Monday, September 27, 2010

Have You Seen Mary Norris? Who? On FBI Advice, Seattle Weekly Cartoonist Erases Her Identity to Avoid Islamist Death Threat

On Wednesday, September 15, Seattle Weeky News reporter Mark D. Fefer made an interesting announcement to the readers of his publication:

You may have noticed that Molly Norris' comic is not in the paper this week. That's because there is no more Molly.

The gifted artist is alive and well, thankfully. But on the insistence of top security specialists at the FBI, she is, as they put it, "going ghost": moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity. She will no longer be publishing cartoons in our paper or in City Arts magazine, where she has been a regular contributor. She is, in effect, being put into a witness-protection program—except, as she notes, without the government picking up the tab. It's all because of the appalling fatwa issued against her this summer, following her infamous "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" cartoon.

Is this the United States of America I was born in? Where a political cartoonist whose gutsiness perhaps exceeded her good sense is forced to do a Salman Rusdie, and go underground in order to avoid ending up like Theo Van Gogh? (The "erasure" of Mary Norris was one of the outrages cited in the Mark Steyn column discussed in the previous post.)

In today's Los Angeles Times, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Daniel Huff call for federal legislation, similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, passed in 1994 by solid bipartisan margin, which made it a crime to threaten people exercising reproductive rights and permitting victims to sue for damages. The new FACE-like law proposed by Ms. Ali (herself a refugee from Islamist death threats) and Daniel Huff would make it a crime, and an actionable civil offense, to threaten artists or writers with physical attack or death in retaliation for criticism of Islam or Muhammad.

The necessity for such a law, they argue, was proven in the "South Park" incident, where an American Islamist website threatened South Park's creators for a planned episode satirizing mocking Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad. (Frequent South Park viewers know that Jesus is a regular character and target on the show, with Buddha, Confucius and Moses also making occasional guest appearances for their derision.) The Islamist website "announced that '[w]e have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh.' The 'warning' included the names, photos and work address of "South Park's" creators, a graphic image of Van Gogh's mutilated body and pictures of other targets of Muslim extremists. Overlaying this was audio of radical Yemeni American cleric Anwar Awlaki, preaching about assassinating anyone who defamed the prophet. (Alaki also issued the fatwa threatening the life of Mary Norris, which drove her to go underground and wipe out her identity.) However, the New York City Police Department determined that it could not prosecute the threat by the Islamist web site, because it did not amount to a crime under current law.

It would of course be possible, and probably preferable, to generalize such a law, and make it a crime to threaten any person with injury or death in retaliation for a criticism of religious belief or non-belief, or in retaliation for advocacy of any religious belief, or non-belief. Admittedly, there are serious arguments to be made against such a law, but something must be done, or else many more of us may be joining the artist formerly known as Mary Norris in hiding.


The cartoon above appeared at Jewish World Review, where it illustrates the link to Mark Steyn's latest effort to rescue the world from insanity, a column entitled "Bowing to Islam's View of Us." Mr. Steyn notes that while President Obama was prompt to condemn "a no-name pastor from an obscure church who was threatening to burn the Koran," he bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, "a man whose regime destroys Bibles as a matter of state policy, and a man whose depraved religious police forces schoolgirls fleeing from a burning building back into the flames to die because they’d committed the sin of trying to escape without wearing their head scarves."

Mark Steyn is devastating, as usual. Some key quotes from the column:

[Pastor Jones] didn’t burn any buildings or women and children. He didn’t even burn a book. He hadn’t actually laid a finger on a Koran, and yet the mere suggestion that he might do so prompted the president of the United States to denounce him, and the secretary of state, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, various G7 leaders, and golly, even Angelina Jolie. President Obama has never said a word about honor killings of Muslim women. Secretary Clinton has never said a word about female genital mutilation. General Petraeus has never said a word about the rampant buggery of pre-pubescent boys by Pushtun men in Kandahar. But let an obscure man in Florida so much as raise the possibility that he might disrespect a book – an inanimate object – and the most powerful figures in the Western world feel they have to weigh in.

Aside from all that, this obscure church’s website has been shut down, its insurance policy has been canceled, its mortgage has been called in by its bankers. Why? As Diana West wrote, why was it necessary or even seemly to make this pastor a non-person? Another one of Obama's famous "teaching moments"? In this case teaching us that Islamic law now applies to all? Only a couple of weeks ago, the president, at his most condescendingly ineffectual, presumed to lecture his moronic subjects about the First Amendment rights of Imam Rauf. Where's the condescending lecture on Pastor Jones' First Amendment rights?

Someone is Waging Cyber War on Iran

[Graphic credit:]

This developing story is worth watching. It was first reported on the provocative, but more than occasionally inaccurate, Debkafile [], but now is emerging in the mainstream media, including this story at UPI. Debka, however, definitely had the scoop.

For some days now, Debkafile has reported that Iran, Pakistan, India and Indonesia have been under cyber attack from a regionally targeted computer worm, dubbed "Stuxnet," aimed at computerized industrial equipment. Reportedly the worm not only cripples the target computers, but also transmits back to its unknown source the data regarding what the industrial equipment controlled by those computers were doing prior to the infestation by the worm. Among its apparent targets of the attack, reports say, are Iran's nuclear facilities, including the computers controlling the centrifuges used by Iran to enrich uranium to weapons-grade. The worm supposedly has crippled their operation.

UPI reports:

"Canadian expert Eric Byres told the Monitor, Stuxnet so far has infected at least 45,000 industrial control systems around the world, without blowing them up, with most of the victim computers in Iran, Pakistan, India and Indonesia. Langner said once inside, Stuxnet waits, checking every five seconds to see if its exact parameters are met by the system -- then is programmed to activate a sequence that causes the industrial process to self-destruct."

"Until a few days ago, people did not believe a directed attack like this was possible," Ralph Langner, a German cyber-security researcher, told the Christian Science Monitor, the UPI story adds.

The other intriguing aspect of the story is that according to computer experts, including a spokesperson for the computer security firm Symantec, as reported by news, no individual hacker or freelance group of hackers would be capable of launching such an attack without extraordinary access to funds, programming expertise and intellligence regarding the targeted sites. According to Symantec, a number of governments with sophisticated computer skills would have the ability to create such a code,including China, Russia, Israel, Britain, Germany and the United States. But the Symantec spokesperson said no clues have been found within the code to point to a country of origin.

While one may derive great satisfaction at the thought that the U.S., or Israel, or both, may have found a way to cripple the Iranian nuclear weapons program without a physical attack or any loss of life, the story has obvious ominous overtones. The age of international cyber warfare has begun. Morever, just as aerial bombing was initially aimed at military targets, but quickly evolved into a tactic aimed at civilian populations as well, Stuxnet and the cyber weapons that follow pose a threat to civilian commercial, industrial and personal computers. One wonders, indeed, whether the source of the Stuxnet attack is able to contain it to only the targeted computers.

For their part, according to Debka, the Iranians are already threatening retaliatory attacks and a long-term cyber war. Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Hossein Salami declared his force had all the defensive structures for fighting a long-term war against "the biggest and most powerful enemies" and was ready to defend the revolution with more advanced weapons than in the past.

[Hat tip to Phil Schlosberg for calling this story to the attention of the Kosher Hedgehog.]

UPDATE: At PCWORLD, Tony Bradley reports that Iran has confirmed that more than 30,000 PCs in Iran have been infected by Stuxnet, including some at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. A Pentagon spokesperson would neither confirm, nor deny, reports that the United States military launched the cyber attack.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Where is the Book of Life?

I have a true story to tell you, which occurred this past Friday at my synagogue, Shaarey Zedek Congregation in North Hollywood, California, on the evening of Yom Kippur, just before the moving Kol Nidre service that begins the holiest day of the Jewish year. An elderly man came into the sanctuary. He had a Russian accent and in broken English began asking people, "Where is book of life? I want to write my family in book of life." I tried to explain to him that God has the book of life and that we pray to God to write our names in it, but he responded, "No understand. Ruski. Where is the book of life?"

We have some Russian speakers at Shaarey Zedek, including Irine, the wife of our synagogue President, who is from Belarus. So I went asking for her, and eventually she was located and went to speak with the elderly man. I do not yet know what she told him or what was the result. Yet for some reason I was left with the vague feeling that I had been presented with a great test and had failed it.

In my reflections on the incident throughout Yom Kippur, however, two positive thoughts emerged. First was an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God that I was born and raised in the United States of America, and not under the Soviet Communist tyranny that did its utmost to suppress all religious practice and education, especially of Judaism, for some 70 years. The second was a feeling of awe that a man who lived under that system, and was so thoroughly deprived of his Jewish heritage, still had enough of a connection to his faith to know that there was a book of life, that he wanted his family to be inscribed in it, and that the place to look for it was in a synagogue at Kol Nidre time on Yom Kippur. While, as I said, I do not yet know the result of his conversation with Irine, I believe with absolute certainty that the old Russian Jew succeeded in having his family inscribed in the book of life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Obamacare - Rewarding the Trial Bar and Promoting Litigation?

Last week I was privileged to speak at the Heritage Foundation on the topic above. Congressman Tom Price of Georgia was the keynote speaker, and my co-panelist was Tom Christina, a former Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States. It was the most fun I have had in a long time.

Here's the video. If you want to find me go to the 45-minute mark:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nat Hentoff tells Speaker Pelosi: I Oppose the Ground Zero Mosque; Go Ahead, Call me a Bigot and Investigate my Funding

Nat Henthoff does not have what one would typically call right-wing credentials. He is an American historian, novelist, jazz and country music critic, and syndicated columnist for United Media and writes regularly on jazz and country music for The Wall Street Journal. Well, the Journal may be right-wing, but Hentoff also was a featured columnist for many years in The Village Voice, not exactly a flag-waving citadel of conservatism. Moreover, he has a well-earned reputation as an authority on the First Amendment and a defender of free expression and civil liberties. Yet here he is, in the Jewish World Review, siding with us red-neck bigots who oppose the location of a mosque and Islamic education and community center just blocks from Ground Zero.

Hentoff speaks truth to power, in New York City, in the personage of Mayor Bloomberg, and in Washington, D.C., to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with this challenge:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg charges that opponents of Imam Rauf's mosque "should be ashamed of themselves" and are bigots.

Me, too, Mr. Mayor?

If you want to join Speaker Pelosi in investigating me, your honor, I'd be glad to oblige. I'm just doing my job as a reporter. I wish more reporters had gone beneath the shouting on both sides. There's another part of the First Amendment in addition to the free exercise of religion: The press is free to investigate the reasons for Imam Rauf's fixation on the 9/11 location of his mosque.

Here is one of reporter Henthoff's more startling revelations about Imam Rauf:
I would greatly appreciate it if Imam Rauf explained, maybe Pelosi will ask him, more fully what he meant in his 2004 book, "What's Right With Islam is What's Right With America." In it he declares: "American Constitution and system of governance uphold the core principles of Islamic law." Rauf says Sharia law is a core principle of Islamic law. Does that also include a core principle of our Constitution?

This 2004 book's title in the English-language edition yields to a different title for non-English-speaking readers in Malaysia, reports Andrew McCarthy ("Rauf's Dawa from the World Trade Center Rubble,"

This alternate title in Malaysia brings us right back into the civil war here about the imam's mosque near Ground Zero: "A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11."

What does "dawa" mean? McCarthy explains: "Dawa, whether done from the rubble of the World Trade Center or elsewhere, is the missionary work by which Islam is spread. … The purpose of dawa, like the purpose of jihad, is to implement, spread, and defend Sharia. … through means other than violence and agents other than terrorists."

iPods and why our prayers [sometimes] aren't answered

Just in time for Yom Kippur, my gifted friend Dov Fischer, Rabbi of Young Israel of Orange County, and an accomplished appellate attorney to boot, writes movingly on the Jewish concept of prayer, appropriately enough in the Jewish World Review.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chuck Devore Assesses the Danger Posed by the U.S. National Debt in a Future Confrontation with China

On his blog, California State Assembly Member Chuck Devore (Republican-70th Dist) (portrait at right) grimly assesses the potential danger posed by the huge and still-mounting United States public debt, and the amount of that debt held by the People's Republic of China, in the event of a future foreign policy conflict with China. His thoughtful analysis and warning deserves to be widely read and discussed.

Although I do not disagree with Mr. Devore regarding the national security risk raised by our national debt, or the necessity of reducing it, I believe he overlooks one relevant factor regarding our relations with China. While a massive sell-off by China of U.S. treasury bonds would quite likely destabilize the U.S. economy, it would also devalue the American debt securities still held by China, eroding the value of hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds. This might be a case of financial mutually assured destruction. The amount of U.S. debt held by China is a deterrent to foreign policy adventurism by China, just as it restrains the foreign policy options of the United States.