Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • How a presidential phone call gets made

    On a Saturday afternoon at the start of March, President Barack Obama set a new record for his administration, holding what aides say was his single longest phone call with another world leader. Obama’s tension-filled 90-minute marathon with Vladimir Putin failed to reverse Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine’s strategic Crimean Peninsula and heightened fears of a new Cold War with Moscow.

    It was one of four times in the past three weeks that the White House disclosed Obama had spoken with the Russian president and came amid a blizzard of telephone calls between the American president and world leaders as Obama sought to de-escalate the crisis.

    Obama has been stateside since returning to Washington from a short trip to Mexico for a Latin American economic summit. But he might as well have been at the United Nations. Since Feb. 20, the White House has revealed, Obama's held calls to discuss the Ukraine crisis with the leaders of Germany (four times), Britain (three times), France

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  • Moms of Jonah Hill, Alicia Keys, Adam Levine, Jennifer Lopez: Enroll in Obamacare

     Long before Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine was People Magazine’s “sexiest man alive,” he was “rambunctious, mischievous, naughty,” his mom Patsy Noah says in a new ad meant to get more young people to sign up for Obamacare.

    Alicia Keys “was an old soul,” who “never thought she had to practice” playing music, her mother, Terria Joseph, says in the nearly two-minute pitch. Jennifer Lopez “walked at 8 months, and she was climbing out of her crib when she was a year old,” says her mom, Guadalupe Rodriguez, adding: “At one point I thought maybe she should be a gymnast.” Jonah Hill “was a prankster,” says the actor’s mom, Sharon Feldstein. He “flooded the elementary school.”

    “Trust me: Us moms put up with a lot. But one thing we should never have to put up with is our kid not having health care,” Feldstein says. “Please just do this one thing and sign up for health care.”

    “We nag you because we love you,” first lady Michelle Obama says near the end of the ad.

    The March 31 deadline for

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  • Putin is not crazy. Frustrating, unpredictable. Not crazy.

    The Russian president may be calculating, sources say, even miscalculating. And worried

    President Obama has called Vladimir Putin “the bored kid in the back of the classroom,” putting on an unsmiling, tough-guy “shtick.” Hillary Clinton just compared the Russian president to Hitler. The State Department says Putin’s reasoning on Ukraine amounts to “two plus two equals five.” Republican House Speaker Boehner branded him a “thug.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said he is “in another world.” And George W. Bush complained that debating policy with him was “like arguing with an eighth grader with his facts wrong” and called him “cold-blooded” to his face.

    Putin’s decision to respond to the ouster of a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine by deploying troops across Crimea and threatening to send them into eastern Ukraine has inflamed already painful relations with the United States. Some (wrongly) see the birth of a new Cold War. And some wonder whether the judo-loving former KGB colonel with the nuclear arsenal and the unsettling fondness for being photographed

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  • U.S. activist says Egyptian police beat her: 'They stomped on me'

    Anti-war activist Medea Benjamin charged Tuesday that she suffered a dislocated left arm and severe trauma after being detained on arrival in Egypt and then forced by security officials from a jail cell at the Cairo airport onto a Turkey-bound flight.

    “They dragged me and they threw me on the floor. They pulled my arm out of its socket, then dragged me across the tarmac,” the Code Pink co-founder told Yahoo News in a telephone interview from an airport clinic in Istanbul. “My arm is traumatized and swollen and torn, and I am in excruciating pain from the nape of my neck down to my waist.”

    Benjamin tweeted her ordeal, including photos of the airport prison cell she said she shared with four other women, one of whom lent her a power cord for her telephone when the battery ran down.

    Benjamin is a

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  • Obama warns Russia of 'costs' for any military intervention in Ukraine

    President Barack Obama bluntly warned Russia on Friday that it will face international condemnation as well as unspecified "costs" for any military intervention in neighboring Ukraine. A senior U.S. official said Washington could boycott a major international summit to be hosted by Russia in June and reject Moscow's efforts to promote trade with the United States.

    "We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine," Obama said in a hastily arranged public statement from the White House briefing room.

    "Just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine," the president warned.

    His remarks came after top Ukrainian officials charged that Russian troops had taken over the two main airports in the strategic

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  • Obama makes it official: U.S. planning for full Afghan withdrawal

    After giving him the silent treatment for eight months, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The message? A blunt warning that all U.S. troops will leave his war-torn country by 2015 unless Karzai or his successor sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States.

    The president had not spoken to Karzai since a June 25, 2013, video conference, and the two had had no contact since a Nov. 21, 2013, letter from Washington to Kabul.

    Obama has said repeatedly that he hopes to leave a residual force of some 8,000-12,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to train local security forces and target extremists after most combat forces depart in 2014. But U.S. officials had warned that Obama would pull all American troops absent a BSA that gives American and allied forces immunity from local prosecution.

    Karzai refused, saying his successor should be the one to make that commitment. He continued to say no even after Afghanistan’s “loya jirga”

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  • U.S. diplomats to Obama: Ambassador nominees should really know something about their destination

    Please, presidents, stop picking big campaign donors to be ambassadors whether or not they know anything about the country where they’d be posted and are clueless about foreign affairs in general.

    That’s the basic message to President Barack Obama and future administrations from a group that represents some 31,000 current and former career diplomats.

    The American Foreign Service Association put it quite a bit more diplomatically (of course) on Tuesday in a set of new guidelines to help presidents select the best candidates for the job sometimes known as “chief of mission.”

    A good nominee ideally “has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages,” AFSA said in its six-page report.

    “The actions and words of an ambassador have consequences for U.S. national security and interests far beyond the individual country or organization to which he or she is

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  • Obama may escalate role in Syrian war

    Americans unquestionably oppose any U.S. military intervention in Syria of the “boots on the ground” variety. They’re not fans of the idea of air strikes there, either. But how would they respond to narrowly tailored attacks targeting Islamist fighters who may be looking to use that country’s lawless war zones as a staging ground for potential attacks on U.S. allies, U.S. interests and possibly the United States itself? Would such a limited approach really help increasingly desperate moderate fighters squeezed between those extremists and strongman Bashar Assad’s troops? And what risk would it pose in terms of sucking the United States into an escalating role in the Syrian conflict?

    Those are central, pressing questions as President Barack Obama assesses his handling of arguably the worst foreign policy disaster of his administration and gives fresh thought to a limited military role, according to current and former administration officials and congressional aides.

    Right now we don’t

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  • Obama: Ukraine, Syria are not pieces on ‘some Cold-War chessboard’

    President Barack Obama denied late Wednesday that Russian-U.S. tensions over Syria and Ukraine were playing out on “some Cold-War chessboard” even as he acknowledged deep divisions between Moscow and Washington.

    Obama, speaking at a joint press conference after a North American leaders’ summit, also flatly denied that the United States had played a role in stirring up the people against their government, saying that the uprisings “arose organically from within those countries.”

    “I do think it is worth noting that you have, in this situation, one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently being supported by Russia,” he said.

    But “our approach in the United States is not to see these as some Cold-War chessboard in which we're in competition with Russia,” the president continued.

    “Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make the

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  • Obamacare house party, with special guest Dr. Jill Biden

    Forget the mom jeans. Forget the mom-knows-best TV ad campaign to boost Obamacare enrollment. And for heaven’s sake, forget Pajama Guy. How about a mom-hosted house party with an unannounced guest star — Dr. Jill Biden, aka Vice President Joe Biden’s wife?

    Jill Biden dropped in late Tuesday on about 15 Dallas-area moms gathered at the home of Marie Murray in the middle-class suburb of DeSoto. She was there to kick-start the latest Affordable Care Act enrollment drive with just under six weeks before the March 31 deadline to apply for insurance or risk paying a fine.

    Biden, who recently broke her left wrist, held up her cast and told other guests that everyone should sign up for insurance, because “accidents happen!”

    "Everyone here knows, if you want something done, ask a mom. So what you're all here

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