Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Not another article on Syria? Well, yeah

    "Just exactly how many articles on Syria and Iraq can you actually churn out?" a friend of mine asked me recently.  "You were only over in Damascus for five freaking days.  And you haven't been to Iraq since 2008.  So what makes YOU such an expert on these two countries?"

    Even after less than a week spent in Damascus and after only having been to Iraq four-and-a-half times, I apparently already know more about Syria and Baghdad and Al Ambar than all those dingbats in the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA combined.  Unfortunately. 

     Washington neo-cons and their neo-con counterparts in Tel Aviv have really gotten the Arab world totally wrong.  http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article38908.htm

     So, even though I would really rather be writing about almost anything else right now, it is still my civic duty to set these fools straight.  Sorry about that.

    What I really want to be writing about this week is the exciting new Freedom Summer 50th-anniversary conference in Jackson, Mississippi, where a bunch of folks are getting together to celebrate having survived the heroic summer of 1964 when so many civil rights workers poured their hearts out in an attempt to finally bring justice to the Ol' South -- and some of them lost their lives while doing it too http://freedom50.org/.

    But apparently justice in the Ol' South will have to wait a bit longer.  Right now we need to talk about justice in the Middle East first. http://libya360.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/iraq-libya-syria-three-reasons-african-americans-should-oppose-us-intervention-in-africa/

     After the fall of the U.S.S.R., Washington neo-cons needed a new boogeyman to scare Americans into handing over our hard-earned tax dollars to the military-industrial complex.  And so the military-industrial complex came up with the idea of making Islam the bad guy.  But then apparently Washington neo-cons actually began to believe their own hype -- and even went so far as to actually start creating "Islamic Militants" where none had existed so far. 

     According to journalist Finian Cunningham, "The biggest recruitment office for such groups [as ISIS] is the British government and its criminal militaristic foreign policy, which has been destroying countries for years, overtly and covertly.  That same destructive British state-sponsored terrorism, alongside that of its American and other NATO allies, is also why millions of Syrians and Iraqis are living in tents, unable to feed their families."  http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/06/22/368055/the-western-media-goldfish-bowl/

    The thumbscrews were not only put onto various Islamic countries until "militants" actually did start to emerge, but then Wall Street and War Street -- bound and determined to sell as many weapons as possible -- actually started creating and financing "Islamic Militants" themselves (and of course all the while praying for another "Pearl Harbor")  http://awdnews.com/top-news/8831-obama-administration-has-been-training-syrian-jihadi-terrorists-since-2012.html

         According to a recent article in Information Clearinghouse, "Key members of ISIS it now emerges were trained by US CIA and Special Forces command at a secret camp in Jordan in 2012, according to informed Jordanian officials...Former US State Department official Andrew Doran wrote in the conservative National Review magazine that some ISIS warriors also hold US passports.http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article38908.htm

     Neo-cons began manufacturing these Frankenstein monsters left and right.  Actually paying thousands of poor unfortunate souls in the Middle East to go on "jihad".  http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/24/did-obama-know-that-isis-planned-to-invade-iraq/

      Even way back in the 1970s I could have warned the military-industrial complex that these acts of folly would eventually start leading to blow-back -- not to mention the sky-rocketing cost of gasoline as a result of all this footsie-playing in the Middle East.

      According to journalist Juan Cole, "During the past ten years, American drivers have seen their gasoline bill go up tremendously – though not as much as it by all rights should have – and stay there."  http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/24415-focus-will-isis-control-iraqs-oil

     Apparently, The M-IC's money-making scheme in the Middle East was that various U.S. and Israeli neo-cons would be constantly stirring up the pot there, turning Arab against Arab until they all freaking started to butcher each other like so many crabs in a barrel.  And then the U.S. and Israeli neo-cons would steal everything that wasn't nailed down while no one over there was looking.  It sounded like a good plan.  Until the rest of us Americans and Israelis finally began to realize that there was nothing in this witches' brew for the rest of us except danger to ourselves.

     According to me, ISIS is nothing but a bunch of pirates, the Taliban are murdering wife-beaters, the idiots in charge of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and Iraq are dictators and Libya is overrun by barbarians.  And who created all these proto-zombies?  Neo-cons in Israel and the U.S.  Of course.

     According to Franklin Lamb, who seems to be legendary in Damascus for fabricating stories and mooching off of the Syrian government, ISIS, Syria's arch enemy, is practically a freaking benevolent organization who succors the poor, has nukes of its own and whose goal is to unite all the downtrodden Arabs in the Middle East into one coherent version of the freaking Red Cross and then liberate Palestine and wash Israel into the sea. http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/20/will-isis-create-al-sham-caliphate-liberate-palestine/

     However, Palestinians in Syria did not support ISIS's brutality and refused to be drawn in -- so ISIS bombed the crap out of them instead.  And the Palestinians in Israel already have neo-cons killing their kids -- and don't need any more neo-con-backed pirates adding even more "creative chaos" to the mix.
    Huh?  No.  Forget about the sparkling clean Red Cross wannabe image.  These ISIS guys are down and dirty pirates.  And that's "all she wrote" about that.  And apparently we American taxpayers are paying for all of ISIS's new Toyotas, rocket-launchers and Nikes as well.

     "You talk as though the military-industrial complex may finally be starting to get its comeuppance for generating such a devious plot -- but, frankly, it is not," you might comment at this point.  

     No, it is not.  Not yet.  But if Wall Street and War Street continue to play their cutesy little "Divide and Conquer" games in the Middle East, keep on messing with its political eco-system, breaking down its civil society in this bad way, and creating and financing even more Al Qaedas, Talibans and ISISs and driving world gas prices sky-high, then eventually it will suck to be you!  http://www.veteranstoday.com/2014/06/19/my-dinner-in-homs-on-election-day/

     Even against all odds and proof, I still have faith that the rest of us Americans, us average decent salt-of-the-earth types, will finally put a stop to all these nefarious neo-con schemes and finally start bringing our money and our troops home from the Middle East instead -- and stop picking on all these poor Arabs before they end up going completely freaking nuts as they see their parents, wives and children constantly being blown to bits before their very eyes by these neo-con monsters. 

     Not sure why I keep holding out hope that this will happen.  But do I really have any other choice?

PS:  Another thing that has made me hopeful is to just observing what 50 years of fighting for justice and civil rights has done in the American South.

     "But, Jane," you might say, "50 years of fighting for justice and civil rights has done nothing."  No, there really have been some big changes there -- even despite so many neo-con efforts to stop that change.  But just imagine how much better the South would be now if the neo-cons had just kept their mouths shut.  Schools, factories, integration, far less hatred and division, a better quality of life for all.

     And this same thing could have happened in the Middle East too.

PPS:  I just heard that Pope Francis has excommunicated the Mafia.  Good for him.  "But the Mafia has changed," you might say.  "They are legitimate businessmen now."  Not even close.  They are just getting better and better at laundering money.

     And speaking of laundering money, I finally figured out how those all those ISIS pirates and barbarians in the Middle East can afford to pay for all their new Toyotas, rocket-launchers and sneakers.  Saudi Arabia pays for them!  http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/24/the-rise-of-isis/

     "But where do the Saudis get all that money," you might ask.  "Brand new Nikes are expensive."  No problem.  The U.S. military-industrial complex gives the money to the Saudis.  The Saudis buy the Nikes.  That's called "money-laundering" too.

     Perhaps Pope Francis will excommunicate Wall Street and War Street as well!

     We can only hope.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Syria, Iraq, Captain Phillips & the ISIS pirates

     On my recent really-long plane ride back from Syria where I had served as an election observer, I must have watched at least six different inflight movies -- and one of them was "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4FDRlBJNjg.  It was all about being attacked by brutal pirates brandishing deadly weapons -- and about looting and fear. 

     And then it suddenly occurred to me that the ISIS invasion of Syria (and now Iraq) was also all about being attacked by brutal pirates brandishing deadly weapons -- and about looting and fear.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2658286/Return-Mosul-Days-Iraqs-second-largest-city-fell-feard-Isis-fighters-Iraqis-heading-promise-food-gas-water.html
     The only difference seemed to be that Captain Phillips' Hollywood pirates were basically just poor schmucks with no other available job opportunities -- whereas the Al Qaeda-backed and American-financed ISIS pirates are killers to the bone http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/20133.

     I just learned that 15 of the ISIS pirates killed while plundering in Syria were from Malaysia.  Huh?  They came all the way from Malaysia to loot and burn and kill Syrian women and children and also desecrate Syrian churches and mosques while they were at it?  I wonder who paid their airfare to Syria -- and if their inflight movie was "Captain Phillips" too?

     American taxpayers paid for their airfare.

     I also just learned that, "The Malaysians who go to Syria and Iraq to fight will be arrested when they return home."  Of course they will be.  They are pirates!  Pirates belong in jail.

     And America, the country that pays these ISIS pirates' salary and writes up their job description, is not about to let any of these monsters come over here after they've been thrown out of Iraq and Syria either.  These guys are not ever gonna be allowed to get jobs chauffeuring tourists through the "Pirates of the Caribbean" at Disneyland.  Why?  Because you definitely do not want to let these marauders and butchers anywhere near your kids! 

     In America, criminals like these would be jailed for life in an instant -- or even made to walk the plank.

     But apparently it's okay with our State Department if they butcher Syrian and Iraqi kids.  http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2013_04_01_archive.html#3554538807908354245#3

     One other thing I learned the other day is that Saudi Arabia is paying a $300-a-head bounty for every Alawite Syrian these pirates kill.  One ISIS pirate bragged that he has chopped off 350 Syrian heads.  So far.  And played soccer with them.  (Please don't let this guy play in the World Cup!)  And apparently there's even a video of this guy eating one of his victim's hearts out on live TV.  Who the freak in their right mind would ever do that?  Pirates.

     And another thing I would like to make perfectly clear.  You can't blame all this blood-lust on Islam either.  These ISIS butchers and boogeymen are not Muslims.  Muslims venerate compassion and justice.  ISIS venerates booty and loot.

PS:  When I spoke at a press conference at the United Nations last week, I first planned to make a simple speech about how the elections that I observed there were honestly conducted.  See the text of that speech here:  http://jpstillwater.blogspot.com/2014/06/my-speech-at-un-press-conference-1-my.html

PPS:  But as jet lag set in and the horrible news of all the looting in Iraq came pouring in and I got tired and cranky, here's the speech that I actually gave, outing the ISIS pirates for what they really are.  Here's the text of that speech:  http://jpstillwater.blogspot.com/2014/06/my-speech-at-un-press-conference-number.html

PPPS:  Then later that evening I gave another speech -- and being even tireder and more cranky than ever after a very long day, I said to myself, "Enough already about pirates.  I want to talk instead about all those covert bad-guy Bluebeards and Barbarossas who are funding and encouraging all this looting and pillaging."  And that would be us. 


     Back in the 1660s, French pirate captain Francois I'Olonnais used to cut off his victims' heads and eat their hearts out.  Sound familiar?  Perhaps that's the kind of thing that America is now teaching ISIS in pirate school?  Yeah.  Or else they are cribbing their notes off of Attila the Hun. But I digress.  http://mawtani.al-shorfa.com/en_GB/articles/iii/features/2014/06/23/feature-01

     My third speech of the day dealt with the American military-industrial complex's last 100 years of failed foreign policy -- and how weaponizing and training pirates to invade Syria and Iraq seems to be the dumbest foreign policy of all!

     Here's the text of that speech: 

     "I have read somewhere that there are four things that human beings need in order to survive: Air, food, water and to feel good about themselves.  Yet despite this excellent information, I’m afraid that, in the name of truth, I’m going to have to ignore it and make a whole lot of people on Wall Street and War Street feel very bad about themselves.  Sorry about that.

     "Lately, everyone on the news has been talking constantly about the 70th anniversary of D-Day – but I have yet to hear even one talking head mention the recent 100th anniversary of World War I, probably the most unnecessary and, well, er, just plain stupid war ever fought.

     "But, sadly, America’s foreign policy has just gotten dumb and dumber ever since.

     "Next up, the badly-designed Treaty of Versailles led to a very preventable World War II.  And then we lost China.  And Korea.  And just what dummy dreamed up the Cold War?  Then came Vietnam, a really stupid war.  A ten-year-old could have designed a better foreign policy than that.  Trillions of dollars wasted and millions of lives destroyed.

     "Then came the loss of South America’s hearts and minds, the shambles that is Africa today and disaster after disaster in the Middle East – as our State Department just keeps on riding their express train to Stupid Town."

     With regard to America's brutal (and dumb) foreign policy of creating chaos in the Middle East wherever it can, it's been a humongous success -- costing millions of lives. Libya is now in total chaos (just think Benghazi), Afghanistan will take a century to recover, Pakistan is a hot mess, Egypt sucks eggs, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are fascist dictatorships, Yemen is in a constant state of civil war, Palestine is a gulag, Israel is a joke balanced on top of a weapons factory the likes of which have never been seen since the USSR went bust, and Maliki in Iraq is as mean as a snake, far worse than Saddam Husein ever was http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/04/28/140428fa_fact_filkins?currentPage=all.  Have I left anything out?

     "But this new war on Syria has just got to be America’s foreign policy’s all-time low (unless of course you count their support of the neo-Nazis in Ukraine).

     "Isn't it about time for America's foreign-policy makers to stop being so stupid?"  Nice ending to a nice speech, if I do say so myself.

     Everything -- EVERYTHING -- that the U.S. has done in the Middle East since most of us were even born has been wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.  And apparently the powers-that-be in Washington have done it all deliberately, in order to sow chaos.

       From Paul Bremmer to what's-his-name Maliki, Iraq has been a disaster.  http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/04/28/140428fa_fact_filkins?currentPage=all

    And apparently Israeli neo-cons have been the major recipients of this huge gift of chaos in the Middle East http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/20/its-all-for-israel/.  Or have they?  If I were living in Israel right now or even in America (which I am), then I would be afraid, be very afraid (which I am) with all these incompetents, sadists and dummies at the helm. 

    But has any of this long-term stupidity -- of setting so many blood-thirsty pirates loose on the world -- made you and me feel any safer?  To quote Bluebeard, "Har har har har".

     So.  What can we do about stopping all this bloody nonsense?  For starters, let's cut America's military budget by SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT.  Why give these misbehaving miscreants such a big reward all the time when what they actually need is a time-out and a dunce cap?

     True American patriots need to look Wall Street and War Street in the eye and say, "Look at me.  Look at me.  I'm the captain now."  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnpeOTLgyKs

Saturday, June 21, 2014

My speech at the UN press conference, Number Two

     I agree with everyone else who has spoken here today; that the Syrian elections were legitimate.  I am also aware that the news cycle has now moved on to Iraq -- where it is being hinted that Syrians invaded Iraq.  This also is a misunderstanding.  ISIS is in Iraq because it was driven out of Syria.

    But everyone in the media seems to be ignoring the real elephant in the room:  That ISIS is made up of pirates -- and that America is paying these pirates to loot and pillage and burn.

     After being an election observer in Syria, I now see ISIS from a whole new perspective -- and every time I hear the phrase, "Islamic Militant," I cringe.  ISIS members are not Muslims.  They are no more Muslims than Hitler was a Christian.

     Muslims believe in compassion and justice.  These ISIS guys are pirates.

     ISIS's main modus operandi in Syria was to move into a city or town, kill or drive out the civilian population and then loot, slash and burn.

     Like pirates.

     And the same thing happened in Mosul, where the first thing ISIS did was to loot the central bank of a half-billion dollars -- while flying their black and white Jolly Roger. 

     And ISIS doesn't want to capture Baghdad either.  It is after the oil refinery.

     ISIS doesn't want to convert anyone to Islam.  All they want is "Show me the money".

     And American taxpayers are paying billions to weaponize and train these crooks and robbers.

     And Bush and Cheney were the Bluebeards who gave birth to ISIS.  And Obama is no Captain Jack Sparrow either.

My speech at the UN press conference,  #1

            My name is Jane Stillwater and I am a freelance journalist, blogger and war correspondent, having been embedded with the Marines in Al Ambar province and with the Army in Baghdad, among other things.
            When I was a child, I used to watch my mother running a polling place out of her home -- and to watch her stay up late counting the ballots.  So I know from early experience what a fair election looks like.  I have also reported on more recent presidential elections in Florida and Ohio.  And of course I myself have voted many times over the years.
            But I have never seen anything here in the States even close to the enthusiasm and even outright joy among voters as I had witnessed while observing the elections in the Syrian city of Sweida.
            One woman at the polls told me, "Living in Syria under the invasion of foreign fighters has been like living inside of a Hollywood horror movie -- with no place to hide that was safe.  And now we finally feel safe enough to have elections in Syria.  I am so happy!"
            Do I honestly think that the elections in Syria were fair and authentic?  You bet.

Friday, June 20, 2014

 PRESS RELEASE: UN blocks Syrian Ambassador's UN press conference

    On June 18, 2014, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, H.E. Bashar Jaafari, held an official press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, with regard to the recent Syrian elections and how they were conducted in an above-board and transparent manner.

     Also present and speaking at the press conference were five neutral election observers from the United States, telling what they had seen in various polling locations throughout Syria on June 3, 2014.  election observers present were Dr. Paul Larudee, Joseph Iosbaker, Scott Williams, Jane Stillwater and Judy Bello.

    It is the universal practice of the United Nations to broadcast every press conference held on its premises on its website.  However, five minutes into this particular press conference, the UN's live feed was cut off.  

     For your further information, here is a link to this important video that was blocked by the United Nations.  I think you will find the statements made here by the conference's participants to be both fascinating and enlightening -- as well as highly newsworthy in this crucial news cycle revolving around the recent attack on and invasion of Iraq by the same foreign-fighters and Al Qaeda-related pirates who had previously attacked and invaded Syria:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnFQd4wBXnk

      Later that evening, Ambassador Jaafari joined the five election observers in a roundtable discussion regarding the elections and the origins and supporters of ISIS, a non-Muslim organization of terrorists and pirates related to Al Qaeda that is paid for and supported by American taxpayers.

      Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark also spoke at this roundtable.  

     Here are the links to that roundtable:  

     Part 1:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQrMprZk9Rs  

    Part 2 (Q&A):  http://youtu.be/OX2gEx_lHq0

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Eye-witness Syria: (America's) barbarians at the gate

     Now that I'm back here in America after personally observing Syria's recent presidential elections, I've been totally amazed at some of the fabrications, gross exaggerations and out-right lies that my country's mainstream media has come up with regarding these vote results.

     "Election fraud in Syria!" the newspapers cry over and over again.  "Assad forces Syrians to vote for him!  The elections were coerced!" plus many many other words to that effect.  And even President Obama jumped on the band wagon -- after even he himself has committed election fraud of a sort, having run on a ticket of peace and more jobs and then giving us war and no jobs instead.  To say nothing of when G.W. Bush stole the Florida and Ohio elections.  Twice!

     Well. I am here to tell you that what they are saying about the Syrian elections is just so much bull dookie.  And how do I know?  I was there.  In Syria.  They weren't.  Eye-witness accounts always trump outsourced fabrications.  Hopefully.

     And so in the name of setting the record straight, I've decided to type up all of my various 50 pages of notes that I took over there in order to show you, step by step, minute by minute, what actually happened over in Syria -- to me personally.

    This eye-witness account is going to be a long read -- but an accurate one.  Some good stuff happened.  And some bad stuff.  And some fun stuff too (fun stuff in a war zone?  Huh?)  But I dare you to read it.  And if you do, I'm sure you will find that it will be just like you came along to Syria with me.

     Here is the link:  http://jpstillwater.blogspot.com/2014/06/normal-0-false-false-false-en-us-x-none.html

PS:  How much do you know about America's new "Army of One"?  It's just not your father's Army any more.  Or even your son's (or your daughter's).  The new U.S. Army appears to have gone totally mercenary -- and its new source of recruits goes way far beyond just hiring some Blackwater guys sporting AK-47s or a Bangladeshi kitchen crew.  http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/06/the-bankrupt-war-on-syria/

     Under America's new rules of war, recruiters don't have offices on Main Street USA any more.  Instead they have offices in poverty-stricken countries like Chechnya, Afghanistan, Somalia and South Sudan -- any godforsaken hell-hole where there is over 50% employment.  "Wanna interesting job with good pay," American recruiters whisper into future soldiers' ears.  But the good pay these recruiters are offering is this:  When these new soldiers come home in a box, their families might possibly be given burial expenses.

     And, trust me, these new recruits are a whole different breed from your traditional G.I. Joe.  They are angry.  They are far from home.  They have had a grueling hand-to-mouth childhood.  Many of them are wingnut religious fanatics who think that the Bible and the Koran are all about slaughter and vengeance, not compassion and justice.  And they truly do not care who they kill. 

     And did I already mention that these new recruits work for cheap?  No need for pensions plans or VA hospitals or none of that other slacker stuff for them.  These guys are the ultimate outsourcing/cheap labor Republican wet dream. 

    Too bad that the neo-Nazi blood-thirsty recruits that Wall Street and War Street have hired in Ukraine are refusing to work as cheaply as the ones that they send to Syria.

     However, thanks to this new recruiting policy, no one back home in America whines and bellyaches any more because their sons and daughters have been killed while defending America's military-industrial complex's oil either.  This is a win-win situation for American war mongers.  The Bush dynasty and Mr. Cheney must be ecstatic right now.  But Eisenhower must be rolling over in his grave.

     In addition, these new fanatical terrorist jihadi wingnut recruits are actually really really good at doing what they have come to love best:  Killing and looting.  They just took over Mosul and Tikrit in Iraq, no small feat.  And they have been driving Syria bananas over the last three years, like so many psychotic bedbugs.  Forget the Marines!  These new recruits are always Semper Fi -- to whoever pays them peanuts to behead civilians and rape women.  And Americans like you and me are paying billions to keep these wannabe butchers in the field.

     Welcome to the new "Army of One".

PPS:  Perhaps I may be wrong about all those crazy-eyed jihadis and wingnut foreign fighters earning almost nothing in their American paychecks.  I just read an article about how ISIS (the main jihadi gang of thugs operating in Syria) has pretty much sacked a lot of Syria's wealth.

     Basically ISIS has just swooped in and looted Syria like so many pirates -- and now, with American and Saudi help, it is also looting Iraq too.  Let me make one thing clear:  These barbarians do not want to start an Islamic civil society in the Middle East.  They just want to plunder.  "Argh."

     According to Alakbar English, "ISIS currently controls many [oil] fields and is battling for control for more fields still.  According to al-Nusra sources, one oil well south of Raqqa brings in up to $1.3 million per day, while other fields in and around Raqqa like Zamla, al-Tabaqa, and Kuniko bring in $500,000 per day, in addition to unknown revenues from the Jazal and Shaer oil fields, and al-Jafra (oil and gas).

     "ISIS also profits from thousands of kidnappings and ransoms involving locals and foreigners, including journalists, as well as robbery and looting, including of archaeological sites and factories.  For example, ISIS seized control of large factories in Aleppo, including the government-owned railway and cables factory, a batteries factory, and a tractor factory.  In some cases, ISIS dismantled and sold their equipment and machinery.  Al-Nusra sources put the resulting revenues at $1 million per month.

     "In addition, ISIS has taken control of grains and cotton production in the eastern regions.  For instance, al-Nusra accuses Amer al-Rafdan, one of the most prominent figures in ISIS, of stealing $5 million worth of cotton in Deir al-Zour alone.  Meanwhile, al-Nusra sources say that ISIS has earned more than $25 million from al-Alia grain silos in Al-Hasakah.

     "The conflict in Syria has also allowed ISIS to put its hands on a large arsenal of weaponry, consisting of both weapons seized in combat and weapons purchased directly from arms dealers, who are always willing to sell weapons to just about everyone."  http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/20133

     This is just plain scary.  This is just like when the barbarians sacked and burned ancient Rome.  And now the same Middle Eastern jihadi wingnuts who tried to sack and burn Syria have gone on to sack and burn Mosul and Tikrit too (not to mention Benghazi et al.)  And Baghdad is next.  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/10/iraq-sunni-insurgents-islamic-militants-seize-control-mosul 

     And one election observer I met in Damascus also brought up another good point.  "Something about this advance does not add up.  How could 1,500 fighters hold a town or a province?  How come American satellites did not see this coming?  Major advances like that are not easily done."  Not unless America and Saudi Arabia are offering up the technology and footing the bill.  Duh. 

     Wall Street and War Street should be ashamed for supporting these kinds of hoodlums.  And what if they come over here to sack and burn us next?  "Sorry, I plan to be out of town that weekend," just isn't gonna wash.  But, oops, too late now.  The FBI has already claimed that Saudi and Chechen barbarians have already been active in Boston and New York. 

      These pirating wingnuts in ISIS are psychotic.  The American military-industrial complex may think that their pirate crews in the Middle East are controllable -- but, guys, this is not Halloween.  You are playing with fire.

I'm currently trying to raise airfare so I can go to the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1964 Mississippi summer civil rights project, being held in Jackson, MS.  Here is my Indigogo campaign to that effect:  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/i-m-going-to-jackson/x/3913956  "I'm going to Jackson..." 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Syria Unplugged: My excellent adventure as an observer of Syria's presidential elections

Note:  This article is long, but it gives you an idea of what it was like in Syria -- like you had been there yourself.

May 29:  Just got a call out of the blue from a journalist friend of mine.  "Want to go to Syria to be an election observer, leaving tomorrow?"  Heck yeah!

          I printed out my packing list, threw some stuff in a suitcase and then wiped out my savings account in order to buy a plane ticket to Beirut.

          But then I received an e-mail from our organizer for this trip.  "ISIS, a jihadist Al Qaeda affiliate that is funded and armed by American interests, has just announced its intention to disrupt the elections."  Oops.  But I don't dare tell my family that.  They would never let me go.  So I'm keeping that information to myself.

          What books to bring?  And how many?  I ran out of stuff to read when I went to Haiti in February and it was truly scary.  Four books should be enough.  My flights there will take a total of 23 hours.  I'm back on the road again!

          My granddaughter Mena was sick today so I took care of her while my son Joe was at work.  She helped me pack.

May 30:  Yay, I'm back in an airport, going somewhere.  Nothing like the prospect of going to a war zone in the Middle East to get me up and about.  I'm amazed at how my usual lethargy has just slipped away.

          Arrived at Gate 60 at SFO in plenty of time.  Had some sushi from the Berkeley Bowl to munch on while I wait.  And a good book to read.  Flight 1188 to Seattle next, and then from there to Frankfurt.  Who knows?  I might actually fall asleep on the plane.

May 31:  This day is lasting more than 24 hours due to all these time zones.  It's 3:00 am in Berkeley and 12 noon in Frankfurt.  I have no idea what time it is in Beirut -- and frankly at this point I don't really care.  Too tired to care. 

          I'm a rotten flyer -- but staying home is a far much worser option.  Just five more hours in the air and then all I will have to worry about will be some American-armed Al Qaeda guy trying to blow me up.  I can deal with that.

          On the flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, I watched "Monuments Men" and it was quite good.  However, I just couldn't get through either "August, Osage County" or "American Hustle".  I watched "Wolf of Wall Street" almost to the end, which was rather quite masochistic of me because it went on and on and on -- and we even arrived in Frankfurt before the end of it.

          What was Leonardo diCaprio thinking about starring in such a poorly-edited flick?

          Oh and I also couldn't make it through "Mandela" or "Blue Jasmine" either.  Blue Jasmine had great actors but a lousy script.  Mandela lived in a rather posh Jo-burg -- not the slum SoWeTo that I remembered from my Peace Corps days.

          Now we are flying over Turkey.  Almost there.  Actually got ten minutes worth of sleep -- so now I'm (almost) ready for anything.  Turkey, from the air, looks totally unpopulated.

          And then suddenly I was there, arguing with a taxi driver in Beirut.  "$150 to drive you to your hotel."  Which I knew was less than three miles away.

          "$10," I replied.  Arabs always love to barter.  But we settled on $15, plus he demanded a $5 tip.  So okay.  But the Asshara hotel was more than worth it -- an old pile of stone that looked like it had been left over from the Crusades.  But it turned out to be brand new -- and also at least a four-star hotel with all kinds of amenities and an outdoor palm court with fez-wearing waiters who occasionally moved through the greenery swinging burning incense.  And they had hookahs which they brought to our table if we so desired.

          And, yes, I have a roommate, a fellow journalist.  "I got 300 e-mails today," she told me.  I should be so lucky.  I usually get stuck with 600, most of them spam.

          People-watching at the hotel restaurant was also four-star.

          Except that, all of a sudden I have a very fragile stomach.  Probably from all that airline food.  Rats.  The menu looks great, all that Middle Eastern hummus and falafels and stuff.  "Got any chicken soup?" I asked instead.

          Everyone in Beirut looks very Lebanese.  Very Danny Thomas.  Or like Marlo.

June 1:  I actually slept for a while last night.  Got up, checked my e-mail, read some more of my book, went back to bed.  Then, suddenly, at 2:00 pm, we got the call.  "Get ready!  We are leaving for Syria!"  No.  Wait.  We can't leave yet.  I'm hungry!

          So I ran down to the restaurant and ordered some chicken soup to go but the fixer shouted "Yalla!  Yalla!" so I ran out to the street to get in the car.  But the waiter, bless his heart, ran after me with the soup.

          Six or eight black shiny vans and cars with black-tinted windows and diplomatic plates were all lined up outside the hotel.  Serious vehicles with serious drivers, apparently supplied by the Lebanese government itself.  Wow.

          All of the vehicles were full with various American and Canadian journalists and observers.  There were actually only about ten of us, but it between the fixers and drivers and drivers' assistants, it seemed like more.  But finally I found one with an empty seat and we were off -- through Beirut, which seems to consist of hundreds and hundreds of six-story apartment buildings.  A lot of them are new.  And almost no sign of the devastation caused by the 1982 attack on Lebanon by bellicose Israeli neo-con pirates looking for loot.

          I hate sitting in the back seat.

          Then we drove onto an inter-city freeway with all those familiar American green signs.  Reconstruction freeways.  First you tear cities down and get paid for doing it.  And then you reconstruct them -- and get paid for that too.  Sweet racket, that is.

          Beirut is basically built on mountainsides, running down into valleys, then running down toward the sea.  Then more mountainsides and more valleys as we drove east.  Even more apartment houses.  Then there was a semi-parkway and…  Sorry, gotta stop writing here.  Too many curves.  This is a really nice Toyota van.  Wouldn't want to throw up in the back seat.

          The driver keeps blowing his mega-horn.  20 or 30 times.  Then more mountains to drive through.  More apartment buildings.  And then even more!  The Israeli IGF was insane to attack this place.  It would be so easy to defend.  Where would they drive all their tanks?  Plus the tanks would have needed mega-horns too.  Beirut is huge.

          Imagine a city as large or larger than Los Angeles but built on mountains that make San Francisco's hills look like sand piles.  There must be 50 mountains right inside of Beirut.  Everyone here has a view.

          By now, all this horn-blowing is just getting annoying and weird.  We're on a one-lane road now.  No place for the traffic in front of us to go anyway, except over the edge. 

          We must have hurried up 3000 feet at least by now -- because at this point we are actually driving inside of a cloud.  Then we drove back downhill again and voila!  We were at the Syrian border.

          So this is the Road to Damascus.

          If I had to walk this road like Saul of Tarsus did, I'd probably be hearing voices too.

          Maybe ISIS won't get a chance to kill me.  Maybe I'll die in a traffic accident instead.  I will never ever again criticize my son Joe for driving too fast.  I promise.

          There certainly are a lot of guys around here at the border station.  Guys here dress like guys everywhere -- jeans and T-shirts.  Women mostly wear scarves and wait in the car.

          Then suddenly we were over the border and into Syria.  And a man who appeared to be a Syrian state representative took us into a reception hall and served us tea -- with all the bells and whistles that are so common in the Middle East, including rows of sofas lining the walls.  And a painting of Bashar Assad himself, president of Syria.  And it also had a bathroom.  And we all had a tea-server take turns taking photos of our group with our cameras, under the portrait of Assad.

          Then they put our group into Syrian black diplomatic town cars and whisked us off to Damascus.   Where we were welcomed at a grand hotel, the Dama Rose, with fresh-squeezed orange juice and -- I swear -- paparazzi!  Even a reporter from Press TV was there.

          Later we chatted with a local university professor.  He talked about American hypocrisy, how they are asking for democracy in Syria but not in Saudi Arabia and how Syria faces dirty enemies who attack hospitals, power supplies, water supplies and schools. 

          "Syrians are defending their homes, their history and their culture."  And the oil fields are exactly where the jihadis went first.  Arabia is trying to balkanize Syria, and the main target and plan is to stop life.  Jihadis have already shelled 300 schools.  And they use children who don't know any better to plant bombs."

June 2:  What's it like in a war zone?  Perfectly normal.  Except that you hear shell explosions going off every 20 minutes or so.  Life goes on.  Life continues.  People eat, laugh and chat.  And then another explosion happens.  That last one sounded really close.  But then there is hot water and electricity and room service and cake for dessert.  And you get distracted and forget -- until the next explosion.

          And then you cry.

          "The foreign fighters and Al Qaeda have shelled 300 to 400 schools here," someone else reaffirms.  "They target hospitals and water supplies and civilians.  They use little kids to place bombs.  They fight a dirty war."

          And America supports and pays for Al Qaeda.  "This dirty war is brought to you by…."  It is a commonly known fact here.

          "But why?"

          Why?  Because oil has been discovered in the Mediterranean waters off the coast of Syria -- and American, Saudi and Israeli neo-cons are now swarming around this place like vultures.  Or flies.  I'm ashamed to be an American, for what has been done and what is still is being done throughout the Middle East in the name of my country.

          But I won't be ashamed if I get injured in a bomb blast.  I will just be extremely pissed off -- to be hit by a bomb that has been paid for with my taxes.  Screw that.

          Got two hours of sleep last night.  Hope I don't have to do anything that involves brain cells today.

          Oops.  Too late.  Already this morning I've gotten into several conservations with other observers and journalists, over a delightful breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant, instead of just sneaking over to a corner table and reading my book.

          Then five of us Americans went off to street-hike about a mile to get sim cards so we could all call each other in Syria.  "We could text each other too," said someone.  Text?  Me?  In your dreams.

          The streets of this part of Damascus are like the streets of any other large European or American city.  Nice houses, sidewalks, cars, billboards advertizing clothes and TVs.  Safe.  Syria is really a quite modern country, the cradle of civilization in fact.  Americans may think of Syria as consisting of mostly camels and tents.  So very not true.

          And we walked past the Saudi embassy on the way to a MTN store -- and it was all covered with Assad posters.  How ironic is that!  I wanted to take a photo of it but apparently taking photos of embassies is verboten  ( I should know that by now, having gotten arrested by U.S. rent-a-cops for taking a photo of the American consulate in Shenyang, China, a few years ago).  Rats.  I will try to sneak back.

          "The embassy is closed anyway," I was told.

          And now I'm sitting in the MTN store, having taken a number and waiting my turn and trying to pretend I'm awake.  Then we street-hiked back to the hotel.  Hard to get lost around here, there are so many interesting boutiques and churches and mosques and Victorian architecture to use as photographic bread crumbs.  Or you could just ask anyone, "Where is the Dama Rose Hotel?"

          Then just when I'd gotten all settled down in my posh hotel room with my book, the phone rang.  "You gotta get to the lobby right away.  We're leaving to interview the Syrian election commission in five minutes!"

          Then we got hustled off to a caravan of black town cars and motorcycle cops blocking traffic as we went.  I never felt so important in my life.

          At a government ministry office, we met with the election commission.  It was all very impressive.  Lots of couches.  But no tea this time.

          "You will observe the presidential election, where three candidates are running for president, and you will have absolute freedom -- and also you can choose where you want to go.  We know about all the propaganda being waged against Syria and that there are many attempts to derail the elections.  But we need you to show the truth of these elections.

          "We are running these elections under the 2012 constitution, which calls for more than one candidate, transparency and freedom of voters to choose who they want." 

          So a commission was appointed, and it cannot be fired for the next four years.  They are independent -- and here they were, sitting in the room with us, telling us how they plan to run these elections.

          "We try to be as transparent as possible and not allow anyone to break any rules."

          "All three candidates are allowed to have their own scrutineers.  There are also procedures in place for complaints.  Complaints at the local level are referred to a higher regional commission."

          Ah.  Here comes the tea after all.

          "Regarding voting at outside embassies, there was an overwhelming turnout by Syrians abroad."

          Crap.  This isn't tea.  It's coffee.  Now I'll be awake all night.  Again.

          "We have created a committee through external affairs and we have been kept informed by it.  Syrian citizens in Lebanon have proven to the world their nationalistic feelings.  That voters outside of Syria went to such measures to vote show their determination.  Over 95% registered to vote.  Their results will be combined with votes of citizens inside the country.  Their votes will all count equally and will be tabulated together."

          Syria is a sovereign country and does not allow interference from foreign countries.  However, Syria has invited observers and news media to come and observe.

          "You can't ask for more openness."

          And what are the nuts and bolts of this election?  "Safety and precinct size are two important factors.  Syria is considered to be only one precinct -- so any Syrian can vote anywhere that they want.  There are 9601 polling stations.  11,762 polling boxes.  7:00 am to 7:00 pm are the voting hours.  But hours can be extended up to five hours if necessary.  There will be independent judiciary oversight.  One box for each 1000 voters."

          Too bad America didn't have an independent judiciary back in 2000!

          "How can we find out what the opposition candidates' positions and platforms are?" asked one observer.   All candidates had access to the media.

          "Will we have access to voters? To ask what is important to them?"  Apparently yes.

          "The security situation is a problem," said one commissioner, "but in urban situations, they have accommodated the war into their lives.  Ten minutes after a bomb drops, they go back to their lives."  Sort of like London during the Blitzkrieg.

          "Voters will need personal IDs to prove their age.  There will be voter lists.  Because of the crisis, the government has issued ID cards.  ASAP, within hours, new ones can be issued if disrupted by the war."

          Another of our group talked about election-rigging in America.  "There is ballot box stuffing and dead people voting.  What are the Syrian protections?"

          "There will be no proxy voting here -- and we will use invisible ink that cannot be erased.  We will count the number of ballots against the list of people voting.  If over 2% deviation, then ballots will be randomly deleted.

          "People who vote more than once are penalized.  And dead people in Syria don't vote."  We all laughed at this joke. 

          "Approximately 180,000 felons who can't vote.  There are 15,845,657 qualified voters -- counting inside Syria and outside."  There are approximately 24 million people in Syria. So about seven to ten million would be children.  Internally displaced citizens are still allowed to vote -- which is why Syria is being considered as one large precinct.

          I shoulda brought my knitting.  I can tell that this meeting is going to be long.  But interesting.  But I was wrong.  The meeting suddenly ended.

          "1500 factories have been broken down into pieces and transferred to Turkey from Aleppo alone," someone said to me as we went off to another meeting.  And me with no knitting in sight.  Damn.  But now we are going somewhere else.  Where?  I have no idea.  All I know is that the new building has an elevator and I won't have to climb stairs.

          Here's some other stuff that I learned informally from our group.  "They didn't have enough ballots in Lebanon, there were so many voters in Beirut -- ex-pats who wanted to vote."  Good to know.

          Then we settled back into another set of couches.  Someone is talking about "The criminal American policy toward the Syrian people."  OMG.  It's the Speaker of the Syrian Parliament himself!

          "We have put a proposal to the international association of parliaments about a possible peace program.  But there is a dog-eat-dog policy that Americans pursue where the strong eat the weak.

          "Syria is the last non-sectarian country in the Middle East and America is trying to destroy it.  Christian Syrians live side by side with Muslims and refuse to leave their homeland.

          "Our government and people were able to survive the onslaught because Syria supports basic needs.  Education and medicine are free.  Fuel is tax-supported.  Bread costs ten cents a loaf.  Syria is self-sufficient for food production and has enough wheat reserves to last two years.  The Syrians respect their government because it has made provisions for their survival.  Outsiders rely on lies and false media reporting."

          After 9-11, decisions were made by the UN not to aid and abet terrorists.  But Britain, France and America under the new UN resolutions should have been tried in international court -- but they haven't been.    "Why would Syrians destroy the infrastructures that they themselves built? 

          "You will see with your own eyes tomorrow how many will line up to vote.  Voters closed the streets in Beirut.  Other foreign countries closed Syrian embassies to prevent ex-pats from voting.  Assad is popular because he stood up to foreign decrees -- but the people will decide."

          Then someone brought us coffee and mango juice.  Breakfast was seven hours ago.  Wish they had included some pita bread or something too.  Cookies perhaps?

          "Some parliamentarians have been killed by the foreign fighters.  Others have been kidnapped or had their homes blown up.  Our parliament was first formed in 1919.  In 1945, the French fired on the parliament building."

          The weapons that are killing civilians come from neighboring states, France, Britain and America.  "I'm a lawyer and as such I deal with realities.  Syria requested a UN team to check on the saran gas.  France and Britain objected.  But the UN committee came and then was withdrawn.  But when they came back, the investigation fell apart.

          "The Syrian army is victorious on a daily basis.  So why would we use chemical weapons -- which are desperate measures usually employed by the losing side.  But outside forces are still looking for reasons to interfere in our affairs.  We however are open for any discussion.  Anyone who is sincere about wanting peace talks?  I am willing to talk to anyone who is in a position to make a difference."

          "What are U.S. objectives and what are the next steps?" someone asked.

          "American strategies and actions are unchangeable -- but sometimes they are forced to delay them.  If the American people's interests were in their minds, they would make international terrorism eradication their first priority.  But America does not.

          "We respect the way of others and this is our way of life.  We do not support terrorism.  But America supports the cradle of terrorism -- Saudi Arabia.  America has become a hated people all over the world, and this does not benefit the American people.

          "You will find the truth on the streets of Syria.  The International Monetary Fund has impacted its programs all over the world but we ourselves rely heavily on our own self-production.  We still have five million tons of strategic reserves of wheat, only use three million tons per year and can produce 2.7 million tons of wheat even in this war.  3,380 barrels of oil per day, 12 billion per year, spent in the service of the Syrian people.  We are the fourth largest producer of olive oil.  We also produce citrus and phosphates.

          "The government has provided for the people and so the people are sticking with the government.  Don't pay attention to what the foreign press says.

          "Corruption is an international disease, found everywhere -- but when our nation was attacked, Syrians unified together.  And a new phase of cooperation of the people came about.  We've introduced new laws.  We have mistakes, but we try to improve.  And we are self-reliant.  But we also have friends.

          Perhaps that is a hint that Russia and Iran depend on the freedom of Syria to keep the balance of power.

          "Armed gangs stole our oil, pilfered our artifacts.  Aleppo's factories were dismantled and taken to Turkey.  The U.S. is arming Islamic jihadis.  It is a war by proxy.

          "We are also facing a huge propaganda machine with huge lies.  We have prisoners from 85 different nationalities here.  We watch for people handing out money."

          But then immediately after lunch I got the runs -- so I ran.  Made it back to my hotel room but just barely.  Who knows what I ate.  The food here is really good.  Too much coffee? 

          I seem to be okay now.

          Except for wandering around the lobby trying to beg cameramen to interview me for TV.  No dice.  It was like I had a contagious disease -- which I do.  The disease of being a woman and being old.

          How can guys catch the female disease?  They can't.  But in the Arab world, the status of men is so much higher than the status -- or at least the freedoms -- of women that men clearly do not want to take any chances of catching this disease!

          So.  Tomorrow is the big election day.  NPR asked why the rebels aren't being allowed to vote.  That's crazy!  You gotta be SYRIAN to vote!

June 3:  It's almost becoming obvious that I'm never going to sleep again.  But at least now my digestive tract is semi-under control.

          So.  Today is the big day.  The soldiers in the lobby now have their flak jackets on, and stray cameramen are checking their equipment -- but compared to last night's crowded activity in the lobby, this place is almost deserted.  It's 6:15 am.

          And, more important, the restaurant is still closed.  One would think that, with the polls opening all across Syria at 7 am, they would be serving breakfast earlier on this special day.

          But the lobby right now is still pretty much occupied with men.  It's like I'm a racial minority or something.  That's okay.  I've got a book to read.

          I wonder why CNN isn't covering this election?  Where else would they be if not in the lobby of the Dama Rose.  But, hey, I've got my book.

9 am:  The whole hotel is positively throbbing with activity now as reporters and observers get ready to go off to the polling places.

          "20 people were killed by an ISIS bomb in Aleppo yesterday," someone said, ticking off the price of this brutal war on his fingers one by one, "and of course the American-backed Al Qaeda has seized the oil fields.  And 62,000 Syrian Army soldiers have been killed.  And don't forget there is now 50% unemployment too."  I won't.  Sometimes I am really ashamed to be an American.

          Then I went looking for Syrian T-shirts in the hotel boutique.

          Outside our hotel, it was like one big block party.  We were next to a polling place.  Exciting times.  Show-off fighter jets fly overhead. 

          Then we hit the road to Sweida.  In another caravan of black town cars.  And just outside of Damascus, I started to see my first war damage -- whole square miles of apartment complexes destroyed.

          Not many cars on the road.  Our convoy speeds along.  The weather is cool.  "Do you think Sweida will have any UNESCO World Heritage sites we could see?"  Why not?  Sweida is parallel with the Sea of Galilee -- and everyone knows how old that site is.

          "Damascus is a UNESCO site itself," someone says.  "It's one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world."  And we get to tour Old Damascus on Thursday.

          Then, further south, everything started to look like Iraq -- that same kind of white-clay soil that almost looks like sand but when you add water becomes instant dirt.

          20 miles out of Sweida and it still doesn't look like a country at war.  Mostly it's just large open plains and an occasional hilltop.  And sheep.

          Oops, there's our first military pillbox, and a sign that read, "Sweida, the firm rock of the Syrian castle."  I read where Sweida refused to secede even though it was the scene of the original non-violent protest three years ago.  Or was that Daraa, also in southern Syria?

          "The election today is to express the freedom of the people of Sweida," said the governor of Sweida, welcoming us.  "You are free to visit our city and state -- to give the truth to your journalists."

          Outside, people are singing and clapping.  We are at the state capitol building.  And they just brought us sweet tea.

          "All the people in the world need peace," said an election observer from Bolivia.  And there was an election observer from Venezuela there too.  "The whole world's hearts and eyes are with the people of Syria."  Hugo Chavez came here once to help Sweida.  And apparently there is a large Syrian-South American population both here and in Latin America.  There was also an observer from Brazil.

          Sweida is not under attack by American-sponsored terrorists now, but it was.  And these South American countries have taken this opportunity to be in solidarity with Syria.  Guess that's because Latin Americans also knew the cruel boot of American repression.  How poetic is that!

          Then we went off to watch people vote.  It was a party.  My photographic money-shot for the day?  A photo of a little girl who came to the polls with her mom because it was that safe!

          Then we went off to more rooms with more couches.

          "50% of our national income came from oil -- that money is now going to terrorists," said a former ambassador to Turkey. 

     "This is the will of the Syrian people, to show that they are not a rogue state but a people in control of their own destiny."  Everyone in Syria is not opposed to freedom and democracy.  Then he cited some statistics.  "Over 600 hospitals and clinics and 300 schools have been blown up; 60 tons of explosives blew up a cancer hospital in Aleppo.  They attack things that disrupt the lives of Syrians.  Factories that manufacture medicines have been blown up.  This has nothing to do with democracy."  It is sacking and looting and piracy as far as I can tell.

          One poll worker said that many of the voters were so passionate about supporting Syria that they voted using their own blood to mark the spot under their favorite candidate's photo.

          "These terrorists come here and they bomb our schools and hospitals, kill and rape our women and children and even eat our flesh," said one woman.  "It is like living in a Hollywood horror movie!"  And I have heard this story again and again.

          Syrians are civilized people, educated people -- and they are horrified at what is happening to their country.

          There are so many stories here.  And did I already mention that voters dip their finger or thumb into ink to show that they voted?  And I got to dip my pinkie finger into the ink too.  Solidarity! 

          And on to another polling center.  And more tea.  Oops.  No.  It's coffee.

          The noise level is stratospheric here!  People are so very anxious to show the American-backed terrorists that Syrians hate having these foreign fighters in their country, killing their children and stealing their oil.

          "Force will get you into power," said Abraham Lincoln, "but it will not keep you there."

          I'm sorry, but I am going to have to sit down.  Enough of standing up.  I'm almost worn out -- but not quite.

          Then we went to a mosque.  I am so at home in a mosque.  I should go to a mosque more often when I get home.

          Then we all toured more polling places and watched even more Syrians joyously vote.  Then we went off to eat.  A lot of food.  At a dinner hosted by an organization of Syrians who have family ties to Latin America.  I sat at a table with the Latin American observers and practiced my rusty Spanish.  Then we all drove back to Damascus -- to eat a lot more.

          At a banquet in Old Damascus, there was good news.  I got to sit at a whole table full of Syrian MPs.  But the bad news is that none of them spoke English.  I wanted so badly to ask, "How do you make the hard decisions to fight and stand up to these thieves and thugs and pirates who are stealing your country?  Even though they are financed with bottomless finances, weaponry and training by the U.S.?"

          Do you just lie down in the face of orchestrated chaos?  Even though 62,000 Syrian soldiers' lives have been lost and untold Syrian civilians have brutally been massacred?

          But then we communicated via the universal language -- food!  Plus they handed me a hookah of tobacco.  My daughter Ashley would have cracked up.

June 4:  It's my evil sister's birthday today.  And also a huge gathering of the clans here at the Dama Rose for a debriefing -- and speeches by MPs from North Korea, Iran, Uganda, Venezuela, Russia, Brazil, Tajikistan, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, etc.  "Syria, you have resisted injustice," said one of the American election observers.

          Over 50 election observers were here.  Plus another 60 or 80 reporters, camera operators and other observers who didn't have chairs at the long horseshoe table arrangement.

          "Syria is not alone!" someone said, just like Hemingway and the Abraham Lincoln brigade fighting against fascism and Franco might have said.  Only without the bandoleers and Ingrid Bergman.

          "This is about the oil and gas in this region, and also to reduce Syria to the level of the medieval societies in Saudi Arabia -- not a democratic and progressive Syria," someone else said.  Sure, he's right about the medieval society thing, but mostly it is about looting and piracy and bullying and greed.

          Then I took a much-needed "Tourista" break.  And then the press was asked to leave while we discussed what kinds of statements we observers were going to jointly and officially make.

          Wouldn't it be amazing if Assad himself showed up.

          One of the main speakers in this group is Iranian -- and tends to run on and on.  Once again, I wish I had brought my knitting.  But at least I am wearing my cool "Stillwater" band T-shirt.

          What am I doing here in Syria?  That's easy.  "Eat, love, pray".

          The whole population has taken part in this election.  American propaganda says that people are being forced to vote.  This lie should be contested.  People came out willingly and joyously.  And the opposing candidates were not just put there to camouflage this election.

          Then the Russian MP spoke.  "The election was held in a democratic manner.  This is important for the world to know."  And the world will know it because there are about 50 -- at least -- delegates here who will all speak out.

          "We are supporting the legitimate government of Syria," said another delegate.  I'm dying to know what the North Korean MP has to say.

          Uganda's MP:  'We reject state-sponsored terrorism and we also reject the strong western propaganda that this election is not legitimate.  But in Aleppo, where we went, the people were joyous -- not forced to vote."  There's that word joyous again -- often used because it is an accurate description.  "I also reject the notion that the other two candidates were not legitimate."  He's right.  I talked with people who were not going to vote for Assad.  "And this political process will continue."

          Sadly, however, some of these delegates talked too much -- and they stand between me and getting back to eating, loving and praying pretty soon.

          "NATO stated that it does not recognize this election in Syria," someone else said.  That is pure bull-dookie!  It was fair and square.  And they didn't even use Diebold.

          Someone once said that civilization is all a matter of a balance of power.  No man can be trusted to act in a civilized manner unless he or she is nudged in that direction -- and nudged a lot.  That sounds about right.

          Then I took a nice nap back in my room and then ran off to the Sheraton Hotel in a taxi with another American election observer to interview a Syrian-American woman about her views on the election.  She voted in the election yesterday.  In fact, she came all the way back to Syria to vote.

          "Why did you vote for Assad?"

          "We need Dr. Bashar at this time of chaos and war -- but even more important, I came back to vote because Syria is our mother.  We are ready to sacrifice our lives for her.  We used to live in peace and harmony and we want to prove that we are one nation.

          "We Syrians want to live in a democracy.  How can foreign terrorists be better?  They took one man's heart and ate it.  This is democracy?  No, it is not."

          "What about the Syrians in America who demand the overthrow of Assad?" we asked.

          "They are not true Syrians.  Why is America doing this?  Of course it is the oil -- but they also want to diminish Syria.  Syria is strong.  They don't like that."

          Then another Syrian woman told us, "I live in America but if I am not loyal to my motherland, how can I be loyal to any other land?  I cast my vote as a Syrian citizen.  But why vote -- if we already know what the results will be?  Because we want the whole world to see that we support Assad.  John Kerry said that the election was a farce.  We want the world to see that we back Assad.

          "I am a Syrian-American.  I am here because I wanted to participate in the election.  It is my right to vote.  And to show everyone that we do love President Bashar, even we Syrians who come from America.  What we read in American media is not how Syrians here think.  And we could not prove that Syrian-Americans also support Assad because we were not allowed to vote in the Syrian embassies in America or Canada.  They were closed -- so I had to come here.

          "I wanted to be part of this historic moment.  This will prove to the whole world that we choose the president we want."

          These women spoke perfect English and they were more than willing to give us an earful in a language I could understand.

          "Will the election help or hurt the war?"

          "I hope that all the other countries that came against Syria will truly understand and stop this war.  Not a day in my life did I think that Assad was a monster.  I brought my children back to here to learn the language.  I love both countries.  It hurts me that America and Syria would not get along.  Kerry says that this election is a farce?  People in America need to see, to come here and see that people are happy.

          "And we all felt right away that Assad was protecting us from the onslaught.  We felt sure that he was in charge."

          And then they announced the election results on TV right there in the Sheraton and we could hear the whole city outside, going wild!

          Then some idiot shot off a massive rifle in celebration right next to me when we got back to the Dama Rose.  Idiot.

          "Syria has set a bad example," said the other American observer I was with, once the noise level went down low enough so that we could hear ourselves think again.  "It has no foreign debt.  It doesn't let any foreign companies own more than 49% of local industries.  It keeps its national resources here and doesn't make Syrian markets overly available to be flooded with foreign goods.  They do not give Syria away.  So other countries might want to follow Syria's example -- and for this reason, Syria needs to be made an example of."

          And now America is giving big wads of money to the same type of people who killed our ambassador at Benghazi.  Hell, these are the same type of people that Americans created in Afghanistan to fight the Russians.  And the same type that Bush allowed to blow up the World Trade Center too.  That's so screwed.

          "John Negroponte was famous for developing the technique of having snipers firing at both protestors and police in demonstrations," the observer continued.  "And he did that here in Syria too.  And in Ukraine.  But his tricks didn't fall on fertile ground here in Syria and Syrians rejected Islamic militarism.  Syria has a long history of being a secular nation."

          Then there's the Saudi agenda.  Wheels within wheels.  "The Saudis want to overthrow Assad because he is buddies with Iran.  So the Saudis are trying to weaken allies of Iran.  Syria is the only Arab nation that still supports Palestine.  Oh-oh.  That means that those old Israeli neo-con pirates are secretly behind this plot too.  Of course they are.

          Then I went back to my room and stared at the ceiling and read my book and tossed and turned and cursed the darkness until 5 am.  Another night with only two hours of sleep.  Why me!  Crap on a cracker.

June 5:  I talked with that American observer from the Sheraton adventure again and he had put all the statistics together of who voted for whom -- and what was left.  Only about a million were left in terrorist territory.  That's big.

          And the terrorists, inquisitionists and pirates in Homs had dug through saints' graves and broken up their bones.  And they blew up a church, only to find another church underneath that was built in 59 AD, one of the oldest churches in the World.  And they tried to blow that one up too! 

          25,000 dead in the countryside around Damascus.  That's more than who have died at Homs.  And someone talked about a military hospital here where things are really bad and volunteers have to come in and help feed the wounded troops because the government is so strapped by the war. 

          I could compare this with the VA hospital scandal in America -- except the Syrian government isn't trying to rob its own veterans like Wall Street and War Street do.

          Breakfast sounds good. 

          "There's a chance that we could go see the military prisoners too," someone said.  Chechen fighters.  That would be interesting.

          Then I got an interview with Mother Agnes-Mariam.  I was just waiting in front of the elevator when the doors opened and there she was!  "It would be impossible to coerce that many Syrians out of fear," she said.  "People actually went out from rebel territory to vote.  Even the rebels voted."  What a pleasure to see her again.

          I asked her if I could travel to Homs with her today, to see her convent, but she said, "Sadly, no.  I have a very small car."

          "Perhaps next year then."

          So now I'm going on a tour of Old Damascus instead.  If we can ever get out of the door.  Trying to get eight people together in the lobby at the same time is proving almost impossible.  I am about to tear out my hair!  Good thing that these people aren't in charge of running the election.  We are almost like a clown-car full of CIA agents at this point.  Not that we are CIA.  I'm just saying.

          I just got some reporters from the India Times an interview with Mother Agnes-Mariam.  They owe me bigtime!

          And still we are waiting for our Old Damascus tour to get it together.  And waiting.  Good grief.  Now some of them are ordering another coffee.  It's 11:30 am.  I've been at this since 8:00 am.  All I want to do is to buy some freaking T-shirts.  And a soccer jersey.  Yikes.

          "Jane!  Jane!  Come on!  We're leaving!"  Yeah right.

          Then we finally got to the souk -- via a monument to Saladin wherein one Syrian said to me, "Assad is our new Saladin".  Er, well, maybe.   My knees hurt.  I bought a lovely pink dress for my granddaughter Mena.  2000 lira.  About $15.  Hope it's not too small.

          Then on to the ice cream store, the famous one.  With chopped pistachio nuts on top.  Yummers.  No sign of soccer jerseys.  Or T-shirts either.  Rats.

          With only two hours of sleep last night, I am exhausted.  My knees hurt.  Did I already say that?  And my broken arm hurts too.

          Then we went off to one of the most historic old mosques in the world.  Beautiful.  But then we had to listen to our guide drone on and on about it -- but only after he had dragged our group off to his friend's shop and made us sit around until some of us bought stuff.  Finally I had to walk all the way back to the Dama Rose by myself because listening to him was making me feel sick.  And then he had the nerve to charge me $40 for the tour after saying that it would only be $15.  I only gave him $20.

          Then I went off to one last press conference, for us to make statements about what we had seen, heard and done.  I had a very good statement prepared, I hope.  But how can you go wrong by quoting Mother Agnes-Mariam!

          Dinner was next -- a raucous roundtable and political smorgasbord of conflicting and connecting ideas with everyone in our delegation talking at once.  Then I actually got four whole hours of sleep!  That's twice as much as two hours sleep.

June 6:  Time to leave Syria.  I'm practically crying.  I've loved Damascus.  I have a T-shirt with a Syrian flag.

          So we all popped into our black town cars with the tinted glass and went back to Lebanon as if Syria had never existed (except in our hearts).  I know that my experience in Damascus wasn't the same as that of those poor Syrians in Homs who were tortured and beheaded by ISIS and I truly feel their pain, but I am still terribly grateful for the wonderful experience I have had here.

          Dinner in the garden of the Assaha Hotel in Beirut again.  Aah.  Life is good.  I'm just soaking it all in, hoping to remember all this when I get back to my boring old life in Berkeley.

          Having dinner every night (and breakfast and lunch too) in the company of a revolving crew of alternative-media journalists who are all experts on the Middle East each in his or her own way, made me feel like Dorothy Parker sitting around the roundtable at the Algonquin Hotel -- or maybe even King Arthur and his roundtable knights.

          On this last day that we are all together, however, things started falling apart.  Why?  Stress of being in a war zone or lack of sleep or too much sudden input that none of us could easily digest.  In any case, some of us started complaining about others of us.  "He said, she said" sort of thing -- and then suddenly we weren't a group any more.  The Syrian ties that had bound us together were suddenly broken.

          This made me sad.

          "and how can I go back home and tell the truth about all this," I suddenly wailed.  "The truth is just too damn big -- but it is neither big enough nor strong enough to counter the wall of lies we will meet when we get home; lies that make these Taliban butchers into folk heroes and lies that make Assad and his defending army into bad guys."

          "Assad isn't losing the actual war," one journalist replied.  "But he is losing the war of propaganda."  What could I do but laugh.  "He needs a new PR guy."  Badly.  He really did.  Assad's idea of PR was to cover the capital with hundreds of 50-foot posters of himself.  He doesn't need to do that.

          Those photos make him look like Barbie's boyfriend Ken -- an airhead.  And Assad really is not.  He's a strategist.  He's a chess player.  He's brilliant.  He doesn't need to hang his photo in every hallway and elevator.  His leadership speaks for itself.

          The guy has fought off Taliban and cannibals and Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia and even the U.S military-industrial complex for the last three years.  It's like David and Goliath.  He is that good.  "Ditch all those photos, Assad.  You are better than that."  I'll be his PR assistant.  He should hire me.

          And what about all those smiling crowds at the polling centers?  Were they staged just for us?  Who knows.  I tend to think not.

          "But 7000 women were raped by Assad's troops," the Western press screamed.  Yeah, but didn't the CIA spread that same exact rumor about the Cubans in Angola years ago?  Couldn't the CIA at least have written some new material for their jokes?  And the Western media also lied about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.  And the Gulf of Tonkin incident too.

          I would tend to believe Assad before I'd believe the mainstream media in America.  Does anybody but me find that sad.

          "I wish that Assad would have come to the Dama Rose and met with us," I complained.

          "But, Jane, he couldn't."  Why not?  "One word explains that -- drones."  Assassinate Assad and the oil goes to Exxon?  "Right."

June 7:  Time to fly back to California.  A 24-hour flight.  Time to say goodbye to the Algonquin. 

          One journalist slept on my hotel room floor because he couldn't afford a room of his own.  What if journalists were only paid on the scale of how much they told the truth?  That freaking commentator on CBS News who lied through her teeth would be sleeping in the gutter and I would have a suite at the Ritz.

          "We need to go talk to the leader of Hezbollah tonight," someone said last night after dinner.

          "I can't because if I do, I'll surely be put on some terrorist no-fly list or something."  That sucks eggs.  Journalists shouldn't be all the time worried about getting censored.  We need to go where the news is -- not to be handcuffed and censored.

          But anyway, I was too tired by then and so played the little-old-lady card.  Again.

          But I did need to get my money changed back into dollars.  "Come with me, I know a currency exchange we could go to," said one of our group.  So we street-hiked for about a mile through the older Arab section of Beirut.

          "Stop!  Wait!" I cried suddenly.  "That guy is selling soccer jerseys!"  But no.  We were on a mission.

          "This part of town is the slums," said my friend.  No it isn't.  I've been to Haiti and SoWeTo.  This place is definitely not a slum.  And I've seen more homeless beggars in Berkeley than I've seen here.

          So I made my plane to Heathrow and wandered around there for three hours looking for ice cream.  No luck.  Sixteen more hours of flight time to go.

          Good grief!  They have maple-walnut ice cream at the Montreal airport.  Ashley, eat your heart out.  Only six hours and 17 minutes of flight time left to go.  Plus another hour or two dealing with customs and/or the BART train.  But I'm still okay -- if you don't count the pain in my knees and arm.

          Plus I've seen four movies so far.

6:30 pm, PST:  There are two and a half hours left to go on this flight and I don't see how I am possibly going to make it.  My feet are cold, I'm hungry and there are no more movies left to watch.  This is so hard!  But at least I'm not being tortured by jihadis.

11:00 pm:  Dozed off on the BART train three times, all crumpled in a corner and surrounded by luggage just like any other homeless bag lady living rough on public transit.   You see more homeless people in Berkeley than I did in Damascus.

          And then suddenly there came my daughter Ashley, walking toward me outside of the Ashby station like some angel of mercy.  "Welcome home, Mom!"  And then she carried my bags.

June 8:  It's amazing what just six hours of sleep will do.