MEMORIAL DAY

Today, millions of Americans will celebrate Memorial Day. To many of them MD is merely a day off from work, a day to gather with friends and relatives, watch sports, barbecue, or maybe go away for a mini-vacation. But, how many of us actually stop and ponder the meaning of MD? What does it mean? What is its derivation? Well, I’m glad you asked. Read on.

According to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs the purpose of MD is to honor veterans who have died in the service of their country. (Some people confuse it with Veterans’ Day, celebrated in November, which is to honor LIVING veterans for their service.) MD is celebrated on the final Monday in May, which this year is today, May 26. It has also evolved into the unofficial start of summer, Opening Day for beaches, pools and vacation homes.

The original name for MD was “Decoration Day.” The custom of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is centuries old. Its origins are murky, but after the Civil War it became customary to “decorate” soldiers’ graves with flowers as a way to honor those who had died in that war.

Several cities claim to be the birthplace of MD. Warrenton, Va. claims that the first CW soldier’s grave was decorated there in 1861. Women began decorating soldiers’ graves in Savannah, Ga. as early as 1862. Boalsburg, Pa. and Charleston, SC, among others, have also made claims. NY became the first state to recognize MD as an official holiday in 1873. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, NY to be the official birthplace of MD.

The basis of Waterloo’s claim is that in 1865 a group of locals, including a pharmacist, Henry Welles, General John Murray, a CW hero, and a group of other veterans, simply marched to the local cemeteries and decorated the soldiers’ graves with flowers. What gave Waterloo an edge in the birthplace battle was that Murray was an acquaintance of General John Logan, the general who issued “Logan’s Order, ” the proclamation that declared “Decoration Day” should be celebrated annually nationwide.

At first, MD was celebrated on May 30. The date seems somewhat arbitrary as it was not the anniversary of any famous battle or military event. Perhaps, it was chosen simply because flowers with which the graves are decorated are in bloom and plentiful at that particular time of the year. The name, “Decoration Day” was gradually replaced by MD beginning in 1882, and in 1887 MD became the official name. In 1968 the Congress moved the holiday to the last Monday in May. This annoyed many traditionalists, but the lure of a three-day weekend overcame any objections, and the Monday date has prevailed.

There are some MD traditions worth noting:

1. Flying the flag at half-staff.

Most of the time one will see the flag flown at half-staff all day; however, technically, this is not proper. The flag should be raised to the top and then lowered to half-staff. This is intended to honor those who have died for their country. At noon, the flag is to be raised again to full staff, where it remains for the rest of the day. This is to recognize that the deceased veterans’ sacrifices were not in vain.

2. Poppies.

Poppies have become the official flower of remembrance, declared as such by the American Legion in 1920. This is derived from WWI and the Battle of Ypres. Apparently, a proliferation of poppies grew on that battlefield around soldiers’ graves. These poppies were featured in a famous poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae called “In Flanders Fields.” This poem caught people’s imagination and popularized the custom.

3. Sporting Events.

No American holiday celebration would be complete without a sports connection. MD has the Indianapolis 500 and the Memorial golf tournament, among others. Also, until recently there was the traditional Memorial Day baseball doubleheader.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

I hope the foregoing has increased your understanding and appreciation of MD. So, whatever you do today, however you celebrate, try to pause for a moment in honor of the many veterans who have given their lives so that the rest of us could enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted.

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SHOCK, HORROR AND FRAUD AT THE VA

Perhaps, the saddest thing is that I am not surprised. Why should I be? Why should any of us be? After all, it seems like there is another scandal every week.

The latest one involves the quality of healthcare received by veterans at the hands of the Veterans Administration. Regardless of one’s opinion about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan one has to admit that veterans who sacrificed their lives, health and time to fight on behalf of their country deserve the best medical care available. After all, that’s all part of the deal. It is understood that if you get injured while fighting on behalf of your country, your country will take care of you. That includes, among other things, the best medical care available delivered promptly, safely and effectively. No reasonable person would argue with that, right. Sounds fair, right. Well, not so fast.

Apparently, the VA has not been keeping up its share of the bargain. Recently, CNN and other news media outlets have disclosed that many veterans have been subjected to extensive delays in receiving treatment. CNN “broke” the story last November, but it has since gone viral. In some cases, these delays have resulted in the veterans’ death. To make matters worse, there are reports that the VA has altered its records in an effort to hide this malfeasance. At first, this seemed to be confined to the Phoenix area. But, we have now learned that as many as 26 other treatment centers are under investigation for the same practices.

Apparently, the way it works is that records of requests for treatment, rather than being maintained electronically where they can be recorded and tracked officially, are maintained on a secret handwritten list. Therefore, the VA facility’s official records would not show the accurate length of time between the request for treatment and the actual treatment. According to news reports the allowable time limit is two weeks. According to CNN and other reports as many as 1,600 veterans who needed treatment were forced to wait for months. But, because of the secret lists, they were not part of the official record. Many of these veterans actually died while awaiting treatment. Others likely died because they received their treatment too late. Shocking? Yes. Unconscionable? Yes. Fraudulent? Yes. Homicide? Perhaps. Surprising? Not really.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

The Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee, Jeff Miller, has called these disclosures “the tip of the iceberg,” and I have no reason to doubt him. The sub par quality of care delivered by the VA has been an open secret for decades. The substantial influx of wounded and sick veterans from two wars has overwhelmed the VA, which is underfunded and inefficient. The situation has plagued many administrations. It is not solely the fault of the Obama Administration. However, Mr. Obama is acting like this is a new situation, which he needs to “investigate” and “get to the bottom” of the matter. Let us not forget that he made the condition of the VA and veterans benefits a major campaign issue in 2008, and the above practices were disclosed in an internal VA memo in 2010. Now, he acts like he is being made cognizant of it for the first time. He will “not tolerate it,” and he will hold those responsible “accountable.” If all this sounds familiar, it is because it is. We heard it with Fast and Furious, the IRS, Benghazi, Obamacare roll-out, and other scandals. In NONE of those other cases have we “gotten to the bottom” of the matter and “held those responsible accountable.”

So, at least in this case, to be fair Mr. Obama did not create the problem. But, he has failed to address and resolve it. Furthermore, his response to it has been disingenuous at the very least. This is what frustrates independent-thinking Americans. The facts are never disclosed. The matter is never resolved. No one is ever held accountable. Should we expect this to be any different?

MODERN-DAY ANTI-SEMITISM

This blog comes with a warning label. Jews beware: this blog will shock you, disturb you, and anger you. I know that while researching this blog I went through all those emotions and others as well. Anti-Semitism is alive and well in the 21st Century, not only in the Muslim world, which one would expect, but all over the world, even in the US. To be sure, it is more subtle than in prior iterations, such as in the Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition and in Nazi Germany, but it is pervasive nonetheless. I have espoused this in previous blogs, but in view of recent events I feel compelled to speak out more explicitly at this time.

The Anti-defamation League has just released the findings of its most recent study into anti-Semitism. Some of the key findings were as follows:

1. 25% of respondents worldwide are “deeply infected with anti-Semitic attitudes.”

2. Approximately one-half of them had never heard of the Holocaust.

3. Only about one-third believe the descriptions of the Holocaust are accurate. I fear this percentage will decrease over time since (a) Holocaust survivors, the so-called living proof, are dying off, and (b) the Holocaust is not being taught in many schools (or is being taught in a sanitized way).

4. Anti-Semitism is growing on college campuses (more on this later).

One would expect these attitudes in Muslim countries, but they are present in the US as well. The Obama Administration has done little to defuse the situation.

1. It refuses to acknowledge violent acts committed by Jihadists as “terrorism,” e.g. Behghazi attack, Fort Hood, etc.

2. It cozies up to radical Muslim groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

3. It has been soft on Iran and Syria.

4. It did not admonish or rein in Secretary of State Kerry following his “Apartheid” remarks viz a vis Israel.

5. President Obama refused to meet with Mr. Netanyahu when the latter was in NY for UN meetings a few years ago and been generally cool toward him.

6. Under the guise of “fairness,” President Obama’s weak support of Israel and obvious antipathy toward Mr. Netanyahu has sent a clear signal to the rest of the world that the US’s support of Israel is not nearly as strong as it has been. This has given “cover” for certain people to criticize Israel, which is code for anti-Semitism.

7. Whereas the PC police have bent over backwards to appease Muslims, denoting and criticizing every perceived insult, it has not afforded Jews the same courtesy. Anti-Semitic comments, harassment and stereotypic comments toward Jews are often characterized as free speech. Two incidents reported today illustrate this unbalanced attitude. A NYC taxi driver was seen wearing an armband with a swastika symbol. He was reported and, subsequently, suspended, but the point is he felt he could wear it in the first place. On the other hand, at the University of St. Thomas some students arranged to bring a real live camel onto campus to celebrate the end of the school year. It was a lighthearted gesture, but some students objected on the grounds that a camel was offensive to “middle eastern” students. A bit of a “stretch,” don’t you think? The camel was cancelled. Who would have thought that Joe Camel, a symbol of Camels cigarettes for many years, was politically incorrect.

Regarding anti-Semitism on college campuses, below please find some of the more egregious examples:

1. A survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research found that over 40% of students felt there was anti-Semitism on their campus.

2. The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents reported that such incidents nearly tripled from 2011 to 2012.

3. At the UC Irvine campus an anti-Semitic speaker, Amir Abdul Malik Ali, referred to Jews as “the new Nazis” and the “Party of Satan.” He also said that “Jews’ days are numbered.” Apparently, the school administration saw fit to allow Mr. Ali to address the students, not once, but many times. On the other hand, a Muslim group at the same campus disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren under the guise of free speech.

4. Similar threats and incidents of harassment were and are being reported at college campuses all over the country. Time and space do not permit me to mention all of them, but you get the idea.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Incidents such as the above are supposed to be outlawed by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but so far the Obama Administration has chosen not to enforce those prohibitions as far as Jews are concerned. Selective enforcement seems to be the current administration’s hallmark in many areas, not just this one. Years ago, in one of his comedy routines aptly entitled “Politically Incorrect” Jackie Mason used to say that political correctness had risen to such a point that every group of people was protected from jokes at their expense except for tall, white, young, Anglo-Saxon WASPs. Now, it appears one can add Jews to that list.

Throughout history, rather than taking personal responsibility people have sought to blame Jews for their problems. This attitude tends to deepen during difficult economic times such as what we are experiencing now. I predicted this in one of my blogs last year. Apparently, once again, history is repeating itself.

So, what can Jews do? We need to be vigilant and proactive. Be more cognizant of what is going on in the world. We need to bring incidents of bigotry into the light, and we need to support political candidates who will fight bigotry of all types.

MOTHER’S DAY

Today, most Americans will celebrate Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is celebrated all over the world in some form. Different countries have their own way of celebrating the day and even celebrate on different dates. Some countries have replicated the US traditions – hallmark card, flowers, chocolates, and family gatherings; others have incorporated it into other holidays honoring women or mothers; and in others, a combination of the two has evolved. Restauranteurs claim that Mother’s Day is their busiest day of the year. Evidently, one of the perks for mothers on MD is a day off from cooking. And why not? (On the other hand, on Father’s Day the restaurants are relatively empty as many fathers are put to work barbecuing.

In the US MD was first celebrated in 1908 when a lady named Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother. Ms. Jarvis had been campaigning for the country to recognize a day to honor mothers since 1905 when her mother had passed away. In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed an official proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. It was to be a day to honor mothers and the concept of motherhood and their contributions to society.

As I stated, MD is celebrated in many countries in different ways and at different dates. For example:

1. The most common date is the second Sunday in May, which is May 11 this year. Besides the US, some of the countries that celebrate it on this date are Canada, Italy the Peoples Republic of China and Turkey.

2. Some countries, such as the UK, Ireland and Nigeria, celebrate it on the fourth Sunday of Lent. The UK incorporated it into a previously existing holiday called “Mothering Sunday.” ” Mothering Sunday” dates from the 16th Century.

3. Many Arab countries, such as Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia celebrate it on the vernal equinox (March 21).

4. Russia used to celebrate MD on March 8 in conjunction with International Women’s Day, but in 1998 the date was changed, by law, to the last Sunday in November.

5. Bolivia celebrates it on May 27, which is the date of an historically significant battle in which women played a key role.

6. Since 1950 France has celebrated MD on the fourth Sunday in May, except when the date conflicts with Pentecost in which case it is delayed to the next Sunday.

7. Hindus celebrate MD on the new moon day in the month of Baisakh (April/May).

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

MD is one of the few truly internationally recognized holidays. One of the charming features of the day is the variety of ways and dates on which it is celebrated. This is derived from the differences in customs and cultures around the world.

One thing is certain now and will remain so prospectively: on this day the mother/wife is truly in charge. Men: all together now, YES DEAR!

TERROR IN NIGERIA

The violent abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by the Islamic extremist organization Boko Haram has captured the attention and raised the ire of many Americans, including government officials, the media, Hollywood celebs and average citizens, and rightly so. Any objective person would agree that it was an outrageous, heinous crime.

Most analysts have opined that the girls have already been split up into smaller groups and distributed to sex and slave traffickers in other countries. If they have fallen down that rabbit hole, their safe return is growing more unlikely with each passing day. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the girls and their families.

However, as unconscionable as this act was, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. We should all realize that this was not an isolated incident. Young girls have been enslaved, tortured and terrorized in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and many other areas, including the US, for centuries. Even if these girls should be recovered and returned unharmed, which is very unlikely, that will not resolve the bigger problem.

In addition, Boko Haram has been wreaking terror in Nigeria for several years, mainly targeting Christians. This was merely their latest atrocity. The Nigerian government has been unable to subdue them. For example, last week BH attacked a town near the Cameroon border and killed 300 persons, including some women and children. Their goal is to impose Islamic law on the entire country. Since Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil, that would have major political and economic ramifications to the US. Furthermore, it has been known that BH has strong ties to al-Qaeda. You remember al-Qaeda. That is the terrorist organization that the Obama Administration has sworn was “on the run” and no longer a significant factor. Well, BH is further proof that al-Qaeda is very much alive and well. In fact, it has metastasized into other countries and terrorist groups. BH is but one example of this.

Interestingly, despite all the acts of terror BH has been committing over the past several years, the State Department did not formally designate BH as a “terrorist organization” until November 2013. Such a designation would have at least brought increased scrutiny and attention to the group. Maybe the school girls’ abduction as well as some of the other terror attacks could have been prevented. Even after BH bombed the UN Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria in 2011 the Hillary-led State Department refused to act. Even in the face of urging by the FBI, CIA, Department of Justice, General Carter Ham, Chief of US Africa Command, and various Congressmen, the Hillary-led State Department refused to act. Moreover, when the Senate introduced a bill to force the designation the Hillary-led State Department actually lobbied against it. Now, after she is no longer in charge of State and the incident has received world-wide attention, Hillary is full of righteous indignation towards BH. Disingenuous, to say the least. But, better late than never, I suppose.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

This incident raises questions about how we deal with terrorism all over the world. All too often, rather than confronting it head-on, we deny its existence for political purposes. So, why did the Hillary-led State Department refuse to recognize reality? Was it poor judgment? Poor intelligence? Incompetence? Indifference to the plight of Christians or women in Nigeria? (Did I just postulate a link between “Hillary Clinton” and the “war on women?” Ironic, huh.) Or, was it to perpetuate the Administration’s myth that terrorism, in general, and al-Qaeda, in particular, was “on the run?” Soon after Hillary left office the State Department did, in fact, designate BH as a terrorist organization. The facts are the facts. You decide.

I’m not sure what the US or anyone can do to help these girls. Yes, we can help bring BH to justice for its crimes, maybe even crush the Islamic movement they are promulgating. But, don’t expect the terrorizing and enslavement of girls to end overnight. I have blogged about this before. This is the real “war on women,” not the bogus one on American women that Dems keep trying to create. As I said, it’s been going on forever, and until and unless fundamental attitudes change it will continue.

CINCO DE MAYO

Today, many Americans will eat tacos and enchiladas and drink margaritas in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. Typically, most Americans have no idea of the significance of the holiday. They may assume that it is some religious festival or has something to do with Mexico’s independence from Spain. That would be wrong and wrong.

Back in 1861 France invaded Mexico. Napolean III, the ruler of France at the time, correctly perceived that Mexico was “ripe for the picking.” The Mexican-American War of 1846-48 had virtually bankrupted the country. The US was distracted by its Civil War and thus, unable to oppose France in Mexico. The other European powers, notably Spain and England, were not in the picture. At first, the French, with their superior numbers, equipment and training, routed the Mexicans, but on May 5, 1862 the Mexicans surprisingly defeated the French decisively in a major battle near Puebla, halting their advance. The Civil War ended in 1865, and, thereafter, the US was able to assist Mexico. Eventually, the French needed their military assets at home to prepare to fight the Prussians, so they abandoned their plans to conquer Mexico and withdrew.

The battle at Puebla was significant for several reasons:

1. Though largely symbolic, this victory gave the Mexicans a much-needed infusion of patriotism and national pride.
2. Since then, no country in the Americas has been invaded successfully by a European country.
3. Most importantly for the US, many historians believe that France’s ultimate goal was to enable the South to break away from the North. Mexico could have been used as a military base from which France could have funneled men and equipment to the Confederacy. If they had not been defeated at Puebla, who knows how far north their army would have pushed and who knows what military and political pressure they would have brought to bear against the US. Consequently, it can be posited that that victory helped preserve the Union.

Cinco de Mayo is celebrated not only in Mexico, but also in many other countries. Cities in the US, Canada, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Japan hold festivals featuring Mexican music, food and drink and celebrating Mexican culture. Technically, Cinco de Mayo, though recognized as a day of celebration throughout Mexico, is not a national holiday, although it is a holiday in the State of Puebla. Throughout the country, the public schools are closed and many towns hold parades or re-enactments of the battle of Puebla. It should be noted that Cinco de Mayo is NOT to be confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Cinco de Mayo is a great source of pride for people of Mexican descent, as well it should be. It commemorates a significant military victory over a better-equipped, numerically superior force. As denoted above, the victory held historical significance not only for Mexico but for the US as well. So, later today when you raise a glass of Tequila or dig into an order of guacamole give a toast to the brave men of Puebla.

KERRY AND ISRAEL

Recently, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Israel “risks becoming an Apartheid state” if the current peace negotiations were to fail. Kerry spoke in a closed-door meeting, and he had reason to doubt that his words would become public. But, in this day and age, there is no expectation of privacy. Someone always has a recording device.

Later, in the face of substantial shock, outrage and criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition, among others, Kerry tried to backtrack. He stated that he miss-spoke, and asserted that if he could “rewind the tape,” he would have used a “different word.” Kerry is a seasoned politician and the US’s highest ranking diplomat. They are trained to choose their words very carefully. Are we supposed to believe that he “miss-spoke?” I maintain that he knew exactly what he was saying and meant it. He is not sorry he said it; he’s only sorry that it was recorded.

Kerry’s comments are outrageous and hurtful on several levels.

1. Apartheid conjures up a hateful, bigoted period in South Africa’s history during which time blacks, “colored people,” Asians, and women were subjected to the most despicable, dehumanizing treatment one can imagine. Any objective person who is familiar with Apartheid has to be appalled by the comparison to Israel, which, in fact, is the only true democracy in the Middle East.

2. The comments signal a bias against Israel in favor of the Palestinians. The Palestinians now have confirmation that the US is exasperated with Israel’s negotiating position and is more likely to blame them if the talks fail. They have “cover” for taking a hard-line in the negotiations. The negotiations were hard enough before as there are many complicated issues to resolve including recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a legitimate state and the Palestinians’ close ties with various terrorists groups. This just made it harder and less likely that they will succeed.

3. Most importantly, this is not an isolated incident for the Obama Administration. It is consistent with their attitude for the last six years. The Obama Administration has seemed more intent on placating terrorist organizations, such as al Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and rogue states such as Iran and Syria than supporting its longstanding ally, Israel. They may think they are being evenhanded, but I don’t see it that way. They don’t seem to understand that these entities have tried to destroy us and will continue to do so. They consider us the “Great Satan.” We are “non-believers,” Judeo-Christian, not Muslim. They are not our friends and never will be, regardless of how hard we try and how many concessions we grant them. They are still fighting the Crusades 1,000 years after the fact. Just last week, in fact, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he is seeking a reconciliation deal with Hamas. How can the US expect Israel to negotiate with an organization that is cozying up to Hamas, which has repeatedly stated that its goal is the destruction of the State of Israel?

4. President Obama has made it clear that he considers Israel’s intransigence to be the main cause of the failure of the peace negotiations to date. Additionally, he has signaled that if the talks break down the US may no longer be able to protect and support Israel. What is the justification for that comment! Mr. Obama has called Mr. Abbas a man of peace. Furthermore, he has commended Abbas as someone who has “consistently renounced violence” and is seeking a “diplomatic and peaceful solution.” (How does that square with Abbas’ courting of Hamas?)

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

The Obama Administration has not been and is not a friend to Israel. At best, it has been neutral. At times, it has been hostile. Actions speak louder than words. On the other hand, its attitude toward Iran and Syria has been conciliatory and “wishy-washy.” The US and Israel have a symbiotic relationship. Israel needs the US’s strong, unwavering support. Ultimately, the US is the only nation it can count on. Similarly, the US needs Israel. It is the only ally in the Middle East that it count on. Unfortunately, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have a very strained relationship. You may recall that Mr. Obama chose not to meet with Mr. Netanyahu when he was in NY for meetings at the UN. That was a real “slap in the face.” Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, does not trust Mr. Obama, and with good reason.

This has clearly been the least supportive Administration, even worse than Jimmy Carter’s. Mr. Kerry’s Apartheid comment fit right in.

I say to American Jews, wake up. Why continue to support an Administration that has this kind of attitude toward Jews, in general, and Israel, in particular? Why continue to support an Administration that cozies up to terrorist organizations that have repeatedly sought to attack us? Why continue to support the current Democratic Administration just because you have always favored the Democratic Party. You are smarter than that; at least, I hope you are. Send the Dems a message in November. Jews are not automatons. We will not blindly continue to support an Administration that does not support Israel.