Blog Posts by Olivier Knox, Yahoo News

  • Obama targets young voters with Dec. 11 college summit

    President Barack Obama is summoning college presidents and business leaders to a daylong Dec. 11 summit at the White House to discuss specific ways to make higher education more accessible to low-income students, Yahoo News has learned.

    The event — clearly designed to appeal to young voters and minorities, who were core parts of Obama’s winning coalitions in 2008 and 2012 — is part of a campaign-style blitz meant to salvage his second term. The White House and Democrats hope the effort helps to turn the 2014 midterm elections from a referendum on the Obamacare rollout debacle into a choice between the president’s policies and those of his Republican opponents.

    On Tuesday, Obama will spearhead an effort to shift the conversation about Obamacare from its botched rollout to its benefits — and what Republicans would take away if they repealed it. That comes after weeks of trips meant to highlight his efforts to bolster the economy, and his eagerness for overhauling the nation’s immigration

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  • In 2013, Obama finally finds Arab Spring stride

    President Barack Obama in 2013 finally brought order out of the chaos of his initial response to the turmoil in the Middle East known as Arab Spring. Obama, elected on a promise to end two wars in the region, made a blunt declaration that promoting democracy worldwide is not a “core interest” of the U.S and instead decreed that Washington must focus first and foremost on national security.

    2013 saw considerable drama in the Middle East. Here are some of the key dates:

    March 20Obama met in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two appeared to patch up their tattered relationship — a critical step that might have paved the way for relaunching stalled Middle East peace talks.
    June 13The White House announced it would give Syria’s rebels military aid in response to strongman Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
    July 3Egypt’s armed forces ousted democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi. The Obama administration invited generous helpings of international
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  • Obama still plans to sign up for Obamacare

    Has President Barack Obama made good on a March 2010 promise to sign up for health insurance coverage under Obamacare? His chief spokesman declined to say.

    “I don't have an update for you on that. I know that he will and has said that he will, the White House has said that he will, but I don't have an update,” Jay Carney said Monday at his daily briefing.

    Will he invite the press to watch? “I’ll get back to you,” Carney said.

    The White House said back in March 2010 that Obama “will participate in the exchange,” as the health insurance marketplaces are known.

    Former presidents are eligible for lifelong health care through military hospitals. But Obama — who will be 55 years old by the time his second term ends in January 2017 — could also get insurance through a future employer.

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  • White House denies report Obama planning Iran visit

    The White House on Monday denied that President Barack Obama is trying to arrange what would be a history-making trip to Iran in 2014.

    Via the Weekly Standard, the Al Jarida newspaper of Kuwait reported that Obama hopes to visit Tehran in the middle of next year. The source for the Arabic-language report was an unnamed diplomat.

    “There is no truth to this report,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Yahoo News by email.

    The report came after the United States and other world powers signed an interim deal with Iran that aims to pave the way for a broader accord ending fears over Tehran’s nuclear program. Washington and its global partners have asserted that the Islamic Republic wants to develop the ability to build nuclear weapons, something Iran strongly denies.

    In September, Obama held a groundbreaking telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the first direct conversation between leaders of the two countries since Iran's Islamic revolution in

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  • Obamacare small business online sign-up delayed

    In another bit of bad news for Americans seeking coverage under Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s administration on Tuesday announced a yearlong delay of online sign-ups for some small businesses seeking coverage for their employees under his signature health care law.

    The delay, which runs through 2014, affects employers who would have gone through the badly troubled web site because they operate in states where the federal government runs health insurance marketplaces known as exchanges, according to an official at the Department of Health and Human Services.

    The announcement, unveiled with millions of Americans on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday, came just days before the administration’s self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline for making sure that the website works for “the vast majority” of those trying to use it.

    “For 2014, small employers will use ‘direct enrollment’ rather than in states where the federal government is running the Marketplace,” the HHS

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  • Congress wary, but unlikely to blow up Obama's Iran deal

    Congress didn’t exactly sound the trumpets and roll out the red carpet for President Barack Obama’s fragile interim deal with Iran — but it’s increasingly clear that lawmakers don’t want to blow it up with new sanctions, either.

    Instead, wary members seem set to adopt the same approach Obama has taken to Iran’s nuclear commitments — in the words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”

    “The administration has gotten what it wants: Space for negotiations. And it will continue to get what it wants: Space. But not without consequences or repercussions if Iran breaks faith,” a top Democratic aide close to the process told Yahoo News.

    Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to put on the brakes on Monday when he reversed course on his previously strong message of support for toughening economic sanctions on Iran.

    “The Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving recess. And I am committed to do so,”

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  • Say no to stoning adulterers, group urges Afghanistan

    Is brutal Taliban-style justice coming back to Afghanistan?

    The Human Rights Watch organization urged that country’s government on Monday to reject a proposed law providing for adulterers to be stoned to death.

    “It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Afghan President Hamid Karzai "needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand.”

    The Islamist Taliban militia that governed Afghanistan from 1996 until U.S.-led forces toppled its government in late 2001 used to put convicted adulterers to death by shooting them or stoning them.

    A Justice Ministry-led working group is calling for a return to stoning adulterers “if there are four eyewitnesses,” Reuters reported Monday.

    The Guardian newspaper reported that another punishment being considered was flogging.

    Human Rights Watch urged

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  • Top consumer cop: Mortgages, debt collection top complaints

    More than 230,000 complaints have poured into the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the past two years, with mortgages and debt collection topping the list of grievances.

    But CFPB Director Richard Cordray told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview that he wants Americans to complain more.

    “I do want your Yahoo Nation to know that they can and should file complaints with us about problems with mortgages, credit cards, student loans, auto loans,” he said.

    The independent federal agency received 600 complaints, mostly about credit cards, in its first month. But it soon added other categories for unhappy consumers, and now the protests are pouring in at a good clip — 10,000-12,000 per month through and by phone at (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

    Once a complaint is filed, the CFPB passes it on either to the company concerned or to another government agency. Companies have 15 days to respond to the consumer and the agency, and must address most

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  • Top consumer cop Cordray wary of over-regulating

    The government’s top consumer advocate told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview Thursday his agency must battle fraud and abuse — but warned that Americans can’t rely only on government to protect them.

    “If I default on my loan, and go into foreclosure and lose my house, and then I ruin my credit and I can’t live a good financial life for 5-10 years — you know, that’s on me,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray told Yahoo News.

    “So what we want is we want to ... empower consumers to [be] better able to protect themselves — they shouldn’t rely entirely on a federal agency in Washington, they should rely on themselves in the first instance,” Cordray said.

    Cordray and the CFPB have taken fire from Wall Street and its allies in Congress, some of whom argue that new rules meant to protect Americans actually will make it harder for them to get a mortgage, or a credit card.

    “Each of us needs to try to learn what we need to know, make good decisions. We’re going to have

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  • Could 2014 rescue Obama from Obamacare debacle?

    Can President Barack Obama heal his second term from the self-inflicted wounds of Obamacare? How?

    The usual inside-the-Beltway doctors are offering the usual inside-the-Beltway prescriptions: Amputate! (He should fire someone.) Transfusion! (Bring new blood into his insular circle, ideally someone who can say “no” to him and have it count.)

    Inside the White House, one remedy dominates the discussion. As Obama himself said Nov. 14: Things may turn around “if we can just get the darn website working and smooth this thing out.” Aides say that growing numbers of Americans signing up for health insurance will defend those benefits — making it harder for Republicans to rally wavering Democrats behind crippling the Affordable Care Act.

    Dig a little more, and administration officials confess to hoping that a steadily improving economy could be a political cure-all. “The No. 1 priority has and will be economic progress,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Nov. 4.

    But there’s something else

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