“Once Upon A Country” A Palestinian Perspective Worthy Of Your Time

My latest non-fiction book which I started this week is one that dives into a region of the world that has held my attention since I was a teenager. After learning of the news from Plains, Georgia about President Jimmy Carter starting hospice and given the powerful role he played with the Camp David Peace Accords, places Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon A Country into a fitting time frame.  A bittersweet one, for sure. 

A few weeks ago, I read Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright.  As I concluded that stupendous narrative which placed so many interesting and compelling spokes into the larger wheel of the drama that was the brainchild of Carter, I was mindful of needing to read Nusseibeh’s story that has been heralded as a necessity if wishing to feel and better understand the plight of Palestinians. 

I recall watching the historic journey of Egyptian President Sadat to Israel and listening to his speech in the Knesset and months later staying home to watch the handshake and signing of the famed peace accords at the White House.  All the drama that played out between leaders with deep political uncertainties in their own countries and much deeper historical animosities made what occurred at Camp David worthy of more understanding on my part. Even decades later.

I have always found most troubling the lack of awareness from the public about what happened to entire Palestinian villages and farms, and families in 1947 and 1948.  Between the United Nations voting and the time for the British mandate to end, we read the words of the author’s father, a judge and highly educated man, who wrote a 60,000-word personal account in 1949. Of those expelled, he writes the lost villages “mean more than red dots on the map. They mean the warm hearths and proud homes of an old established community.  The hearth has turned to ashes and homes ground to dust and the life once throbbed within them throbs no more.” The entire story is compelling and grounded with the candor of history and facts to guide his readers onward.

Sari does not allow for the misjudgments and harsh behavior from either side of the ancient hatred to have free rein.  There is no latitude given for the misdeeds and empty leadership that too often has been the source for even more glaring and consequential examples of hate and bloodshed.   

History oozes from the pages and for one such as myself, this is why lights in our home are on into the morning hours. Here is the story of a man who descended from one of the tribal leaders who accompanied Muhammad on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the seventh century as he heads to Medina. This is the family with the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The richness of the ages rolls along as Nusseibeh stresses the complexities of the people, history, religion, and social tensions that create a backstory to the headlines.  Sadly, it is only the headlines that most people today care about or know about.  Not enough newspaper readers or viewers of BBC news.

This is why the book, Once Upon A Country is so needed and, in light of recent events most relevant. For those who know, as I do, that a two-state solution is a requirement for the region, the book offers more history than hope, given the nature of conservative Israeli leaders.  I trust that those who read this post will find the book at their local bookstore or on Amazon, as I did. It will add many perspectives, as most who pick up the read already will likely have a good foundation of the region’s background. It will make Zionists squirm, but thoughtful people (like many who reside in Israel and know the trajectory of their regional affairs and governing policies are flawed morally and fiscally) will find this book time well spent.

Queen Elizabeth II Dies At 96: Met U.S. Presidents Since Harry Truman

It still came as shock, even though it was often talked about over the past years. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 and there is now a new monarch in Britain. Only earlier this week the Queen had continued her constitutional duty and invited Liz Truss to form a new government. Even with health problems and aging concerns, there was always Queen Elizabeth who kept the long line of history very much intact on the British throne, acting with quiet resolve for decades.

I have thought about how to best reflect her life as seen through the eyes of this American home, and have settled on a series of photos of her interactions with our top leaders. (The Queen never met President Lyndon Johnson.) President Harry Truman was her first president to meet even though Elizabeth was not yet queen when, at the age of 25, she filled in for her very ailing father.  

President Harry S. Truman and Britain’s Princess Elizabeth are shown as their motorcade got underway following the reception ceremony at Washington National Airport on October 31, 1951.
 Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
20th October 1957: Queen Elizabeth II, US president Dwight D Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) with his wife Mamie (1896 – 1979) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at a White House State banquet.
 Keystone/Getty Images
Buckingham Palace during a banquet held in his honor, American President John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, pose with Queen Elizabeth II London, United Kingdom, June 15, 1961.
 PhotoQuest/Getty Images
From BBC
President Gerald Ford dances with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during a White House State Dinner honoring the Queen US Bicentennial visit, Washington DC, July 7, 1976. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)
6/8/1982 President Reagan riding horses with Queen Elizabeth II during visit to Windsor Castle, Daily Mail
Express UK
People magazine
Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth II, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Jack Hill – WPA Pool/Getty Images
(Wow….just wow.)

Happy Birthday President Jimmy Carter

Today one of the most virtuous politicians of our lifetime celebrates a birthday.

President Jimmy Carter turned 97 years old and remains a national symbol of integrity.

Carter was the first candidate I was able to cast a ballot for as president. His personal honor, love of human rights, and working to ensure functioning governments exist worldwide is a true statement of his character.  Over the decades I have known that when it came to my first vote I had the opportunity to stand in support of a most impressive fellow citizen.

One of the books I have loved since published in 1995 is Character Above All.  I have posted about that book several times over the past 15 years on this blog.  The book is a series of essays about why character is central when it comes to presidents sitting in the Oval Office.  From FDR to George Bush (41) the writers, who are specialized with their topic, give readers examples of why character must be the prime qualification for high public office.

Hendrick Hertzberg wrote the article on Carter and there is a condensed version online.  This is a nugget from that shorter version.

Though Carter didn’t have a political ideology, he did have what I would call a moral ideology–and on this he was faultless. He knew the difference between right and wrong. This may sound like faint praise–after all, doesn’t everybody know the difference between right and wrong?–but it isn’t. It is very high praise…..

Carter’s moral ideology–his ability to tell right from wrong–would have made him a great President for a time of moral crisis. If the overriding problem facing America in the late seventies had been racial segregation, for instance, or the Vietnam War, Carter would have known how to rise to the occasion because he knew how to do what was right–even when the political cost was high.

Carter was elected in the backwash of a moral crisis, but the biggest problems he faced as President, especially in the domestic arena, were not primarily moral problems. They were primarily managerial, technical problems, involving tremendous vested interests and offering few political rewards. There was no right or wrong way to solve these problems; just effective ways and ineffective ways.

Over the past years we have seen what happens when the moral compass and shared values are missing from the top leadership in the nation. We have found them again with President Joe Biden, a decent man of convictions and empathy.

For me, there is a sincere pleasure that Carter was a man of depth, courage, and morally driven character that I was able to vote for in 1980. 

Happy Birthday, Jimmy!

Elvis Presley And Politicians, And Jungle Room Music!

On August 16, 1977 Elvis died at Graceland.

To honor the greatest showman and entertainer I present photos, with Elvis and President Nixon, President Carter and Rosalyn, and from 1971 Elvis with Congressman George H.W. Bush.

It should be noted that each year it can be said, as it was in this quote from 2015…”Of all the millions of historical photographs held by the US National Archives, the photo (the formal posing of EP and RN ) is the single most requested. It was captured in the Oval Office on December 21, 1970, and shows Elvis Presley meeting then US President Richard Nixon.”

The music lives on, and it is best turned up high on the stereo! Over the many years…decades, actually…the Graceland Sessions have truly provided for me the professional range and diversity of Elvis from the 1970’s. In the recent past the raw recordings from the Jungle Room (at the mansion) with various takes, and banter of EP and the band was released. Truly awesome material.

Biden On The World Stage Makes America Proud As He Pushes Democracy

The autocratic moves and tendencies of the previous White House administration, along with the kindred moves in nations from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. Illiberal democracy has long been a theme on this blog.

Thy most important message that President Joe Biden pushed as a candidate was his desire to return to normalcy with our domestic politics, and a turn towards the proper role our nation has long played on the world stage. International alliances and working friendships among nations are at the heart of our diplomatic efforts. As he urged in the race for election we must address a very serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden has proved to be a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy. While China tries to put forth a message that democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper, and Russia looks backward with wistful memories of an empire that fell, the economic powerhouses of the world understand that they are at a better place now with Biden being a strong advocate for democracy.

Russian President Putin well understands his grasp at the past is futile when not having the economic means to affect change. With both the United States and Europe, combined, having $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP underscores the power of working democracies.

As a teenager I was very taken by the human rights component of President Jimmy Carter’s international policy. With the same focus, Biden understands the role that human rights and human dignity plays as a part of what constitutes a democracy. I cringed and was embarrassed for our nation when Trump proved to be nothing more than an enabler or apologist for thugs. How the entire brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was handled was a very dark period for our country as the world watched.

It offended me to high heaven to have Trump and his administration have no more than a flippant attitude with foreign policy. It was continuously conducted in a transactional manner. Great for the tyrants and autocrats who have favors to trade, and deals to strike for their own ends. But woe are the ones sitting in jails in Saudi Arabia and China and Turkey. Human rights never were going to fare well in that administration, one dominated by a transactional view of foreign policy.

While watching and reading the news coverage of the Biden trip, and the conversations with world leaders, I see the larger mission that is taking place. By adding to the vaccine shots that our nation will make available to a world needing them, and giving the embrace to alliances and underscoring renewed collaboration in working on pressing problems, Biden is demonstrating what a healthy democracy looks like. And acts like!

We can all thrill to the success of the mission to press forward as to why democracy is alive and vital to the world. Once again all are seeing, friend and foe alike, that the United States is again taking its role in the world seriously. Once again, the world is taking note that America wants to do good for others.

And so it goes.

When Was Last Time President Monitored For Inciting Violence?

We have crossed so many red lines and been deposited so often into the basement in our country that nothing really surprises me anymore. But the news yesterday about a media company needing to review the material posted by a former president, so to make sure violent or insurrectionist material is not online, does make me again aware of how much worse we are due to Donald Trump.

YouTube will reinstate Trump’s channel once the “elevated risk of violence” has passed, the Google-owned video-sharing site said in a news release. YouTube first suspended Trump’s account on January 12th for one week due to concerns “about the ongoing potential for violence” in the wake of the Capitol riot six days earlier and later extended the restriction by one week. After that period elapsed, the company said on the 26th that it was again extending the suspension but offered no timetable for it to be lifted, leaving its status indefinite.

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton works on solving worldwide problems with his global initiatives.

YouTube will rely on a mix of indicators to assess the level of violence Trump may upload, including statements by government officials, the readiness level of law enforcement, and any violent rhetoric YouTube may observe on its own platform.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter, up until a few months ago, was still helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity.

I have argued repeatedly that we needed to remove Trump from office and elect a new person so to restore the dignity of the office. I made this statement for the benefit of all Americans, regardless of partisanship or political ideology. I made the plea as I have had deep concerns about Trump’s irreverent and aberrant behavior in the Oval Office. He has cheapened the dignity of the office, and now needs to be monitored so as not to cause more violence or damage to our democracy based on lies and conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, George Bush paints and does volunteer work.

Trump needs to be watched so he does not cause injury to the nation by inciting his base.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has used film projects to advance a national dialogue on race and class, democracy, and civil rights.

Another Nicety Returns With President Biden’s White House

Hat tip to Brad.

Not for the first time, and Lord knows it will not be last, I point out the changes made to this White House’s press operations.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki ended Tuesday’s press briefing with a quick exchange: “Thank you, Jen,” said Josh Boak, a White House reporter for the Associated Press. “Great,” replied Psaki. Then she put on her mask and headed out.

Those four words signaled the resurrection of an old White House briefing room tradition — observed under both Democratic and Republican administrations — in which the press secretary awaits the nod of the attending AP reporter before closing the book. (The privilege was initially assigned to the senior wire correspondent, but it eventually turned into an exclusively AP role.) Whereas her predecessor, Kayleigh McEnany, often ended briefings with scripted attacks on the media, Psaki has embraced a custom that accords the media a voice in the management of the briefing room.

George Condon, a National Journal White House reporter on the beat since 1982, described the traffic-cop role of longtime United Press International reporter Helen Thomas: “Before she would say, ‘Thank you,’ she was in the first row and she would glance around to see if there were hands still up because she didn’t want to cut it off before people had a chance to ask questions,” Condon said. Terence Hunt, a former AP White House reporter, tells us that the practice goes back at least 75 years, citing a 1946 book by longtime UPI reporter Merriman Smith, titled “Thank You, Mr. President” in reference to Smith’s role in closing out presidential news conferences.

I can not underscore how very much this change means not only to me, but others who want the common-sense nicety returned to our government.

This subject with the AP harkens back to the decades, as noted in the story, when some respect and decorum were overlaid on the issues and politics of the time. It may seem quaint, but when they are gone, as witnessed by the last four years, the outcome is awful, ugly, and ultimately dangerous to our democracy.

As I read the article I recalled two women who made the press pool at the WH so professional and honed their questions to reflect either the issue of the day, as with Helen Thomas

…or at times to what the nation needed to have an answer to regarding a story from ‘page 9’ which Sarah McClendon tried to ferret out of the press secretary.

I recall in high school watching coverage of a press briefing and McClendon is called upon. Her voice filled that room and Jody Powell, President Carter’s Press Secretary, was either not trying to take her seriously or dodging the topic—I forget which. But she bored in with even a louder voice and peppered with a follow-up that must have stung like buck-shot. That made an impact on me.  She was a nice person by all accounts but determined to do her job. 

And the press secretaries knew that and respected it.  Not only from her but from all those who worked in the press room of the White House. That working relationship, even though both sides have well-defined roles, was lacking in the past four years. That substantive change is what I so very much welcome in President Joe Biden’s White House.

My Comment About “A Remarkable Mother” Makes Boston Globe Newsletter

When Teresa Hannafin of The Boston Globe asked readers to compile some offerings for the “2020 Winter Bookies” there was a desire, after this year we have lived through, to post uplifting offerings. I wrote a quick review, as requested, that was published in her online newsletter today.