Monthly Archives: August 2008

ON THE BUS: An Obama campaign digest

Writ Large has gone on the road. For the next week, we’ll be with the Barack Obama campaign as it buses through the battleground states.

SOMEWHERE IN WESTERN OHIO–Campaigns are long marches. Extended, heavily choreographed, highly accessorized, marches.

They aren’t unlike Hollywood movies or Broadway plays. What the viewer sees on the screen is the result of hours, days, even weeks of preparation.

For those like us who are along for the ride, that means there a eternal stretches of lassitude, punctuated briefly by something that somewhat resembles action, but lacking any of the attendant drama.

Right now, the press bus is rolling across the farmlands of western Ohio. We just passed through a town named Mt. Victory, where one homeowner has planted a sign that reads “No way, No How, No McCain.”

The town has also preserved an old Gulf gas station, harking back to the happy times of cheap gas and boundless optimism.

Perhaps Barack Obama may want to consider having an event there. You can’t beat a burg named Mt. Victory for symbolism.

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Writ Large has gone on the road. For the next week, we’ll be with the Barack Obama campaign as it buses through the battleground states.

DUBLIN, Ohio–Barack Obama and Joe Biden took their message to the nation’s test-market Saturday evening, hosting a boisterous outdoor rally outside Columbus, Ohio.

With the sun sitting over a football field at Dublin-Coffman High School, Obama and his running mate took turns bashing opponent John McCain, largely on pocketbook issues. Obama, particularly, pointed to President George W. Bush’s comments Saturday that the economy was making progress, even as a report said personal income in July saw its largest drop since 2005.

Estimates had the crowd at the sprawling suburban high school as high as 19,000. Local campaign officials said it was larger than expected, especially given that this Saturday was the highest of holy days in Central Ohio: the day of home football game for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Obama referred to as much, leading the crowd in a chant of “OH-IO” — the same one done at football games. (One wag in the press corps said, “I wonder what he’ll do in Michigan?”)

Biden took some fresh foreign policy swipes at McCain, saying that Obama had been proven right in his positions on adding troops in Afghanistan, setting a timetable for the removal of forces in Iraq and opening a diplomatic dialogue with Iran. “Barack Obama was right. John McCain was wrong.”

Biden was cheered loudly when he referred to his native Scranton, Pa., perhaps suggesting that his roots may play well in this state as well. As for the newly announced vice presidential nominee on the Republican side, Sarah Palin was not mentioned by name. Obama joked, however, that in the 19 months of the campaign, he has visited every state in the country “except Alaska.” The crowd hooted. “I might have to get up there,” Obama said.

Obama and Biden were introduced by retired Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio), still a legend in his home state. And both politicians in turn praised Glenn, with Biden saying that meeting Glenn for the first time in the Senate was one of his biggest thrills.

Glenn, now 87, for his part, also called McCain a good friend and said he “went through some things I’m not sure I could go through.” This, from a man who orbited the Earth three times in a small capsule.

Glenn referred to Ohio’s long-standing reputation as a consumer test market and suggested that this battleground state could again prove decisive. “If it will sell in Ohio, it will sell in the whole U.S.,” he said.

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DOUBLETAKE: Is Mac thumpin’ PC?

Welcome to Doubletake, your morning mash-up with Tribune correspondents Jim Tankersley and Jim Oliphant. Now in new Extreme Arctic Blast flavor.

Jim Oliphant: So, get your text message yet?

Jim Tankersley: No. And my new rule is, no text, no veepstakes in the chat. This is non-negotiable.
Oliphant: I haven’t gotten mine yet either. But this I am pret-ty sure this art student in Denmark has me confused with someone else.

As for the veep, the guessing game has reached critical mass. I’ve read LeBron James is “confident” it’s going to be Tim Kaine, but he’s also hearing Bayh’s name again.

Tankersley: And your streak of mentioning Ohio sports reaches an unprecedented 12 days! Quick, tell me something about your hair. What I’m saying is, I’m not taking your running-mate bait. I refuse.

Oliphant: Sebelius up? Biden down? Hillary in an “October Surprise”?

Tankersley: Say, what do you make of that situation in Pakistan with Musharraf leaving?

Oliphant: Uh, unstable? A tinder box. Yes, a geopolitical tinder box. I think that is always the safe answer.

Do you think he would make a good veep? Build that bridge to the Muslim community?

And–do I have to say it?

Tankersley: You might as well.

Oliphant: Pretty decent head o’ hair for a deposed head of state.

Tankersley: And there it is.



Yes, I took over in a military coup, fired the Supreme Court, and

couldn’t find Osama if he came equipped with a Lojack, but check

out this head of hair. All mine, baby!


Oliphant Here is an excerpt from a recent story on Musharraf by our colleague Kim Barker. Gotta love the introductory graf to the quote.

Many insiders said his resignation was part of a deal allowing him to avoid the humiliation of a public impeachment in Parliament and perhaps avoid criminal charges for actions during his almost nine years as president, including seizing power while army chief in 1999, declaring emergency rule in November, and firing the country’s top judges, also in November.
“I am leaving with satisfaction that whatever I could do for this country, I did that with honesty,” Musharraf told the nation in a televised speech.


Classic stuff.

Tankersley: OK, here’s a topic more up your alley. We’re about to hit the party conventions – I’m off to Denver in fairly short order, in fact – and polls show the race basically tied.So — who’s position would you rather have at this point in the race? McCain or Obama?

Oliphant: McCain.


Read the rest at the Swamp, the blog of the Tribune’s Washington bureau.

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DOUBLETAKE: The backlash begins here

Welcome to Doubletake, your daily morning mash-up from Tribune correspondents Jim Oliphant and Jim Tankersley. Part of a balanced breakfast.

Jim Oliphant: So, this morning let’s talk about the coming letdown

Jim Tankersley: I’m too tired to make a joke here. So please tell me, oh, law-degreed one, what that means.
Oliphant: Basic concept. Nothing complicated about it. You don’t need a law degree to understand. . . Bigfoot, do you?

Tankersley: I’m sure a psychology degree helps. What is it about his relationship with his mother that makes him not actually exist?

So what’s this basic letdown concept?

Oliphant: Turns out, that Bigfoot they caught in Georgia. Not real. Not the real Bigfoot. The hunters that found “him” and stuffed him in the freezer, they even had the conjones (Spanish accent here) to hold a press conference… if, you know, forensic science never existed.

Here’s the story.

Tankersley: Well, they got paid didn’t they. Presumably more than the cost of the gorilla suit. And they ended up live on CNN.

Oliphant: Bigfoot suit, technically, is the term

Tankersley: My mistake.

Oliphant: But you see where I’m going. I’m done waiting for Obama to make his veep choice. I’m sitting around, time on my hands, not sure what to do with myself. Last night, I cleaned my place! Cleaned it. At night! I even cleaned out my refrigerator. You know what my refrigerator has become? Gitmo for vegetables. It’s where awful things happen to vegetables in small chambers.

Read the rest at the Swamp, the Chicago Tribune’s Washington blog.

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DOUBLETAKE: Guilt by association

Welcome to Doubletake, your morning cup of joe with Tribune correspondents Jim Tankersley and Jim Oliphant. They can also been seen starring in a musical version of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” at the Potomac Playhouse through Aug. 29. The pork chops are half-price.

Jim Oliphant: Bonjiourno. Tough night last night

Jim Tankersley: Don’t tell me — you took the red-eye in from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and you missed the women’s gymnastics individual events in flight.

Oliphant: Georgia’s always on my-my-my-my-my-my-my-my mind.
No, close. Picture this: Your football team hasn’t been on Monday Night Football for FIVE years. And yeah, it’s preseason, so who cares. But they are playing the world champions and there is a buzz around the team. Maybe a real contender . . .

Tankersley: Is this the part where you admit your team is the Browns?

Oliphant: It’s like a witness protection program, right? Or AA? My name is Jim and I am a Cleveland fan. Hi Jim!

Oliphant: So I sit down to watch the game and almost before I can blink: penalties, fumbles, runback, sacks, safeties…it’s like a blur. I look up and it is literally 30-3 at the end of the first quarter! It felt like the opening scene of Gladiator. Unleash hell!

Tankersley: I am contractually obligated to remind you that the NFL preseason matters less than the Des Moines straw poll.

Oliphant: Hey, it was their first team against ours and it looked like Russia versus Georgia. (In the freestyle war competition) Bottom line: They are simply not ready for prime time.

Tankersley: I will allow you your Cleveland misery. But speaking of all this Georgia stuff: Would you please explain the Joe Biden boomlet to me? I know you trailed him for a week in Iowa. How did he go from almost-zero land to short list?

Oliphant: I think it’s pretty simple. Obama went to Hawaii. The Russians went to South Ossetia. And suddenly John McCain had the field clear to be presidential on a matter perceived to be Obama’s greatest weakness. It might have convinced some in his campaign that they needed someone who could stand up and be taken seriously on world affairs.

Tankersley: But does America take Joe Biden seriously? I know the party faithful do — I saw one of them crash a New Hampshire press conference to ask John Edwards if he’d pick Biden as running mate (ah, the days when John Edwards looked like a contender for … anything).

Oliphant: Biden, despite his tendency to talk until the trees lose their leaves, is a heavy hitter in that regard. Watching him talk (and talk) in the basement of a public library in a small town in Iowa about the origins of Iraq and a Brief History of the Kurds convinced me and the 15 other people there. And then we went outside and the Statue of Liberty was half-sticking out of the ground. It was like Planet of the Apes!

Read the rest at the Swamp.

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DOUBLETAKE: Rock me like a hurricane!

Welcome to Doubletake, your daily spin on the headlines from Tribune correspondents Jim Oliphant and Jim Tankersley. Ask your doctor if Doubletake is right for you. Side effects include blurred vision, disproportionate anger, and moral bankruptcy.

Jim Oliphant: Good morning! It’s a new week, a new news cycle, and I have a new hair product. I feel good. I feel like Axl Rose judging a junior college beauty pageant.

Jim Tankersley: 90s drugged-out-waif-musical-genius Axl, or bloated, stuck-for-a-decade-on-finishing-the-same-album Axl?

Oliphant: Hey, it’s all about timing, my friend. Have you read the album is actually coming out.

Tankersley: Chinese Democracy. As elusive, at this point, as the lost Cone of Silence at RIck Warren’s church.

Oliphant: I think Axl might be the genius he was supposed to be all along. He just sat and waited–drinking five liters of vodka every day for 10 years—until the whole concept of Chinese democracy was hot.

Tankersley: Which reminds me of the question that’s been nagging me since I overdosed on Olympics and Saddleback Church this weekend: What, in your opinion, was the “greatest moral failing” of Michael Phelps’ record-setting 8 gold-medal performance?

Oliphant: Whoa, Thomas Hobbes. You gonna hit me with that this early on a Monday? I’m just trying to make sure the toothpaste hits the brush with as little blowback as possible. Why dont you tell me?

Read the rest at The Swamp.

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Obama on crime: Doing the Willie Horton?


WASHINGTON — Few presidential candidates in modern times have been identified with a large urban area likeBarack Obama is with Chicago. And sometimes, that can present a problem.

This election season, for instance, the residents of Obama’s hometown are being murdered at a clip not seen in five years.  

Murders have risen 18 percent over a year ago. Assaults in the city involving guns are also rising. City officials, Police Supt. Jody Weis and the police force are increasingly coming under criticism.

But some Republicans say part of the blame also lies with Obama.

They argue that while serving Illinois as its junior senator and earlier, when the Democratic candidate for president was a state lawmaker, Obama didn’t do enough to make violent crime a priority. Specifically, they point to Obama’s votes over gun legislation and the death penalty.

“Whether it was voting against or voting present on issues related to stricter penalties on offenders of serious crimes or disallowing citizens to exercise their right to self-defense, Obama demonstrated poor judgment on an important issue to his constituents,” said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

But Obama’s campaign says the link between Obama’s votes and violent crime is specious, and that Obama has actually done more to effectively combat urban violence than his Republican opponent, John McCain, who it says has consistently resisted federal efforts to place more police officers on the streets and voted against banning vest-piercing, or so-called cop-killer, bullets.

“John McCain voted to keep cop-killer bullets on the street and opposed the bipartisan crime bills of the early ’90s that led to the hiring of thousands of police officers and helped communities stay safe—a record that he will have to explain,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt.

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Appeals court: Saudis can’t be sued over 9/11 attacks

The Second Circuit Thursday released a significant decision, holding that the government of Saudi Arabia and its ruling princes, could not be sued over their financial donations to Islamic charities that allegedly funded and fueled al Qaeda. The Saudi government were defendants in multiple suits. The panel found the country was protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. 

Here is the Reuters story:

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, four princes and other Saudi entities are immune from a lawsuit filed by victims of the September 11 attacks and their families alleging they gave material support to al Qaeda, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.

The ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Casey dismissing a claim against Saudi Arabia, a Saudi charity, four princes and a Saudi banker of providing material support to al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

The victims and their families argued that because the defendants gave money to Muslim charities that in turn gave money to al Qaeda, they should be held responsible for helping to finance the attacks.

The appeals court found that the defendants are protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The court also noted that exceptions to the immunity rule do not apply because Saudi Arabia has not been designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.

Here is a link to the opinion.

The firm of Anderson, Kill and Olick, attorneys for former FBI agent John O’Neill, who was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, released this statement:

New York, NY (August 14, 2008) — As counsel to the estate of John P. O’Neill, Sr., we are disappointed with today’s decision by the panel of judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in John P. O’Neill, Sr. et al. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, et al., to the effect that Americans harmed or killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 do not have standing to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

While acknowledging that the plaintiffs have pled substantial information linking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to certain purported charitable organizations, and demonstrating their role in facilitating the activities of Al Qaeda around the world, the panel utilized a unique and previously unsupported rationale for denying Americans the opportunity to use US Courts to seek redress for the harms that they suffered as a result of the 9/11 attacks. 

Under the Court’s rationale, were a New Yorker to be side-swiped by a car driven by an employee of the Saudi embassy, they could sue for the bumps and bruises that they suffered and the damage to their vehicle, yet the nearly 3,000 families of those innocents who were brutally killed in lower Manhattan, rural Pennsylvania and the Pentagon cannot pursue their claims. 

Additionally, those who plan, conspire and provide support for terrorists, from havens abroad, cannot be held accountable for their actions in our Courts, according to today’s ruling. 

We believe that the Court was wrong in its interpretation of the law. 

On behalf of the family of John O’Neill, the former FBI agent who spent his career fighting terrorism, and died on 9/11 while helping evacuate the World Trade Center, we intend to continue to take such steps as are appropriate to help vindicate the rights of the victims. 


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DOUBLETAKE: No. 2 is the new No. 1

Welcome to Doubletake, your daily spin on the headlines by Tribune correspondents Jim Tankersley and Jim Oliphant. Download our cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on itunes.

Jim Oliphant: I am beside myself . . . which isnt easy, by the way

Jim Tankersley: Why?

Oliphant: I go down to the mailbox, pull out the new edition of Sports Illustrated and there’s my bloody football team on the bloody cover.SICover.JPG

Tankersley: The Supreme Court Whizzers? (How’s that for a little Byron White humor early in the morning?)

Oliphant: Yeesh.

Tankersley: The Browns, I assume.

Oliphant: Please. The universe hasn’t gone that insane. No, the Buckeyes of the Ohio State University . . . who are now pariahs in the college football world for losing two straight national championship games. Constitutional amendments have been proposed to keep them from a third title game.

Tankersley: And by virtue of the SI Cover Jinx, will now tumble to a 4-8 record and lose by 50 to Michigan?

Oliphant: Of course! And if the Rest of America hated them before, they double-hate them now. Here is the amazing thing. They aren’t even ranked No. 1! They are No. 2. And I guess that is what we are talking about today.

Tankersley: Indeed. Vice presidents. This is a big couple of weeks for the men and women auditioning for spots on the McCain and Obama tickets. What do you make of the hopefuls?

Oliphant: It sort of seems to be a war of attrition doesnt it? Every time someone’s name rotates to the forefront, there seems to be a collective national yawn, sort of like when this week’s SI hit the newsstands.

Read the rest at The Swamp



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DOUBLETAKE: World Gone Wrong

Good morning. Welcome to Doubletake, your daily spin on the headlines brought to you by Tribune correspondents Jim Oliphant and Jim Tankersley. While our genius is largely ignored in America, we are HUGE in Belgium.latz.jpg

Jim Tankersley: Hello there. Actual news this morning! Cease-fire in Georgia! Mark Warner to keynote the Democratic National Convention . . . 

Jim Oliphant: And, most important, the Burger King employee who took a bath in the restaurant sink! 
(Wait for it.)

Tankersley: (silence)

Oliphant: Don’t you want to talk about Mr. Unstable?

Tankersley: Mr. Unstable?

Oliphant: It’s not Vladimir Putin. That’s who they are calling the employee who took a bath at an Ohio Burger King. 



Say hello to Mr. Unstable. Wonder where he got that name?

Read the rest on the Swamp.

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