Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Narrow majority wants Romney to release more tax returns: Poll

    Mitt Romney’s estimated 2011 IRS 1040 tax form, as released by his campaign. (Romney Campaign/AP)

    A narrow majority of Americans want Mitt Romney to reverse course and release more than the two years of tax returns he has said he will make public, according to a new poll published Thursday by USA Today and immediately promoted by President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

    Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said the Republican standard-bearer should disclose more of his tax returns, including 75 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of independents, and 30 percent of Republicans, the newspaper reported.

    What would happen to Romney's chances of getting the keys to the White House in November? Forty-two percent said the additional returns would turn up nothing to hurt him, but 44 percent said the new information could damage his prospects, including 15 percent who said it would show the former Massachusetts governor is "unfit to be president." Unsurprisingly, there was a partisan split: 2 out of 3 Republicans shrugged off the potential downside, while 1 out of 3 Democrats predicted the disclosure would prove Romney doesn't belong in the Oval Office.

    The poll, conducted Wednesday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

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  • Romney erases Obama edge in Virginia

    Mitt Romney campaigns with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in Sterling, Va., in late June (Charles Dharapak/AP)

    Mitt Romney has wiped out President Barack Obama's lead in Virginia, and the two candidates are locked in a neck-and-neck race in that pivotal battleground state, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

    The survey tells the tale of steady erosion of support for Obama: He and Romney now each get 44 percent of the registered voters queried, but he was up 47-42 percent on June 7 and 50-42 percent on March 20.

    The survey, which has an error margin of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points, came as the Labor Department reported that weekly jobless claims had jumped 34,000 to 386,000.

    Romney bests Obama 47 percent to 44 percent on the question of who would do a better job on the economy, according to Quinnipiac. But the president's call to raise taxes on income above $250,000 per year enjoyed robust support: 59 percent in favor and 36 percent against.

    "Support is strong among all income groups—except voters in households making more than $250,000 per year, where 48 percent support the idea and 51 percent oppose it," Quinnipiac said.

    The poll found independent voters split 40 percent for Obama and 38 percent for Romney.

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  • Obama calls Putin to discuss ‘out of control’ Syria

    (Mikhail Klimentyev/AP/RIA-Novosti)President Barack Obama telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to discuss escalating violence in Syria after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the country was "rapidly spinning out of control." There appeared to be no breakthrough.

    The White House said Obama and Putin "noted the differences our governments have had on Syria" but "agreed on the need to support a political transition as soon as possible that achieves our shared goal of ending the violence and avoiding a further deterioration of the situation." But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian reporters that "differences in approaches remain that concern practical steps in achieving a settlement."

    The apparent stalemate matters because Russia (abetted by China) has blocked efforts at the U.N. Security Council to adopt a blueprint designed to end the violence in Syria. Moscow has long supported President Bashar Assad, whose 16-month crackdown on the opposition to his regime has left more than 10,000 dead, according to outside observers. The Council had been slated to vote Wednesday on a new resolution imposing fresh sanctions on Syria. But that vote was postponed at the request of former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has been acting as an international mediator in the crisis--thus far with few signs of success.

    "We're working with our partners up at the United Nations in New York trying to bring about the consensus that we believe is absolutely necessary," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

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  • Obama vows to help ‘bring to justice’ authors of attack on Israelis in Bulgaria

    Bulgarian policeman is seen in front of destroyed buses at Burgas Airport, Bulgaria. A bus carrying young Israeli tourists in a Bulgarian resort exploded Wednesday, at least killing three people and wounding at least 20, police said. (Bulphoto Agency/AP)

    President Barack Obama vowed to help "bring to justice" those behind the "barbaric terrorist attack" against a bus carrying Israeli youth in a Bulgarian resort Wednesday, killing at least six people and wounding 32. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed Iran for the blast.

    "I strongly condemn today's barbaric terrorist attack on Israelis in Bulgaria. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those killed and injured, and with the people of Israel, Bulgaria, and any other nation whose citizens were harmed in this awful event," Obama said in a statement. "These attacks against innocent civilians, including children, are completely outrageous."

    "The United States will stand with our allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack," Obama said. "As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people."

    The explosion took place in the Black Sea city of Burgas, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of the capital, Sofia. The Associated Press reported that the blast occurred at a parking lot at the local airport where the Israeli tourists had arrived.

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  • Ag Sec Vilsack wishes for ‘rain prayer’ to combat painful drought

    The exposed bottom of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, July 17, 2012. (Robert Ray/AP)

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned Wednesday that the worst drought in 25 years would drive food prices up later this year and said the situation was bad enough to make him wish for divine intervention. He also warned consumers to be on the watch for food price gouging.

    "I get on my knees every day, and I'm saying an extra prayer now," Vilsack told reporters during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room. "If I had a rain prayer, or rain dance, I could do, I would do it."

    "But honestly right now the focus needs to be on working with Congress" to craft an aid package in some form for hard-hit farmers and livestock producers facing the prospects of failed crops and higher feed costs, he said. Vilsack did not put a price tag on such legislation, saying the full extent of the damage was not yet clear.

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  • White House aide says Assad is ‘losing control of Syria’

    The White House said Wednesday that the latest deadly violence in Syria—notably a suicide bomb attack that killed the country's defense minister, as well as increased fighting in Damascus—showed that President Bashar Assad was losing his once iron grip on the country.

    "It's clear that the Assad regime is losing control of Syria," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. "With the Assad regime losing control, it's time for the Syrian people and the international community to focus on what comes next."

    The bombing prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to warn that the violence in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control" and that a political solution is urgently needed.

    The message from Vietor is not radically different from the White House's message over the past few months: Assad's ouster is a matter of time, and the world must unite to pave the way for a political transition. But events on the ground lent it greater urgency.

    "We are working urgently with our international partners to push for a political transition in Syria," Vietor said in an emailed statement, noting talks between Washington's international partners and Syria's opposition. "The sooner this transition happens, the greater the chance we have of averting a lengthy and bloody sectarian civil war and the better we'll be able to help Syrians manage a stable transition to democracy."

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  • A tattoo crackdown? U.S. Capitol Police set new body modification rules

    A Capitol Police officer stands on guard on the west side of the Capitol in Washington Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

    Officers of the U.S. Capitol Police face new rules on the size and content of tattoos that might be seen by tourists, and a ban on "outwardly visible branding," National Journal reports.

    It's all in a manual from the force's top brass, in a section entitled "Grooming Standards," that National Journal reports is causing a bit of grumbling among the officers affected.

    It's not that they're defending tattoos showcasing "criminal gang affiliation, depictions of sexually explicit art, nudity, or violence, etc," the publication says. But size restrictions on visible tattoos could pose a headache for officers assigned to bike duty—when the sweltering D.C. weather leads them to wear short pants.

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  • Obama picks career diplomats to be envoys to Afghanistan, Pakistan

    President Barack Obama shakes hands with U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan as Lt. Gen. Curtis "Mike" Scaparrotti looks on (Charles Dharapak/AP)

    President Barack Obama has picked senior career diplomats James Cunningham and Richard Olson to be ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan, respectively, the White House announced late Tuesday.

    If confirmed by the Senate, the two would replace veteran diplomats Ryan Crocker and Cameron Munter in two of the toughest assignments in the State Department.

    Cunningham, currently Crocker's deputy, served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008-2011. He has also held posts in Hong Kong, at United Nations headquarters in New York, and in Rome, among other places. (One interesting nugget in his official profile: Cunningham has a B.A. in Psychology from Syracuse University.)

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  • White House blasts study critical of Obama’s tax-plan

    President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in Texas (Eric Gay/AP)

    The White House hit back hard late Tuesday at a study by accounting firm Ernst and Young that charged President Barack Obama's signature tax proposal could cost 710,000 jobs, claiming it's chock full of "major flaws, errors and misleading statements."

    Obama has called for extending Bush-era tax cuts on income up to $250,000, a move that chiefly would benefit the middle class, while letting lower tax rates on upper brackets expire on schedule come January 1. (The richest Americans would still get tax cuts on their first $250,000 of income.) The president has said that the country cannot afford the Republican plan to extend all of the tax cuts, and warned that doing so would force cuts to popular government programs.

    On the official White House blog, senior Obama economic policy aide Jason Furman ripped the new study. Among his complaints:

    -       The report, funded by pro-business groups generally hostile to Obama's agenda, assumes that none of the revenue generated by raising taxes on the richest Americans goes to deficit reduction. Instead, it assumes the money would go to expanding government spending. But the president has called for the money to go to reducing the federal deficit and national debt.

    -       The report omits Obama's push for new tax cuts to spur private-sector hiring and investment. By ignoring the predicted impact on jobs growth, Furman argued, the study distorts the impact of the president's agenda.

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  • Luke Skywalker knocks Romney as ‘not human’

    Luke shot first?

    Actor Mark Hamill—still, decades later, best known for his turn as Luke Skywalker in the original "Star Wars" trilogy—is warning voters that Mitt Romney "only imitates human behavior. He's not actually human himself." No word from Hamill on whether the Republican standard-bearer is more machine, now, than man, twisted and evil. Or whether the ugliness of the 2012 campaign is giving Mos Eisley a run for the title of most wretched hive of scum and villainy.

    The actor made his comments to the entertainment website at Comic-Con in San Diego. The riff began as Hamill fondly recalled watching "Zorro" as a kid.

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