Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama’s ‘Crusades’ controversy highlights war on terrorism’s rhetorical minefield

    New skirmish over language as White House summit on combating extremism gets underway

    U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2015. Flanking Obama are Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey (L) and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)U.S. President Barack Obama takes the stage to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, February 5, 2015. Flanking Obama are Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey (L) and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
    President Barack Obama this week hosts a White House summit on combating violent extremism, searching for strategies beyond just military action for countering terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State or al-Qaida. The long-planned event arrives right as Obama is emerging from his latest skirmish with critics who say his reluctance to tie terrorists publicly and directly to Islam shows he does not understand the threat — and therefore cannot adequately respond.

    At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, Obama suggested people get off of their “high horse,” reminding his audience that the West had its own history of “terrible deeds” in the name of religion, including the Crusades, the Inquisition and slavery. The remarks touched off a predictable firestorm, and his critics pounced.

    “There’s a set of words, it’s almost as if they’re given a card — a do-not-speak card,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R.-Texas) said last week at the conservative Center for Security Policy think thank.

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  • Obama weighs in on freedom of speech after Charlie Hebdo massacre

    At prayer breakfast, president also slams Islamic State as a ‘death cult’

    President Barack Obama n’est pas Charlie Hebdo.

    Obama, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, offered a response of sorts to critics who accused him of turning his back on freedom of speech by skipping a massive demonstration that saw hundreds of thousands of people march in Paris under the slogan #JeSuisCharlie ("I am Charlie").

    The outpouring of support came after terrorists murdered some of the French satirical newspaper’s best-known artists and editors in response to the paper’s decision to publish cartoons portraying Muhammad.

    Obama warned that, around the world, “we've seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good but also twisted and misused in the name of evil. ...

    “From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith — their faith — profess to stand up for Islam, but in fact are betraying it,” he said. In his harshest public remarks yet about the so-called Islamic

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  • Obama predicts Super Bowl will ‘be close,’ says ‘deflate-gate’ did not help Patriots

    After controversy, Obama predicts NFL will put officials in charge of footballs

    President Barack Obama refused Sunday to forecast whether the Seattle Seahawks or the New England Patriots would win Super Bowl XLIX, but he predicted the big game “is going to be close.” In an interview with NBC, Obama also dismissed “deflate-gate,” saying underinflated footballs had nothing to do with the outcome of the AFC title game.

    “The Patriots were going to beat the Colts regardless of what the footballs looked like,” said Obama, who expressed surprise that each team provides its own footballs.

    “I’m assuming one of the things the NFL is going to be doing, just to avoid any of these controversies, is figure out how the officials are in charge of the footballs from start to finish,” the president said.

    Asked what could happen if an ongoing investigation finds that New England cheated, Obama largely sidestepped the issue, saying: “I think that if you break the rules, you break the rules.”

    The president’s comments came during what has become his traditional interview with the

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  • Bucking Obama, senior Democrat seeks limits on war against Islamic State

    Rep. Adam Schiff’s new resolution expires after 3 years, forbids ground troops in combat against IS

    Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., questions Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Chris Inglis, deputy director of the National Security Agency; Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency; Deputy Director of the FBI Sean Joyce, and Robert Litt, general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; as they testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence regarding NSA surveillance in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., questions Deputy Attorney General James Cole; Chris Inglis, deputy director of the National Security Agency; Gen. Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency; Deputy Director of the FBI Sean Joyce, and Robert Litt, general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; as they testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence regarding NSA surveillance in Washington, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    Frustrated with White House inaction, a senior House of Representatives Democrat will introduce legislation Wednesday formally authorizing President Barack Obama’s war on the so-called Islamic State nearly six months after it began. Rep. Adam Schiff’s Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would impose strict limits that the Pentagon publicly opposes, forbidding the use of U.S. ground troops to carry out combat missions and limiting military action to Iraq and Syria.

    Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News that he is “frustrated generally because we haven’t had any movement on an authorization and we’ve been at war almost half a year.

    “I’m frustrated with the White House, but I have the most discomfort with the Congress itself, because it’s our constitutional responsibility to declare war,” the California lawmaker said. “We’re the institution that has the strongest interest in moving and exercising our

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  • Obama won't meet with Netanyahu during controversial U.S. visit

    White House says it's too close to Israel's elections

    President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
    President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter's controversial March 3 visit to Washington, the White House announced Thursday, saying a meeting could be perceived as an attempt by the administration to influence Israel's March 17 elections.

    "The president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress," National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a emailed statement.

    “As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country," she said.

    Netanyahu's visit has further strained already difficult relations between the Israeli leader and Obama. Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of

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  • Congresswoman to lead Charlie Hebdo tribute during State of the Union

    She'll hold up a pencil, unsharpened to avoid security concerns

    Rep. Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, and other lawmakers will hold up yellow pencils during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, to honor the memory of those killed in the attack on satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo, her office said. Spokesman Eric Harris told Yahoo News that the pencils won’t be sharpened, as a result of a conversation with the House sergeant-at-arms responsible for security at the high-profile event.

    “They didn’t specifically stipulate not to sharpen them, but we are certainly aware of certain security concerns,” Harris said by telephone. “We will be sure to keep it a safe, secure environment for the president.”

    In a written statement emailed to reporters, Harris said that Moore would raise her pencil during the applause break “to honor those who lost their lives in the pursuit of open ideas and free expression.”

    “In the face of the terrorist attack in France, the pencil has become the international symbol in support of free speech.

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  • Why Obama’s State of the Union still matters in the Twitter era

    The big speech ain’t what it used to be — and the White House is just fine with that

    It’s 2015. We live in the era of tablets, smartphones, live-streams, online interactives, listicles, viral content and social media. So why is President Barack Obama, whose White House uses those tools expertly to get its message around traditional news outlets and directly to the public, preparing to trudge through the stodgy yearly ritual that is the State of the Union?

    “Is ‘the fact that it’s in the Constitution’ too cheeky an answer?” senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer replied with a laugh when Yahoo News asked him last week.

    Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution does say that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” It doesn’t specify that he should do so in a primetime TV speech sometimes lampooned as “I come to you tonight to speak in ringing tones and gaze into the middle-distance.”

    TUNE IN AT 8p.m. ET FOR YAHOO NEWS' SOTU

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  • How President Obama unwinds

    For Obama, keeping an even keel takes a mix of golf, books, Nicorette – and, most important, time with the first family

    It was September 2012, and President Barack Obama’s inner circle was stressed. Obama’s aides thought his Sept. 6 speech to the Democratic National Convention had gone well but media accounts panned it and focused instead on Bill Clinton’s address the day before.

    “We all thought his speech had gone really well, but all you a------s said it was horrible and that Bill Clinton was amazing and blah blah blah,” a senior aide recalledpointedly referring to the political news media.

    Aboard Air Force One, chief speechwriter Jon Favreau was in the middle of doing a derisive, dramatic reading of some of the more annoying reviews, when the president stopped him.

    “Hey, man, how do you think I feel?” the aide recalled Obama telling Favreau. “I wake up every day knowing that at least half the country thinks I’m bad at my job.”

    “You can and should listen to and learn from criticism, but you cant let it paralyze you,” the president went on. “You have to just make the best decisions you can and

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  • Secret Service report: White House needs a taller fence and more, better-trained agents

    An independent review says the agency’s next director must come from the outside

    The Secret Service has too few agents, with too little training, assigned to patrolling a White House fence that needs to be at least 4 to 5 feet taller than it is to keep out intruders, according to a punishing report from an independent panel of experts.

    The unsparing assessment, commissioned after a fence-jumper at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. got past layers of security and reached deep into the presidential mansion before being stopped, also says that the Secret Service’s next director should come from outside the troubled agency.

    Here are some of the report's key findings, as laid out in an executive summary made public on the Department of Homeland Security’s web site.

     The fence around the White House  currently only 7½ feet high  needs to be taller. Much taller.

    “Even an increase of four or five feet would be materially helpful,” the report notes. The experts urged the removal of horizontal bars “where climbers can easily place feet or hands.” The top of the new fence could be

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  • After Alan Gross release, Obama seeks to resume full diplomatic ties with Cuba

    18 months of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, an Obama-Castro phone call

    In a move to wipe away one of the Cold War’s last vestiges, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced that the United States and Cuba will start talks on restoring full diplomatic relations for the first time in the half-century since the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

    “Today America chooses to cut loose the shackles of thepast, so as to reach for a better future for the Cuban people, for theAmerican people, for our entire hemisphere and for the world,” Obama declared at the White House.

    The stunning shift came directly after Cuba released imprisoned U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross and a U.S. intelligence asset, while the United States freed three convicted Cuban spies in a tit-for-tat that U.S. officials insisted was not a “swap.”

    CLICK IMAGE for slideshow: This handout photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday. The announcement came amid a series of sudden confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S. Gross' wife Judy is at center. (AP Photo/Sen. Jeff Flake)CLICK IMAGE for slideshow: This handout photo from the Twitter account of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. shows Alan Gross arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. The US and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday. The announcement came amid a series of sudden confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S. Gross' wife Judy is at center. (AP Photo/Sen. Jeff Flake)Some Republicans and Democrats vowed to oppose Obama’s new policy, which will also include making it easier for Americans to travel to the Socialist-run island 90 miles from Florida beaches and return with consumer goods – including Cuba’s

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