Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama, France’s Hollande: One NSA call, 2 stories

    It’s enough to make you wonder whether President Barack Obama and President François Hollande of France were actually talking to each other, and on the same telephone call.

    The White House and Elysée Palace offered radically different accounts of a Monday conversation prompted by news reports that the NSA scooped up some 70.3 million French telephone calls and emails over a month — fruit of the latest leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

    Here are some of the more notable chasms:

    - “Friends and allies”?

    Obama’s version: “The United States and France are allies and friends, and share a close working relationship on a wide range of issues, including security and intelligence.”

    Hollande’s version (warning: French): “The Head of State shared his deep disapproval regarding these practices, which are unacceptable between allies and friends, because they violate the privacy of French citizens.”

    - I have a bone to pick with you:

    Hollande’s version: “He requested a full accounting (of

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  • Obama puts ‘no sugarcoating' on Obamacare site glitches

    President Barack Obama attempted a little emergency public-relations surgery Monday on his problem-plagued signature health care overhaul, announcing that unnamed “experts” are mounting a “tech surge” to fix the Obamacare website.

    “We’ve got people working overtime, 24/7, to boost capacity and address the problems,” he said in a speech in the Rose Garden. “Experts from some of America's top private-sector tech companies who've, by the way, have seen things like this happen before they want it to work.

    “They're reaching out. They're offering to send help. We've had some of the best IT [information technology] talent in the entire country join the team,” the president said. “And we're well into a tech surge to fix the problem. And we are confident that we will get all the problems fixed.”

    He didn’t name names (or corporations). White House press secretary Jay Carney referred reporters to the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS did not immediately respond to a request for that

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  • Shutdown deal settles nothing in the long run

    The United States flirted suggestively this week with default but ultimately went home with a short-term solution that sets up a series of similar crises in the next few months.

    This is no regrettable one-night stand: Democrats and Republicans now face a deadline for forging a broader compromise on the nation's woeful finances (Dec. 13), while government funding runs out Jan. 15 and the next debt ceiling fight is programmed for Feb. 7. The hard-fought agreement, though widely heralded as a breakthrough, offers only a brief truce in the wars over the government's finances and Obamacare.

    Thanks to the deal, the United States won't face default — at least for now. Federal workers idled by the first partial government shutdown since 1996 will get back pay. And tourists frustrated by makeshift barriers and student-art-project-caliber signs declaring popular monuments closed will get some relief. Small-business loans will start flowing again. For moms reliant on food aid, for scientists

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  • Obama: I will sign bill to reopen government 'immediately'

    Carefully celebrating a pending political victory, President Barack Obama said late Wednesday that a deal to reopen the government and avoid a cataclysmic default should help Washington break “the habit of governing by crisis” and set the stage for achieving immigration reform in 2013.

    “Once this agreement arrives on my desk, I will sign it immediately, we’ll begin reopening our government immediately, and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people,” Obama said in the White House briefing room.

    The president, who raised eyebrows in some quarters for speaking before the Republican-held House of Representatives voted on the compact, renewed his vow to “work with anybody” on proposals to bolster the fragile economy and saying that Democrats do not have a “monopoly on good ideas.”

    Obama pleaded for a break from “the habit of governing by crisis “ and painted the shutdown as a pointless distraction from the nation’s true

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  • Chaos but optimism as Washington gropes toward a deal

    A postponed high-stakes meeting at the White House. A rescheduled closed-door gathering of Republican senators. Leaders of the bitterly divided Congress ducking into each others' offices. President Barack Obama, behind a table of bologna sandwiches, pressing lawmakers to forge an 11th-hour deal to spare the fragile economy from a potentially catastrophic debt default.

    And from the chaos, growing optimism about a possible deal — even though it may just set the weary country up for another confrontation in only a few short months.

    With the partial government shutdown entering its third week and the United States due to slam into the congressionally set debt ceiling in just days, top lawmakers and Obama sounded uncharacteristically hopeful Monday about an agreement to get back to business and avert a default.

    Two Democratic Senate aides cautiously described the emerging deal as including a debt-ceiling hike that would last until Feb. 7 or 15, 2014, providing enough money to keep the

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  • White House edges away from short-term government shutdown fix

    What a difference a day – and a poll that has terrible news for Republicans -- makes.

    On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that President Barack Obama would probably embrace a short-term measure to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a devastating, first-of-its-kind default.

    “If a clean debt limit bill is passed he would likely sign it,” he said at his daily briefing.

    On Friday, having postponed his 1 p.m. eastern briefing to 4 p.m. (conveniently after markets closed for the weekend), Carney came out to give a few spare details about Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner discussing the ongoing standoff. But, when asked about a possible House GOP move to adopt a short-term fix, his tone had changed.

    “It has never been our desired outcome that Congress only reopen the government for a short term or Congress only lift the debt ceiling for a short term,” Carney said. “That is -- and I think I said this verbatim in the past -- the least they could do.”

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  • Ted Cruz on his ‘arguing boots’ and (not) carrying a tune

    Maybe it’s no surprise that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, likes to wear his black ostrich “arguing boots” around Washington. That’s one of the things readers learn in People magazine’s gentle profile of the conservative who may have done more than anyone in Congress to force a government shutdown.

    More surprising? He’s been in not one but two productions of “The Sound of Music.” First in seventh grade, as conflicted Nazi youth member Rolfe. Then in high school, as Max Detweiler, who gets the von Trapps to perform at the Salzburg Music Festival, effectively paving the way for the family’s escape.

    “Rolfe was really terrible,” Cruz told People. “I cannot carry a tune to save my life."

    The profile, on newsstands Friday, softens the sometimes hard edges of a senator who is often the target of sharp (and anonymous) criticism from his fellow congressional Republicans. It’s the kind of rehabilitation he’ll find useful if inside-the-Beltway rumors are true and he’s thinking about running for

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  • U.S. freezes ‘large-scale’ arms aid to Egypt

    The United States announced on Wednesday that it was “recalibrating” its aid to Egypt, withholding Apache helicopters, F-16 fighters, tank parts, Harpoon missiles and about $260 million in economic aid in a move to push the country's military and interim government down the path to democracy.

    The decision came three months after Egypt’s military removed democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi from power — an ouster that Washington has refused to brand a “coup,” drawing international ridicule. That determination would have required a halt of U.S. aid.

    “We have decided to maintain our relationship with the Egyptian government, while recalibrating our assistance to Egypt to best advance our interests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a written statement.

    Washington will still provide economic aid that goes “directly” to the Egyptian people in areas like health, education and private-sector development, she said.

    And the aid freeze will spare military training and

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  • Obama invites all House Democrats for shutdown, debt talks; Thursday he huddles with GOP group

    President Barack Obama invited all 200 House Democrats to the White House late Wednesday afternoon, ramping up his outreach to Congress as the  government shutdown drags on and with a week left before a potentially catastrophic debt default.

    Later in the week, the president plans to host similar events with House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans.

    The first GOP meeting is scheduled for Thursday, when some House Republicans are expected to meet with Obama at the White House. The president invited the entire GOP conference to the meeting, but House Speaker John Boehner is sending only a handful of lawmakers to represent the group.

    Republicans plan to send members of the party leadership and the chairmen of key committees, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

    "Nine days into a government shutdown and a week away from breaching the debt ceiling, a meeting is only worthwhile if it is focused on finding a solution," Buck said in a statement. "That’s why the House Republican

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  • How to prep for U.S. default? Bloomberg readies for earthquake. Literally.

    Canned goods? A shotgun? If you're wondering how to prepare for the possibility of an economy-shaking default on Oct. 18, the White House can't help you — but market-moving news agency Bloomberg will be preparing for an earthquake. Literally.

    In a message to staff, the respected global wire service advised that it will hold an earthquake preparedness drill on Oct. 17 at 10:17 a.m. ET in keeping with policy set by Bloomberg’s Risk Management Division.

    “Risk has alerted the News BCP team that your office is scheduled to participate in the Bi-Coastal Shake Out to practice earthquake preparedness,” the email said.

    “The test is scheduled to take place on 10/17 at 10:17 am. The test is only 30 seconds in length, and all staff are expected to participate. Staff will need to DROP to the ground, take COVER under a sturdy desk or table and HOLD on until the exercise is completed.”

    (Drop, cover, hold on is a thing. And the ShakeOut is a national exercise backed by the Federal Emergency Management

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