How the U.S. Can Stop ISIS – Peacefully

Before we hear Pres. Obama’s national address tonight, where he is expected to make the case for a “limited,” three-year “boots on the ground” reinvasion of Iraq (in addition to the 1,000 troops currently stationed there), let’s hit the pause button and consider non-military options. Yes, ISIS, a brutal offshoot of al-Qaeda that stretches from the Mediterranean in northwest Syria to the Persian Gulf in southeast Iraq, needs to be stopped. The questions are how and by whom. The U.S. has many options. Is Obama considering them all before he sends our men and women back into battle?

I’ve drafted a brief petition to the President and Members of Congress with 7 steps to stop ISIS – peacefully. Will you please take a moment to consider signing it?

If you feel as strongly as I do that more war is NOT the answer, please forward this page to your friends.

Let’s get 10,000 signatures before the President’s speech tomorrow night!

Congress has just reconvened. Today is the day to contact them and raise these non-military intervention options to stop ISIS — peacefully.

As you know, I traveled to Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion, spent a summer in Syria working with Iraqi refugees and spent last summer in Beirut interviewing Syrian refugees. I am appalled that the President seems to be moving toward military reengagement without a full, public airing of the non-military options. I’ve met the people whose lives and families are shattered by my country’s rush to war. Can we prevent more casualties on America’s conscience?

Here’s the petition with sources listed below: Read more »

BOOK: “Tongue-Tied” Singled Out by Reviewer

The_Chalk_CircleSo, here’s something cool: A book reviewer singled out my essay in The Chalk Circle — an award-winning anthology of award-winning essays — as one that particularly touched her.

(That’s me on the cover! No, not the old woman, the one eating the ice cream…natch…) Book Review

Download an mp3 of me reading the essay by signing up on this page at the right. It’s a 4-minute reading about a beggar girl I met in Iraq and shared an ice cream with!

HOUSESITTING: “One Woman’s Never Ending Story”

An interview that started out about tips for people considering retiring in Mexico morphed into a profile about me as a housesitter! How cool is that?!

California’s Kelly Hayes-Raitt has heeded a distinctive rhythm by financing a political activist’s life as a house sitter in Lake Chapala, London, Paris, Copenhagen and the outskirts of Amsterdam.

Her nomadic existence has offered the opportunity to write and edit about Iraqi and Palestinian refugees at and by blogging for Violating Sanctions [ -- my old blog].

Hayes-Raitt is a lifelong political activist and spokesperson for campaigns championing women’s rights, environmental cleanup, consumers’ rights and other social justice causes.

She has house sat in Chapala, Mexico since 2010, her away home from mid-September to mid-February and from April to June.

Read the brief blog at

DENMARK: Land of Great Cheese, Weird Herring and Beautiful Blond People

It’s reverse culture shock after Beirut to be forced to wait for the little green man to illuminate before I’m allowed to cross the street. Copenhagen is clean, orderly, walkable, casual, expensive and, well, blond. Seriously, the people are gorgeous. They all bike. They all have complexions as clean as the air and cheekbones chiseled as finely as the many statues that adorn the public parks and squares. In my next life, I want to be a Dane. Read more »

RUSSIA: Monday in Moscow

More confectionary architecture

More confectionary architecture

Grey and smoky trench coats do not describe today’s Moscow. Impossibly high heels pulled off by impossibly trendy women does. I figured my 15-hour taste of Moscow while en route from Beirut to Copenhagen would be enough to quench any behind-the-curtain thirst. Not so! I want to return as soon as the government issues me another visa. (In my visa application, I was asked: Read more »

LEBANON: Taxi to the Altar

I found a way to refund your money! I’ve been offered $5,000 US to marry my cab driver so he can get to Texas. He’s a little drunk, so I’m not sure how serious he is, although I’m tempted to take his offer just to improve Texas’ average IQ. When he picked me up from a fellow journalist’s apartment, he helped himself to a generous mug of vodka with a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice, which I’ve been asked to hold as we traverse the Hezbollah-controlled checkpoints.

“I’m the only Shia who likes to drink!” he bellows proudly. Bestill my beating heart. If only he’d speed up, he’s driving so slowly, I’m afraid he’s falling asleep.

He’s not my first proposal – or my last. In fact, 4 cabbies propose to me during the month I’m in Beirut – a great record for me – each man willing to abandon his wife, children and familiarity to lay claim to my lovely American ring finger.

“I will leave Lebanon. There’s no future for our children here,” says one cab driver, defiantly crossing his arms while we are stuck in traffic. “Madam Kelly, marry me?”

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LEBANON: Lebanon Makes Mexico Look Like Switzerland!

Like an aging Hollywood star with her close-up days behind her, Beirut’s crumbly wrinkles and liver spots seep through its smiling facade. This is not the sparkling city I remember from my trip 6 years ago.

Masquerading as a democracy, Lebanon is into blame and communication control. At various times during the past month, I’ve heard weary people blame the instability, insecurity, inflation, ineptitude and inefficiency on Hezbollah, Israel, Palestinian refugees, Syrian refugees, Yasser Arafat, Iran, Syria, and the favorite whipping-boy du jour, the US, which is just blanketly responsible for every ill from Spam to Spandex.

Beirut Apt

Apt Ceiling

The heat, the humidity and the general hassles might not feel so onerous if the communications infrastructure worked. But, Lebanon makes Mexico look like Switzerland and Carlos Slim look like Mother Teresa!

Cell phone calls, for example, cost a whopping Read more »

SYRIA: “Tell the American Government It’s Not Your Business!”

Nina Simone’s version of “Ooh Child, Things Are Gonna Get Easier” [] keeps running through my mind tonight after an exhilarating afternoon of interviewing 4 smart, articulate, challenging Syrian teenagers who are in Lebanon for a week-long church retreat in the mountains above Beirut. Following the sarin gas attack, these teens braved closed roads, dicey checkpoints and crowded border crossings to attend the annual retreat sponsored by the Synod of Presbyterian Churches in Syria and Lebanon.

Instead of reworking these interviews into a typical blog, I decided to let the teens speak for themselves, since they do it so eloquently. I don’t always agree with them, of course, and some of their answers feel a bit manufactured by their environment (a bit like Americans spoon fed by the evening news).

Here is a rough transcript. At their request (due to security concerns), I did not film or tape the conversation, so I’m relying on my hastily scribbled notes.

4 Syrian teenagers discuss fear, faith and a possible US military strike while at a church retreat in Lebanon.

4 Syrian teenagers discuss fear, faith and a possible US military strike while at a church retreat in Lebanon.

We’re sitting around an outdoor table high in the hills above Beirut with spectacular views of villages below us in the valleys. The sun is warm, the breeze is refreshing and we are worlds away from the war zone these teens have left. We’re in a free-flowing conversation conducted in English. Joseph Kassab, the church’s youth director, provides commentary and as-needed translation (although the teens themselves jump in with translation for each other).

Although they gave me permission to use their last names, I’ve elected to protect them further by using just their first names. Should they choose, they can comment on this blog with their full name. Read more »

LEBANON: Personal Update

“You just can’t imagine. You just can’t imagine,” Abdullah kept repeating during our brief conversation today. I had not heard about the new round of simultaneous bombs that detonated in Baghdad, killing another 50 people and wounding more than 160, as reported by the BBC. Reuters reported 71 people dead and 201 wounded. (News is hard to get as I have no TV and my internet was out for 2 days this week. Nothing in Lebanon works, it seems, except fear and division.)

Abdullah reported no numbers, just despair. “I just want to live my life as a free man.” His father is in the hospital with heart problems. “He is tired. We are all so tired.”

In the meantime, I’ve been sick in Beirut. This time last week, I was down for 3 days with severe stomach cramps, unable to eat or keep down food, fever, chills. Sickest I’ve ever been. Thanks to my friends Judy and David, who nursed me back to health, I’m now in the pink, albeit a few pounds lighter.

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