Saturday, September 02, 2006

Games of the day

Today is the first Saturday of the college football season. It is true that baseball is my favorite sport, but even with that in mind, I just live for this time of year. There is nothing quite like college and prep football. The atmosphere just screams "go team go," even when you are watching games on television. Even the food looks and tastes better during football season.

A few friends have asked me for a "lineup," as in wondering what games I will be watching and what games will be worth watching today. Here is a list of the games that I think will be the best of the day, and I'll tell you why.

Vanderbilt (0-0, 0-0 away)
(14) Michigan (0-0, 0-0 home)
12:00pm Eastern ESPN

Sure, the team I hate worse than Woody Hayes ever did is going to win this one pretty easily, but the question will be by how much? Several people much closer to the Michigan program than I am have told me that Michigan's year won't add up to much, and they may not deserve that #14 ranking. What will the Vandy game tell us about how good (or bad) these guys are?

3:30 PM ET
Northern Illinois (0-0, 0-0 away)
(1) Ohio State (0-0, 0-0 home)

I expect Ohio State to win this game and so does everyone else who knows anything about college football, but this game may be worth your time if you aren't going down to Neyland Stadium today (and therefore had better be there by the time this game kicks off) because the Huskies have a history of upsetting major Big Ten opponents, nearly all of which have occurred on the road. What's more, Northern Illinois head coach Joe Novak was an assistant on the 1987 Indiana team that pulled off one of the biggest upsets of a top-ranked opponent in college football history. The opponent was then- #1 Ohio State.

(9) California (0-0, 0-0 away) ESPN
(23) Tennessee (0-0, 0-0 home)

Oh sure, wasn't going to pick this one as an interesting game. Cal starts the year as the favorite for the Pac-10 title for the first time in...ever. It is also not often that Cal begins a year in the top 10. This game will be a test of whether Cal is worth all the hype that now surrounds that program. This is a make or break game for Tennessee and for Philip Fulmer. The Vols begin their season with the toughest opening three games (Cal, Air Force, Florida) in many a year. A win here would go a long way in solidifying the Vols' season and Fulmer's job. A loss would likely spiral the team into chaos similar to last year and if that happens, it would likely cost Fulmer his job. "Must win" for the Vols is a major understatement.

7:45 PM ET
Washington State (0-0, 0-0 away)
(4) Auburn (0-0, 0-0 home)


You would think this one would be easy for Auburn, and by rights it should be. The Tigers, however, have a history of blowing it against Pac-10 opponents at home. Worth flipping to during commercials while watching:

8:00 PM ET
(2) Notre Dame (0-0, 0-0 away)
Georgia Tech (0-0, 0-0 home)

Because of the Fighting Irish' independent status, it is not at all uncommon for their schedule to be frontloaded, and such is the case this year, as they open the season on the road against the Ramblin' Wreck. We'll get a taste as to whether Notre Dame is as good as the critics (I picked them #1) or Charlie Weis seem to think.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Investigating the Harber Affair

Frank Cagle is no left-wing nutcase-and he is no supstantiator of Leftist conspiratorial paranoia, and Cagle is calling for a Grand Jury investigation into the conduct of the Ragsdale administration. Cagle's column in the MetroPulse is the most sensible column about what I am now terming "Harbergate" or "The Harber Affair" that I have yet seen written:

Harber says he didn’t do anything without the approval of the Ragsdale administration. I find that hard to believe. I know I’ve accused the county mayor of taking stupid pills, but I don’t believe he is insane. But these allegations cry out for serious investigation. There need to be more sources on the official record than Harber.

Just so that Cagle (and everyone else) knows, there are more sources on the "official record" than just Harber. Adam Groves is one of these sources, and my sources, all of which have asked to remain unnaimed, are telling me that Groves is substantiating nearly everything that Harber is saying. Tyler Harber's story of stealing wheel-tax petitions and tearing them up on Ragsdale's orders has been confirmed to me by a source who claims to have witnessed the event and is willing to substantiate it to the proper authorities, and may already have done so. I know some folks might have a problem with a Democrat D.A. investigating this-fine. I am sure a more neutral party could be persuaded to investigate if Randy Nichols is seen to be a problem. However, I don't see Nichols as a difficulty, except that he may be too slow to act when facts are presented, and I am sure whoever is investigating it will do it impartially. Readers should be aware that I am not certain who is taking the lead in this investigation, I have merely been made aware that it is already underway.

Mark this day down, because rare is the day I cite the MetroPulse for anything.

(Hat tip: Terry Frank)

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Most regular readers from East Tennessee have by now read the first two parts of Betty Bean's expose and interview with former Mike Ragsdale bagman Tyler Harber in the Halls Shopper News. Many have wondered whether the media will cover this continually developing story, and not a few (myself included) have speculated that the reason the story is receiving no coverage is not because it is a non-story, but because much of the local press is either A) pro-Ragsdale or B.) frightened of the Ragsdale machine.

As much as the mainstream media in East Tennessee wants to avoid this story, the hour may soon be upon all of them where they will be compelled to cover Harbergate out of necessity. Sources close to the situation who have asked not to be identified have informed The World that while law enforcement authorities have not yet chosen to inform the press, the promised investigation into Tyler Harber's conduct while he was an employee of Knox County is underway, and that ascertaining what Mike Ragsdale and/or Mike Arms knew about the activities of Tyler Harber and Adam Groves and how much of it was done at the behest of one or both. The World has been informed that Harber and Groves are both "singing like canaries" in ways not fully revealed to the HSN. Further, the investigation is apparently yielding some fruit, because we have been informed that higher authorities may want to examine the case.

At the very least, Mike Ragsdale's political career is finished, because the questions surrounding this investigation will follow him on any campaign for Governor, and so when his term expires in 2010 he will be removed from the employments of public life. At most, Mike Ragsdale could be in very big trouble, and has far more to be concerned with than whether he will be living in the Governor's Mansion in five years.

Finally, a few of you have asked me privately why I will use anonymous sources while not allowing anonymous commenters, some say I am exercising a double standard, and you have no way to know that I am not just making all of this stuff up. Firstly, blogging is still new in the journalistic world and it is not yet an exact science. I wasn't going to have people posting with no name claiming to be a high-ranking official (that happened on a couple of occasions) when I cannot track them without using time I do not have. (I note that blogger doesn't even require you to use your real name.) However, when I quote from anonymous sources to you, I can track the source myself, I know who told me. Withholding names upon request is an old journalism practice that I firmly believe in adhering to when asked because it is one way to earn and keep the trust of your sources. If, in the eyes of some, that makes me less credible, so be it. I intend to do things right, not play dirty pool like certain people in the political establishment do. My duty here is to bring my readers the truth as I see it, and in doing that I shall do the very best that I can.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

First college football Top 25

Those of you who read the blogs and bloggers in my sidebar may have read Rob Huddleston's post a few days back about a new rankings system for college football that includes football bloggers, the Internet Rankings Alliance for College Football, or IRA-CF. I've been added to the IRA-CF and my rankings will be counted as votes in the first IRA-CF college football poll.

For those interested, here are Oatney's season-opening NCAA football Top 25 as submitted to IRA-CF:

1. Notre Dame
2. Ohio State
3. Texas
4. Auburn
5. USC
6. LSU
7. Florida
8. West Virginia
9. Oklahoma
11. Florida State
12. Miami (FL)
13. Georgia
14. Louisville
15. Michigan
16. Iowa
17. Penn State
18. Virginia Tech
19. Clemson
20. TCU
21. Nebraska
22. Tennessee
23. Alabama
24. Arizona State
25. Oregon

Each week, I'll submit my top 25 and we'll compare them to the overall IRA-CF poll when it is released.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Harber torpedo

Part two of Betty Bean's interview with Tyler Harber appeared in yesterday's Halls Shopper News, and as with last week's first part, I think this week's portion can be broken down with commentary on what we've read. I can also reveal the name of a person who I said was involved last week but I could not reveal their name.

This week we learn the depths to which the Ragsdale people are willing to sink to get their way.

One of the main reasons he felt that Ragsdale, as he put it, had emerged “extremely victorious” from the election season was because they had gotten rid of sitting County Commission chair Leo Cooper. A top Team Ragsdale priority had been to gain control of County Commission, and toward that end, they had turned their attention to Cooper, a retired principal and restaurant owner and multi-term commission chair. Cooper, an independent, stubborn man, had incurred the wrath of developers by opposing some big projects, and they were looking to run someone against him. But that’s not the biggest reason he had to go, Harber said.

“Cooper was a major influence on that commission. He was one of that old guard – along with Howard Pinkston, Frank Leuthold, Billy Tindell – that had a lot of power. We wanted to break that gang up so we could have a rubber stamp vote for our agenda.”

Now, to be fair, Tindell may have had partisan reasons for his opposition to Ragsdale, but "Team Ragsdale's" enemies' list was apparently a completely bi-partisan affair. If you weren't going to give Mike Ragsdale his way, you were marked for extinction. Sounds like the agenda wasn't conservative or liberal, but an agenda of power.

Stabbing people in the back and double-crossing them certainly wasn't beneath the Ragsdale machine if Harber is be believed.

The second name on the list was County Commission administrator Ray Hill.

In our eyes, he had a lot of power. Plus, he was supporting all the candidates we were against,” Harber said. “We saw him as a major stumbling block.”

It took awhile, but Commission voted to abolish Hill’s job the following year after he was accused of discriminating against two female office staffers. He now says he had no knowledge that the Ragsdale administration wanted him removed.

“I’ve always thought Mike Ragsdale was my friend,” Hill said.

Whether the reader believes this story of how Ray Hill was "gotten rid of" or not, one has to admit that it would make sense that if you want somebody dumped out of the picture without their really knowing what was going on, you use a conveniently presented reason (discrimination charges) as the excuse and make it appear that another person or body (i.e. the Commission) did the dirty work, and not you.

The head of Pre-Trial Release and Probation was let go early on. So was Edmund Bolt, director of the health department. Rumor was that Bolt was “not a team player.”

Today, he says he never heard that story.

“I was in Mike Ragsdale’s administration for six months and worked directly under Cynthia Finch. “I was called into his office one day and dismissed. The only reason given was that he did not like the direction the health department was going. There were a lot of internal politics and I wouldn’t want to be back there.”

Just what does "not a team player" mean in this context? I suspect that it means "not anyone's robot." I might agree with somebody's politics, and I might even vote for them, but that doesn't mean that when they say jump, I must say "how high." Bolt's words at the end about internal politics tell us that as the very least, Ragsdale was cleaning everyone out of Knox County Government who was opposed to him.

“Ragsdale was scared and jealous of the sheriff even before he became mayor,” Harber said, adding that the first opportunity to stick it to Hutchison came about after the News Sentinel did some stories examining Hutchison’s business ties with impoundment lot operator Randy Hinton, who held a county contract. The stories included questions about Hutchison’s mountain retreat and allegations that he was running a construction company in partnership with Hinton.

“When (the story) first came out in the paper, I didn’t have anything to do with it. But once it did come out, Ragsdale and Arms wanted to continue the media coverage, so they got me to write a number – I’m talking about dozens – of letters to the editor against Hutchison, and (other members of Team Ragsdale) would go and find people to sign them. And then we’d either create an e-mail address for them to use, or we’d print out a hard copy and get them to sign it.”

If there is any truth to this, the Party of the Donkey should wake up and smell the morning coffee. Why do I say that? In the recent Knox County Sheriff's campaign, we heard a lot about so-called "politics" in the Sheriff's office. All of that started with these letters to the editor. If what Harber says has any truth at all to it, the whole "Hutchison is a politico and not a Sheriff" media job started with the Ragsdale/Arms team.

I have to hand it to Ragsdale, because if the man is anything, he is a master politician. Starting a propaganda blitz against a political opponent inside your own party and then getting the other party to pick up on that and use the things in that propaganda blitz as the reason to try and topple your opponent is no easy task. If Mike Ragsdale managed to do this, he may be a sly and untrustworthy wolf, but he is brilliant.

Up to this point in Part II of the Harber interview, everything is "plausibly deniable," and the Ragsdale machine can claim none of it happened quite that way seven ways to Sunday. The next part, however, simply made me want to vomit, and exposes that Mike Ragsdale is more than just a smooth but heartless political operator. If these next allegations have teeth, Mike Ragsdale is a hateful man.

Other “enemies” included radio talk show hosts Lloyd Daugherty and Kelvin Moxley.

“They were beating us up pretty bad over the wheel tax, and we heard a rumor that they were on TennCare, so I was told to go over to the health department and find out.”

Harber said he subsequently picked up a sealed envelope at the health department.

“I took the envelope to Mike, and Mike and I never opened it because I knew most certainly that had to be illegal. But it was their plan that if one or both had TennCare, they were going to get some media play out of it and try to destroy their credibility. I never heard any more about it, and I never asked,” Harber said.

I am going to look on the bright side and hope and pray that Ragsdale had the simple human decency not to open that envelope. I am going to be positive and believe that because we did not hear anything about it in the press. What Lloyd Daugherty, a man who I admire a great deal-even from a distance-said next hit the nail on the head:

“I sure hope this is not true. I consider Mike Ragsdale a political adversary, not an enemy.

"But there really is this sense out here that you better watch out if you buck these people,” he said. “At one time, I couldn’t work for a couple of years – I was in intensive care for nearly a month – and was wiped out financially a couple of times. Nine years ago, I had my left leg amputated.

“Personal attacks against Kelvin and me are one thing, but this was a clear attempt to find information to intimidate a very small segment of the media because we were asking questions and not toeing the establishment line. If that doesn’t reek of Watergate, I don’t know what does.”

As a person with a disability, I find these kinds of tactics sick beyond all telling and any man who would allow this sort of character assassination of what amounts to a media critic under their nose and in their administration is a person who is entirely unfit to hold the public trust. Using what are essentially medical records as a means to try and silence your opponents-or even threatening to do such a thing-is more than a low blow. More than just illegal, it is unethical and morally wrong.

I don't have tons of time to go into Ragsdale's grudge against Sen. Jamie Woodson (my now-former State Senator) over the Coster Shop landfill contamination issue in South Knox, but Harber claims that he went to work for Woodson's (then known by her former name Jamie Hagood) Primary opponent Billy Stokes at Ragsdale's behest because Ragsdale was "furious" with Jamie Woodson.

The website was, according to Harber, used as a way to guage anti-Ragsdale sentiment and used to single out Ragsdale opponents who worked in county government. Candidate Stokes vehemently denies his campaign had any involvement in the scheme.

“I hated that Web site and am really embarrassed that I defended Tyler and Adam when they lied to my face about their involvement. I think all that garbage about Jamie on there hurt me by implication and a lot of people thought it was generated by me solely because it was so nasty toward her.”

I believe Stokes is being truthful when he says the site made him feel offended and embarrassed. I believe him when he says he had nothing to do with, but that doesn't mean Ragsdale/Arms weren't at least letting the business go on-and that may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Harber says he did mislead Stokes and was really doing what he did because he was working for Mike Ragsdale.

“I had to lie to him. What good would it have done to tell him about it at that point (deep into the campaign)? I was working in his campaign, but my real employer was Mike Ragsdale, and it would have been very detrimental to both of them to admit such a thing – and she would have just beaten us even worse than she did.”

Who is the "Adam" Stokes spoke of? I can now reveal that this person was none other than blogger extraordinaire Adam Groves, one of Tennessee's most influential bloggers, and apparently the technical tour de force behind CasWalker and Harber's other schemes for the Ragsdale machine. He was the blogger I spoke of last Monday when I said that a well-known political blogger was involved. Groves is the author of Tennessee Politics, which may be our State's most widely-read political blog. I can't speak with certainty, but I believe that Groves is the kind of person who would co-operate with any serious investigation.

One thing that I don't buy from the story is that Ragsdale favors a consolidated Metro government because that would somehow benefit him-it would not. It would favor the City of Knoxville because the city has more votes and would favor Bill Haslam as Mayor of Knoxville to be the ultimate power broker. He may favor such a government to gain Haslam favor, however.

If you thought this week was juicy, the third part next week should blow us all away.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Something to hide

Those who didn't see Terry Frank on Tennessee This Week yesterday missed a real doozy. Watching the show got me to thinking, however, and asking what I think is a fair question:

It is quite clear that Tyler Harber has issues, but Terry asked (as did Frank Cagle) quite rightly, that if Harber was such a troublemaker, why did the Mayor's office keep him around so long? Second chances are one thing, but when you get around to the seventh and eighth chance, something is fishy.

My big question is this: If Tyler Harber is such a liar, why wouldn't Mike Ragsdale want a full, complete, and total investigation into this entire matter? If Harber is making all of this up, as the Mayor Ragsdale and his defenders are alleging through his surrogates in his office and in the press, Ragsdale should welcome and embrace an investigation because he will come off smelling like roses. This is not what Ragsdale is doing-he is just trying to avoid the issue, butter
it over and cover it up. That makes me believe that there is a lot more to the Tyler Harber story.

We'll have more on this story tomorrow after today's second part of the Halls Shopper News series.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Its football time-I know you're glad

As most regulars are aware, most of the time this weblog is devoted to entries of a political or religious significance. It is true, however, that I have a background as a sports commentator and those readers who are aware of this have sent me messages privately lately saying "Oatney, it is almost football season, when on earth are you going to talk about college football." Fair enough. This is not exclusively a sports blog, but I think a lot of you are saying "you know you have something to say about sports, especially now that it's football time."

Two questions that I'm getting from people who know my biases well are:

"Who do you think is going to win the SEC (by which many people really mean "how is Tennessee going to do")

"Is Ohio State really as good as what people are saying?"

I pull no punches and butter over nothing, so I'll start with the disappointing news first. Tennessee is not going to win an SEC Championship this year. I do not believe they'll even make it to Atlanta. A team that starts the year with so many members of its freshman class facing NCAA Clearinghouse questions or issues and two being dismissed from the team is already showing signs of a lack of coherence. These young men are distracted. Further, I'll just be straight with my readers even if it makes me unpopular for awhile-there is a great coach on the Vols' staff, and it isn't Philip Fulmer. David Cutcliffe is the glue that will hold the offense together, and he is helped by the fact that the rediculous platoon system at quarterback-a system that does not win championships but only causes offensive confusion-will finally come to an end. Because of Cutcliffe, we can be assured that the Vols will have a better year than last year's disaster. If the Vols do not win at least seven games, they will have a new head coach next season. It speaks volumes that the Vols are not in the Power 16 to start the season like they were last year and so many seasons in a row. Tennessee goes to the Peach Bowl.

SEC Champions: Auburn.

Now, is Ohio State really that good? This is by far the best Ohio State team I have seen since the 1996 team that beat Arizona State in the Rose Bowl. The truth of the matter is that the 2002 team was not nearly as good as the '96 team, yet they won a national title. "Oatney, that makes no sense," you say. No it doesn't, but that is really the reality and speaks to just how good a coach Jim Tressel really is.

They are that good but I am not ready to crown the Bucks national champions just yet. There are three games on the schedule that even the best teams would have serious trouble with. The first will be September 9th against Texas in Austin. Last year's contest in Columbus was right up there with Alabama-Tennessee on my "2005 Games of the Year" list, and this year, the Ohio State-Texas showdown could decide the National Championship. Both teams know this, so I expect a war-especially since the 'Horns are the defending champs and will not take kindly to a loss on their home turf. The second decider will be September 30th at Iowa. The Hawkeyes look as good this year as they did at the start of their 2002 Big Ten co-championship season, and in their minds, the prime time contest could send them to Pasadena. If Ohio State survives those two tests, they then must look to the third Saturday in November. I never predict whether Ohio State or Michigan is going to win a national title at the beginning of the year because the outcome of this game is simply unpredictable. Only the Iron Bowl, in my mind, can say that it is a rivalry based on pure, real, and total hatred like this game is. Ohio State-Michigan is many things-Christian is not one of them.

Ohio State (Big Ten Champions) goes to the Rose Bowl.

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