Saturday, April 08, 2006

Bush and the Ever-Changing Law

Some really sloppy writing in the blogworld and the Neo-Conservative world (all fascism and fantasy) can't seem to be able to handle the revelation of the origins of the press leak revealing the identity of a CIA operative. On the other hand, as collected by Nashville Is Talking, other bloggers CAN see this shuffling presidential dance to defend itself from a confusion of their own misinformation.

Remember that press briefing where President W. said "if there was a leak, they'd investigate it's origins and those who did it would be held responsible"? Check out this Theatre of the Absurd press briefing from Sept. 2003 regarding the Plame case, where Press Secretary McClellan says:

There has been absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement. All we've seen is what is in the media reports."

So if the indicted V.P. aide Scooter Libby (heh heh, Scooter) testified that the VP Cheney told him that President W. said to release the info and therefore "declassified the information" - then why the hell has federal prosecutor Fitzgerald been led to think by the Prez and his crew that the info was NOT declassified?

From today's WaPo:

According to Fitzgerald, Libby testified before a grand jury that President Bush and Cheney authorized the release of that information shortly before Libby's meeting with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8, 2003. The information was drawn from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the CIA about Iraq's interest in weapons of mass destruction.

But 10 days later, McClellan told reporters at the White House that the estimate had been "officially declassified today" -- July 18, 2003 -- making no mention of the earlier declassification that Libby described in his sworn testimony. If that statement was correct, reporters pointed out, then the material was still classified at the time Libby disclosed it.

[White House Press Secretary] McClellan yesterday declined to give a detailed explanation for the contradiction, explaining that the White House never comments on pending investigations. But he also tried to clarify his 2003 remarks to reporters, stating that what he meant on July 18 of that year when he said the material had been declassified that day was that it was "officially released" that day.

"I think that's what I was referring to at the time," he said."

Even President W. hisself called the "leaking" of info to the press a "shameful act" via Martini Republic. Um, that is, unless it serves the political purpose of discrediting officials who challenge the policies of a dangerously fumbling administration.

Confused? I do believe that has been this administration's policy.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Camera Obscura - The Monkey's Melancholy

I admit here at the beginning - I've loved adventure and fantasy and science fiction movies since my first experience in a movie theatre. I was four and the movie, as hokey as it sounds, the movie was "Mary Poppins." But to my wee eyes and barely-begun brain, I was transported to a world where you could jump into and through a chalk drawing on a sidewalk and dance with the fantastic. The movie half-terrified me, as simply everything and every influence of that nefarious nanny took the children into and through worlds of imagination and adventure. But I was hooked.

Back in the early 90s, I found a few movies from a director out of New Zealand named Peter Jackson and in each of his weird and twisted comedy-horror-sci-fi adventures, I saw a filmmaker who soon would no longer be an obscure oddity, but a an international hit. I was right - or rather, he was right, about all his instincts of filmmaking as he showed in the mammoth worldwide hit adaption of the "Lord of the Rings" novels.

But even I was skeptical of his plan to redo "King Kong." And this week I finally saw it. If you haven't and especially if you think you wouldn't like this kind of fantasy, then I highly recommend it to you. Jackson manages not only to reveal how inspirational the original was to his imagination, he draws you into a story about the brutal and poignant struggle for survival in both breathtaking and heartbreaking scenes.

Wisely, Jackson starts his version in the heart of 1933, the New York streets filled with homeless and the starving as Al Jolson sings "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World." In a skeezy vaudeville hall, aspiring actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) a battered and beaten crowd barely applauds, and backstage, her only friend, an aging performer, speaks to the fact that this theater is dying off, and when it closes the next day, he gently informs her, she's on her own and must figure out survival on her own.

Much at the same time, producer/director Carl Denham (Jack Black) is fighting with studio heads for the survival of his latest movie. He is all bluster and showmanship and short-tempered, refusing to accept defeat. His decision is to escape from his backers aboard a ship as yet unpaid, steal some movie cameras and force his way into making SOMETHING, some new product that will attract paying customers. When he sees the famished actress Darrow (first shown in a window along with his own reflection), he spins a wild tale to talk her into taking the journey for his mostly imaginary project.

The reason Jackson begins his movie with these scenes is to begin laying the groundwork for the real center of his new version - the search for more than subsistence survival.

Even the crew of his mostly hijacked ship "Venture" have vivid characterizations, unspoken intentions and fears and likely, judging by the weapons later hauled up from the ship's storage, they are gunrunners. One shipmate is reading "Heart of Darkness" and at one point notes to his friend, "This isn't an adventure story, is it?"

Using an ancient and dubious map detailing the location of "Skull Island", the producer and crew are literally hurled upon fog-shrouded, giant jagged stones which threaten to tear the ship to shreds. From here on, this movie unleashes a fury of action-packed sequences as they enter an unknown world populated by islanders who themselves seem to be on the verge of extinction. Who knows how many generations of these rocky cliff dwellers have witnessed horrors hidden by a mammoth wall running across the island - though an apparent shaman woman points to the blonde and fair Darrow with designs of using her for ... something.

Certainly the original and the 1977 remake imply a sexual tension between the Actress and the Beast called Kong. However, in this version, almost immediately the two connect on a more emotional level - they are abandoned in hostile worlds with no friends, no help and small chance of survival. It's when the Actress tries to distract Kong with some of her old funny vaudeville scenes that the massive creature laughs and something very much akin to friendship in a deadly world of imminent extinction emerges. This is made more evident as the Actress stumbles across the remains of other giant apes, implying Kong is likely the last of his kind, a subtle sign that this Beast is utterly alone and without hope - much the same feelings of the Actress view of herself.

While the Producer hauls his camera in hopes of capturing something he can sell, the crew attempts to rescue the Actress. Jaw-dropping action follows as Kong battles creatures drawn from the original film and from many pulp adventure stories most common in the 1930s. Lost in a maze of murderous creatures and savage horrors, Kong and the Actress do survive, and seek refuge on a cliffside where Kong, despite his animalistic origins, seems to find both beauty and peace. That same moment is shared more tragically again as the pair find themselves stuck high atop the Empire State Building.

But you don't need a degree in film studies for this movie to sweep you up and carry you away. If you allow Jackson to take you on this voyage through imagination and loss, you'll find a movie you'll want to see more than once.

Also of note, a major difference in the original and this version, Ann Darrow does not participate in the public humiliation and exploitation of the captured Kong. The literally both flee their trappings in the booming city and seek each other out as common souls, lost souls who have no other bonds of friendship.

A review by Carina Chocano in the L.A. Times sums it nicely :

A travelogue through popular movie genres, it passes from socially conscious drama to comedy, romance, horror, adventure, science-fiction fantasy and doomed love story, cleverly quoting the styles and tropes to which we've become accustomed along the way. A movie about the movies, and specifically an exploitation picture about exploitation pictures, Jackson's "Kong" is also a witty comment on the darkness at the heart of adventure stories, a bazillion-dollar spectacle that reserves the right to question the morality of spectacles, and, mostly, a tender love story about a melancholy girl and her tragically misunderstood monkey."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Update on "Secret Ethics Meeting"

Other media - print and television and bloggers - have also begun raising questions about an "investigation" led by state Senators Southerland and Haynes. Learn more here.

And here is my previous post about the issue.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Who Watches the Watchmen?

As Don Rumsfeld once put it about The New Iraq, there are "known unknowns". That's a pretty good picture of the confusion and corruption about just how much oil is being made and sold in The New Iraq. From this link via MetaFilter, the unknown continues to expand:

Iraq’s oil exports hit another post-invasion low in December and January, according to the Oil & Gas Journal. How do they know? Good question: according to Reuters, production and exports have gone unmetered since the Coalition Provisional Authority took over the country following the 2003 invasion; until new meters are installed, everybody’s just guessing.

Among the best chronicles of the haziness surrounding Iraq’s oil production and exports — and the general pall of corruption that hangs over the country — comes from journalist Ed Harriman, writing in the July, 2005 issue of the London Review of Books. Harriman wrote that in addition to the roughly $9 billion in Iraqi oil funds that vanished without a trace during CPA head Paul Bremer’s reign, the International Advisory and Monitoring Board established to oversee and audit CPA expenditures of Iraqi cash “discovered that Iraqi oil exports were unmetered.”

How long until someone actually starts an accurate accounting, or "metering"? Maybe two years. That's what Rumsefeld would call an "unknown unknown". For now, The New Iraq is paying about $6 billion a year to import oil.

Remember when the war began and we got these details:

Once U.S. troops entered Iraq, special combat teams spread out into the oil fields and occupied key installations. In fact, the very first operation of the war was a commando raid on an offshore loading platform in the Persian Gulf. "Swooping silently out of the Persian Gulf night," an over-stimulated reporter for the New York Times wrote on March 23, "Navy Seals seized two Iraqi oil terminals in bold raids that ended early this morning, overwhelming lightly armed Iraqi guards and claiming a bloodless victory in the battle for Iraq's vast oil empire."

Quote of the Day

From Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, leader of the Senate, on pushing thru immigration reform, made during a recent "phone call conference" with reporters:

Frist said most of the Senate's discussion and differences are focused on the temporary worker program.

"There are two aspects," he explained. "One is the true temporary worker program whereby people could come here with the intent of working for a period of time and then going back home. That would apply to agricultural workers, construction workers or hospitality workers - the sort of workers we know are coming and going.

"The other temporary worker component is the 12 million people who are here. That's where the debate really is ... it's not realistic today to send that whole 12 million people back where they came from."

Frist said he doesn't know how many illegal immigrants are in Tennessee.

I bet he DOES know how many votes he needs to win the first presidential primary battle in 2008.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sen. Southerland's Secret Ethics Meeting

Some elected officials in state government still just don't get it. Critical issues of credibility and accountability are left by the wayside, and instead we get legislative passage of a bill demanding public school students say a Tennessee Flag pledge. Minor reforms to influence peddling get lip service and then it's back to business as usual.

Secret meetings and bypassing laws of openness are still in operation in the legislature. The state senator here in the First District - covering Hamblen, Greene, Cocke and part of Unicoi counties - Republican Steve Southerland, was named on a special panel investigating Sen Jerry Cooper, and as noted in today's Tennessean editorial, the action was an insult to meaningful reforms. Also, as Chaplain of the Senate's Republican Caucus, his actions are even more troublesome.

After Operation Tennessee Waltz rocked the state last year, Tennesseans were promised a serious, transparent process for investigating ethical lapses in government.

Despite months of debate and a special legislative session, there is no evidence that the legislature intends to keep that promise.

Consider the case involving Sen. Jerry Cooper, D-Smartt. The 1999 sale of Cooper's sawmill was the focus of charges lodged in July against an Alabama couple who bought the mill and a real estate appraiser involved in the transaction. They were charged with fraud and money laundering, accused of inflating the property's value at the time of the bank loan. The couple pleaded guilty yesterday.

The indictment also says that an unindicted co-conspirator, widely known to be Cooper, "used his political contacts, connections and influence" to help obtain the bank loan.

Last August, the Senate Ethics Committee met privately to consider whether Cooper's involvement in the deal amounted to an ethics violation. Specifically, the committee was looking at whether Cooper unduly used his influence to get a state grant and a federal loan for the property. The panel surfaced and declared it wouldn't pursue an ethics case against Cooper.

Two weeks later, Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey, who chairs the Ethics Committee, said the initial probe didn't go deep enough and that an investigation would soon be launched. On Oct. 12, the ethics committee asked two members — Sens. Joe Haynes and Steve Southerland — to interview Bill Baxter, former Economic and Community Development director, about the grant.

In mid-November Baxter told a reporter for this newspaper that he hadn't been contacted by the senators. He also said that when Cooper sought support for the grant, the senator didn't mention his personal involvement, couching the request as being beneficial to the community.

Last week, Southerland and Haynes— who deliberated behind closed doors delivered a letter to Ramsey saying they had found no "probable cause" that Cooper violated ethics rules. Haynes told a reporter that the subcommittee didn't have to meet publicly because it was dealing with an investigation.

The state's public meetings law has exceptions for security and for the proposed impeachment of a public official. There is no exception for investigations. Moreover, the investigation into a possible ethical breach by a lawmaker should top the list of meetings that demand to be open to the public.

Cooper's conduct may or may not constitute a breach of ethics conduct. There is far less doubt, however, about the Senate Ethics Committee's handling of the matter. Its foot-dragging and secret meetings are proof that it has no intention of giving ethics probes involving its own members the serious treatment they deserve."

I agree. And if you are a resident here in the First District, you should contact the Senator and tell him this relentless secrecy is wrong and unethical. You can contact him by email, phone or regular mail via this link.

If we don't demand accountability, it will never occur.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Prison Inmate Also EMA Employee

Here's a story that grabbed my attention today. Seems a TN prison inmate was hired last March as a purchasing agent for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and got higher-than-normal pay, a free cell phone and even a state vehicle.

Seems an anonymous tip to the state's Correction Department opened a few eyes to the case and the inmate's state job "abruptly ended". The Tennessean paper has the full story - which raises far more questions than answers about some of the policies of the state's work-release program.

While I certainly applaud programs to help former inmates find employment, the key word is "former". I had no idea an inmate still serving time could be hired by any agency, much less the TEMA, which coordinates statewide responses to natural disasters and Homeland Security issues.

Some info in the news report revealed:

TEMA is part of the state Military Department, headed by state National Guard chief Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett Jr. His son, Tre' Hargett, is a state representative from Bartlett, the Memphis suburb where Erickson had a law practice at the time he hatched the murder plot.

Tre' Hargett said he knew Erickson's name but was not familiar with him. "I don't think he was real active in the community," he said Friday.

Gus Hargett declined through a spokesman to be interviewed for this story.

However, the general did write a letter on Feb. 23, 2005, to Personnel Commissioner Randy Camp arguing for a special exemption to compensation guidelines so that Erickson could be paid more than his job classification, administrative services assistant 2, would normally warrant.

Hargett praised Erickson's previous work for TEMA, initially doing maintenance on its radiological detection devices and later working in its logistics unit.

"Mr. Erickson has a Bachelor's Degree in Social Justice with an emphasis on English," Hargett wrote. "He also acquired his Juris Doctorate and previously owned his own business named The Erickson Law firm, where he practiced Real Estate Law.

Prior to owning his own business, he worked for The Law Firm of W. Terry Edwards, where he assisted with real estate closings and other related paperwork.

"Due to the amount of responsibility placed upon this position, coupled with Mr. Erickson's education, this department feels justified in requesting the aforementioned salary range," the general wrote.

Camp approved the extra pay, according to a document in Erickson's personnel file.

Nowhere in the letter did the general mention that Erickson was a prison inmate, had a felony conviction, had tried to kill his wife to get insurance money or had surrendered his law license when he pleaded guilty."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

One Soldier Leaves Iraq - Welcome Home!!

I received some excellent news Friday about the mess in Iraq - one of the many friends I have serving there is coming home. Travis' experiences were shared with the world of readers via his blog Travis In Iraq (see the link over on the right). Like many soldiers, some days were very dangerous and some were spent safely. His unfailing humor and wit, his friendships, and the often surreal nature of military service are evident in his blog. The picture above has Travis in the center surrounded by some kids - many of his posts are about the good the soldiers provide and some are about the constant danger all our troops endure.

Here are a few excerpts from his posts of March 30th and 31st:

Oh how the anticipation builds.... This is to be my last night in the great city of Mosul. Tomorrow I fly out for the final time, hopefully to never return, but I am wise enough in my years to never say never!"

"I am going to miss a lot of the guys I have had the pleasure of working with, some more than others, and some not at all, haha, that's just the truth of things. I will really miss my interpreter Bob, he was the coolest and I owe him a lot. He just got married, so I want to wish him the best, hopefully he'll get out of the Interpreter business and do something a little less dangerous so he can spend more time with his new wife and get a family started.

I have had a tremendous experience in Iraq, some you have read about on this blog, some only a select few have heard from me in person, and some I'll probably never speak of again, but that is how things go in this business. I feel I have grown a lot as a person and have a better perspective on life, especially on just how precious it is. I have learned we have it made in America. Our only problem is we like to bitch and moan and cry a lot!!! Myself included, but after seeing what I have seen, I think I will cut down on most of that. I have realized when our biggest dissappointment of the day is when the drive thru at McDonalds screws up our order or the waitress doesn't fill up our drink exactly when we would have liked for her too, then things really aren't that bad."

"Quite a few of you have asked me what I am going to do with my blog once this is over. Will I keep it going with the regular day to day happenings of my life or will I shut it down? I have decided that after the coming home party my Mom throws me that I am going to discontinue updating "Travis in Iraq", cause that book will be complete. I am not going to delete it, I will leave it up for anyone who wants to go back and read or re-read my tales or look at the various pics I have posted over the last ten months. Don't worry though, I plan on starting a new blog chronicling the next adventure of my life and you will all be invited to visit there as well.

Well I have to get going and pack up some boxes I want to mail home so I don't have to drag them around with me. Take care and keep reading, the next few weeks should be quite interesting.

Peace to All,

Travis C. Stuart

I imagine his mom and the rest of his family and close friends must feel enormous relief. And since he plans on leaving his blog in place, I urge you to read through it - there are some amazing tales there and some of his unique humor too. It may take you some time to read through it all, but you can learn much about him and his brothers-in-arms.

Welcome home, Soldier. And as you said, Peace to All