Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 17, 2012

An Ultrasound Isn’t Rape: Attacks on Virginia Abortion Law Go Over the Top

You could probably come up with some decent arguments against the legislation passed by the Virginia legislature, which would require women to receive ultrasounds before undergoing an abortion. Or, as Slate does, you could just descend into hysteria and wild-eyed fear-mongering:

I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law. …

The ethical and professional obligations of physicians who would merely like to perform their jobs without physically violating their own patients are, however, immaterial. Don’t even bother asking whether this law would have passed had it involved physically penetrating a man instead of a woman without consent. Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument about the obscene government overreach that is the individual mandate in President Obama’s health care law. Yet physical intrusion by government into the vagina of a pregnant woman is so urgently needed that the woman herself should be forced to pay for the privilege.

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You could probably come up with some decent arguments against the legislation passed by the Virginia legislature, which would require women to receive ultrasounds before undergoing an abortion. Or, as Slate does, you could just descend into hysteria and wild-eyed fear-mongering:

I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law. …

The ethical and professional obligations of physicians who would merely like to perform their jobs without physically violating their own patients are, however, immaterial. Don’t even bother asking whether this law would have passed had it involved physically penetrating a man instead of a woman without consent. Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument about the obscene government overreach that is the individual mandate in President Obama’s health care law. Yet physical intrusion by government into the vagina of a pregnant woman is so urgently needed that the woman herself should be forced to pay for the privilege.

Comparing the ultrasound proposal to forcible rape is – to be kind – totally absurd. But Slate’s not the only outlet engaging in this. Feministe is calling it the “Virginia Rape Law,” and Washington Monthly described it as the “Ritual Humiliation Bill.”

Then there’s Joy Behar, who likened it to Taliban law on “The View”: “It’s like, what are we? What is this, the Taliban now? What are we, in Afghanistan? Where are we exactly in this country?”

The comparisons aren’t just needlessly inflammatory, they also dilute the seriousness of rape. And there’s also a case to be made that there’s a tangible medical benefit from the ultrasound, as Tim Griffin writes at Red State:

Although the discomfort of the test to women should not be in any way dismissed or downplayed, this really is an important step in allowing mothers to be informed of the ramifications of the choice that they make.  Hundreds of thousands of American women struggle with Post Abortion Stress Syndrome. For those who advocate the rights of women, their responsibility should not only be on extending the “right to choose” before the procedure, but should extend to ensuring that these women do not have to endure a decision for the rest of their lives that they did not truly understand.

Pro-choice advocates say they’re not in favor of abortion, they’re in favor of giving women the option to have it. If that’s the case, they should support arming women with more information about a procedure that, at least under the law, is their right to have.

Update: Dan McLaughlin points out on Twitter that I credited the first piece to Salon, when it should actually be credited to Slate. Duly corrected, and apologies for any confusion.

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Presbyterians Take Another Step Toward Hate for Israel

As we wrote last week, the Presbyterian Church USA is faced with a choice about the future of its relations with the Jewish community and, indeed, the vast majority of Americans who ardently support the state of Israel. Unfortunately, rather than listen to voices of reason, church leaders have today taken another step toward approval of measures that place the denomination in favor of economic war against the Jewish state when their General Assembly Mission Council voted to recommend a report that calls for “selective divestment” from Israel.

Though the PCUSA claims what it is doing is meant to encourage peace, it is doing just the opposite. By approving a call for sanctions on some companies that do business in Israel, the PCUSA  is not only doing something that will encourage Palestinians to persist in refusing to make peace, they have also done something that makes it impossible for Jews and others who care about Israel to continue to work with the church on any issue.

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As we wrote last week, the Presbyterian Church USA is faced with a choice about the future of its relations with the Jewish community and, indeed, the vast majority of Americans who ardently support the state of Israel. Unfortunately, rather than listen to voices of reason, church leaders have today taken another step toward approval of measures that place the denomination in favor of economic war against the Jewish state when their General Assembly Mission Council voted to recommend a report that calls for “selective divestment” from Israel.

Though the PCUSA claims what it is doing is meant to encourage peace, it is doing just the opposite. By approving a call for sanctions on some companies that do business in Israel, the PCUSA  is not only doing something that will encourage Palestinians to persist in refusing to make peace, they have also done something that makes it impossible for Jews and others who care about Israel to continue to work with the church on any issue.

The measure approved in advance of the church’s biennial General Assembly to be held next summer specifically seeks to encourage divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard because they do business with Israel’s Defense Ministry and the country’s home construction industry. While the Presbyterian activists who have promoted this noxious measure are attempting to distance themselves from their comrades in the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel by choosing to try and pass a more limited measure rather than a full boycott, what they are advocating is a tactic that seeks to delegitimize Israel’s right of self-defense.

The attack on Motorola and Hewlett Packard is particularly insidious because they are singled out for the fact that Israelis use their equipment to build and man the security fence that protects the country against Palestinian terrorism. The fence has saved countless lives since its erection halted a wave of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. The Presbyterian move to approve a ban on these companies is tantamount to the church taking a stand that Israel has no right to take defensive measures aimed at saving the lives of its citizens.

The criticism of Caterpillar is just as hypocritical. The church simply assumes any Israeli construction or use of machines to create roads and security stations is illegitimate.

It should be emphasized that boycotts such as these do nothing to advance peace, despite the pious rhetoric that accompanies this destructive resolution. Rather than encouraging Palestinians to stop fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews and to go to the negotiating table which they have shunned for years, the Presbyterians are simply seeking to chip away at Israel’s right of self-defense and to live in peace. Such measures are part of an international campaign of attacks on the legitimacy of Israel and Jewish rights.

As much as we would like to accept the notion that the Presbyterians are acting in good faith, it needs to be pointed out to them that anyone who singles out one state or people in this manner or who seeks to remove their right of self-defense is acting in a discriminatory fashion. There is a term for those who engage in such bias against Jews: anti-Semitism. While the church may claim to oppose hatred against Jews or anyone for that manner, it must be understood by joining the ranks of the BDS movement in any manner, what they are doing is making common cause with the haters.

It should also be emphasized, as we have pointed out in the past, that support for these damaging resolutions is largely limited to the activists who work for the church and is not shared by the overwhelming majority of Americans who affiliate with Presbyterian churches or their pastors. Like most Americans, Presbyterians support America’s democratic ally Israel and have no wish to associate themselves with extremist measures that serve only to buttress the forces of Palestinian rejectionism.

But it will be up to the Presbyterian Church USA’s rank and file to make it clear to those who attend the biennial next summer that they must vote this awful measure down if they wish to remain part of the mainstream of American religious life.

It will also be up to American Jews and their rabbis to reach out to their Presbyterian neighbors to make them aware of what has happened to their church and what they must do to stop this. The Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the national umbrella group of Jewish community relations councils, has assumed an important leadership role in this struggle and did its best via outreach to try to persuade the Presbyterians to back away from the precipice. But now it will be up to ordinary Americans of every faith to make it clear to the PCUSA that business as usual cannot continue with them as long as they are prepared to place their faith on the side of hatred and intolerance. We can only hope church members will listen to their better angels of their nature and discard this resolution before any more harm is done to ecumenical relations.

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People Who Took the Foster Friess Joke Way Too Literally

Yesterday, Rick Santorum fundraiser Foster Friess went on MSNBC and told an old, corny joke about how “gals” used to put aspirin between their knees as birth control. The implication was that if you keep your knees together all the time, you’re not going to be getting pregnant anytime soon. Get it? (Yes, it’s dumb).

But the joke was apparently lost on liberals, some of whom thought Friess was literally proposing women use this as a form of birth control. Even though it isn’t medically effective! And they were accordingly outraged.

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Yesterday, Rick Santorum fundraiser Foster Friess went on MSNBC and told an old, corny joke about how “gals” used to put aspirin between their knees as birth control. The implication was that if you keep your knees together all the time, you’re not going to be getting pregnant anytime soon. Get it? (Yes, it’s dumb).

But the joke was apparently lost on liberals, some of whom thought Friess was literally proposing women use this as a form of birth control. Even though it isn’t medically effective! And they were accordingly outraged.

Mediate cites a couple of good examples of people taking the joke way too seriously. Here’s one from Crooks and Liars that blames Friess for spreading “myths” that lead to teen pregnancy:

It was pretty horrifying to hear. Diane Sweet, who runs our Occupy America Blog found this Dear Abby article from July 18, 2007, which puts a chilling story to this anti-choice neanderthal’s words and chuckles.

DEAR ABBY:

Here’s one for the books on parental stupidity. When my daughter, “Marissa” began to reach her teen years, her father — in an attempt to be funny — advised her that she could keep from becoming pregnant by putting an aspirin between her knees and keeping it there.

My stupidity was assuming that sex education and pregnancy prevention were taught in her school. I never broached the subject with her.

Larissa became pregnant at 15. …

What a joke it must have been to Foster and his pals after he left the set. He probably thought he set Andrea Mitchell straight on the idea of how silly birth control is when all you have to do is grab an aspirin and squeeze.

And another flagged by Red State’s Caleb Howe:

I couldn’t tell whether Mitchell was baffled or taken aback, but the reporter who wrote that article was clearly baffled. The above is followed with:

It is totally unclear what Friess is talking about and a quick Google search on links between Bayer aspirin and contraception was unhelpful, although Bayer does manufacture birth control pills.

And here’s Think Progress fuming that Friess only put the aspirin burden on women — a clear sign of sexism:

Given that aspirin is not a contraceptive, Friess seems to be suggesting that women keep the pill between their knees in order to ensure their legs stay closed to prevent having sex. Conspicuously, Friess doesn’t put the same burden on men.

It’s hard to tell if the outrage is genuine, or if some of these writers are simply pretending to take this literally in order to attack Santorum. Either way, the responses are still entertaining.

From a political standpoint, Friess’ comment was stupid. It was a distraction for Santorum, and highlighted his outside-of-mainstream views on contraceptives. On the other hand, the firestorm of indignation about the joke is even sillier, and blaming Santorum for it is just nonsense.

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Santorum Isn’t Wrong on Gambling

Those who have pointed out that Rick Santorum’s reputation as the scourge of gays and his opposition to contraception will be serious liabilities in a general election are right. But his stance on gambling that Alana noted yesterday ought not to be lumped in as yet another instance of the former Pennsylvania senator acting out his role as the national scold. Santorum’s opposition to the spread of gambling, and specifically the legalization of Internet gambling,is neither overly moralistic nor hypocritical. What’s more, I highly doubt Democrats would seek to make this a campaign issue because it would cast them not so much as libertarian defenders of the right to gamble as the defenders of a dangerous social pathology.

As Alana wrote, Santorum recently reiterated his long-held belief that allowing legalized gambling to spread from its previous enclaves in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a terrible idea for the country. But, contrary to Alana’s assertion, this doesn’t make him an advocate of a nanny state. The analogy here is not so much to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on trans fats as it is the decision about whether this country will legalize marijuana or even heroin.

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Those who have pointed out that Rick Santorum’s reputation as the scourge of gays and his opposition to contraception will be serious liabilities in a general election are right. But his stance on gambling that Alana noted yesterday ought not to be lumped in as yet another instance of the former Pennsylvania senator acting out his role as the national scold. Santorum’s opposition to the spread of gambling, and specifically the legalization of Internet gambling,is neither overly moralistic nor hypocritical. What’s more, I highly doubt Democrats would seek to make this a campaign issue because it would cast them not so much as libertarian defenders of the right to gamble as the defenders of a dangerous social pathology.

As Alana wrote, Santorum recently reiterated his long-held belief that allowing legalized gambling to spread from its previous enclaves in Las Vegas and Atlantic City is a terrible idea for the country. But, contrary to Alana’s assertion, this doesn’t make him an advocate of a nanny state. The analogy here is not so much to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on trans fats as it is the decision about whether this country will legalize marijuana or even heroin.

There are reasonable arguments to be made about ending the war on drugs, the same as there were good reasons for states to drop bans on casinos. But to argue that anyone who takes note of the plague of social pathologies the influx of casinos have brought with them wherever they have been built can’t also claim to be an advocate of limited government is off the mark.

Unlike real nanny state issues, legalized gambling is not so much a matter of private choice of a form of entertainment as much as it is one of enabling a business whereby the state profits from the exploitation of the poor and the middle class. While it can be asserted that individuals should have the right to become addicts and destroy their lives and families via gambling, the same can be said about heroin. The only difference right now is that government takes a hefty cut of the profit in gambling while the billions made from the drug trade now only go to criminals. Though legalization of drugs might be a money maker for states that face budget crunches, most Americans are rightly so horrified by the human cost of drug addiction they cannot stomach a measure that libertarians advocate.

When it comes to gambling, most of us are less squeamish. Perhaps that is because the destruction of lives and families that are caused by gambling don’t seem quite as shocking as habits that involve needles. And yet the link between gambling and crime is as strong as that of drugs.

Some also argue that the nature of drug use is such that they destroy more users than the percentage of gamblers who are dragged under by that addiction. That may be true, but society bans many things as dangerous that affect far fewer numbers of people than the vast number of Americans whose lives have been wrecked by legalized gambling. It is also true that one can make the same arguments against gambling at home on the Internet for alcohol, whose abuse probably does more damage than drugs and gambling combined. However, the difference is unlike the liquor industry, legalized gambling is something that always morphs into a quasi-government business.

Santorum speaks for many, if not most Americans, when he says encouraging the spread of legalized gambling isn’t good for the country. What’s more, it ill behooves conservatives or libertarians to be encouraging an industry whose main purpose has always been to encourage the growth of government. Far more than individual rights, it is big government that stands to gain the most from legalization. The untold billions it will gain from its share of the take in legalized Internet gambling will feed the same state leviathan conservatives and libertarians abhor.

While many may disagree with Santorum on this, Republicans needn’t fear the Obama campaign will use this against the GOP should the Pennsylvanian become the nominee. Though he may be out of step with popular culture on many issues, Santorum’s concerns about gambling are very much in the mainstream.

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The Myth About Our “Pivot to the Pacific”

The great myth about our ongoing defense drawdown is it is designed to make possible a “pivot to the Pacific.” This is only true in the sense that the Navy and Air Force–the primary services concerned with a future Pacific conflict–are being cut less than the Army and Marine Corps, upon whom we have depended to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade.

The ground forces are losing more than 100,000 troopers. The air and naval forces are not making such drastic cutbacks, but they are cutting back just the same, as this article in the San Diego Union Tribune notes: “The Navy is cutting nearly 3,000 mid-career troops in a first-of-its-kind layoff this year, made necessary by record-high re-enlistment.” In other words, petty officers who had been looking forward to a 20+-year career, as is standard, are now being sent to the unemployment line after only 10 or so years of service–this at a time of high unemployment. As the article notes, this is part of an ongoing reduction of the Navy’s ranks. In 2006, it had  359,373 personnel; today it has 325,700; by 2014 it is due to be down to 320,000.

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The great myth about our ongoing defense drawdown is it is designed to make possible a “pivot to the Pacific.” This is only true in the sense that the Navy and Air Force–the primary services concerned with a future Pacific conflict–are being cut less than the Army and Marine Corps, upon whom we have depended to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade.

The ground forces are losing more than 100,000 troopers. The air and naval forces are not making such drastic cutbacks, but they are cutting back just the same, as this article in the San Diego Union Tribune notes: “The Navy is cutting nearly 3,000 mid-career troops in a first-of-its-kind layoff this year, made necessary by record-high re-enlistment.” In other words, petty officers who had been looking forward to a 20+-year career, as is standard, are now being sent to the unemployment line after only 10 or so years of service–this at a time of high unemployment. As the article notes, this is part of an ongoing reduction of the Navy’s ranks. In 2006, it had  359,373 personnel; today it has 325,700; by 2014 it is due to be down to 320,000.

This personnel downsizing has been accompanied by a downsizing in the fleet. The Navy today is down to 282 ships, the lowest level since before World War II, and is likely to wind up during this decade with just 246 ships. As retired Marine Lt. Gen. Chip Gregson notes, “This is important because no matter how capable the ship, it can only be in one place at a time. And power projection that stays is about ships.”

Meanwhile, as Richard Cleary and Tom Donnelly note, the new defense budget is also reducing our acquisition of the F-35 Lightning, the essential fifth-generation fighter we need to keep up with China: “The Obama Pentagon has reduced the 2013 purchase of Lightnings from 42 to 29 and reduced the planned five-year buy by more than 100 aircraft.”

Pacific pivot? Hardly. More like an across-the-board disarmament that is proceeding at varied rates in different services and different parts of the world.

 

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Will the Jews Defend Catholics?

Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

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Initially, after the HHS mandate for employers to provide birth control for its employees was announced, the religious right flank of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union (OU), came out strongly against the decision.  In the New York Times, the executive director of public policy for the OU Nathan Diament explained:

Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary [says] religious entities that “serve the general public and employ people of different faiths” should not receive the same religious liberty protections as, for example, a church or a synagogue. Such reasoning is wrongheaded.

For many people of diverse faiths, religious observance is not to be confined to the sanctuary. For many, faith compels engagement with the broader world and service to our fellow man, especially those in need. To say the government will afford religious liberty only to the most insular of religious institutions but not to those that serve, or employ, people of other faiths is a troubling view of faith and what role it should play in America.

If you read the statement closely, however, the OU appears to have more problem with Catholic groups’ non-classification as religious organizations verses the government’s mandate that they provide a service explicitly against their religion. After the president’s “compromise” (which Rep. Paul Ryan called merely an accounting trick) the OU changed its tune after meetings with the White House to craft the revisions, issuing a new press release stating it,

welcomed President Obama’s announcement that he is revising the regulation announced on January 20 by the Dept. of Health and Human Services in re: employers’ health insurance plans and religiously affiliated institutions.

The Orthodox Union criticized the previous regulation as being harmful to religious liberty and disturbingly defining religious entities that serve or employ people of other faith as undeserving of religious liberty protection.

Under the revised rule, no nonprofit, religious institutional employer that objects to providing contraceptives and sterilization services will have to pay for or provide coverage for it.

The left flank of the Jewish community, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC),  also released a statement supporting the president’s “compromise,” and never released a statement on its position when the controversy first erupted. The director of the RAC, Rabbi David Saperstein, has a strong relationship with the Obama White House and personally consulted on the mandate throughout the process.

The Catholic Church is not fooled by the president’s “compromise” which requires insurance companies to provide the birth control verses the employers themselves. Under the “compromise,” the Catholic Church and its affiliates will still be paying the insurance company premiums and from those premiums Catholic employees will receive birth control from their employer-provided insurance. Today, LifeNews reported that every Catholic bishop in the United States opposes the mandate and yesterday, as Jonathan mentioned, Bishop William E. Lori spoke on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against the mandate at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

At the hearing, Bishop Lori compared the Church’s requirement to provide birth control to a kosher deli’s requirement to serve pork. Jonathan quoted the statement in full, and his post is a must-read. Many have scoffed at the comparison, and a more apt one may have been, “What if the government decides to outlaw the ‘barbaric’ practice of circumcision?” Unfortunately, it’s a comparison that may hit too close to home for many Jews (and Muslims), especially residents of San Francisco. Last year, the city came frighteningly close to outlawing a basic ritual central to both Abrahamic faiths. When that occurred the (notoriously left-wing) Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco released a statement opposing the circumcision ban, calling it “an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family.” The Catholic Church understood this attack on Jewish and Muslim religious liberty could be followed by an attack on theirs, and unfortunately, they were proven right.

While this fight about birth control may not be a Jewish issue, it is an issue of religious liberty. The Jewish community in San Francisco almost saw an infringement of its First Amendment rights passed into law last year, and its co-religionists spoke out for the sake of every religion’s right to practice freely. Now that this mandate is about to be enacted against every practicing Catholic in the United States, why won’t their Jewish co-religionists take the same stand?

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Obama Must Prove Brotherhood Wrong

The Obama administration may believe the $1.3 billion a year the United States gives to Egypt provides it with leverage in the standoff over that country’s attempt to criminalize the activities of American non-governmental organizations that promote democracy and human rights. The indictment of 16 Americans and a refusal to let another six leave the country has rightly earned Egypt a stiff condemnation from Washington, which has sent Cairo a signal that further such misbehavior will make the passage of future aid packages problematic. But the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, which constitutes Egypt’s leading political party in the post-Mubarak era, has made it clear they aren’t impressed by President Obama’s concerns or any implicit threats from Congress. As the New York Times reports today, the Brotherhood is promising that any slowing of the U.S. gravy train will result in a “review” of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

This threat from the Brotherhood reinforces two key factors of the U.S.-Egypt relationship. The first is that most Egyptians have always thought of the 1979 pact that ended decades of war with the Jewish state as merely a financial bargain in which the United States paid them to keep the peace. The second is that the Brotherhood, much like the Islamists who run Iran, doesn’t think much of President Obama.

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The Obama administration may believe the $1.3 billion a year the United States gives to Egypt provides it with leverage in the standoff over that country’s attempt to criminalize the activities of American non-governmental organizations that promote democracy and human rights. The indictment of 16 Americans and a refusal to let another six leave the country has rightly earned Egypt a stiff condemnation from Washington, which has sent Cairo a signal that further such misbehavior will make the passage of future aid packages problematic. But the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, which constitutes Egypt’s leading political party in the post-Mubarak era, has made it clear they aren’t impressed by President Obama’s concerns or any implicit threats from Congress. As the New York Times reports today, the Brotherhood is promising that any slowing of the U.S. gravy train will result in a “review” of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

This threat from the Brotherhood reinforces two key factors of the U.S.-Egypt relationship. The first is that most Egyptians have always thought of the 1979 pact that ended decades of war with the Jewish state as merely a financial bargain in which the United States paid them to keep the peace. The second is that the Brotherhood, much like the Islamists who run Iran, doesn’t think much of President Obama.

The peace between Israel and Egypt has remained ice cold even at the best of times during the long reign of Hosni Mubarak. But under his military successors, who must work in partnership with the Islamists of the Brotherhood and other extremists, the constituency for peace is virtually nonexistent. The only argument in favor of the treaty that makes any sense to either the military or the rest of a country (whose popular culture has reinforced anti-Semitic stereotypes and where hatred for Israel and Jews is rampant) is the need to maintain the flow of U.S. aid. If the aid goes, so too does the rationale for the cold peace.

Of course, neither Egypt’s military or even the Brotherhood is actually interested in reliving their country’s disastrous wars with Israel. But they do believe President Obama hasn’t the guts to stand up to them on any issue, including the role of Americans in promoting democracy. Just like the ayatollahs in Iran, they see this administration as being too weak to stand up to them. Though they neither wish to lose their annual billion-dollar bribe nor to have to revert to a state of war with Israel, they think Obama hasn’t the nerve to force them to back down.

Though it is a bit late in the day for him to be able to change his reputation, it is incumbent on Obama to prove the Brotherhood wrong. While neither the United States nor Israel wants an already shaky treaty to collapse altogether, it is the Egyptians who have the most to lose in this equation. The American demand must be backed up. If the Egyptians want any more U.S. taxpayer money, they must back off on their crackdown on those trying to promote democracy in that country.

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Pat Buchanan and His Mysterious “Blacklisters”

It always seemed odd that MSNBC, the far-left network, employed one of the most fringey, controversial, anti-Semitic figures on the right. But then again, there was probably a good reason for it. The left still wishes all conservatives were as easy to demonize as Pat Buchanan.

But now it seems some powerful, shadowy group of “backlisters” went and drove Buchanan out of MSNBC, after his writing was attacked by liberals as racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. Buchanan took to the internet today to warn darkly about these blacklisters:

Without a hearing, they smear and stigmatize as racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic any who contradict what George Orwell once called their “smelly little orthodoxies.” They then demand that the heretic recant, grovel, apologize, and pledge to go forth and sin no more.

Defy them, and they will go after the network where you work, the newspapers that carry your column, the conventions that invite you to speak. If all else fails, they go after the advertisers.

I know these blacklisters. They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.

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It always seemed odd that MSNBC, the far-left network, employed one of the most fringey, controversial, anti-Semitic figures on the right. But then again, there was probably a good reason for it. The left still wishes all conservatives were as easy to demonize as Pat Buchanan.

But now it seems some powerful, shadowy group of “backlisters” went and drove Buchanan out of MSNBC, after his writing was attacked by liberals as racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. Buchanan took to the internet today to warn darkly about these blacklisters:

Without a hearing, they smear and stigmatize as racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic any who contradict what George Orwell once called their “smelly little orthodoxies.” They then demand that the heretic recant, grovel, apologize, and pledge to go forth and sin no more.

Defy them, and they will go after the network where you work, the newspapers that carry your column, the conventions that invite you to speak. If all else fails, they go after the advertisers.

I know these blacklisters. They operate behind closed doors, with phone calls, mailed threats and off-the-record meetings. They work in the dark because, as Al Smith said, nothing un-American can live in the sunlight.

Dying to know who these mysterious blacklisters are. If only he would be a bit more specific!

On a related note, Buchanan was one of the few figures on the right who regularly used the term “Israel Firsters” to smear the pro-Israel community. He also used the same Al Smith quote in a Human Events article in which he accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee of torpedoing Chas Freeman’s National Intelligence Council nomination:

Nor did Freeman shrink at naming the source of the noxious campaign of slander against him.

“The tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods and an utter disregard for the truth.”

“A lobby,” Steve Rosen confided in an AIPAC internal memo, “is like a night flower; it thrives in the dark and dies in the sun.”

Yes, and long ago, Al Smith addressed the age-old problem of the Rosens within: “The best way to kill anything un-American is to drag it out into the open, because anything un-American cannot live in the sunlight.’”

The pro-Israel lobby didn’t drive Buchanan out of MSNBC, as much as he may wish it did. It was just a matter of time before the MSNBC audience objected to Buchanan’s past offensive statements. The only surprise is that it took so long.

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Will 2012 Be a Referendum on Mormons?

This past week, the Mormon Church, and Mitt Romney, came under fire when it was discovered that the parents of Simon Wiesenthal were proxy-baptized by the Church. In 1995, the Church of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, outlawed the baptisms of anyone outside of their members’ ancestors in response to outrage over their baptisms of Holocaust victims (which Wiesenthal’s parents were). In an apologetic statement released after the Wiesenthal baptisms became known, the Church explained that a rogue member had submitted the names without the knowledge or consent of leadership and that there would be action taken to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Immediately after the baptisms hit the headlines calls came for Romney to condemn the action, from Elie Wiesel to top leadership of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, pushing the story onto front pages. Given that the Church had already officially prohibited the baptisms of Holocaust victims, there was little for Romney to do but condemn his own Church, publicly, with no chance of accomplishing anything but further embarrassing his faith.

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This past week, the Mormon Church, and Mitt Romney, came under fire when it was discovered that the parents of Simon Wiesenthal were proxy-baptized by the Church. In 1995, the Church of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church, outlawed the baptisms of anyone outside of their members’ ancestors in response to outrage over their baptisms of Holocaust victims (which Wiesenthal’s parents were). In an apologetic statement released after the Wiesenthal baptisms became known, the Church explained that a rogue member had submitted the names without the knowledge or consent of leadership and that there would be action taken to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Immediately after the baptisms hit the headlines calls came for Romney to condemn the action, from Elie Wiesel to top leadership of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, pushing the story onto front pages. Given that the Church had already officially prohibited the baptisms of Holocaust victims, there was little for Romney to do but condemn his own Church, publicly, with no chance of accomplishing anything but further embarrassing his faith.

What kind of statement was expected of Romney? There was outrage not only about these baptisms, but proxy-baptisms in general. Was he supposed to call his own religious ritual offensive and cast judgement upon it? On Bill Maher’s show following the controversy Maher pretended to perform an “unbaptism” on Romney’s deceased father-in-law. The Hollywood Reporter reports,

Donning a sorcerer’s hat and wielding a magic wand, Maher then produced a black and white photograph of Davies, on which he performed his mystical ritual. The brief ceremony was made complete with references to “Laverne and Shirley,” “Harry Potter” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

“By the power granted in me by the Blair Witch,” he declared, “I call upon the Mormon spirits to leave your body the f*** alone.”

There was no outcry, no outrage. For some reason, it’s become acceptable to criticize the Mormon faith, and with Romney’s stature as its most famous member, it has become increasingly common.

Imagine if these sorts of statements were made about Jewish, Muslim or Christian practices. Was Joseph Lieberman asked to condemn actions of his own faith as forcefully when he was on the ballot? Was he expected to cast shame on the Jewish faith, its practices and customs? If nothing else, Romney’s candidacy will expose the American public’s perception of the Church of Latter-day Saints, the largest and most influential religion born on our soil. In the event Romney manages to secure the GOP nomination, we’ll be seeing nine more months of this. It could get ugly.

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NJ Dems’ Marriage Bill Still Far From Becoming Law

While running for governor in 2009, Chris Christie vowed, if elected, to veto any same-sex marriage bill that came to his desk. His support for civil unions but opposition to gay marriage did not hold him back in his decisive victory over Jon Corzine, but the state’s Democratic legislature is about to force Christie to make good on his veto threat.

The state’s Democrats bookended this week by passing a bill legalizing gay marriage in the Senate on Monday and then in the Assembly yesterday, with Christie promising to veto the bill as early as today. Christie had tried to avoid this by urging the legislature to instead put the choice to voters in a referendum. That would have taken Christie out of the equation and would have likely reduced the odds of it passing:

Voters nationwide have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums on the issue. Democrats in New Jersey say marriage is a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said this week “there’s not a chance in hell” he’d post a referendum bill.

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While running for governor in 2009, Chris Christie vowed, if elected, to veto any same-sex marriage bill that came to his desk. His support for civil unions but opposition to gay marriage did not hold him back in his decisive victory over Jon Corzine, but the state’s Democratic legislature is about to force Christie to make good on his veto threat.

The state’s Democrats bookended this week by passing a bill legalizing gay marriage in the Senate on Monday and then in the Assembly yesterday, with Christie promising to veto the bill as early as today. Christie had tried to avoid this by urging the legislature to instead put the choice to voters in a referendum. That would have taken Christie out of the equation and would have likely reduced the odds of it passing:

Voters nationwide have rejected gay marriage in all 31 referendums on the issue. Democrats in New Jersey say marriage is a civil right that shouldn’t be subject to a popular vote. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford Democrat, said this week “there’s not a chance in hell” he’d post a referendum bill.

Sweeney needed a win against Christie, and this was the best chance he’s had all term. Christie tried to push the legislature to opt for the public referendum by arguing this change should come directly from the people, not career politicians. Thus far, Christie has been able to get the state’s Democrats on board with his agenda. But as I wrote last July, the closer Christie gets to his re-election campaign, the less help he’ll get from Democrats. (A poll last year showed Sweeney to be more popular with Republicans than his own party, and he immediately became less cooperative with Christie.)

Meanwhile, Christie began his term with a rare amount of political capital because of the dire state of New Jersey’s finances and the Democrats’ role in bringing the state to the edge of financial collapse. That political capital may have appeared limitless two years ago, but those reserves have been depleted to pass far-reaching reforms, especially with regard to reining in public unions. The Democrats have been moving closer to political unity and message discipline as Christie’s first term went on, and the timing of this bill is unsurprising.

But that doesn’t mean it will become law. To override Christie’s veto, the Democrats will need Republican votes. Yet in the Assembly, they couldn’t even get every Democrat to vote for the bill. As it stands, for the gay marriage bill to overcome the veto, it will need three more votes in the Senate and 12 more in the Assembly. Christie may have lost the initial political battle here, but he is understandably confident his veto will stand.

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Ham Sandwiches and Religious Freedom

Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.

But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.

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Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.

But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.

As Lori said, the fact that many Jews eat pork does not undermine the right of kosher restaurants to exclude it from the menu. Nor should it obligate them to provide ham or shrimp or cheeseburgers to their non-Jewish employees for lunch. Rather than their refusal to do so being a case of observant Jews “imposing their beliefs” on others, a law that sought to force such restaurants to alter their fare to conform with a government dictat would allow the state to use its power of coercion to run roughshod over the religious beliefs of its citizens.

Lori went even further and analogized the president’s “compromise” on contraception by saying it was no different than if the state allowed the kosher delis to not put pork on its menu and to have its employees serve ham sandwiches but forced them to allow pork distributors to set up kiosks on the premises where free ham sanchwiches would be served, the cost for which would be born by the kosher deli owners.

If the analogy sounds ludicrous it is only because there is no national meal plan to feed Americans in the way that Obamacare has nationalized health insurance. But, as Lori points out, there isn’t any more need for anyone who works at a Catholic institution to get birth control from the church than there is for a pork-craving customer to get ham from a kosher deli. In both cases, there is nothing preventing either person from working someplace else or just going down the block to get the item they want from somewhere else. The attack on the church demonstrates not only the contempt of this administration for religious freedom but the threat that its signature health care bill poses to constitutional liberty.

The impulse to impose these regulations on the church has no more to do with the correctness of the Vatican’s ruling on contraception than the validity of kashrut. Both are religious beliefs that must be respected if we are serious about protecting religious freedom in this republic. Such freedom either exists for all or for none.

Bishop Lori’s statement deserves to be read in full:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, for the opportunity to testify today. For my testimony today, I would like to tell a story. Let’s call it, “The Parable of the Kosher Deli.”

Once upon a time, a new law is proposed, so that any business that serves food must serve pork. There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.

The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.

Meanwhile, those who support the mandate respond, “But pork is good for you. It is, after all, the other white meat.” Other supporters add, “So many Jews eat pork, and those who don’t should just get with the times.” Still others say, “Those Orthodox are just trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”

But in our hypothetical, those arguments fail in the public debate, because people widely recognize the following.

First, although people may reasonably debate whether pork is good for you, that’s not the question posed by the nationwide pork mandate. Instead, the mandate generates the question whether people, who believe—even if they believe in error—that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork within their very own institutions. In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

Second, the fact that some (or even most) Jews eat pork is simply irrelevant. The fact remains that some Jews do not—and they do not out of their most deeply held religious convictions. Does the fact that large majorities in society—even large majorities within the protesting religious community—reject a particular religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute? Does it allow government to punish that minority belief with its coercive power? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

Third, the charge that the Orthodox Jews are imposing their beliefs on others has it exactly backwards. Again, the question generated by a government mandate is whether the government will impose its belief that eating pork is good on objecting Orthodox Jews. Meanwhile, there is no imposition at all on the freedom of those who want to eat pork. That is, they are subject to no government interference at all in their choice to eat pork, and pork is ubiquitous and cheap, available at the overwhelming majority of restaurants and grocers. Indeed, some pork producers and retailers, and even the government itself, are so eager to promote the eating of pork, that they sometimes give pork away for free.

In this context, the question is this: can a customer come to a kosher deli, demand to be served a ham sandwich, and if refused, bring down severe government sanction on the deli? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.

So in our hypothetical story, because the hypothetical nation is indeed committed to religious liberty and diversity, these arguments carry the day.

In response, those proposing the new law claim to hear and understand the concerns of kosher deli owners, and offer them a new “accommodation.” You are free to call yourself a kosher deli; you are free not to place ham sandwiches on your menu; you are free not to be the person to prepare the sandwich and hand it over the counter to the customer. But we will force your meat supplier to set up a kiosk on your premises, and to offer, prepare, and serve ham sandwiches to all of your customers, free of charge to them. And when you get your monthly bill from your meat supplier, it will include the cost of any of the “free” ham sandwiches that your customers may accept. And you will, of course, be required to pay that bill.

Some who supported the deli owners initially began to celebrate the fact that ham sandwiches didn’t need to be on the menu, and didn’t need to be prepared or served by the deli itself. But on closer examination, they noticed three troubling things.

First, all kosher delis will still be forced to pay for the ham sandwiches. Second, many of the kosher delis’ meat suppliers, themselves, are forbidden in conscience from offering, preparing, or serving pork to anyone. Third, there are many kosher delis that are their own meat supplier, so the mandate to offer, prepare, and serve the ham sandwich still falls on them.

This story has a happy ending. The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.

The question before the United States government—right now—is whether the story of our own Church institutions that serve the public, and that are threatened by the HHS mandate, will end happily too. Will our nation continue to be one committed to religious liberty and diversity? We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the answer must be yes. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to answer the same way.

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Cut to Missile Defense for Israel Gives the Lie to Obama’s “Best Friend” Narrative

Democrats are crying foul about Republican efforts to publicize the fact that President Obama’s budget request to Congress contained a cut in funding for missile defense projects in Israel. The amount of aid allocated for this sector went down from $106 million in 2012 to $99 million next year. The Republican Jewish Coalition is making a meal out of this point, but the president’s supporters are pointing out that the overall amount of funding for Israel went up. Given the scale of the budget, the difference doesn’t amount to much money and Congress will, no doubt, vastly increase this number as it did for 2012 when it more than doubled the amount Obama requested.

But the cut is worth talking about specifically because it undermines the line of baloney Obama and the Democrats have been selling to American Jewish audiences in recent months about him being the most pro-Israel president in history when it comes to supporting defense of the Jewish state. Moreover, the decision to pare back missile defense is particularly embarrassing because American support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” system is something Obama has taken credit for at every possible opportunity, even though the project was initiated and funded by George W. Bush.

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Democrats are crying foul about Republican efforts to publicize the fact that President Obama’s budget request to Congress contained a cut in funding for missile defense projects in Israel. The amount of aid allocated for this sector went down from $106 million in 2012 to $99 million next year. The Republican Jewish Coalition is making a meal out of this point, but the president’s supporters are pointing out that the overall amount of funding for Israel went up. Given the scale of the budget, the difference doesn’t amount to much money and Congress will, no doubt, vastly increase this number as it did for 2012 when it more than doubled the amount Obama requested.

But the cut is worth talking about specifically because it undermines the line of baloney Obama and the Democrats have been selling to American Jewish audiences in recent months about him being the most pro-Israel president in history when it comes to supporting defense of the Jewish state. Moreover, the decision to pare back missile defense is particularly embarrassing because American support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” system is something Obama has taken credit for at every possible opportunity, even though the project was initiated and funded by George W. Bush.

The president has taken to patting himself on the back on every occasion about what he claims is the unprecedented scale of aid and security cooperation with Israel. But the problem with this boast is it puts forward the notion that what has happened in the last three years has been the result of his initiative and planning rather than merely a continuation of a de facto defense alliance that began during the Reagan administration and has been maintained and strengthened by each subsequent administration.

Obama deserves full credit for carrying on this tradition and for placing no obstacles in the way of close cooperation between Israel’s Defense Ministry and the Pentagon despite the political fights he picked with Israel’s government during this time. But the idea that what he did in this sphere was unprecedented is more the product of his need to re-position himself as a friend of Israel, after years of antagonism and trying to create diplomatic distance between the two countries, than anything else. Given the fact that a decision not to continue security cooperation would have required him to expend an enormous amount of scarce political capital and would have entailed a major fight with Congress, his decision must be assessed as more a matter of expediency than principle.

As for the specific cut in missile defense aid,  that was a curious decision considering how much effort Democrats have put into trying to convince American Jews Obama was the sole author of Iron Dome, even though the most one could say of his role there is that he did not exert himself to prevent the completion of a project initiated by his predecessor. Given the constant threat of missile attacks from Gaza and Lebanon, not to mention worries about Iran, such efforts are of particular importance to Israel.

Though the amount of the cut is not large and will be restored by Congress, the Republicans are right to speak up about this issue. Obama’s attempt to claim the mantle of Israel’s best friend ever in the White House is mere campaign rhetoric that has only been swallowed up by the most credulous and partisan Jewish Democrats. The budget request is one more piece of tangible proof that the president’s boast is an election year joke.

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Congress Must Act Now on Defense Budget

Much of the attention in defense circles in recent weeks has been focused, naturally enough, on the release of a new defense budget that contains the first tranche of cuts as part of the $487 billion in savings mandated by Congress last summer under the Budget Control Act. But it is also important to remember that sequestration is still barreling down the track, and, if left unstopped, will produce a catastrophic collision that will leave the armed forces, already reeling, in a seriously weakened state.

Sequestration, recall, was the process whereby a special congressional committee was supposed to find $1.2 trillion in budget cuts on pain of seeing half that amount automatically deducted from the defense budget and the other half from domestic programs. The threat did not work, and the special committee finished its work before Thanksgiving without having reached any agreement. That means that half of those cuts–roughly $600 billion–will fall on the defense budget starting on January 1, 2013, even though defense spending as a whole only accounts for just 20 percent of the entire federal budget. There is widespread bi-partisan agreement that the consequences of sequestration would be catastrophic; everyone from Leon Panetta to Gen. Martin Dempsey have said so.

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Much of the attention in defense circles in recent weeks has been focused, naturally enough, on the release of a new defense budget that contains the first tranche of cuts as part of the $487 billion in savings mandated by Congress last summer under the Budget Control Act. But it is also important to remember that sequestration is still barreling down the track, and, if left unstopped, will produce a catastrophic collision that will leave the armed forces, already reeling, in a seriously weakened state.

Sequestration, recall, was the process whereby a special congressional committee was supposed to find $1.2 trillion in budget cuts on pain of seeing half that amount automatically deducted from the defense budget and the other half from domestic programs. The threat did not work, and the special committee finished its work before Thanksgiving without having reached any agreement. That means that half of those cuts–roughly $600 billion–will fall on the defense budget starting on January 1, 2013, even though defense spending as a whole only accounts for just 20 percent of the entire federal budget. There is widespread bi-partisan agreement that the consequences of sequestration would be catastrophic; everyone from Leon Panetta to Gen. Martin Dempsey have said so.

Yet, there has been no progress on derailing sequestration, and President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that exempts defense from cuts without finding offsetting savings.

It’s only February, but there is not much time for Congress to act; the closer we get to Jan. 1, the more the Pentagon will have to start suspending contracts and taking other actions in anticipation of a huge falloff in funding.

Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has introduced legislation to push back the sequestration for a year and pay for the offsetting savings (around $60 billion) through attrition of the federal workforce. Laying off federal civilian workers may not be palatable to members of Congress—although apparently it’s okay to lay off 110,000 Army and Marine veterans as part of the current round of cutbacks.

But there is no biblical commandment that says Congress must find savings to offset the cost of saving the Defense Department from disaster. Congress could simply pass a bill suspending defense cuts pending action next year to find a more rational way to cut the defense budget. It is hard to believe the bond markets will be spooked by such a move because they know that cutting the Defense Department does little to address our serious debt crisis.

It is imperative that Congress act now. Otherwise our armed forces will be devastated at a time when they are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan, combating terrorism and piracy, deterring Iran, North Korea and China, and performing myriad other vital missions.

 

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