Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Remember the marshmallow cannon? Time for the White House science fair

    It’s going to be tough to top the “extreme marshmallow cannon” that blasted one of the gooey treats across the East Room – but attendees at the 2014 White House Science Fair next Tuesday will surely try. And this year, President Obama will put the spotlight May 27 on girls and women stars in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions.

    Obama has described the annual showcase as one of his favorite events – and has taken a hands-on approach to learning about the projects. In 2012, the president insisted on helping to pump up the marshmallow cannon and firing it across the East Room. (He later invited the contraption’s inventor, Joey Hudy, to be a guest at the 2014 State of the Union). In 2013, Obama hopped on a stationary bike to test out a pedal-powered water filtration system.

    Popular figures in science like Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and LeVar Burton ("Star Trek"’s Geordi La Forge) have attended and helped give the event a little added luster.

    This year, while

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  • One big obstacle to #BringBackOurGirls? Nigeria’s government

    “Brutal tactics.” “Record of atrocities.” “Gross violations of human rights.” Top U.S. government officials spoke those words Thursday at a Senate hearing about Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls. But they said them about Nigeria’s government and military, not the Islamist terrorist group that burst into international consciousness with its actions last month.

    U.S. mistrust of the Nigerian government runs so deep that the State Department requires Nigerian decision-makers to promise not to use intelligence obtained from American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) flights to violate human rights.

    “We have sought assurances from them — that Ambassador (James) Entwistle delivered a couple of days ago — that they will use any information that we pass to them from this ISR support in a manner consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law,” Alice Friend, the Defense Department’s principal director for African affairs, told the Senate

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  • White House will use an old playbook to handle the new Benghazi committee

    U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee session on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this June 20, 2012 file photo. Gowdy will head a House panel that will investigate the September 11, 2012 attack by armed militants in Benghazi which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
    The House of Representatives' select committee on Benghazi has had a rough rollout. Chairman Trey Gowdy, R- S.C., announced he had proof of sweeping White House wrongdoing — then said he could not actually share his secret evidence. The GOP’s fundraising arm for House races drew fire for politicizing the effort by inviting donors to give the $50-$500 necessary to become a  "Benghazi watchdog." And media outlets noted that many of Gowdy’s supposedly unanswered questions about the tragedy in the eastern Libyan city had been answered by previous investigations or media fact-checkers.

    And this is all before the committee is officially up and running.

    At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, White House officials have watched all of this with barely contained amusement. Aides have quietly noted that, while Republicans nursed self-inflicted wounds, there were zero Benghazi-related questions at press secretary Jay Carney’s briefings on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

    But already President

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  • White House: No, #BringBackOurGirls won’t sway the kidnappers

    The White House on Monday defended the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign as a valuable part of the global response to the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls. But spokesman Jay Carney dismissed suggestions that hashtag activism would lead Boko Haram kidnappers to free their hostages.

    “No, I wouldn’t say that,” Carney told reporters at his daily briefing when asked whether the outpouring of support would lead the extremists to set the girls free.

    “We're not anything but realistic about the challenge here. It's extremely difficult,” the spokesman said. “The area that the Nigerian government is looking for the girls in constitutes roughly the size of New England.”

    Still, I think that highlighting the situation there and the tragedy that the abduction of those girls represents helps focus attention on the matter and helps, I think, focus the attention of those who would want to assist in the finding and recovery of those girls,” Carney said.

    That appeared to be a reference to

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  • These are the 'essential skills' needed to be an Obama ambassadonor

    George Tsunis, ambassador-designate to Norway, appears before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Jan. 16. 2014.

    They might not speak a relevant foreign language or have any diplomatic experience, but big donors to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign have “essential skills” qualifying them for ambassador jobs, according to State Department documents obtained by Yahoo News.

    The assertions can be found in documents dubbed “Certificates of Competency,” which the administration is required by law to produce to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each ambassadorial nominee. The documents have not been made public.

    Earlier this year, three of Obama’s “ambassadonor” picks raised eyebrows in their confirmation hearing testimony. Real estate investor George Tsunis, nominated to be envoy to Norway, did not seem to know what kind of government that country has and attempted to bluff his way through questions about anti-immigration sentiment there. Soap opera producer Colleen Bell, tapped to go to Hungary, could not list any of America’s strategic interests there. Consultant Noah Bryson

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  • US announces aid to Nigeria in mass kidnapping of girls

    Warning that “time is of the essence,” the United States announced Tuesday that it would assemble a special team in Nigeria to help that country’s government rescue more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls before they are sold into slavery or killed.

    Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he had telephoned Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to urge him to accept American assistance nearly one month after the girls were abducted. Boko Haram, a group the United States has branded a terrorist organization, has claimed responsibility.

    “Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance,” Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

    “President Goodluck Jonathan was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately. And we are immediately engaging in

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  • When the White House hates your tweet

    President Barack Obama uses a laptop computer to send a tweet during a Twitter Town Hall in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
    For the Obama White House, tweets from reporters are a kind of early warning system. It’s up to Jessica Allen, 24, to sound the alarm.

    Allen, whose official title is “media monitor,” tracks journalists’ tweets and flags them in mass emails that land in the in-boxes of more than 80 Obama aides, including chief of staff Denis McDonough, White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, press secretary Jay Carney and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

    The result? Reporters who regularly cover Obama have become familiar with seemingly out-of-the-blue emails or telephone calls from officials taking issue with their tweets — often thoughtfully and constructively, sometimes with obscenity-laced yelps of outrage.

    Longtime CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller estimates that he’s sent out some 77,000 tweets over the past five years and has received just a few “rockets from Carney.”

    “'Rockets’ means a few minutes after I tweet something, I’ll get an email from him” with a complaint, Knoller said. “That’s

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  • GOP senators: Arm Ukraine, hit Russian banks

    Saying President Barack Obama hasn’t been tough enough on Russia, a high-powered group of Republican senators introduced legislation on Wednesday aimed at imposing new sanctions on Moscow over its actions in Ukraine.

    “Rather than react to events as they unfold, which has been the policy of this administration, we need to inflict more direct consequences on Russia prior to Vladimir Putin taking additional steps that will be very difficult to undo,” said Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who drafted the measure.

    The congressional push for a harder line on Russia comes with Obama set to welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of his key partners on Ukraine, to the White House on Friday.

    Republican Sen. Dan Coats, a former ambassador to Germany and current Senate Intelligence Committee member, will have dinner with Merkel on Thursday and is expected to press her to get Europe to agree on a tougher response to the crisis.

    “The lack

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  • Obama breaks promise (again) to commemorate Armenian ‘genocide’

    During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama could not have been clearer about what he thought of the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks in 1915.

    "My firmly held conviction (is) that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion, or a point of view, but rather a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence," he said in a statement. "The facts are undeniable," Obama wrote. "As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."

    Once in office, though? Not so much. Not at all, in fact.

    President Obama on Thursday called the slaughter “one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.” But for the sixth straight year, he did not use the word “genocide” — a move that Armenians would have cheered but would also have risked profoundly angering Turkey, a crucial NATO ally.

    “I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view has not changed,” Obama said in his 2014 statement. “A full, frank, and just

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  • Kerry: Cold War diplomacy was ‘easier’ than today

    Secretary of State John Kerry waxed a little bit nostalgic for the Cold War on Tuesday, saying the era of civil defense drills and mutual assured destruction was an “easier” or “simpler” time in which to lead American diplomacy.

    “It may not have seemed so at the time, obviously, to great leaders, but it was easier than it is today – simpler is maybe a way to put it,” Kerry said at the State Department during remarks launching a regular review of U.S. foreign policy.

    “We could make really bad decisions and still win because we were pretty much the sole dominant economic and military power around,” the former senator declared. “That’s not true anymore.”

    Kerry’s remarks reflect a mostly academic debate about whether pursuing America’s national interest was a less high-wire affair during the Cold War between Washington and Moscow than it became after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which shifted the ground to problems like climate change, extremist groups, and so-called rogue

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