- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

WHITE HOUSE

Rice defends Bush on Mideast peace

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday defended President Bush’s administration’s failure to help bring off a Mideast peace deal by year’s end.

The administration had made the goal of a deal by the end of the year an important target.

“Even though there was not an agreement by the end of the year, it is really largely because of the political situation in Israel,” Miss Rice told reporters en route home from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima.

Israel’s parliamentary elections are scheduled for Feb. 10 next year.

Referring to the peace process, she stressed: “It is in pretty good shape.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in Washington early Sunday for talks with Mr. Bush on Monday, ahead of his handover to Barack Obama.

During his three-day stay, Mr. Olmert hopes to get commitments from Mr. Bush on Iran’s nuclear program, after Mr. Obama indicated during the election campaign that he might be open to talking with Tehran.

HOMELAND SECURITY

Private aircraft now under more scrutiny

More than seven years after the Sept. 11 aerial attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has finally tightened up scrutiny of private aircraft entering or departing the United States.

Until now, it was only commercial planes that had to submit information - within 60 minutes of departure or arrival - about the passengers and crew aboard so security officials could check them against a terrorism watch list.

Now, private aircraft will be required to submit those manifests, along with advance notice of their planned arrival or departure, with at least an hour’s lead time to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff offered no explanation of why such scrutiny wasn’t mandated before.

ANTHEM

Veterans given OK for salute

It took a change in federal law, but military veterans and current service members in civilian clothes now can salute during the playing of the national anthem.

Last year, Congress gave vets and those out of uniform the right to salute when the American flag was raised, lowered or passed. But lawmakers did nothing about the prohibition on saluting during the national anthem.

So, in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, Congress corrected that oversight and gave its blessing to salutes during the anthem.

AFGHANISTAN

Official says Obama promises more aid

KABUL, Afghanistan — President-elect Barack Obama told Afghanistan’s leader that he will dedicate more U.S. aid and military power to this region’s fight against extremists groups once he takes office, the Afghan presidential office said Sunday.

The telephone conversation between Mr. Obama and President Hamid Karzai on Saturday was the first reported contact between the two, although Mr. Obama spoke to at least 15 other world leaders in the three days after winning election.

A senior Afghan official dismissed the idea that anything should be read into the delay, calling Mr. Obama a “busy man.”

“I think it was purely a logistical issue, nothing of political significance,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Karzai’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

MILITARY

Mail ballots more than doubled

The Military Postal Service Agency reports that close to 520,000 absentee ballots from military members overseas made it back to local U.S. election offices by Nov. 4 - more than 2 1/2 times the number tallied in the 2004 elections.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission will report next fall on how many of those ballots actually were counted.

CONGRESS

Lawmakers plan quick January start

Eager for a quick start, Democratic congressional leaders intend to begin work in early January on priority legislation so it can be ready for President-elect Barack Obama’s signature shortly after he takes office, according to officials familiar with the plans.

These officials said an economic aid measure, legislation to expand health care for lower-income children and a loosening of Bush administration rules covering federally funded embryonic stem-cell research are among the bills at the center of discussions with Obama aides.

All three issues have been the focus of battles between the Democrats in Congress and President Bush, and early enactment of any would underscore the change ushered in by this month’s election.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to disclose the plans.

Democrats gained at least 20 House seats and at least seven Senate seats in the November elections, expanded majorities in place when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan 6. Under the constitution, Mr. Obama takes the oath of office as the 44th president on Jan. 20.

Customarily, the preinaugural period is slow in Congress as lawmakers await the swearing-in of a new president. They then spend weeks doing little more than confirming Cabinet secretaries and other officials.

CAMPAIGN

Coleman, Franken reconsider challenges

ST. PAUL, Minn. — On second thought, some of those Minnesota Senate ballots may be un-challenged.

Officials for both Norm Coleman and Al Franken said Friday that they will review the hundreds of challenges they have made so far in their Senate race recount - and withdraw some — before the state Canvassing Board meets next month to consider them.

Minnesota’s Senate battle is one of two that are unresolved, with Georgia’s headed for a Dec. 2 conclusion. If Democrats win both, they would have a 60-seat majority in the Senate.

The mounting pile of challenged ballots is becoming a significant factor in the overtime Senate race. It has nibbled into the vote totals of Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken compared with the precinct-by-precinct counts on Nov. 4.

GEOLOGICAL SURVEY

Web site offers Simulated quake

Want to experience a magnitude 7.8 earthquake? Check out the U.S. Geological Survey’s Web site, where you can download 3-D animations of the violent shaking and shifting of the ground that would take place if such a massive temblor hit.

The animations are designed to let emergency responders, public officials, local residents and others visualize the effects in order to understand the enormity of the devastation that could result. On the Web: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/simulations/shakeout.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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