- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008


Obamas to attend 10 inaugural balls

President-elect Barack Obama and wife, Michelle, will twirl their way through 10 official inaugural balls on Jan. 20.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee said Wednesday that the Obamas would attend 10 official balls, one more than President Bush and first lady Laura Bush attended in 2005.

For ball-goers and Obama-watchers, a few questions remain: What will Mrs. Obama wear? Which musical groups will perform? And will young daughters Sasha and Malia attend?

No word from the committee on those fronts.

Six of the official balls will be held at the Washington Convention Center, with others at Union Station, the Washington Hilton, the National Building Museum and the D.C. Armory.

But the biggest parties this time may well be unofficial.

MTV and BET are throwing televised parties, while the Creative Coalition will hold a gala to be headlined by Elvis Costello. Dionne Warwick is hosting the American Music Inaugural Ball, among other star-studded events.


Bushes gather at Camp David

President Bush and his huge extended family are spending their 12th and last Christmas at Camp David.

The president’s twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, along with Jenna’s husband, Henry Hager, are part of the visiting clan. Also coming to the sprawling and rustic presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains are Mr. Bush’s parents, former President George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara, the president’s siblings and their families, the White House said Wednesday.

Mr. and Mrs. Bush have now spent a dozen Christmases at Camp David - every year during Mr. Bush’s eight-year presidency and four times during his father’s time in the Oval Office from 1989 to 1993.

Despite the Maryland locale, the Bushes’ Christmas Eve dinner was to be pure Texas, featuring enchiladas, tamales, rice and pinto beans and guacamole. Their Christmas Day menu is more traditional: roast turkey with cornbread dressing, green beans, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes with giblet gravy, spinach salad, cranberry sauce, rolls, and two kinds of pie for dessert, pumpkin and pecan.


Bush appoints aides to boards

Most of President Bush’s aides and top administration officials have no idea what they’ll do when the next president takes over in 28 days. Mr. Bush has now given some of them at least a little idea how they will occupy their time.

The White House on Wednesday announced Mr. Bush’s choices of 24 people for spots on a total of 10 boards, councils and committees, and many of those getting essentially part-time jobs are people who have been prominent in his two terms in office.

Some examples:

• Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nancy Brinker, the chief of protocol for Mr. Bush and a longtime friend, are among the president’s choices for six-year terms on the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

• Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Bush political affairs director Barry Jackson are being appointed members of the Board of Trustees of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, for six-year terms that expire in late 2014.

• Anita McBride, chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, is being given a three-year term on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

• Mr. Bush is giving four-year terms on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations to Maria Cino, the president and CEO of the 2008 Republican National Convention and a former deputy Transportation secretary under Mr. Bush, and to Israel Hernandez, a former top aide to Bush political guru Karl Rove and now an assistant commerce secretary.


Electronic voting could be a problem

Election ballots could be safely distributed electronically to Americans overseas, but getting their votes back securely could present problems, a study released Wednesday says.

It is difficult to ensure that an electronic ballot is from a registered voter and has not been changed en route, while still protecting the individual’s privacy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology said in the study.

Currently, most ballots are sent and returned by postal or military mail, which can take time. A few states distribute blank ballots by fax or e-mail.

The study, requested by the Election Assistance Commission, looks at the possibility of handling overseas voting by telephone, fax, e-mail and through the Internet.

Fax, e-mail and the Internet all could be used to deliver blank ballots, the study concludes, significantly reducing delivery times. Procedures could be instituted to reduce any threats to such programs, the report said.

But getting the votes back in a secure fashion would be a larger problem that needs to be studied, it said.


Coast Guard to start new system

The U.S. Coast Guard announced the scheduled start date for the new long-range identification and tracking system designed to enhance maritime security.

Coast Guard officials said Tuesday that operations of the LRIT system will begin Dec. 31.

The LRIT system, mandated by 2006 resolution from the International Maritime Organization, tracks cargo and passenger ships among others as part of an effort to strengthen maritime security around the United States.

Officials say Dec. 31 is also the date the Coast Guard is expected begin operating the U.S. National Data Center in West Virginia. The National Data Center, which will manage all LRIT data from U.S. ships, also collects “foreign-flagged vessel LRIT information from other data centers to determine the status of compliance,” the Coast Guard said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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