the proposed increase to their proposal to eliminate the estate tax.

This is pure political blackmail, plain and simple. It doesn’t get any more cynical than this. There is no legitimate connection between the two issues that would make for a legitimate tradeoff. Some Republicans have had the chutzpah to suggest there is a connection, that businesses that will be asked to pay the additional wages will need the assistance of the estate tax break. Of course, businesses do not pay the estate tax. It is tax assessed against the holdings of the recently deceased.

Right now, the estate tax is technically suspended – the estates of anyone dying between now and 2010 will be exempted. If the tax returns to force, as expected after 2010, it would probably be at a level that would apply only to those estates over $3.5 million. With decent tax planning, a married couple could shelter their first $7 million from the estate tax.

Those numbers are important, because they refute the Republicans’ other argument that the tax is devastating for small family businesses passing from one generation to the next. How many family-run small businesses leave much more than $7 million to the kids? I say "much more" than $7 million, because the tax applies only to the excess. So, for a couple’s estate that is worth only a little bit more than $7 million, the tax will be a relatively small tax.

At least, we seem to have moved beyond the Republicans’ gamesmanship in trying to frame the debate by referring to the tax as the “death tax.” Apparently, many Americans came to believe there would be a tax assessed on their death – even though very few Americans are wealthy enough that they need to worry about the estate tax. The curious thing about this is that, several years ago, during the debate preceding the Republicans’ bill to suspend the estate tax, many of the wealthiest Americans (including Bill Gates) came out against the Republican efforts.
So, why are the Republicans pushing to eliminate the estate tax? Well, it will benefit some wealthy families. Many Senators in fact probably do accumulate enough wealth outside of their Congressional salaries to have to worry about the estate tax. I suspect the real motivation is that conservatives have never met a tax they weren’t above criticizing. This is so they can maintain their popular political image as the anti-tax party. The flip-side is this allows them to portray Democrats as the tax and spenders, without any regard to the real merits of the tax, or the level of taxation.

As Republicans have shown there is no limit to their readiness to pander on taxes, the current link to the minimum wage increase raises the question as to whether conservatives are prepared to take any responsible positions regarding increasing the minimum wage for the first time in nine years? Republicans have not been above raising their own Congressional salaries – there is a proposal to raise their salaries for the third time since they have assumed total control of the government in 2001. The increase would bring the average salary to $165,000, up from the 2001 level of $133,000. This is a huge increase -- both in actual numbers, and in percentages – representing nearly a 25% increase, during a period when most Americans have actually seen a decline in their pay.

Make no mistake, the link between the estate tax repeal and the minimum wage increase is completely cynical. Conservatives are hoping that Democrats vote down the bill, both for political reasons and ideological ones. You want proof? Check out this gem of a quote that appeared on CNN yesterday, from Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN): “Many House conservatives are disappointed that we’ll take up an increase in the minimum wage during a time of economic expansion in our country.”

This statement is so stunning, that it bears repeating!!!! Let’s take a look at the replay – Republican Congressman Mike Pence said: “Many House conservatives are disappointed that we’ll take up an increase in the minimum wage during a time of economic expansion in our country.” Well, exactly when would conservatives want to discuss an increase in the minimum wage? Wouldn’t the best time be during economic expansion? This way, workers might be able to share in reaping the rewards of their hard work – hard work which is driving the economic expansion? While the economy is expanding, businesses can afford to absorb the additional labor costs.

Exactly what did Pence mean? Would he prefer to wait until the expansion is over, or wait for a recession, before he would consider increasing the minimum wage? Because when businesses are struggling, what they really want to hear is that the federal government is going to mandate that they start paying more money to their lowest-paid workers, right? Or, is Pence really saying that he would rather the government never consider raising the minimum wage? Perhaps, he’d rather see the minimum wage disappear, along with the estate tax? Then, conservatives could feel that businesses are getting value for their campaign contributions – maybe, then, he’d feel better still about voting for the next Congressional pay increase?
Saturday Sports Report's Sunday Musings: Up first-- Soccer -- Just wanted to add a couple of thoughts to last night's posting on the MLS. I caught the replay of last nights New England-Kansas City match. First, I know Lamar Hunt has been a huge part of the business of professional soccer in this country, and it would be great to see the Kansas City franchise succeed. If last night's crowd is any indication of the future, however, I don't see how the franchise can be maintained over the long run. There are cities here with soccer pedigrees that would bring the MLS more chance of success. The MLS has not been shy in abandoning the Florida markets. Maybe, instead of expansion, which will only dilute an already terribly thin talent pool, the MLS would do better to relocate this ailing franchise.

On the field, the New England Revolution continue to impress. The push up to the final minute of stoppage time, game-tying goal, was a thing of beauty: Several high-quality touches, culminating in Ralston's goal, which was ably slotted to the corner of the goal, out of Oshonyi's reach. The best touch, though, came from Clint Dempsey, who delivered a lovely bit of skill with a no-look touch to his left to set up Ralston. I'm falling in soccer love with Clint Dempsey. I was in Nuremberg to see the game against Ghana, when Dempsey become the only American to score during the recent World Cup. To this observer, Dempsey was far and away the most consistent performer on the U.S. squad. It was a shame he wasn't in the line-up against the Czechs in the first game. His unrelenting hustle might have rubbed off his teammates. If Dempsey has to go over to Europe to earn the respect, and gain the polish that the next national team coach will require, here's hoping that happens for him soon.

Major League Baseball -- Speaking of falling for a player, I just watched Carlos Beltran hit a grand slam for the Metropolitans. The Mets are just pummeling the Braves this weekend, This has been a long time coming for Mets fans. It hasn't been quite as long a wait for the arrival of the Carlos Beltran that the Mets thought they were buying last year, but it is just as welcome. He can be one beautiful player to watch -- so graceful it's like watching a gazelle play baseball. David Wright is a fantastic talent, as well, but it's Beltran that really has the star quality. Welcome, at last, to New York, Carlos...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Saturday Nite SportsTalk: 1) MLS at the All-Star Break – This evening, I watched D.C. United blow a late lead to Real Salt Lake…an incredible, unexpected result. RSL actually looked the more dangerous side throughout the game. The Comcast DC announcers (Dave Johnson – if you listened to the World Cup on XM, you were introduced to the voice of DC sports – I believe Johnson is at his best doing soccer) didn’t even consider the possibility, but I thought Josh Gros was offsides, as he ran on to a long ball from Christian Gomez – and then set-up the first goal, by sliding the ball across to the wide-open Jaime Moreno. The Bolivian-born DC striker had the entire goal to shoot at, after RSL goalie, Scott Garlick, came out to challenge Gros. All-Star goalie Troy Perkins (a mortgage broker trainee in his day job), came up big for United, though RSL helped him out for most of the night, with their inability to finish great chances.

I am impressed with the very enthusiastic crowd in Salt Lake – as vocal as any I’ve heard here, but the real story was the sudden and shocking end to the fantastic run that D.C. United was on…with Real Salt Lake converting two penalty kicks in the closing minutes (89th minute and the final minute of stoppage time). United had only lost once this year, and has scored in every game. United had this game in hand, until the very end of the game, when second-half substitute John Wilson did a Paul Bunyan imitation, chopping down RSL players like dead trees.

The first penalty was a bit of a dive, and the second one, coming at the end of stoppage time, probably should not have been given at the penalty spot. Although Wilson clearly fouled the RSL player in the box, the RSL player was running away from goal, chasing after the ball he had just passed off. Not every foul in the box has to be a penalty shot, and this seemed to be the rare circumstance when a free kick in the box would have been more appropriate.

But that’s soccer, no? RSL has to be thrilled to get the win after having given away their last two games in stoppage time themselves. And it’s a stunning result, with United losing to the league’s worst squad. I was already writing my post about D.C. United winning to extend their 14-game unbeaten streak, before the sudden turn of events. The biggest surprise of all, though, was that United was badly outplayed all night long.

Right now, I'm looking forward to a return to form, when I see United up close for a U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday night at the 4,00o seat Soccerplex in Germantown, Maryland. Then, on Saturday, it's United against the best club in the world, Chelsea. OK, it's really the MLS All-Star team against Chelsea, but United has seven players on the all-star squad. And, yes, I know, Chelsea has to win the Champions League before one can fairly claim they are the best team in the world. Face facts, though, Chelsea's bench would probably win the Premier League title. They are virtually a global all-star team -- with the depth of talent that George Steinbrenner wishes he could duplicate for the Yankees in baseball.

2) Baseball – MLB – [Trading Deadline Special] Looking specifically at my teams, the Mets and Nationals. One team may be the biggest buyer in the trading deadline market, while the other is surely the biggest seller. Still, there is question whether either team will or should deal. The Mets don’t need to add much – certainly not a mediocre starting pitcher, like the Nats’ own Livan Hernandez. If the Mets can get their hands on a star like Barry Zito, it would be hard for them to resist, even though he will be a free agent at season’s end.

The Nationals are looking to get younger in anticipation of their new stadium opening in 2008. Realistically, their season is already lost, and next year is not looking much better. The Mets will almost certainly dominate the division next year, too. Any challenges will come either from the Braves, who do have a lot of good hitters, or the Florida Marlins who have quietly put together the kind of young, highly talented pitching staff that the Nats covet.

So, the Nats are trying to acquire pitching prospects, and hope to deal either one or two of their veteran starters, or hitting sensation, Alfonso Soriano. Nats fans have really grown fond of Soriano, despite the early boos he heard while looking completely lost in left field. Since acquiring Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, the Nats have finally put together a pretty solid batting order…and the best part is their line-up is probably one of the youngest in baseball. Soriano is the veteran at 30 years of age…and he is the engine that makes the offense go.

Although Soriano is almost certain to be traded, it is hard to imagine that the Nats could get fair value for him – it would make more sense to try to sign him at the end of the season. If they were to lose him, they would still get 2 first-round draft picks. Still, as good as Soriano has been this year – right now, he is swinging the hottest bat in the sport, and he has really grown as a left fielder (of course, he had nowhere to go but up in that regard) – Nats GM Jim Bowden believes he can practically auction off Soriano and watch the price go through the roof. Nats fans will be sad to see him go, because he could have been the centerpiece of the rebuilding effort. It was a brilliant deal to bring him in, and it seems like a waste to let him go. The Nats were moving in the right direction, sweeping a six-game homestand. Their poor performance in L.A. has probably sealed Soriano’s fate.

Bowden knows the team is desperate for pitching, although he has dealt three of their top four relievers in the last several weeks. So, Soriano will go to the team that comes through with the prospects the Nats need. Perhaps, the Nats will be able to sign Soriano in the off-season, despite trading him. This seems like wishful thinking.

If they trade Soriano, the Nats maybe able to put together a decent outfield, if Alex Escobar can get and stay healthy, but their offense will sorely miss the big hitter they will spend years trying to replace. And the team, which has looked much better lately, will struggle mightily the rest of the year. As Manager Frank Robinson said: "We'd be in an ugly last place."-- Manager Frank Robinson, on where the team would be without LF Alfonso Soriano.

No matter what the Nats get in exchange for Soriano, they will need to jump into the free agent market in a big way to get immediate pitching help. If they do deal Soriano, they’ll have to start looking for a big bat, too. They caught lightning in a bottle this year with Soriano, but they're not going to get that lucky again, with someone else (lightning doesn't strike twice in the same spot).

I know conventional wisdom and logic dictates the Nats trade Soriano. It’s just striking while the iron is hot. He’s surely at his peak right now, and his market value is, too. This logic would absolutely impel trading Soriano, if the Nats were Pittsburgh or Kansas City. But D.C. is the 12th biggest market. If the Nats can put a contender on the field for 2008, the stadium will be packed to the rafters. However, if the Nats trade Soriano, it’s hard to imagine that they can put together a serious contender in two years.

Here’s one vote for rolling the dice and going against conventional wisdom. Hold on to Soriano. Every indication is he would sign with the Nats, if they showed him that kind of love. If they can sign Soriano, he’ll be worth a lot more to the team than the prospects the Nats might get for dealing him now.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Republican ethics -- is this becoming an oxymoron? -- In Virginia's wide-ranging 11th district, Democrat Andrew Hurst is mounting a strong challenge to the Republican incumbent, Rep. Tom Davis. The Washington Post ran a front-page story today on Davis' contacts with a friend, Donald Upson, who established a government contracts consulting company just before Davis became chairman of the powerful House Government Reform Committee. This is thick with irony, given Davis' committee post.

The article charges that Davis and his office have worked to provide close access that has personally benefited Upson's business and the congressman's family. "From the beginning, Upson worked with Davis and his staff as he built his consulting business, which holds seminars on procurement and advises clients on winning government technology contracts worth billions of dollars. Those contracts often came under the oversight of Davis's committee."

According to the Post, one of Upson's first hires was a woman who later married Rep. Davis. Satisfied clients of the company, ICG, "say the firm has provided them with access to the congressman and his staff." The Post article also reports that "the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct told the congressman that his wife can work for the consulting firm as long as the couple does not personally benefit from any official acts by the congressman. The committee told them to take care to 'avoid a claim that you are allowing your official title to be used for private gain.'"

Personal benefits? The Post article details a stunningly close working relationship between Upson's company and Davis' office, including letters from Davis on committee letterhead, sent to Pentagon contracting officers, on behalf of the company's clientele. How did Davis' family benefit? His wife is paid $78,000 for 10-20 hours of work a week, work that apparently involves calls from home. Clearly, this is an enviably cushy arrangement, neatly supplementing the $18,000 she earns from her other job as a Virginia state legislator.

How will this play out in the election campaign? From the outset of his campaign, Andy Hurst has made government ethics and campaign finance reform the centerpieces of his message. Since he attended Georgetown Law, where this blogger first met him, Andy Hurst has become a highly-regarded attorney, specializing in health-care law, working for the DC area branch of one of the top international law firms. Surprisingly enough, with that background, Hurst is advocating a notably progressive agenda. But, above all, having worked on the inside, Hurst says the most needed reform is to create a more ethical framework for our politicians. So long as money (campaign contributions, especially) continues to drive policy, other, much-needed reforms of government of policies cannot and will not be achieved.

The hot water that Davis' has landed in seems almost like manna from heaven for Hurst's upstart campaign. Certainly, it illustrates the point that Hurst has been trying to drive home, hammering away at the ethical failings of the current Congress. When Tom Delay's name was in the papers every day, there was little doubt that Hurst was carrying a powerful message, which resonated with voters.

Davis can be thankful, at least, for the timing of the scandal. Traditionally, it is assumed that voters aren't paying attention during the summer months. Should this revelation lead to an indictment nearer to the election, however, Hurst will seem like a prophet. If the campaign website is any indication, Hurst will continue to emphasize his campaign's central theme, the need to reform politics as we know it. "This is exactly the type of thing that got me involved in this race. Congress is corrupt and we need real reform to change it." Andrew Hurst, at

Davis' greatest selling point has been his position of seniority, which supposedly provides him the influence necessary to successfully support locally-based government contractors. Now, it turns out that the ones who may be reaping the biggest benefits from Davis' power and influence are Davis' wife and Davis' best friend.

In truth, Davis' singular achievement, besides the graft reported on by the Post, was to convince the rest of the Government Affairs Committee to hold hearings on steroid use in baseball. Remember that circus? We watched Sammy Sosa's attorney declare that he had never used steroids -- it just wasn't clear whether the lawyer was speaking for himself or Sluggin’ Sammy!!

On Thursday, The Washington Post had reported that Rep. Davis wrote a letter to Virginia's Gov. Tim Keane, weighing in on the question of building an underground tunnel through the Tyson's Corner area for an extension of the Metro to Dulles Airport. According to the Post, Davis acknowledged that the tunnel would be preferable to aboveground stations. Supporters of building the stations underground note that these would be much more useful and appealing to would-be Metro riders. Additionally, during construction, there would be much less disruption to traffic flow. Not to mention that below-ground stations would mean tremendously valuable development immediately above.

Even though the merits of the proposal are undeniable, Davis warned Keane not to endorse the tunnel proposal because it likely would involve additional delay and jeopardize $900 million in federal funding. Of course, anyone who has ever battled traffic in Tyson's knows how desperately mass transit is needed there. On the other hand, the project has waited this long (the Metro turns 30 years old this year). What's a little longer, if it means doing it right?

What about the risk to the promised federal funding? I thought Davis had all this power and influence. What good is his position, if he can't deliver on the most important project his district has ever considered? Are the voters in Northern Virginia, in the 11th District, paying attention?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bloggito, ergo sum...I blog, therefore I am? Check out this from the online magazine, Slate, asking "Who are these Bloggers?" I certainly don't fit the under 30 category, and I'm not male. I have published before, though I don't know if anyone ever read my piece on the Tripp-Lewinsky affair -- "Sex, Lies and Videotapes." My purpose in writing this blog is to influence public opinion (It's too ambitious to expect to "change" public opinion, but maybe someday I could contribute to the formation of public opinion) -- all of which will be hard to do if no one ever finds this blog. I'm going to have to figure out how to generate visibility. I don't even know how to find out if this site is getting any hits (besides me).

I'd love to get the readership that Kos gets. No wonder he loves his life. I started this blog because, frankly, I think my opinion is worth something. And, I have enough faith in my opinions and my instincts to believe that I could make a positive contribution if the 'deciders' heard what I have to say. Any help in reaching the 'deciders,' or the public at large, would be much appreciated.

In an prior post, I promised to weigh in on the little ruckus stirred up by Maryland's own Lieut. Gov. Michael Steele. There's a piece in Slate, written by John Dickerson, on the sudden notoriety/infamy the Maryland Republican Senatorial candidate has generated for himself, this week. Before I get into Steele-gate, there's another race I want to discuss.

We, here in Maryland are about to dive into a really interesting race for Governor. I'm sorry that Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan had to drop out of the Democratic primary race, because I think he is one of the most competent elected officials around. On the other hand, Martin O'Malley is a true media darling, and fairly drips charisma every time he rolls out of bed (I probably shouldn't mention beds, given the scurrilous rumors that members of the Ehrlich campaign were spreading earlier). O'Malley is challenging a fairly popular incumbent in Robert Ehrlich. Not that Ehrlich was so popular when he was first elected.

The whole situation here reminds me so much of George Pataki's ascendancy in New York. No one even knew who he was, but he seemed likable enough, and the people were no longer inclined to vote for the Democrat, my beloved Mario Cuomo. In Maryland, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend turned everybody off with a desultory campaign. So, Ehrlich slid in by default, in a state that is solidly blue.

Anyway, most Marylanders would not agree with Ehrlich's priorities, but he is personally popular. He just doesn't seem as easy to hate as most Republicans elsewhere. So, the Governor's race will be very interesting this time around. I don't think that Ehrlich is as entrenched as Pataki became in New York. And O'Malley is a much stronger challenger than Pataki ever faced. The smart money all seems to be on O'Malley, and this is supposed to be the first big step for him on his inevitable arc to the White House. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but the people I've talked to are expecting a much closer race than the predictions would lead one to believe.

Which brings us to Michael Steele, and the race for the outgoing Senator Paul Sarbanes' seat. Steele isn't Bob Ehrlich and he isn't a sitting governor. He's the Lieutenant Governor, and one who seems to have been scrupulously ignored within the Ehrlich Administration. No one can point to anything that Steele has done since the election. He promised deeds earlier, including a plan to study and make a recommendation to Gov. Ehrlich on the death penalty. Steele indicated he had concerns about racial inequalities in capital cases, but has done nothing about it. He was blasted this past April, when he finally announced that he was recommending that the Governor set up a commission to study the issue. Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker was quoted as saying "Three and a half years to suggest nothing but further study?"

Steele really helped himself this week -- Not!! He was quoted anonymously disparaging the Bush Administration's policies. He likened being a Republican in the state to wearing a "scarlet letter." And, he said he probably wouldn't invite Bush to campaign for him, because the President is so unpopular in this state. When Steele was outed by the bloggerati as the anonymous source for the Washington Post story, he backed off. Now he's saying Bush is his "homeboy." According to Post columnist Marc Fisher, "Steele's understanding of politics seems mired in the old game of saying different things to different audiences." see

So, that's Michael Steele. He seems like a nice enough, affable guy (I thought he did a great job on Bill Maher's HBO show), but Steele hardly seems a profile in political dynamism or courage. The sorry truth is that if Steele weren't an African-American himself, in a state where African-Americans are the core constituency in the Democratic Party's statewide majority, this race wouldn't be on anyone's radar screen.

The real race here is for the Democratic nomination. There are other candidates, but the leading candidates are former Congressman and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume and Baltimore-area Rep. Ben Cardin. Die-hard liberals aren't exactly excited about the prospect of Cardin winning the seat (, but he's leading in money and he is leading the early polls. Right now, I'm not prepared to weigh in on or handicap that race. I'm not even sure who I will vote for in the primary. Stay tuned.....
Random Musings Day: The Mexican Presidential Election -- Some kudos due the Washington Post today for devoting space to dueling op-eds. While there is still no clear winner in the election, there is a clear loser in the op-ed battle: Leftist PRD challenger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is represented by a close adviser, Jorge de los Santos. In his op-ed piece, Mr. de los Santos takes the quite reasonable position, familiar to American supporters of Al Gore's near-miss 2000 campaign..."Be patient. Recount the Votes." This is an entirely reasonable argument, especially since the rules of the election allow Mr. Obrador to take his challenge to Mexico's electoral commission, the ICE. This commission is empowered to order a recount, if its members are persuaded a recount would be appropriate.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obrador has been anything but patient or reasonable. As is recounted in the companion piece by Enrique Krauze, Mr. Obrador has been acting like a megalomaniac and seems to be on the verge of calling for revolution. Mr. Obrador would seem to view his circumstances as similar to that of Viktor Yuschenko, whose supporters rallied to prevent the blatant theft of the Ukranian presidency in 2004, with the brilliant and courageous Orange Revolution.

The two situations could hardly be more dissimilar. One huge difference is that Mexico has set up a genuinely independent forum to review any competent evidence of irregularities. Another difference is the popular support that Yuschenko enjoyed. There was scarcely any doubt as to the people's real choice in Ukraine...the evidence of fraud was overwhelming. In Mexico, Mr. Obrador appears ready to go to the mat to pursue his charges of fraud in the vote tallies, but there is no evidence of widespread support for his challenge...and there does not appear to be any compelling evidence to support his allegations of fraud.

There are reasons for the ICE rules. They should be followed. If there is evidence of fraud, the ICE should pursue that evidence wherever it may lead, the consequences be damned. If the ICE sees fit to order a nationwide recount, that decision should be respected by Mr. Calderon's supporters. But Mr. Obrador should also be prepared to accept whatever ruling the ICE brings down.

I can say it really sucked here in the U.S.A., when the Supreme Court maneuvered around the Florida Supreme Court to bring an end to court-ordered local recounts, because the US Supremes decided there was not enough time to conduct a statewide recount. But the Gore camp understood the rules of the game in this regard. Under the rules we live by, for good or ill, The U.S. Supreme Court got to have the final say on that day. One wonders whether Mr. Obrador understands this bit of wisdom.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Maliki, Hezbollah and U.S. politics – Time for me to get into U.S. politics a little bit, specifically the controversy over Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki’s address to a joint session of Congress and the decision of some to boycott the speech.

This is a tough one – anyone who thinks it’s cut and dry hasn’t thought long enough about it. I’ve just gotten through excoriating Arab leaders for their historically excessive anti-Israel propaganda. And I should’ve been clear that the U.S. obviously hasn’t put sufficient pressure on allegedly friendly regimes to speak with more balanced tongues. Ultimately, the question here is whether this was the time and place to make a stand. Maliki clearly believes he would have no credibility with Iraqi people if he took Hezbollah to task for their role in initiating this latest spasm of violence along the Israeli-Lebanon border. Indeed Sen. Warner said the Iraqi P.M. faced a great deal of criticism and pressure at home to cancel his trip here because of the Bush Administration’s refusal to call on Israel to cease fire immediately. When Rep. Tom Lantos, a holocaust survivor himself, speaks with confidence about assurances he received in private regarding the Iraqi governments position, it is difficult to criticize him.

In truth, I don’t agree with Lantos’ confidence. This is just another example of Arab leaders assuring Western politicians, in private, that they understand the problems terrorists are causing Israel…another example of those same leaders taking very different public positions meant for domestic consumption, meant to position themselves as champions of some delusional pan-Arab, anti-Zionist cause. They tell Western leaders one thing to reassure us that they pose no threat to Israel, but say all the wrong things at home, which, ultimately, have the effect of inciting and maintaining the continued illusion of the great Arab crusade against Israel. And I believe such open hostility and one-sided criticism of Israel encourages the kind of fanatic militancy that plagues Iraq today. Yes, much of the violence in Iraq is direct Arab-on-Arab sectarian warfare, but it has roots in the paramilitary movements that Arab leaders have encouraged to take the fight to Israel when Arab armies will not. The glorification of assymetrical terroristic acts is coming home to roost in attacks in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and now, Iraq.

On the other hand, there is the question of whether it was appropriate to boycott the speech. The United Sates has brought war to the streets of Iraq. We owe a great deal of respect for those Iraqis who are standing up in hopes of building something of the ashes created by the conflagration we began. They may express disagreement with our policies towards Israel, and may criticize Israel, but that is not necessarily the same thing as voicing anti-Semitism. I wish they expressed a more balanced perspective, and I remain hopeful that one day they will. Right now, their position is extremely tenuous – much more so than the sheikhs in Riyadh. It is very disrespectful to boycott a historic speech by the Iraqi P.M. to the U.S. Congress – that point is obvious. There would be no point in the boycott, unless it was meant as a show of disrespect for the Iraqi’s failure to criticize Hezbollah.

At this historic juncture, though, I think it was an undeserved show of disrespect. I don’t share Rep. Lantos’ confidence in the Iraqi P.M., but I agree with his decision to attend the speech. Sen. Schumer and various other congresspersons chose to skip the speech. Maybe Schumer did this out of deep personal conviction, or maybe it was a political calculation for the Senator from New York. I think that if the latter is closer to the truth, Sen. Schumer has overestimated the importance of the gesture to New York voters. The Congress members were right to criticize Maliki, but they owed him the courtesy of being there. The day will come when it is appropriate for our leaders to make such a public display of criticism for any and every Arab leader that refuses to criticize actions like those of Hezbollah.

For most Arab governments, that day is already at hand. Hezbollah is guilty of terrorism. They also committed an act of war in crossing into Israel to attack and kidnap Israeli soldiers. In targeting civilian areas with their Katysushas, Hezbollah is in breach of the Geneva Conventions' proscriptions against attacking non-combatants. The ball-bearings they put in the rockets’ warheads are an obscenity, meant only to exponentially increase the weapon's lethality and range of destruction. Use of warheads so designed is a clear violation of Geneva’s laws of war. Hezbollah’s provocative actions and their response to Israel’s attacks should be condemned by all sovereign governments.

But, just maybe…for now…the Iraqi government needs to get a free pass on this one. One can hope that the Gulf nations and Egypt might join in issuing a statement rebuking Hezbollah – perhaps then, Iraqi leaders might feel they have the political cover to join in such a communiqué. Without that cover, which does not exist yet, it’s expecting too much from Maliki to think he could take such an unpopular position. That’s why I say boycotting the speech was unnecessarily disrespectful. This time.

Tomorrow: Look for me to get into U.S. electoral politics. Maybe I'll have something to say about Michael Steele's being outed as W's big GOP critic.
A Book I Need to Read -- a follow-up to my Israel/Lebanon post last night: 2:45 EST (it is standard time this time of year, right? I can never keep that straight) -- I'm watching a compelling interview, right now on CNN, with one Walid Shoebat, identified as a former PLO terrorist (this is the cute caption under his image). Mr. Shoebat has written a book, "Why I Left Jihad." I realize I'm running the risk of sounding like a rabid Israel apologist, by harping on this theme. Actually, I'm no such thing -- I truly am sympathetic to the plight of Palestinian refugees, as well as the sorry situation in which Palestinians within the occupied territories find themselves. Even the second-class citizen status that most Israeli Arabs must endure profoundly troubles me.

Still, if you read my last post, you know I believe that things cannot change for the better until Arabs make clear they are ready to respect and make real peace with Israel -- more than just an absence of open warfare, there must be a genuine acceptance, and a willingness to normalize relations. In that vein, I'm ready to recommend Shoebat's book to anyone and everyone...and that's without even reading it. Apparently, Mr. Shoebat is the genuine article -- he planted a bomb in a Bank Leumi branch, among other crimes. Yet, along the way, he had an epiphany.

Mr. Shoebat says that the Arab obsession with "Palestine" has become "a pathology." The quotation marks are because Shoebat suggests that 'Palestine' exists as an ideology (an existential locus of hate, more than a place on the map -- in this circumstance, a pathology rather than a serious, legitimate political cause. According to Shoebat, the core "problem is a massive, racist ideology" that is spread throughout the Arab world, being taught especially in the mosques. Shoebat says he began speaking here, around 1993, to various groups (synagogues, etc.), warning that these fanatics wanted to blow up American buildings and cut off our heads. Very prophetic. Obviously, as someone who lived on the inside of the jihad, he has real insight into the psychology -- the hateful dogmatic thinking that guides these anti-Zionist, anti-Western religious warriors.

The solution, according to Shoebat is not to destroy these groups but to educate the populace in something other than hate. No kidding. Israel famously made a point of demonstrating the differences in tone and substance between the PLO's Arabic-language rhetoric (aimed at fanning the flames of terror), and the group's English-language statements designed to curry Western favor. Of course, even in supposedly moderate, Western-friendly states like Saudi Arabia, the government-controlled media and schools are just as guilty as the demagogic mullahs of fanning the flames of hatred.

The dehumanization of the Zionist enemy remains at the core of the pan-Arab, Islamist doctrine. Even in this country, Islamic schools are used to promote the hateful, "racist ideology" that Shoebat describes (See Can the peace-loving peoples of the world dare to hope that will someday change? Will the Arab regimes take serious steps to stem the flow of the fanaticism they are now encouraging.

It is no longer any great, original insight to point out that these regimes are producing militants that turn on the regimes about as often as they go after the West and Israel. The real question, then, is when will this dynamic begin to change? When will Arab leaders do more than speak hollow, duplicitous niceties only to Westerners -- and, instead, start this necesssary, radical transformation to foster real understanding between peoples? Why I Left Jihad sounds as if it should be a required read throughout the Middle East. Shoebat's message should be carried to every Islamic media outlet, mosque and madrassah worldwide.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The crisis in Lebanon -- A little background here: I'm an American Jew. As a kid, I was sent to Sunday school and afternoon Hebrew school. I got just enough education (call it indoctrination, if you want to be cynical) in my Jewish pedigree, culture, language, religion and history, to self-identify as an ethnic and cultural Jew. Of course, it's more complicated than that, but this simplification will have to do, for the moment. My family belonged to a temple that was part of the American Jewish Conservative movement. That means we are more progressive than Orthodox Jewry, but still observant enough to pray in Hebrew, unlike our more liberal Reformed and Reconstructionist Jewish brethren.

In this circumstance, "Conservative" is not a political designation -- it is the name of a religious affiliation -- a separate denomination within Judaism, in the way that Methodists are not the same as Lutherans or Episcopalians. Conservative Judaism adopted a more flexible perspective on Jewish practice and customs than that accepted by Orthodox Jews. The founding of the American Conservative Jewish movement was an unprecendented and revolutionary act, breaking from the historic, orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. In the years since, however, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements have ventured still further from religious orthodoxy.

Anyway -- most of us children of Conservative Jewry were sent to school to learn what it means to be Jewish -- primarily so that we would end up marrying within the faith. Our parents would be horrified if any of us became deeply religious and observant. OK -- I exaggerate. Some of us did grow up to be more observant than our parents. Their parents may not have been horrified, but I bet they were taken by surprise.

The other major tenet of Conservative Jewry has been a deep and abiding support for the State of Israel. This has manifested itself in both political and financial support for the Jewish State. Some Orthodox groups are conflicted by the existence of a Jewish state without the coming of a Messiah. For their part, Reform Jews tend to be far more assimilationist, tending to identify less with other Jews and be less concerned with Israel. This might sound to be a sweeping generalization. Still, I believe that, while individuals may be more or less supportive of Israel, as a general rule, Reform Jews do not identify nearly as strongly with Israel. The real base of Israel's support among American Jews is with Conservative Jews.

There are a variety of theories attempting to explain the tradition of support for Israel among Conservative American Jews, including the supposition that the movement is still trying to atone for its relative silence during the years of the Nazi persecution and holocaust. I refuse to overanalyze it. I think it can be understood by observing that Conservatives have chosen to define their Jewishness more as a vibrant cultural and ethnic identity than as a religion that dominates almost every aspect of their lives. That ethnic identification also embues American Conservative Jews with a keen sense of the fragility of their position as a tiny minority in a country that has only recently become accepting of Jews, moving beyond an historic tradition of open anti-Semitism -- which probably is factor in their support for Israel.

In this respect, I am a product of my environment, as much as anyone. My politics may be generally liberal, but I don't let liberal political orthodoxy dictate my views on Israel. Sure, I have always been opposed to the settlement movement, and I believe that Israel has missed opportunities to make decent, fair peace deals because of the political dominance of Israeli conservatives (here I refer to political conservatives -- the Likud party in Israel) in the years before and after Yitzhak Rabin's tragically shortened tenure as Prime Minister.

On the other hand, I understand from whence where Israel's insecurity springs. Moreover, I cannot say that any peace deals would have lasted. There is no trust there -- no faith that Arabs are prepared to live with Israel...with Jews. I know how Israel became the refuge for Jews that had to flee Arab countries where their families had lived for centuries. In the last year, the world has seen how the Arab street turns to fundamentalist movements, if given the chance to freely cast their ballots. As Tom Forman noted, in a CNN report on Hezbollah, "they fight for an idea that is very popular among Arabs: the destruction of Israel." There is no balance in the public discourse, nor in the education given children in Arab countries. Israel correctly sees enemies all around it, and fears showing any weakness. In 1982, I predicted the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, even though I could not have been more opposed to it. I understand Israel, even if I do not always approve of the government's actions.

With that in mind, I am flabbergasted to hear today that Hezbollah did not anticipate the Israeli reaction to their reckless and provocative incursion into Israel two weeks ago. Of course, the actions of Hezbollah do not make any sense unless you believe they failed to forecast the Israeli response. But, it still makes no sense. The week before, the world watched Israeli forces re-enter the Gaza Strip after a similar raid was launched from Gaza. It is stupefying to me that Hezbollah could not predict a comparable response in the North to their killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. This is the frustrating part of Mideast politics. Don't these people have even the most basic understanding of their Israeli neighbors? Or, are they just impossibly deluded by their own hysterical propaganda and religious zealotry -- unable to see the world for what it is, and unable to conform their behavior to modes that we in the West can comprehend as rational?

Their relative powerlessness may lead frustrated Arabs to take matters into their own hands with assymetrical warfare -- what we in the West label as terrorism. Having an understanding of what motivates such actions, however, does not make those actions rational or truly understandable.

Understanding Israel means understanding that Israel responds to what it perceives as barbarians at the gates -- surrounded by neighbors who know mostly hate, who want to destroy what Israelis have built in the desert, to kill Israelis and take their land. Does that sound overly-simplistic? The Mideast crisis is a Gordian knot because that sort of over-simplification perfectly describes the situation that Israel finds itself in. Nuance and rationality seem like alien constructs that are rarely found in the region. The actions of terrorists may be broken down so as to delineate the political and psychological dynamics that motivate the terrorists. You can describe their actions as if they were rational. Yet they are not. They are insane acts that can never be truly understood in the modern sense of the rational world. These are the enemies that confront Israel today.

Understanding Israel means understanding the country's unique predicament. Sure, Israel is blowing up too much stuff. Frankly, the war is a poor calculation in every respect. Hezbollah killed a few Israeli soldiers and kidnapped 2 others. Was it worth all the additional casualties on the Israeli side to respond as Israel did, by engaging Hezbollah in total war? How about the crushing impact the war is having on Israel's economy? How much business is being conducted in the bomb shelters? The North of Israel is also the agricultural heart of Israel, but who dares to harvest the crops on the trees now? This war has not been good for Israelis, but what are their options? Who will step up to protect Israel, if not Israelis?

Despite the heavy media coverage of the destruction being wreaked by Israelis, it is striking to note there were more casualties caused by the warfare/terrorism in Iraq during the same period. Noting this curious statistic does not mean that I am defending all of the targeting decisions made by Israel. I am appalled by the wanton damage to the Lebanese infrastructure, the loss of hundreds of innocent lives, and the maiming of so many others. In the ideal world, Lebanese government authorities would have acted in tandem with or decisively enough to assure Israelis that Hezbollah would not be allowed to continue to provoke Israel. Six years ago, Israel finally decided it couldn't pacify the border region with its own troops. Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon was a gamble. The hope was that without Israeli troops in Lebanon, Hezbollah would decide to let Israel be. Unfortunately, Hezbollah just could not be satisfied with that situation.

The next move is up to the Lebanese now. Israel will insist on concrete guarantees this time. If the Lebanese are truly unable to provide such guarantees, they must agree to international forces that are prepared to do what is necessary. Will Israel make concessions in exchange for such guarantees? Probably. I'd expect that a prisoner exchange is a realistic prospect. Shebaa Farms is certainly negotiable too. Israel just wants to know who is supposed to be its negotiating partner. That's all that's ever been missing -- a willing and serious negotiating partner for Israel -- ready to accept not just the fact of Israel's existence, but prepared to welcome Israel to the neighborhood.
A bit about Fisch -- I grew up in New York. I live in the Washington, DC metro area now. Single guy...incurable romantic.

My Politics: Definitely left of center. I'm not going to fool anyone into thinking I'm any kind of conservative. On the other hand, the center can seem so far right these days, even conservatives may be left of center. It is my fervent hope that some sense can be restored to American politics and we can move the center to a more tenable, forward-thinking position. When I got the vote, I registered as an Independent -- primarily, because I would've voted for independent candidate John Anderson, if I'd been old enough to vote two years earlier. Of course, Anderson was a Republican congressman, who got whipped by Ronald Reagan in the primaries. Anderson was the darling of the college circuit -- college students built a movement around the one candidate in the Republican race who offered a vision to unite the country -- a movement so powerful, he got about 5% of the vote. It's been a long time since anyone tried to run a campaign like Anderson's -- Anderson was the last candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination that I had much respect for. Frankly, there has not been a candidate like him since, in either party. Clinton came close in trying to negotiate the middle, but it always seemed more calculated with Bill. You always had the impression that Clinton was much more liberal than the policies he espoused. Consequently, he never was the leader he might have been. Ditto for Al Gore. I'm slightly encouraged that he's rediscovered global warming...only 6 years too late. Anyway, when I finally moved away from New York, I registered as a Democrat. That's where things stand today.

On the issues: That's what this blog is supposed to be about. Stay tuned.

Sports: Some things are constant -- I've been a Mets fan forever. I used to be a Yankees fan -- now, I'm more the anti-Yankees fan. I started rooting for the Red Sox in '78. Since I'm in the DC area, I've added the Nationals to my repertoire. I was thrilled to have a team here. I haven't worked out yet how to root for 2 teams in the same division. Maybe I can move back to New York to solve this problem -- but the Nats have gotten under my skin, possibly into my DNA.

Another constant -- the New York Football Giants. Sure, I'm worried about Eli Manning, but I'm a fan, through thick and thin. No.2 would be the San Diego Chargers. Why? Because I liked Air Coryell...and I've stayed loyal. I used to be a Baltimore Colts fan (Bert Jones, you were the greatest!!). Then again, there used to be a team called the Baltimore Colts.

Soccer -- D.C. United -- It's too bad Americans really haven't discovered the MLS. They're really missing something special this year. The 2006 D.C. United team may turn out to be one of the most dominating teams in American sports history (the league's about to go into its All-Star break and United has only lost one game).

Other sports: NBA -- I've been a Milwaukee Bucks fan since I knew what a basketball was (my brother hipped me to the Big "O" and Alcindor). Unfortunately, these days, the NBA bears a close resemblance to an indoor game of football (more so even than does Arena football)...and I miss the rule against travelling with the ball (rumor has it that it is still against the rules, but you wouldn't know it from watching the games. How am I supposed to take the league seriously, when they've decided to ignore one of the most fundamental rules?). NHL -- I guess I'm still a New York Islanders' fan, but I wish I had the money to watch the Caps play. Ovechkin is something else -- he may be one of the top 3 or 4 professional athletes, the LeBron James of hockey, to be sure.

Music -- I was in college in the 80s. What do you think I like? I was big into Costello, Joe Jackson, Los Lobos, U2, the T-Heads and ska. These days, I still think Los Lobos is the best live act, but mostly I listen to jazz and standards, and Americana/alt-country (Lyle Lovett would be at the top of my list of current artists, but I dig Lucinda Williams and Aimee Mann).

So, that's Fisch in a nutshell.

Fisch at work with the FischFryer
Why THE FISCH FRY? And why should anyone be interested in it? I've checked into a few blogs over the last 2 years. I've even contributed to some with the occasional post. Tonight, I just finished watching the Nightline piece on the DailyKos. It's becoming increasingly clear to me that I can and ought to contribute in a regular forum. Frankly, I have a high enough opinion of myself to think I can offer some valuable insights and thoughtful, perspectives on a wide range of matters that will be worth reading. I'll try to keep it lively and interesting.

So, what's The Fisch Fry going to about? Mostly politics...probably. I've got a B.A. in Political Science, a law degree and 2 Master's of Laws - The first in International and Comparative Law and the second in Taxation. I've worked (mostly as a volunteer) on numerous campaigns from local to congressional to Presidential. One year, I was even paid to be legislative counsel to a State Assemblyman in New York. I also did a turn as an intern for a defense policy think-tank. So, I have some background to speak knowledgeably and intelligently about what's going on in the world, on politics and policy, legal matters, international law, and even military/defense matters.

Politics, the law, world affairs -- these are my passions, but not my only passions. Anyone who paid any attention to World Cup coverage probably heard the following quote repeated far too often: 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.' The quote was authored by a famous coach of the Liverpool football (soccer, to you and me) side - Bill Shankly. Apparently, Shankly is an English football version of Vince Lombardi. OK, so we heard that quote far too much last month. On the other hand, I've been to every World Cup since 1986, except the '02 tournament (nothing personal against South Korea or Japan -- it just wasn't in the cards then). Witnessing the way the world literally comes together over a game, I can tell you that there is a lot of truth in Shankly's observation. To be sure, it's not about just soccer -- it's about whatever is important to you... because it's your thing -- As trivial as it might seem when you hold it up against famine, wars and genocide, that thing, whatever it is, enriches your life. Something like soccer is so woven into the social fabric around the world that we know it really is bigger than each of us...and that's the beauty of it.

Sports, in general, should not be dismissed as trivial entertainment. I believe that Sports are wonderful -- and they are a wonderful outlet for our personal competitiveness and for national pride. You can expect a post exploring that subject soon...and you can expect a fair amount of discussion about Sports here. Not just soccer. As amazing as that can be, I think Sports nirvana is found in the Zen of baseball. Expect a lot in this space about baseball. I wish I was doing this blog before the World Baseball Classic, as well as before the World Cup. It would've been fun to start the discussion back then. But I digress. And there is so much more to talk about. You can look forward to my learned commentaries on (American) Football. To be honest, I think there was a time when I knew as much about the NFL as least in the superficial way that most fans understand the sport. I was a famous whiz in my high school at picking against the spread. I only wish I had the money to bet in those days. If the interest is there, we'll see how much of that talent I've retained. And, no doubt, I will pretend to know enough to say something intelligent about other sports (hockey, basketball, the Olympics, cycling, etc.).

Readers are invited to offer any insights or comments they care to share on any and all of the above, or anything else they think is relevant and/or important. And maybe, I might interest readers in my musings on life -- there are surely more things in heaven and Earth than have found their way into my philosophy, but every once in a while I might have something pithy to share.

That's my basic plan -- my initial conception of The Fisch Fry. You're wondering about the name? Here's the deal: Fisch -- short for my last name. Right now, I'm thinking about trying to preserve my privacy, so that's all I'll say about that. Fry -- Fisch Fry -- we're going to see how many carcasses we have to fillet, fry up and eat for lunch before The Fisch Fry has run its course. Did I mention I'm a bit of a foodie? Good new recipes will always be welcome on The Fisch Fry.

My mission statement: The next couple of years may prove to be the most consequential in American history. Politics in this country -- policies, too -- have fallen far off the track. Derailed? It's a massive train wreck. Sure there's a minority that doesn't see it that way. Unfortunately, they're at the controls. The country -- we, Americans -- need to get this ship of state back on course. And it's not just about us anymore. If the last six years have shown us nothing else, they have proven that what happens here will have enormous consequences for the rest of the world.

So, we're all on the same page? I hope in the months or years ahead that I can make a contribution to the political debate. The Sports will be an outlet -- that's the beauty of sports: we can talk about it, even argue for hours and there are no hard least not on The Fisch Fry. No hard feelings allowed. Of course, I hope readers will be entertained, amused and (dare I hope) enlightened. So, hang in there as I to turn up the heat. Hopefully, we'll hold some feet to the fire, if they need it, and maybe we'll have some good eats, too!