Edress Othman, M.D.: A Syrian city cries out for help

Afrin, Syria, in 2009.

Afrin, Syria, in 2009.

This was sent to us by Edress Othman, M.D., an oncologist with Southcoast Health System, a native of Afrin and an ethnic Kurd.

Over the past six years, the Syrian Civil War has created a vast humanitarian crisis, with more than half a million people killed, almost half of the nation’s population displaced, and many cities destroyed.

The area in and around Afrin, a predominantly Kurdish enclave in northwest Syria, was one of the very few areas that had survived the war intact. The region, about the size of Rhode Island, became a safe zone and welcomed thousands of Syrians fleeing the destruction elsewhere.  In 2012, a democratic system based on respect for the environment and gender equality under local administration was created for the area’s burgeoning populations.  Since that time one man and one woman were selected by the people to lead every post in the government equally.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) protected Afrin from ISIS, Jihadi groups and Bashar Assad’s regime. The SDF is the same group that defeated ISIS with the assistance from the United States and coalition forces in northeast Syria.  Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, commander of the anti-ISIS coalition, recently praised them as heroes, saying,  "I would say that the people who fought to take Raqqa back from ISIS are heroes, no matter what nationality they were, no matter what their beliefs were.”

Since Jan. 20, 2018, however, this peaceful enclave has come under attack.  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began an aerial assault on the civilians of Afrin, forcing residents into their basements and caves. Since then Turkey has destroyed humanitarian aid stations and infrastructure, including medical facilities and water-treatment centers.  Cultural sites that define the Kurdish people have also been targeted. Many villages have been destroyed, forcing an estimated 70,000 people from the region into the city of Afrin, where they now desperately wait for international aid, food and clean water.  On Feb. 16, doctors in Afrin reported to their colleagues in other countries that they have begun treating villagers for injuries that they believe are consistent with chemical warfare.

Why is Afrin under assault?  It is the belief of the residents living there that the attacks are a direct result of the U.S. declaration of its intention to stay in Syria and support of SDF.  Turkey considers the Kurdish elements within SDF as terrorists despite the fact that they have been combating ISIS and have never targeted Turkey.

The United States has not yet stepped forward to defend the Kurdish people of Afrin.  While America provides weapons and equipment to the SDF east of the Euphrates, it has repeated that it understands “Turkey’s legitimate security concerns”. On Feb. 16, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States recognizes Turkey's legitimate right to secure its borders.

But meanwhile, Turkey’s President Erdogan continues his ethnic-cleansing campaign, publicly promising to kill “every atheist Kurd in Afrin”, thus putting  the lives of  Christians and Yezidis at stake.  With surrounding towns now in rubble, Afrin’s population has increased dramatically as humble farmers have fled into a densely populated area, making them easy targets for aerial attacks.  Since the bombing began, more than 200 civilians have been killed (that includes 32 children and 26 women) and hundreds have been injured. And more than a million people remain in the besieged city of Afrin.




Father of daughter murdered by ISIS sues Google, Facebook, Twitter for enabling terrorists

Reynoldo Gonzalez, whose daughter Nohemi was among the 130 people murdered by Islamist terrorists in Paris last November, is suing GoogleFacebook and Twitter, saying that the companies gave "material support" to extremists in violation of the law.

Mr. Gonzalez filed the suit on June 14 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. The suit asserts that the companies "knowingly permitted" the Islamic State to recruit members, raise money and spread "extremist propaganda" via their services.

For more information, hit this link.

Don Pesci: Yes, mass-murderer acted on Islamist principles


Regarding the murder of 49 people and the death of the Islamist murderer, Omar Mateen, and the wounding of more than 50 others in the Orlando gay club:

Dots were quickly connected.  On June 8, Channel 3 in Las Vegas reported:

“A pro-Isis group has released a hit list with the names of more than 8,000 people mostly Americans.

“More than 600-people live in Florida, and one security expert believes that many of those targeted live in Palm Beach County and on the Treasure Coast.

“The ‘United Cyber Caliphate’ that hacked U.S. Central Command, 54,000 Twitter accounts and threatened President Barack Obama is the same pro-Isis group that's reportedly created a ‘kill list’ with the names, addresses and emails of thousands of civilian Americans.

“Reports of the list came to light online when Vocativ reported the list was shared via the encrypted app, Telegram, and called on supporters to kill.

“Former FBI agent-turned lawyer Stuart Kaplan says the threat is especially alarming, because the people on this list are civilians who don't have the security necessary to protect themselves.

"’It's going to create some hysteria,’ " he said.’’

But there was little hysteria in Hartford or Washington, D.C., or indeed within the legacy media, which generally has supported the gay community at home. Islamists have long viciously targeted homosexuals.

Murderous assaults against gays, Christians and Jews abroad do not inspire hysteria. Routine vicious assaults, both at home and abroad, trigger the usual emotional delays while facts are sifted. Is there a connection between the reality-denying Islam of President Obama – peaceful, joyously accommodating to Christians, Jews and gays – and the vicious assaults on all three groups in areas of the world where Islam is most faithfully practiced?

Who will dare say? Really, it’s anyone’s guess. By all means, let us gather together all the facts. Reports immediately following the slaughter of gays in Florida warned against drawing premature conclusions. People are hard at their posts even now, sifting facts – preparing their political briefs, deflecting responsibility from responsible parties to, say, the National Rifle Association.

In Connecticut, the usual pro-gay politicians released the usual media releases, and then returned to their comforting illusions. Hysteria has a way of quickly dissipating in the land of the free and the home of the brave: One day it’s this, another day that. Christian churches are burned, those considered kafir, infidels, by faithful Muslims are beheaded; Coptic Christians, a Christian remnant founded by the Apostle and Evangelist Mark, have nearly been exterminated in the Muslim world; Islam waves its bloody sword in the Middle East and northern Africa; Islamic warriors kill non-Muslims who refuse to bow to the sword, rape and enslave their women, abduct and re-program their young children. This is Islam, says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder and leader of ISIS.

Although al-Baghdadi is not a graduate of prominent Islamic seats of learning such as al-Azhar University in Cairo or the Islamic University of Medina, in Saudi Arabia , he is, according to Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an Islamic minister “more steeped in traditional Islamic education than either al-Qaida's past and current leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Aymen al-Zawahiri, both laymen, an engineer and doctor, respectively.”

This is not Islam, says Mr. Obama, a past guest lecturer at Harvard Law School, about which Bill Buckley, one of the fathers of the modern conservative movement, once said, “I’d rather be governed by the first 1,000 people chosen at random from the phone book than by the Harvard Law School faculty.” So, take your pick.

Omar Mateen, a radicalized American Muslim, left a 911 message praising al-Baghdadi on the day of the slaughter, a bloody theo-ideological fingerprint that only the willfully blind will ignore – or cleverly discount by turning the religious sacrificial lambs to other purposes. Obama, moments after the slaughter, said of Mr. Mateen, “This was a person filled with hatred.” Wrong: Mr. Mateen was filled with a holy purpose.

Hillary Clinton, the almost certain Democratic nominee for president, thought, post-slaughter, that this might be a propitious time to talk about gun control. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy has twice condemned Congress, silent on the matter of gun control. Previously, on the occasion of yet another mass-murder of civilians by two Islamic terrorists, Mr. Murphy offered tweeted condolences to terrorist victims in San Bernardino – but no prayers.

To those praying for the victims, Mr. Murphy showed the back of his hand: “Your ‘thoughts,” he tweeted, “should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing -- again.” All the pointless prayers and thoughts, Mr. Murphy wrote, were a mask for inaction, and “wholly insufficient.” Mr. Murphy announced that he was a veteran of Sandy Hook.


 “And what’s so offensive is in the wake of another mass shooting, we have a gigantic menu of policy options that are at our disposal to try to cut down on this carnage. And we’re not pursuing any of them. We’re just absolutely frozen. Listen, maybe I shouldn’t tweet in anger, but I’m angry that we’re not doing anything to try to stop this.”

And here we are yet again. Apart from passing federal laws that are, to use Mr. Murphy’s words, a mere emotional sop and “a mask for inaction,” what action should the United States take against ISIS that might “stop this?”

Presidential emoticons – the shooter was “filled with anger” – have never warded off attacks committed by terrorists faithful to the revelations of Mohammed, peace be upon him, a live and pertinent connection regularly discounted as irrelevant by Mr. Obama. The shooter, bending his knee to Minister al-Baghdadi and faithful to the Koran, was performing a religious duty. Almost all the sahabas, the companions of the prophet Mohammed, assign deadly punishments for sodomy. Some agree that homosexuals should be burned and stoned, other that they should be thrown from a height and then stoned; most agree their punishment should be death.

Mr. Mateen legally obtained his weapons because at one time he was a security agent. One can be almost certain that gun sales among gays in Orlando, and elsewhere in the nation, will spike after the most deadly terrorist  mass shooting yet in the United States. That is exactly what happened after the Cheshire and Sandy Hook killings in Connecticut.  In any case, no law promulgated by Mr. Murphy could deprive a faithful observer of the Koran and the Hadith on Sodomy of an overriding religious obligation.

How about this: Suppose we kill ISIS, utterly destroy its presence in northern Iraq and North Africa by any means necessary – and destroy it in such a way that ISIS itself will  know it has been destroyed, a more efficacious solution than gun control. Naturally, this cannot be done by sending drones to snuff out al-Baghdadi. It would require lots of American boots on the ground – and the vigorous support of Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Mr. Murphy and Dick Blumenthal, who tweeted moments after the attack on gays in the United States, “… my heart breaks for the families of loved ones lost or injured.”

Yes, ISIS has left broken hearts – real broken hearts – all over the world. Why should Orlando, Connecticut, or any other convenient target chosen by a militant, unmolested Islam escape the sword of that religion, which has nothing to fear but fear itself? Does Mr. Blumenthal seriously think that ISIS fears his broken heart?


Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn-based political writer.

Robert Whitcomb: How to Speed Up Infrastructure Repair

  An irritated citizenry has blocked a bid by the Pawtucket Red Sox, employing very few people and with a mostly seasonal business, to grab valuable public land and erect, with lots of public money, a stadium in downtown Providence, on Route 195- relocation land. The plan would have involved massive tax breaks for the rich PawSox folks that would have been offset by mostly poorer people’s taxes.

The public is belatedly becoming more skeptical about subsidizing individual businesses. (Now if only they were more skeptical about casinos’ “economic- development’’ claims. Look at the research.)

Perhaps Lifespan will sell its Victory Plating tract to the PawSox. And maybe a for-profit (Tenet?) or “nonprofit’’ (Partners?) hospital chain will buy Lifespan, which faces many challenges. Capitalism churns on!

In any event, the stadium experience is a reminder that we must improve our physical infrastructure, in downtown Providence and around America.

Improved infrastructure will be key to a very promising proposal by a team comprising Baltimore’s Wexford Science & Technology and Boston’s CV Properties LLC for a life-sciences park on some Route 195-relocation acres. This could mean a total of hundreds of well-paying, year-round jobs in Providence at many companies. Tax incentives for this idea have merit. (I’d also rather fill the land slated for a park in the 195 area with other job-and-tax-producing businesses, but that’s politically incorrect.)

The proximity of the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, the Brown School of Public Health, hospitals and a nursing school is a big lure. Also attractive is that Providence costs are lower than in such bio-tech centers as Boston-Cambridge and that the site is on the East Coast’s main street (Route 95, Amtrak and an easy-to-access airport).

Rhode Island’s decrepit bridges and roads are not a lure. Governor Raimondo’s proposal for tolls on trucks (which do 90 percent of the damage to our roads and bridges) to help pay for their repair, and in some cases replacement, should have been enacted last spring. It’s an emergency.

It takes far too long to fix infrastructure, be it transportation, electricity, water supply or other key things. The main impediment is red tape, of which the U.S. has more than other developed nations. That’s why their infrastructure is in much better shape than ours.

Common Good sent me a report detailing the vast cost of the delays in fixing our infrastructure and giving proposals on what to do. It has received bi-partisan applause. But will officials act?

The study focuses on federal regulation, but has much resonance for state policies, too. And, of course, many big projects, including the Route 195-relocation one, heavily involve state and federal laws and regulations.

Among the report’s suggestions:

* Solicit public comment on projects before (my emphasis) formal plans are announced as well as through the review process to cut down on the need to revise so much at the end, but keep windy public meetings to a minimum.

* Designate one (my emphasis) environmental official to determine the scope and adequacy of an environmental review in order to slice away at the extreme layering of the review process. Keep the reports at fewer than 300 pages. The review “should focus on material issues of impact and possible alternatives, not endless details.’’ Most importantly, “Net overall (my emphasis) impact should be the most important finding.’’

* Require all claims challenging a project to be brought within 90 days of issuing federal permits.

* Replace multiple permitting with a “one-stop shop.’’ We desperately need to consolidate the approval process.

Amidst the migrants flooding Europe will be a few ISIS types. That there are far too many migrants for border officials to do thorough background checks on is scary.

Fall’s earlier nightfalls remind us of speeding time. When you’re young, three decades seem close to infinity, now it seems yesterday and tomorrow. I grew up in a house built in 1930, but it seemed ancient. (My four siblings and I did a lot of damage!) Yet in 1960, when I was 13, the full onset of the Depression was only 30 years before. The telescoping of time.


Llewellyn King: A look ahead at my presidency

Some of you were expecting me to announce my candidacy for president of the United States along with those other two who got all the headlines. There have been a few problems. There are solutions, too. (How's that for a campaign zinger?)

There is the problem of my birth. I was, er, born in a foreign country with, er, un-American parents. I have to check with the Ted Cruz camp on that problem.

There is a money problem. At the moment, I have $138 in my current account. But that amount will swell when my Social Security check comes in next week.

In the long term, I have a crafty, two-pronged approach to raise the billion or so dollars I will need for my campaign. My wife will set up a foundation, called the Foreign Governments' Friends Committee, which will raise money like a Fourth of July flag.

Unlike one of my opponents, I will not beat about the bush on foreign campaign donations. I will take them all, see that they are properly laundered, and promise the donors all sorts of favorable treatment. I can renege later. Not a word, please.

Then there is crowd-sourcing. When my message gets out, I expect a Niagara Falls of money. I will be after the disaffected, unhappy people who hate all candidates. The nutters of the left and the nutters of the right have lots of dough.

Here is a peak at other aspects of my program:

Bring back manufacturing (back story, by lowering the minimum wage), so that our labor is cheap.

Get tough with Iran. Any Iranian waiter found passing himself off as an Italian at a New York restaurant will get summary deportation.

Give China an ultimatum: Double the value of your currency or millions of Americans will be forbidden to shop at Walmart.

In the Middle East, trust the dictators. We will support the most awful monsters in the time-honored way. If we could get Saddam Hussein out of the grave, I would go for it. Likewise Muammar al-Qaddafi. Call it the strongman policy: No messing about with uprisings.

I will be a tough guy supporting other tough guys. I will say to Vladimir Putin, when we are shirtless, “I don't give a hoot about Ukraine. Take it. But want you to invade China -- just a little way. And crush ISIS. You know, the way you did Czechoslovakia and Hungary in the glory days.

That should take care of the world.

At  home I will have the most flexible of policies, based on the latest polling. If you are in favor of abortion, tell Gallup and you will get them.

Want the Ten Commandments on the wall of the Capitol? No problem if you can produce a convincing poll, preferably written on stone tablets.

What is democracy but a craven pursuit of votes through polling? Go democratic all the way, I say.

Wait until you hear some of my appointments. How do you fancy Donald Trump for secretary of state? Here is someone who will appreciate my tough- guys-are-always-right policy.

Before I announce, I will perfect my Israel strategy. I am leaning toward giving honorary citizenship to Benjamin Netanyahu, so I can make him my national-security adviser. Why should Congress claim Bibi as their own? I will have goodies to offer him that will beat whatever John Boehner and Mitch McConnell can do. How about a hard pass to the White House and a regular chance to be on the Sunday talk shows, for starters?

Darrell Issa is my choice for ambassador to Libya, in recognition of his Benghazi studies.

Finally, my coup de grace: immigration. Simple, no one will want to live here when I am in the White House.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle,” on PBS. His e-mail is

Robert Whitcomb: Where we can win; childlessness; water wars

  The metastasizing Mideast chaos and violence have shown yet again the limitations of American power there. We’re backing and opposing groups in a fluctuating toxic religious, ethnic, tribal and national stew and frequently contradicting ourselves as we do.

Some neo-cons want us to go in with massive military intervention. We tried that. Now consider that the Sunni fanatics called ISIS use American weaponry captured from the Iraqi “army’’ to attack “Iraq’’ -- whatever that is -- an ally of longtime U.S. enemy Iran, which has joined in the melee against ISIS, even as Sunni Saudi Arabia fights its long-time foe and fellow dictatorship Shiite Iran in Yemen. And in Libya and Syria, the civil wars go on and on in permutations and combinations.

The U.S. must occasionally act quickly in the Mideast to rescue its compatriots and to protect the region’s only real democracy – Israel. But after all this time, we should know that the Mideast has so much confusion, fanaticism and corruption that a heavier U.S. role won’t make things better. The best we can do is to marginalize the region as much as possible, such as by reducing the importance of Mideast fossil fuel by turning more to renewable energy in America and Europe, while, yes, fracking for more gas and oil.

We must focus more on Europe, where a scary situation is much clearer. Our Mideast projects have dangerously diverted resources from countering the far greater threat to our interests posed by Vladimir Putin’s mobster Russian regime.

Now that it has seized Crimea from Ukraine and occupied a big slice of the eastern part of that large democracy, Putin’s fascist police state is firing off yet more threats to “protect’’ ethnic Russians in what he calls “The Russian World’’ (i.e., the old Soviet Empire) from bogus “persecution’’ by the majority population in the Baltic States and Poland -- NATO members and democracies. Latvia is coming under particularly hard Russian pressure now. Hitler used the same strategy against Czechoslovakia with the Sudeten Germans. It’s past time to re-energize NATO to thwart Russian aggressio


Regarding an April 4 New York Times story headlined “No Kids for Me, Thanks’’:

My mysterious father used to say ruefully that “your friends you can pick, your family you’re stuck with.’’ He had five children.

From observing my childless friends, I’d say that contrary to an old social cliché, they are generally happier than those who have children – so far. A simple reason: They have more money, time and freedom to do what they want.

Arthur Stone, a professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University who’s co-authored a study comparing childless adults’ happiness and those with kids told CNN: “They {parents} have higher highs. They have more joy in their lives, but also they have more stress and negative emotions as well.’’

CNN said he found “little difference" between “the life satisfaction of parents and people without kids, once other factors -- such as income, education, religion and health -- were factored out.’’ Yes, but how do you ‘’factor out’’ income? Paying for children causes a lot of anxiety.

People tend to be more self-absorbed these days, and so less enthusiastic about sacrificing so much for, say, children. But this presents a problem that some childless Baby Boomers are already experiencing: Who will take care of them when they get really old? If they think that younger friends will feel as compelled to squire them through old age as their children, they’re in Fantasyland.


The California dream of always-green lawns in McMansion developments in the desert is being revised as drought deepens. (Probably global warming.) The land of Silicon Valley, Cal Tech and Hollywood has more than enough intellectual firepower to address the conservation challenge. (“Dehydrated water – just add water’’?) However, don’t expect many new L.A. Basin golf courses. Californians will see more cactus and less lawn. Meanwhile, places with lots of fresh water -- e.g., New England and the Pacific Northwest – may now be in a better competitive position.

Regarding Golden State water-wars, see the movie “Chinatown’’.


Robert Whitcomb  ( oversees New England Diary. He's a partner at Cambridge Management Group (, a healthcare-sector consultancy, a  Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, a former finance editor of the International Herald Tribune, a former editorial-page editor and a vice president at The Providence Journal and a former editor at The Wall Street Journal. 


On NPR: ISIS.... and Google?

  This interview includes the idiotic assertion that the same sort of people who want to do a Silicon Valley startup are the same sort of people who want to join .

The people who want to join the latter include large numbers of psychopaths who look forward to killing, raping and destroying, using the excuse of 7th Century Arab tribal barbarism. The folks who have founded the likes of Google are creators.

Netanyahu's big win and fear of a West Bank ISIS

I suspect that a major reason for Benjamin Netanyahu's big win in the Israeli election was the well-founded fear of many Israelis that giving all or part of the West Bank to the Palestinians would open up Israel to  innumerable attacks across its borders from Islamic State killers. Given what has happened in much of the Mideast, it only stands to reason that the crowd would move into an Arab-run West Bank, too.

-- Robert Whitcomb

Col. Bacevich to speak on U.S. military actions abroad

  Prof. Andrew Bacevich, a distinguished military historian, political scientist and  retired Army colonel, will be speaking on American military interventions abroad at the meeting Thursday evening of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations.  With ISIS, Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, it will be an interesting evening. Professor Bacevich is a well known skeptic about the utility of American military actions in such places as the Mideast.

Linda Gasparello: ISIS's cultural devastation reaches new level


The ruins of Hatra


There is horror in the recent news that the Islamic State bulldozed the ruins of two of the greatest cities  and . And there is irony. These ancient cities, in what is now northern Iraq, were built by a ferocious people whose profession was war – people for whom the Hebrew prophets, including Isaiah, Nahum, Zechariah and Zephaniah, reserved some of their fiercest denunciations.

In the 9th Century B.C., Assurnasirpal II, a brutal militarist, erased entire nations as far as the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, stretching through what is now Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. But he restored the ancient city of Nimrud and established his capital there. His magnificent Northwest Palace, first excavated by the British explorer Austen Henry Layard in the 1840s, was probably completed between 865 and 869 B.C. Its dedication was celebrated with a banquet for 70,000 guests.

Sennacherib, who moved the capital to Nineveh in 704 B.C., was as bellicose as his forefathers. When the city of  rebelled against his despotic rule, Shennecherib destroyed it, saying, “ The city and its houses, from its foundation to its top, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. The wall and outer wall, temples and gods, temple towers of brick and earth, as many as there were, I razed and dumped them into the Arahtu canal.” But in Nineveh, he built a palace decorated with precious metals, alabaster and woods. Mountain streams were diverted to provide water for the city's parks and gardens, resplendent with trees and flowers imported from other lands – along with captives who were enslaved and brought back to Assyria to build and tend them.

It is a wonder that these Assyrian kings who were capable of such ruthlessness were also capable of building cities filled with such majestic architecture.

In the 1970s and 1980s, in the time of another ruthless leader, Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi antiquities board reconstructed large parts of Assurnasirpal II's palace, including the restoration and re-installation of the carved-stone reliefs lining the walls of many rooms, according to Augusta McMahon, a professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.

The winged bulls that guard the entrances to the most important rooms and courtyards were re-erected. The winged bull statues are among the most dramatic and easily recognized symbols of the Assyrian world,” McMahon wrote in a BBC report.

Nimrud, she added, “provided a rare opportunity for visitors to experience the buildings' scale and beauty in a way that is impossible to find in a museum context.”

That is lost for all of us, now and in future generations.

Fortunately, a significant number architectural artifacts from Nimrud and Nineveh are housed safely in museums in Europe and North America, including the limestone and alabaster reliefs, portraying Assurnasirpal II surrounded by winged demons, or hunting lions or waging war, and the monumental, human-headed winged lions that guarded important palace doorways, currently displayed in the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

As if the loss of Nimrud and Nineveh were not horrible enough for world heritage,  continued its campaign to eradicate ancient sites it says promote apostasy last week by leveling the ruined city of Hatra, also in northern Iraq, founded in the days of the Parthian Empire over 2,000 years ago. Hatra's massive walls withstood attacks by the Romans.

Irina Bolkova, director-general of UNESCO, said, “The destruction of Hatra marks a turning point in the appalling strategy of cultural cleansing underway in Iraq.”

I hope it does. And I hope that what Zephaniah prophesized for Assyria will befall the Islamic State: “Assyria will be made a desolation.”

Linda Gasparello (,  is  a longtime journalist and the co-host of “White House Chronicle,” on PBS. She was a master's candidate in Arabic and Islamic Art and Architecture at the American University in Cairo.

Don Pesci: Senator Murphy for a 'progressive foreign policy'


U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D.-Conn.), who has been in the Senate only a little more than  two years and two weeks, is now “Desperately Seeking A Progressive Foreign Policy,” the title of a column the senator wrote on his new blog.
According to Mr. Murphy, the modern progressive movement is still in its swaddling clothes. The new movement was “founded on foreign policy” after Democrats had spent a couple of decades "in the wilderness during the era of the Democratic Leadership Council… in the early days of the Iraq war.”
The modern progressive movement, Mr. Murphy writes, sprang from Howard Dean’s presidential bid, in 2004, during which time “progressives mounted their first serious assault in years on the conventional thought hegemony by challenging the neoconservative foreign policy vision. Many of today’s icons of the progressive movement — MoveOn, Democracy for America, Daily Kos — arguably originate from this fight. Today’s progressives were molded in the fire of foreign, not domestic, policy.”
The young progressive movement now has become reactive, “absent, from serious, meaningful foreign policy debates.” Progressives have been unwilling to engage in such debates in part because there has been for the last few years a Democrat in the White House. Mr. Murphy does not point out in his maiden progressive articulation that President Barack Obama is possibly the most progressive chief executive since Woodrow Wilson left the White House, in 1921. Progressives have understandably deferred to the commander in chief “when it comes to articulating views on international events.”
Mr. Murphy rejects neo-conservativism robustly as “a non-starter” a “philosophy of knee jerk military intervention” and “the original motivating force behind the modern progressive voice.” Isolationism is likewise repugnant “as most progressives believe in America playing a positive role in the world. We simply believe that we should lean into the world with something other than the pointed edge of a sword.”
Mr. Obama struck a responsive chord in his May 2014 West Point speech, “where he prioritized the use of our military for counterterrorism efforts and emphasized the need to strengthen rule of law and human rights in developing nations.” However, “we break with him on rather substantial questions like domestic surveillance, drone attacks, and most recently, military intervention in Syria.”
From the battlements, Mr. Murphy shouts out orders to his progressive troops: “It’s time for progressives to outline a coherent, proactive foreign policy vision, (italics original).”
The organizing principles of Mr. Murphy’s progressive vision, he writes, would involve: a) “A substantial transfer of financial resources from the military budget to buttress diplomacy and foreign aid so that our global anti-poverty budget, not our military budget, equals that of the other world powers combined,” b) “A new humility to our foreign policy, with less emphasis on short- term influencers like military intervention and aid [which Mr. Murphy highly recommended in a)] and more effort spent trying to address the root causes of conflict,” c) “An end to unchecked mass surveillance programs, at home and abroad, as part of a new recognition that we are safer as a nation when we aren’t so easily labeled as hypocrites for preaching and practicing vastly differently on human and civil rights,” and d) “a categorical rejection of torture, under any circumstances.”
A rapid implementation of Mr. Murphy’s principled vision is necessary because “We are entering well into the fourth month of unauthorized U.S. military actions in Iraq and Syria amidst calls from the new Republican Senate majority to send ground troops back to the Middle East” and “fragile negotiations to end Iran’s nuclear weapons” program are under threat “from good-intentioned but misguided efforts to pass new sanctions legislation against ISIS.''
A recent request to  Congress from Mr. Obama for additional presidential authority to prosecute a war against ISIS, a terrorist group that beheads American journalists, murders American aid workers and crucifies Christians, would seem to violate Murphy principle a), since both the congressional authority and the funds necessary to prosecute a war against ISIS for at least three years certainly would not involve a “transfer of financial resources from the military budget to buttress diplomacy.” It would also violate Murphy principle b), which calls for a new humility that emphasizes a greater “effort spent trying to address the root causes of conflict” rather than investing time and money on “on short- term influencers like military intervention and aid.”
Still we are left with the two remaining principles of Mr. Murphy’s progressive vision as yet unassaulted by the progressive Mr. Obama or non-progressives in Congress. Rand Paul, an arch libertarian, has come out strongly against snoops hiding in the telephone receivers of average Americans, and Mr. Obama has long favored assassination, death by drone, to torture. It turns out that the progressive principles enunciated by Mr. Murphy in his progressive blog are not all that cutting edge.
Progressives within the Democratic Party may want to start looking for a new John the Baptist.
Don Pesci ( is a writer who lives in Vernon
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The lure of sadism and power

  Journalists and others keep referring to the people who have joined ISIS as being drawn to religion. I suggest  that they are mostly drawn to the pleasures of violence, sadism and power. ISIS is sexually attractive to sociopaths. It's a club for perverts.

That Islam has  aspects that give cover to this evil is a great challenge to its future.

-- Robert Whitcomb


Robert Whitcomb: The Islamic State's soothing 'system'

  The Islamic State being set up in parts of Iraq and Syria (still usually abbreviated in our press as ISIS, from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria'' -- now being given a simpler, more ambitious name) challenges the idea of the nation state as we in the West know it. The mostly young men who are the ISIS shock troops want to help swiftly impose the will of the ISIS on a swath of territory from Morocco to Pakistan in an extra-national empire that would justify its dictatorship by religion. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS chief, would be its “caliph” — supreme leader.

  In such utopian (or dystopian) schemes, ideology and theology are used to excuse what mostly ends up as just a power drive, often married to sadism and greed. The ISIS version of Islam promotes a totalitarian view of society in which all human activities are said to come under 7th century Koranic rules. It’s particularly attractive to frustrated and often psychopathic young men seeking the opportunity to dominate others while finding clarity amidst the unsettling ambiguities of life. One thinks of the Nazis and Bolsheviks. (If only the World Health Organization could address the problem of crazy people seizing power. Unfortunately, however, psychopaths run some U.N. member nations.)

  Broad strains of Islamic culture encourage mercy, tolerance, charity, open-mindedness, hospitality and learning. But too often, violent and reactionary bigots have hijacked the name of Islam, as such people did, mostly in the past, Christianity. (Historian Bernard Lewis’s book What Went Wrong is a useful look at the Muslim world’s troubled encounter with modernity.)

  The followers of ISIS and similar groups seek to address their economic, existential and even sexual anxieties and drives by embracing the kind of desert barbarism found in much of the Old Testament, albeit with modern devices. They seem desperate to avoid the stress associated with having to think and act for themselves. An all-encompassing “system” takes them by the hand.

  Part of the problem is that, other than Turkey, Iran, Israel and Egypt, the Middle East lacks “real countries,” and thus the calming sense of national order and belonging that applies in, say, the United States and Europe. Iraq, Syria and so on are collections of tribes, some ethnically based, and religious groups (mostly Sunni and Shia) within borders drawn by European colonialists. (Yes, overcrowded “real country” Egypt is a mess.)

  Sending back lots of U.S. troops won’t help. America cannot afford to occupy large swaths of the Mideast, where we’re generally not wanted anyway. Note, meanwhile, that ISIS has armed itself with large quantities of U.S. weapons and other equipment it seized when it took over much of western and northern Iraq. We left the stuff there for the “Iraqi government” (which mostly means Shiites) when we left at the end of the “American war” there. ...

  From time to time, the United States may have to use drones and perhaps even commandos to attack “Islamic” criminal enterprises to save civilians from being massacred and to block attacks on the U.S. and our allies.

  But in the long run, starving such groups of money may be the best strategy. This would include stepping up surveillance (sorry, National Security Agency foes) of international money transfers that benefit these criminals and cracking down on the Saudi, Qatari and other Persian Gulf Sunni individuals and groups that support these terrorists in the face of our too-mild complaints. After 9/11, the United States did a fine job in tracking terrorists’ money flows; we will have to ramp up again.

  More generally, we can cut the cash that goes into the Mideast from oil and gas sales, much of which ends in the hands of dictators and terror groups (sometimes effectively one and the same). Places that depend on extractive industries (see Russia) tend to be more corrupt and dictatorial than those with diversified economies. Another reason to turn away from fossil fuels. The hope is to marginalize the Mideast until the passage of time, modern communication, humanitarian aid, wider travel and trade can moderate its worst aspects and encourage these tyrannies to become “normal countries.” To a point. We're in for a long struggle,

  None of this is to say that the secular Western nation state is perfect. We’re commemorating this summer the opening of World War I, which drew in a Europe that in June 1914 seemed poised to climb yet further onto the broad sunlit uplands of progress. Part of the tragedy of young Serbian terrorist Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was that the archduke was a reformer whose rise to the top would probably have meant a more democratic and humane central and eastern Europe. That mild empire, in any case, was generally better than what followed. Terrorism tends to beget more terrorism and worse tyranny. Things can get worse very quickly.


Robert Whitcomb ( is overseer of New England Diary,  a former editorial-page editor of The Providence Journal and a former finance editor of  the International Herald Tribune. He is a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.




Llewellyn King: Bring back reporters' long lunches

 When I first worked at the newspaper trade in Washington, back in 1966, it
was a different journalism. I don’t mean the difference in the technology, the 24-hour news cycle, or the ramped up interest in celebrity. I mean
 something more protean, more organic.

 I worked at The Washington Daily News -- a tabloid in size but not in
mission -- and we covered the news in a very traditional way: whatever our
news judgment demanded. Although we were a Washington afternoon newspaper, politics was just part of the mix.

 The Daily News had one full-time congressional correspondent, and we sent
reporters to Capitol Hill when there was really a lot going on. The
 Washington Post -- then as now the dominant paper in town -- covered The
Hill more intensely, but not with the intensity that it does today.

 In short, political coverage was more laid back; not asleep, but not as
 frantic as it is now. Nobody felt it necessary to record every slip of the
 tongue, or where a congressman had lunch or, for that matter, with whom.
Certainly, nobody felt they should shun the wine list -- and few did.

 Covering the White House was a simple matter: once through the gate, you
 could stroll through the West Wing and talk to people. Today, even if you
 have a regular or so-called hard pass, you are restricted to walking down
 the driveway to the press briefing room. If you have an appointment, or want to smell the flowers, you have to have an escort – usually a young
 person from the press office. Why this is, and what the purpose of this minder is, nobody has been able
to tell me. It is so dispiriting to see the equanimity with which reportersaccept their prisoner status.

 It did not happen overnight, but gradually under president after president.
In my time in Washington, reporter freedom has been curtailed at the White
House to the point that unless you want to go to the briefing, there is no
point in going through the gate. No news is available because you, the
reporter, are not at liberty to collect it.

News out of the White House now has to be gained off the premises, on the
phone or by the Internet. The briefing room is a dead zone for print
reporters, with the television reporters going back and forth with the
press secretary, which is what their medium demands. No news is brokenexcept when the president saunters in and things pick up. That is not worth hanging around there day after day.

 But the real change is the proliferation of political media, including the
such  dedicated publications as Roll Call, The Hill, Politico, The National
Journal and the cable news networks. This means there are more reporters
chasing snippets of news. The big issues get lost as often as not while the
news hounds are baying after trivia, little non-events, misstatements, or
failure to apologize for imagined sleights.

Also, White House staffers and people who work on Capitol Hill have less
 and less confidence in reporters and are less frank with them. I find very
 little point in interviewing Congress people these days because they worry
 that whatever they say will, if you like, go into their record to be
dredged up way in the future.

The other great organic change is in reportorial ambition. Back in the
1960s (and I must confess I started reporting in the 1950s), reporters
longed to be foreign correspondents; to go abroad and tell us about life in
faraway places. Today, with the emphasis on politics, the ambitious
 reporter longs to cover politics in Washington. So if there is a big
international event, such as the Iraq-ISIS conflict, it ends up being
covered through politics. What did Obama say about it? Has John McCain been heard from?
This affects both our understanding of an issue, and does nothing to ameliorate propaganda narratives. Over-covering the snippets does not help:
It obscures when it should clarify.
A lot of news used to come out of reporters' long lunches with politicians.
Now the number of drinks served, as espied from another table, would be the

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle,”
 on PBS. His e-mail is