Friday, March 09, 2007


Nordic media fall for American marketing ruse

I hadn't heard the CD "Lullabies from the Axis of Evil" even though it's been around since 2004. After Bush's State of the Union speech of 2002 in which he identified North Korea, Iraq and Iran as the "Axis of Evil," Norwegian producer Erik Hillestad worried about the "fatal results" such a doctrine could create—

The stigma that has been attached to the countries pointed out as members of "The Axis of Evil" is just one side of it. The building of enemy-lines and walls, in minds and on the ground between peoples, is another. The fact that it misleads us and covers the real problems in the world is a third.

Hillestad thus embarked on an expedition to record women singing native lullabies not only from the "Axis of Evil" but also from Palestine, Cuba, Afghanistan, Sudan and Syria. The native singers were paired with one American and several European singers, who sang the lullabies in English.

The resulting album received a warm notice from reviewers in the Washington Post and at NPR in October 2004. (Three complete lullabies can be heard at NPR, and MP3 samples of many of the others are here.) According to its U.S. distributor, the album has sold about 10,000 copies since its release.

That was until the news broke that the Bush administration had "blacklisted" the album. A spokesman for New York-based Valley Entertainment told someone in the Norwegian media that the company had been informed that the Bush administration had placed it on a list to receive "special treatment" or, in the version given by Sweden's The Local, "a list of companies that the US federal government 'would not cooperate with.'" This was picked up by Norway's leading newspaper Aftenposten, whence

Major media organizations including Svenska Dagbladet, Sveriges Radio, Metro and TV4 reported that the record 'Lullabies from the Axis of Evil' had been banned.
The story then spread to Australia Indymedia and back to the U.S.

It eventually emerged that the whole brouhaha was the result of an advertising ruse hatched by Valley Entertainment to take advantage of rampant antiamericanism in Europe. Quite disgusting really.

As Scandinavia prepared for war with the U.S., someone eventually thought to contact the U.S. ambassador to Norway, who informed the media that "a music blacklist would be impossible" under the Constitution.

Thus duped twice, the Scandinavian media are now soul-searching and making their apologies.

Update 12:28 pm — It appears that the Norwegians are quite vulnerable. Someone tried to sell the Norwegian royal palace on EBay this week.


Thursday, March 08, 2007


"An absolute fairy tale"

On Tuesday I recapped the allegation made by fired federal prosecutor, Thomas DiBiagio—that he was dismissed to squelch an investigation into links between Maryland Republicans and "gambling interests." DiBiagio also implied that then-Governor Robert Ehrlich had a hand in it.

Clearly DiBiagio wasn't the only person to whom the thought had occurred. At about the time the media were taking notice of the firing spree at the Justice Department, Jervis Finney (described by the Baltimore Sun as Ehrlich's "top legal advisor") decided to place a call to DiBiagio—almost two years after DiBiagio had been fired!

According to the original report—
[B]ecause of lingering suspicions in Maryland political circles that Mr. Ehrlich’s people had a hand in Mr. DiBiagio’s departure in early 2005, ... Jervis Finney, called Mr. DiBiagio a few months ago to deny any involvement, Mr. Finney said.

Mr. Finney said in an interview Monday that he wanted to “clean things up” and to let Mr. DiBiagio know that “neither Gov. Bob Ehrlich or his representatives had asked the Department of Justice to push him out.”

I'm sure the timing was purely coincidental. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis characterized DiBiagio's allegations as "an absolute fairy tale."

Fairy dust

Now when the Department of Justice (DOJ) speaks of "fairy tales" you should expect to find some fairy dust. And sure enough, the first little twinkle appeared when Margolis acknowledged to Eric Rich of the Washington Post that DiBiagio had in fact been forced to leave for other than "personal reasons."

Reporter Rich gave full coverage to rebuttals from the Justice Department and ex-Governor Ehrlich. Nothing to any of the allegations, of course. Why, far from trying to have DiBiagio fired, the Governor's office had tried to save him!

[T]he department official who asked for his resignation dismissed DiBiagio's claim ... that he was ousted because of political pressure over public corruption investigations into the administration of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

In fact, the Republican governor's chief legal counsel, Jervis Finney, twice contacted the Justice Department to argue in DiBiagio's behalf, said David Margolis, an associate deputy attorney general. Finney contacted the department in fall 2004, not long after DiBiagio drew a rebuke for ordering his subordinates to produce "front-page" indictments, Margolis said.

Finney, he said, "called me during this process, claiming that I was being too harsh on Tom and that Tom was being railroaded by a bunch of Democrats in the U.S. attorney's office."

I can't tell you how relieved I was to know that the people who really wanted to get rid of DiBiagio were "a bunch of Democrats." But my joy was short-lived. David Johnston at the NY Times reported today that Finney's memory is not meshing well with Margolis's—

Mr. Finney said on Wednesday that he did not remember making the calls. While he said he never pushed for Mr. DiBiagio’s ouster, he said he did not recall ever urging that he be kept on the job either. Mr. Finney added that if he had made such a call, it would probably have been in the limited context of voicing support for Mr. DiBiagio’s position on gun prosecutions in a dispute with the City of Baltimore.

Still there's the matter of DiBiagio's abrasive and insensitive character, which is the stated reason for his dismissal. As the man who fired DiBiagio—David Margolis—said to reporters from the Baltimore Sun,

... the decision to remove DiBiagio came after prosecutors in his office told Justice Department investigators that DiBiagio's intemperate leadership made their lives unbearable.

Margolis was not afraid to flesh out these allegations—

Another controversial episode that raised questions about DiBiagio's candor focused on a statement DiBiagio made to the news media after the mysterious death in 2003 of one of his former assistant prosecutors, Jonathan P. Luna, who was found stabbed and drowned in a Pennsylvania creek.

Before she resigned, then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa M. Griffin wrote in an e-mail to DiBiagio and other members of the staff that she was "deeply embarrassed to hear that you led the press to believe that Jonathan was not in jeopardy of losing his job. That wasn't so."

Good God! A subordinate was murdered, yet DiBiagio lacked the candor to reveal that he was thinking about firing him anyway! No wonder the Justice Department let him go!

The most damning allegation against DiBiagio is said to be an internal memo he wrote in 2004 urging his subordinates to bring "front-page" prosecutions. The memo was interpreted by some to mean that DiBiagio wanted to target Democrats—and we all know that the Justice Department would never want to target Democrats. Yet there's a hint of other reasons for DiBiagio's dismissal—

Margolis acknowledged the memo's role in DiBiagio's firing but declined yesterday to specify other reasons why DiBiagio was let go.

How to proceed?

So many unanswered questions, so little time! Fortunately the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation into the more recent dismissals at the DOJ offer an ideal venue for taking a further look into the matter. And it appears that may happen—

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called yesterday for an investigation into DiBiagio's firing.

"Anytime allegations arise that politics may have interfered in the prosecution of federal cases, we must take it seriously," Cardin said in a statement. He said he was "not familiar with the specific conditions surrounding" DiBiagio's departure.

Even a Republican Senator has taken notice—

"It is a story which may show inappropriate political pressure on the Baltimore attorney for pursuing an investigation related to gaming, which implicated subordinates of the governor," Sen. Arlen Spector, a Pennsylvania Republican, said yesterday at a hearing in Washington. "Or it may be explained in what the story refers to as his pressure tactics and performance rating. So there are a lot of nuances."

And beyond ...

Whatever the truth of Mr. DiBiagio's allegations, they should point the House and Senate enquiries beyond the limited timeframe of the current investigation into Justice Department firings. Mr. DiBiagio's case goes back at least to 2004. How many other federal prosecutors have resigned "for personal reasons" since that time? How many were fired or resigned abruptly since 2001? It would be interesting to ask the attorneys themselves about the circumstances under which they left. A simple invitation to come forward might be sufficient.

Previous post
Slots Enthusiast of the Day (3/6/07)

Related post
The Tennessee Waltz: FBI cleans up Democrats (5/28/05)


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Granny of the Day

I'm going to go on medicating. The police can come to my house every week. I'll give them a cup of tea. I'll give them a decent biscuit, which of course will be medicated and I'll give them some cannabis so they charge me again and again and again. —Patricia Tabram after her conviction for breaching a previous suspended sentence for marijuana possession, as quoted by the BBC

"Granny" Tabram defended herself at trial but may have had a wee toke before the proceedings began. According to ITV—

Tabram ... sent Carlisle Crown Court into chaos after she revealed a cannabis stash she took into court hidden in her bra had gone missing.

She told Judge Barbara Forrester she wanted to use it as evidence and it had been stolen. It later turned up in her handbag.

It's so easy to forget where you put things.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Slots Enthusiast of the Day

I’ve been for slots for 20 years. It wasn’t any shock that I was for slots. There wasn’t anything to this. —Ex-Governor of Maryland Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., as quoted by Eric Lichtblau in "Former Prosecutor Says Departure Was Pressured"

Of course we're all for "slots." The question is, did Ehrlich or any of his 50 closest Republican friends get a payoff from the gambling industry? And did the Dept. of Justice under John Ashcroft squelch the investigation?

On the eve of hearings in both the House and Senate to investigate why the White House is firing U.S. attorneys willy-nilly, up pops a former federal prosecutor in Maryland who claims that something similar happened to him in 2005. He says he was fired over his investigation into links between "gambling interests" and powerful Republicans in Maryland politics.

Former U.S. attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio was appointed at the recommendation of Gov. Ehrlich but quickly proved to be a disappointment when he indicted the state Superintendent of Police for misuse of police money. But he says it was the gambling investigation that did him in—

Mr. DiBiagio pointed to tense conversations in 2003 and 2004 with advisers to the governor who, he said, intimated that the corruption investigations could derail his career....

The former prosecutor said he was particularly troubled by one visit in June 2004 in which, he said, a lawyer allied with the governor said the gambling inquiries were disrupting legislative consideration of the slots question and should be shut down.

Mr. DiBiagio said the lawyer inquired about his political future, asked whether he was interested in being a judge and suggested that his life could be closely scrutinized.

Mr. DiBiagio said he described the conversation in a memorandum for his records and reported it to an official of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Baltimore as a possible threat.

Now here's where it gets especially interesting—

The Justice Department publicly rebuked him in mid-2004 over a leaked memorandum that spoke of his desire to bring three “front page” corruption cases before November, a memorandum widely interpreted in Baltimore as an effort to pursue Democrats.

In response, the department said all public corruption cases in Maryland would have to obtain approval by superiors in Washington. Soon, the department initiated an unscheduled performance review of Mr. DiBiagio. Mr. Margolis said the review had shown deep resentment over the prosecutor’s aggressive management.

It looks as if the Justice Department may have implicated itself in a scandal.

The Repugs are trying to paint DiBiagio as a poor manager, but others in the U.S. Attorney's office are backing up DiBiagio's allegations—

Several officials in the Baltimore prosecutor’s office said that although Mr. DiBiagio had been an unpopular manager, the timing of the events leading to his departure appeared to be linked, at least partly, to the corruption investigations.

“We had several investigations that were very sensitive publicly, and what did him in was the probes into prominent Republicans,” said a former official involved in the inquiries who insisted on anonymity.

The state’s attorney in Baltimore, Patricia C. Jessamy, who worked often with Mr. DiBiagio, said she believed that he had alienated too many important people to succeed.

“He was a good prosecutor,” she said. “But he did not play politics well, and that was his downfall.”

This looks like a real scoop for the NY Times. But it also raises the interesting possibility that there have been other Justice Department firings that escaped attention because they occurred in isolation. Will other ex-prosecutors be stepping forward? Stay tuned.

As for Gov. Ehrlich, DiBiagio's departure came at the very time that Ehrlich was ordering state employees not to talk to two reporters from the Baltimore Sun because he didn't like the way they were reporting their investigation into another flimflam. So it certainly wouldn't seem out of character if he turned to the Department of Justice for relief from a meddlesome prosecutor.

Follow-up post
"An absolute fairy tale" (3/08/07)

Related post
Baltimore Sun reporters lose access to state government (2/15/05)


Monday, March 05, 2007


Neocon of the Day

I'm pretty grim. I think we're heading for a very dark world, because the long-term consequences of this are very large, not just for Iraq, not just for the region, but globally - for our reputation, for what the Iranians do, all kinds of stuff. —Eliot A. Cohen, newly appointed Counselor to the State Department, as quoted by Jim Lobe in "Rice picks neo-con champion on Iraq"

More on this later.


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