The Roman ruins at Palmyra, Syria, before the self-proclaimed Islamic State took control

Syria was always one of my favorite places in the world—an amazing mix of ancient sites that even despots couldn’t destroy until now.

When I worked for Newsweek and ABC News in the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s, I spent many days there.

It was difficult to report in the police state of President Hafez al-Assad, who ruled the country until his death in 2000. He was a bad guy—perhaps even worse than his son Bashar, who now heads the country.

Nevertheless, Syria, the country, was always a nice place to visit. Damascus is considered the longest continuously inhabited city in the world—founded more than 3,000 years ago.

When you go to the old market or souk, you travel along the road where St. Paul was converted. Yes, it’s that road to Damascus. Nearby is thought to be the grave of St. John the Baptist.

The souk is one of the most amazing in the Middle East. I bought my first Persian carpet there, along with numerous copper and brass tables, plates and tea services from “Cha Cha,” a Syrian trader who was a favorite of the foreign community. He even found an old Russian samovar that still has a special place in our home.

The Roman ruins at Palmyra are among the most beautiful in the Middle East, with more than 150,000 tourists visiting the site before the civil war.

Some Arabic dishes in Syria have a distinctly different taste, mainly from a special red pepper from Aleppo, the city now in ruins from the civil war.

I worked on a variety of stories in Syria—almost always under the watchful eye of government censors and secret police. The last one was more than 30 years ago—an investigation of Syria’s connection to the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 servicemen dead.

In 2011, I gave a speech in Beirut to a group of journalists. I argued that the civil war—only a few months old then—required U.S. boots on the ground. More important, journalists needed to document the atrocities of the Assad regime without any concern for objectivity, fairness and balance. Simply put, there were not two sides of the story—only the need to stop the brutality of government.

Two prominent journalists—one from The Washington Post and another from National Public Radio—disagreed with me. I hope they realize now how wrong they were to oppose the involvement of U.S. troops and the need to change from the neutral stance of journalists in covering the civil war.

In 2013 President Obama drew a line in the sand in Syria–a line that was quickly swept away by inaction.

Most people see the horror of what has happened in Syria as a result of the atrocities of the Assad regime and the self-proclaimed Islamic State. I’m glad I still have some good memories left.


Christopher Harper worked as a journalist for many years, including nearly a decade in the Middle East for Newsweek and ABC News. He teaches media law.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-9-39-15-pmAnyone who thinks Pennsylvania is a safe state for Hillary Clinton is dead wrong.

Even though the Keystone State hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, Donald Trump knows that winning Pennsylvania is critical to his bid for the White House. That’s why he and his surrogates have spent a great deal of time here.

Although I think polls are almost totally useless because of their unreliability, Hillary’s composite rankings have dropped significantly in the past month, according to Real Clear Politics. Harper Polling [no relation] puts the race at dead even. See http://harperpolling.com/polls/pennsylvania-statewide-poll–11-2-3#PresidentTIE

This state, where I have lived since 2005, is a complicated one. The two main cities—Pittsburgh in the west and Philadelphia to the east—vote overwhelming Democrat. In fact, Mitt Romney failed to get a single vote in a number of Philly precincts in 2012, leading many to suspect voter fraud.

The rest of the state votes overwhelmingly GOP. The governorship tends to shift between the two parties; the current officer holder is a wacko lefty and, alas, not up for reelection. The legislature stands firmly in the hands of the GOP. It tends to be more liberal than most GOP strongholds, but the legislature usually stops most of the silly Democrat plans. Half of the state Senate’s 50 seats are on the ballot this year, and if Republicans can pick up three of them, they would control a veto-proof majority.

The congressional delegation tilts overwhelmingly Republican. The U.S. Senate is split, with one Democrat and one Republican.

Voters will replace a disgraced attorney general, a Democrat who was convicted of perjury; and a Philadelphia congressman, a Democrat convicted of corruption.

The prospects for the GOP, including Trump, look relatively good despite the predictions from the media and their polls. Since November 2015, the Pennsylvania GOP has registered 243,139 new Republican voters. That includes nearly 100,000 people who switched from the Democrat side.

Atlantic magazine published a detailed examination of lifelong Pennsylvania Democrats staunchly supporting Trump:

Paul Sracic, a Youngstown State University political scientist, said he believes there are two categories of voters rallying to support Trump. “First, there are people who don’t normally vote,” he said. “Nearly half the voting-age population was either not registered to vote, or was registered and decided not to vote in 2012. And if even 10 percent of that group was to show up and vote this year, it could easily change the outcome in the important swing states.”

Trump may be helped by these trends, but incumbent Republican Pat Toomey may not be. That’s mainly because he has failed to endorse Trump.

Toomey is running evenly with Katie McGinty, a Democrat who has never held political office but has worked as a political insider in Washington and Pennsylvania. McGinty came in fourth in the Democrat primary for governor in 2014. Her only credentials are heading environmental wacko posts under Barack Obama and working as a lobbyist for wacko environmentalists.

Toomey’s gamble staying away from Trump may, in fact, be a bad move if the less-than-colorful GOP senator loses.

It will be an interesting ride tonight, with the real possibility that Trump could pull off a victory in Pennsylvania even though the GOP may lose a Senate seat.


Christopher Harper is a recovering journalist who worked for The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and The Washington Times and teaches media law.