Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Annan quits as Syria envoy, White House ups pressure on Assad to go

    Former international mediator for Syria Kofi Annan, seen here meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June, resigned his post on Thursday. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

    The White House sped new humanitarian aid to Syria and heaped fresh pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to quit power on Thursday after Kofi Annan resigned as the top international mediator in the bloody 17-month crisis.

    In a parting shot, the former U.N. secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote in the Financial Times that the international community had proved "strikingly powerless" in the face of the violence. He also scolded President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, saying they needed to show "courage and leadership" to find a compromise.

    Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president was "grateful" to Annan for his work and said his resignation highlighted Assad's determination "to brutally murder his own people" as well as the "failure" of Russia and China to support international efforts to end the bloodshed.

    "It is disgusting, and really highlights the absolute requirement that for the future of the Syrian people, Assad must step aside," Carney said, declaring that Russia and China were "on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the Syrian people."

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  • Obama asks gold-winning women gymnasts: ‘How do you not bust your head?’

    Team USA’s Alexandra Raisman competes on the balance beam in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team final on Tuesday (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

    President Barack Obama telephoned the five members of Team USA's women gymnasts on Wednesday to congratulate them on winning the gold in London—and to express his astonishment at their gravity-defying exploits.

    "I told these young ladies, as I was congratulating them: 'How do you not bust your head every time you're on that little balance beam? I couldn't walk across that balance beam," Obama told supporters at a campaign rally in Mansfield, Ohio.

    The president expressed pride in all of America's athletes in London, underlining that "the wonderful thing about the Olympics is, it reminds us that for all our differences, when it comes down to our country, we're Americans first."

    "And we could not be prouder of them and everything they're doing on our behalf," said Obama.

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  • Obama hammers Romney tax plan in Ohio

    Stumping for votes in the pivotal battleground of Ohio, President Barack Obama hammered Mitt Romney's tax plan on Wednesday, highlighting a new study that said the Republican challenger's blueprint could leave poor and middle-class Americans paying more to the IRS to offset tax cuts for the wealthiest.

    "If Gov. Romney wants to keep his word and pay for this plan, then he'd have to cut tax breaks that middle-class families depend on to pay for your home, the home mortgage deduction; to pay for your health care, the health care deduction; (or) to send your kids to college," the president said.

    "And here's the thing: He's not asking you to contribute more to pay down the deficit, he's not asking you to pay more to invest in our children's education, or rebuild our roads or put more folks back to work," Obama said in Mansfield, Ohio. "He's asking you to pay more so that people like him can get a big tax cut."

    The Romney campaign charged that "glaring gaps" in the study invalidated its analysis and accused Obama of trying to distract voters from the sputtering economy.

    Both sides were sparring over a new independent study by the Brookings Institution think tank and the Tax Policy Center that found Romney's tax plan would leave millionaires paying less in taxes and the poor and middle class paying more. (Romney aides noted that one of the study's authors is a former member of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. But another author, William Gale, served on President George H.W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. And Democrats noted that the Romney campaign had described the Tax Policy Center as providing "Objective, Third-Party Analysis" when using its analysis of former Romney rival Rick Perry's plan back in November.)

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  • Romney campaign welcomes Obama to Florida with ‘I Built This’ ads

    One of the billboards set to welcome President Obama to Florida (image courtesy of the Romney Campaign)

    When President Barack Obama arrives in Florida on Thursday, Mitt Romney's campaign will welcome him to the Sunshine State with 13 electronic billboard ads featuring small business owners declaring: "Mr. President, I Built This."

    The ads each feature one of three local entrepreneurs: Tanya Burns, who runs an insurance agency, Walter Garcia, who helms a trucking company, and Lou Ramos, who heads a computer training company.

    The line refers to Obama's contention, at a June campaign stop in Virginia, that entrepreneurs need government help in the form of infrastructure like bridges and roads, investments in education, and preserving what Obama called "this unbelievable American system that allowed you to thrive" in order to be successful. "If you've got a business — you didn't build that," he said. "The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

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  • Obama aide: Romney ‘struck out playing t-ball’ on foreign trip

    Mitt Romney and his wife Ann visit the monument honoring the Warsaw Uprising in Poland on the last leg of his trip. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)The truce, such as it was, is over. Top Obama campaign aides blasted Mitt Romney's overseas trip on Tuesday, calling his foray on the world stage an "embarrassing disaster" and mocking the verbal stumbles that clouded his visit to staunch ally Britain.

    "It's not that Romney struck out against a major league pitcher," Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, told reporters on a conference call as Romney flew home. "I mean, here, he struck out playing t-ball. This should have been easy and it wasn't for him apparently."

    Kahl underlined Romney's comments suggesting that Britain might not be ready to host the Olympics, which drew rebukes from British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.

    "He managed to insult the leaders, citizens and press of the United Kingdom, probably our closest ally in the entire world on the eve of the Olympics, an event that they've been planning for years," Kahl said. "If Romney can't handle our special relationship with the British on the eve of the Olympic Games, what's going to happen when he has to deal with our enemies, or has to deal with really tough situations?" 

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  • Obama announces new sanctions against Iran

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Getty Images)President Barack Obama ramped up sanctions on Iran Tuesday as senior aides disputed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's contention that such punitive measures in the past have not slowed Tehran's nuclear program "by one iota."

    Mitt Romney's campaign has repeatedly cited Netanyahu's words as part of an effort to paint the president's strategy for keeping Tehran from getting nuclear weapons as a failure and attack him as insufficiently supportive of Israel.

    Asked about the prime minister's comments, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, Ben Rhodes, told reporters on a conference call that "it is certainly the case that Iran has not yet decided to come in line with their international obligations."

    But "we believe the sanctions have had an impact on the Iranian program insofar as they have denied the Iranian government access to revenue that they otherwise would have," said Rhodes. And sanctions have been "making it much more difficult for Iran to procure technology that would be directly relevant to their program."

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  • Obama gives first donation to his own campaign

    President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign fundraiser in Portland, Ore., July 24 (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

    Five grand. That's how much President Barack Obama gave to his own campaign on Monday—his first donation to his re-election effort. And with Team Romney now romping over Team Obama in the fundraising department, the president is asking his supporters (again) to open their wallets.

    "Yesterday, I made my first donation to support this campaign," Obama said in an email solicitation. "On its own, what I gave won't be enough to surmount the unprecedented fundraising we've seen on the other side, both from our opponent's campaign and from the outside groups and special interests supporting him."

    "But we have always believed that there's nothing we can't do when we all pitch in. That includes me," the president continued. "Today, on one of the most important deadlines we've had yet, I'm asking you to do the same."

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  • San Antonio Mayor Castro to deliver Democratic Convention keynote

    San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro will deliver the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Democrats announced Tuesday in a move showcasing the weight of the Latino vote in the hard-fought 2012 campaign.

    Castro, 37, will be the first Latino keynote speaker at a Democratic National Convention. He and first lady Michelle Obama will address the gathering on its opening night, Sept. 4.

    In a video message, Castro called the high-profile mission "an honor I don't take lightly" and quipped "I've got some big shoes to fill"—a direct reference to the 2004 Democratic Convention, where a little-known Senate candidate from Illinois delivered the keynote speech. Four years later, Barack Obama was president.

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  • Obama: Europe has ‘chronic bleeding wound,’ but euro will survive

    President Barack Obama says Europe's debt crisis is a "chronic bleeding wound" hurting the entire global economy but predicts that the continent's common currency zone won't fall apart.

    "I don't think, ultimately, that the Europeans will let the euro unravel," Obama told supporters at a fundraiser in New York on Monday. But Europe's struggles will be among the economic "headwinds" blowing against America's recovery "over the next several months."

    The president renewed his call for European leaders to "take decisive steps" to get their financial houses in order and said he spends "an enormous amount" of his time talking with them about solutions to the crisis.

    "And it's a testament, by the way—or it's an interesting contrast to what's happened here," said Obama. "The fact that we took some decisive action in 2008 and 2009, despite its unpopularity, indicates what we avoided, this chronic bleeding wound that has been an enormous problem not just for Europe now, but for the entire global

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  • Chinese dissident Chen to see Boehner, Pelosi

    Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident whose dramatic escape from house arrest and eventual flight to the United States captivated global audiences in April, heads to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for talks with top lawmakers including Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

    Chen endured a four-year prison term for his outspoken denunciations of China's one-child policy—which critics charge results in forced abortions. He fled house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, triggering a diplomatic incident shortly before a visit to China by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton ultimately carved out a deal permitting him to seek refuge in the United States.

    Chen is reportedly writing a memoir due out in late 2013.

    Pelosi is one of the most outspoken critics of China's alleged human rights abuses. Boehner has rapped Beijing as well, notably using a January 2011 visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to criticize the one-child

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