Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama spokesman: Philip Seymour Hoffman ‘a remarkable talent’

    President Barack Obama’s chief spokesman said Monday that the death of gifted actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was “tragic” and that anyone who cared for “incredibly powerful” performances was a fan.

    “It's hard to imagine if you are a fan of incredibly powerful acting that you weren't a fan of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was just a remarkable talent, in my view,” Jay Carney told reporters. “It's very sad news.”

    Carney underlined that he was speaking for himself and had not discussed the actor’s death with Obama.

    While the president has formally commented on the passing of some performers, such as Whitney Houston, it was not clear whether he would do so in this case.

  • White House calls class warfare charges ‘hyperventilation’

    The White House had a simple message on Friday for very rich Americans complaining that President Barack Obama wants to wage class warfare: Stop your “hyperventilation.”

    “Just take a look at facts,” Jason Furman, chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told reporters at a regular newsmaker breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor.

    Furman had been asked about Obama’s proposals for tackling income inequality in relation to charges of class warfare, including a venture capitalist’s recent headline-grabbing contention that criticism of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans was akin to the Nazi movement’s devastating 1938 attacks on Jewish businesses. (The financier later apologized).

    “Some is just hyperventilation around not paying attention to specific facts and data,” Furman said. “No one here is talking about 100 percent tax rates, or 70 percent tax rates.”

    Furman said Obama seeks to foster “equality of opportunity” not outcome and argued that effective tax rates

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  • Obama on Olympics: ‘Sochi is safe,’ but…

    Invoking the Boston Marathon bombing, President Barack Obama told CNN in an exclusive interview to be broadcast Friday that he can’t “discount” the possibility that a terrorist might target the Winter Olympics Games in Sochi, Russia. Obama also told the news network’s Jake Tapper that he prefers it when American authorities have “full control” over security measures.

    Tapper asked the president in an interview conducted Thursday what he would tell close friends who might be thinking of attending the competition.

    “I'd tell them that I believe that Sochi is safe and that there are always some risks in these large international gatherings,” Obama replied.

    “What I would say is is that if you want to go to the Olympics, you should go to the Olympics,” the president added. “And, you know, we're not discouraging, in any way, Americans from participating in what is just always an amazing, wonderful event.”

    Still, the president said he feels more confident about major public events inside the

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  • George W. Bush in 2014 elections: ‘Here and there,’ not everywhere

    Don’t look for former President George W. Bush to end his self-imposed exile from politics in 2014 — though he expects to make the occasional donation.

    “He’s still interested in following politics, but still quite happy to be out of it at this point,” Bush spokesman Freddy Ford told Yahoo News.

    Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Thursday tweeted an archival photo of himself standing next to Bush, and a picture of a form showing that the former president gave $5,000 to “Team Graham, Inc.”

    “Dubya” has given $12,800 thus far in the 2014 cycle, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. His other beneficiaries have been his own congressman, Republican Roger Williams, and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, who’s looking to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas.


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  • 5 takeaways from Obama’s State of the Union

    President Obama used his State of the Union speech to try to redraw the political landscape, placing himself at its center while working to give vulnerable Democrats a shot at surviving what could be brutal midterm elections in November.

    Obama limped into the address with weak poll numbers and a stalled agenda after one of the worst years of his time in office — and quickly set about trying to turn the tables on Republicans while arming his party with political weapons.

    Here are five takeaways from (and some questions about) the 65-minute address, with the caveat that we may not know until after election day in November whether the remarks were a success.

    1) I’m out of order? You’re out of order!

    That famous movie-trial misquote captures one of the dynamics at the heart of Obama’s speech. On issue after issue, the president sent this message: “Hey, I am working with CEOs, college presidents, mayors, governors, state legislatures, foreign partners — heck, even Iran. But House

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  • Obama’s State of the Union shift: From ‘Social Darwinism’ to ‘opportunity’

    Tune in to President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, and you won’t hear him recycle his denunciation of Republican economic policies as heartless “Social Darwinism.” He won’t remind Americans of his annoyance with “fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.”

    But he will declare that the American Dream "has suffered some serious blows" and left middle-class Americans reeling. Restoring the promise of economic opportunity is "the defining project of our generation," Obama will say, according to excerpts released by the White House.

    Stagnant wages? A wider gap between rich and poor? Stubbornly high unemployment? "Our job is to reverse these tides," the president says.

    Obama seems poised to take a page from Bill Clinton’s January 1998 address — one of the few successful State of the Union speeches in the modern era. And that means framing his message as a question of ensuring equality of opportunity, not outcome, to avoid charges of “class warfare.”

    “It’s not about equalizing

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  • Obama ups minimum wage for some government contractors

    Power of the pen? President Barack Obama will announce Tuesday that he is ordering an increase in the federal hourly minimum wage to $10.10 for workers on new federal government contracts for services, like janitors and construction workers, according to the White House.

    Obama will lay out his executive order in the State of the Union address at 9 p.m. before a joint session of Congress and urge lawmakers to join him in raising the minimum wage for all workers.

    The move highlights some of the president’s main messages in the annual speech, notably his vow to work with Congress when he thinks it’s possible and use his executive powers to go around lawmakers when he considers it necessary. It also reflects a longstanding Democratic belief that raising the minimum wage will brighten the fortunes of millions of Americans.

    Republicans have long countered that raising the hourly rate will lead employers to shed jobs.

    The White House did not provide a detailed breakdown of the categories of

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  • How an Obama State of the Union speech is born

    President Barack Obama’s 2014 State of the Union speech has been coming together, draft by draft, much of it springing from the mind of a quick-witted 33-year-old with a below-ground West Wing office, an above-average thirst for caffeine and a passion for the 1985 Chicago Bears.

    Director of Speechwriting Cody Keenan is known to fuel his long hours with “red eyes” — large drip coffees with a shot of espresso for extra kick. Recently, White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri made him a batch of her “energy cookies” — described by someone who has had them as “mini power bars.”

    He’s no Raymond Price — the long-ago speechwriter for Richard Nixon who famously wrote the first draft of the 1970 State of the Union on a sleepless three-day blitz powered by “greenies,” amphetamines prescribed by the White House doctor. Instead, in the wee hours, Keenan can make himself a cup of coffee with a Keurig machine given to him by the National Security staff.

    The big themes of Obama’s

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  • NBA’s Jason Collins, Boston Marathon survivors among Obama’s State of the Union guests

    It’s “meet the Skutniks” time in Washington, D.C.: The NBA’s first openly gay player, a hero from the Boston Bombing (and the man he helped save), the Moore, Okla., fire chief who led the search for survivors after a devastating tornado, and others.

    The White House on Monday announced the first batch of guests who will watch President Barack Obama’s state of the union speech on Tuesday alongside first lady Michelle Obama, who will sit in her special spot in the gallery above the floor of the House of Representatives.

    Why are they called “Skutniks?”

    Lenny Skutnik dove into the icy Potomac River in January 1982 to rescue a woman from the Air Florida Flight 90 crash, earning him a spot as an honored guest at then-President Ronald Reagan’s state of the union speech two weeks later.

    By tradition, the guests who sit in the first lady’s gallery – people whose life stories traditionally help the president make a point in the annual speech – are known as Skutniks.

    Here is the first wave of

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  • Watch what happens when Obama picks a top donor as ambassador

    This is why a future president might finally do away with the practice of nominating a top political donor to be an ambassador.

    Here’s how the White House described wealthy executive George Tsunis when President Barack Obama nominated him to be the top U.S. diplomat in Norway in September 2013:

    “George J. Tsunis is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chartwell Hotels, LLC. From 1999 to 2009, Mr. Tsunis was of counsel at Rivkin Radler, LLP and served as partner since 2005. Mr. Tsunis was Special Counsel to the Town of Huntington Committee on Open Space Preservation as well as Counsel to the Dix Hills Water District from 2003 to 2009. From 1998 to 1999, he practiced law at Goldberg & Cohen in Brooklyn, NY. From 1996 to 1998, he was a Legislative Attorney at the New York City Council. Mr. Tsunis received a B.A. from New York University and a J.D. from St. John's University School of Law.”

    Missing: diplomatic credentials, obvious ties to Norway.

    But a trip to the website

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