Inauguration Day has arrived in Washington, D.C. At noon, Barack Obama will take the oath of office using president Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible during the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the US Capitol.
Millions of people have descended on Washington to watch Obama become the nation’s first African American president and to mark the end of the Bush administration. Authorities are preparing for what could be the largest crowd in Washington’s history. People began lining up near the Mall today hours before sunrise. Celebrations are also being held across the country and the world today.
On Sunday, Obama spoke before over 400,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during a star-studded concert.
Barack Obama: “As I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me every day when I walk into that Oval Office, the voices of men and women who have different stories but hold common hopes, who ask only for what was promised us as Americans: that we might make of our lives what we will and see our children climb higher than we did.”
The official inaugural festivities began on Saturday when Barack Obama and his vice president Joseph Biden traveled to Washington on a whistle stop train ride with stops in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore. Vice President-elect Biden spoke in Wilmington, Delaware.
Vice President-elect Biden: "Folks, this is more than an ordinary train ride. This is a new beginning. In our most difficult nation — most difficult moments, our nation has always chosen a leader the times demand. And I believe that’s why this nation has turned to Barack Obama. It’s turned to Barack to bring hope back to the nation and the change we so desperately need. My fellow Delawareans, the next president of the United States of America, Barack Obama."
This morning, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will have coffee at the White House with outgoing President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney will be spending the day in a wheelchair, because he pulled a muscle in his back on Monday while moving boxes.
ABC News reports the total cost of the inauguration will be at least $170 million. Part of the money has come from prominent Wall Street executives from Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, UBS Americas, Goldman Sachs, Wachovia, who bundled large donations for the inauguration.
In other news, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on Saturday, ending a twenty-two-day assault on Gaza that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians and at least one-third children. Hamas followed with a declaration of a one-week ceasefire until Israel withdraws all its troops. Thirteen Israelis died during the twenty-two-day war, including four Israeli soldiers by friendly fire. Israel called off its attack after the Bush administration signed a deal promising increased US cooperation in halting arms smuggling into Gaza. The incoming Obama administration also backed the agreement.
The damage to Gaza’s infrastructure is estimated in the billions. More than 4,000 homes have been destroyed. At least 400,000 people are still without running water.
Palestinian Woman: "All our homes have been destroyed. Even this little boy does not have a home. What is his fault? Look at him. What do they want from us? Our houses? Why do they want to destroy them? Why do they destroy our homes?"
Hours before the Israeli cabinet announced its ceasefire Saturday night, Israeli forces bombed another UN school used as a shelter for Palestinian civilians. Two boys were killed. Their mother was badly wounded, with the attack blowing off both her legs. It was the fourth Israeli bombing of a UN school in the three-week assault.
Over the weekend, a Greek doctor in Gaza named Kostas Konstantinidis accused Israel of destroying warehouses of medical supplies.
Dr. Kostas Konstantinidis: "Even the humanitarian aid is bombarded by the Israeli air force. They are destroying the warehouses where we keep the medical and all the pharmaceutical containers. Even those things, they are bombarding them. They are bombarding hospitals. They are bombarding everything. Even in the borders, where there are these kind of tunnels and they are suspecting that probably we can pass from there some humanitarian aid, they are bombing with these special bombs that bring these earthquakes."
In related news, in one of his first official actions as president, Barack Obama is expected to name former senator George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy.
In his final full day in office, President Bush commuted the prison sentences of two former Border Patrol agents who shot an unarmed Mexican drug smuggler and then tried to cover up the shooting. The agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, never reported the shooting and tampered with evidence. They had served two years in jail. Bush technically has until noon today to issue more pardons, but presidential advisers said no more were forthcoming. Many conservatives are criticizing Bush for not pardoning Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff Scooter Libby for his role in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. Former Republican Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens was also seeking a pardon. Stevens was convicted last year of corruption charges.
The International Court of Justice has ruled the execution of a Mexican national in Texas last year breached US obligations under international law. The dispute between Mexico and the US dates back to 2004, when Mexico accused the United States of not informing fifty-one Mexican citizens on death row of their right to consular assistance. Last year, the state of Texas executed a Mexican national despite an order by the World Court to halt the execution.
CNN is reporting that two days before US Airways Flight 1549 crashed into the Hudson River, passengers on the same route and same aircraft say they heard a series of loud bangs and the flight crew told them they could have to make an emergency landing. One passenger said the incident last Tuesday sounded like the wing was just snapping off. US Airways declined to comment on the plane’s history. CNN’s report raises questions about the cause of last week’s crash. The US Airways pilot has said the plane lost its engines after it hit a flock of birds ninety seconds into the flight.
In El Salvador, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, has claimed victory in legislative polls, ending decades of right-wing control of the Salvadoran Parliament. The former leftist guerrillas won 46 percent of the vote over the right-wing National Republican Alliance ARENA party. El Salvador’s presidential election is set for March 15. FMLN’s candidate, Mauricio Funes, is expected to win.
In Russia, a prominent human rights lawyer was assassinated on Monday, days after he protested the release of the highest-ranking Russian officer convicted of atrocities in the Chechen war. The attorney, Stanislav Markelov, was the director of the Rule of Law Institute, a civil liberties group. He had represented many labor unions, environmental groups and journalists, including Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in 2006. A twenty-five-year-old journalist who was with Markelov was also shot dead.
The New York Times reports the House economic stimulus plan has disappointed advocates for the nation’s long-neglected infrastructure. On Thursday, a $825 billion stimulus plan was introduced. Less than one-third of the plan would go to infrastructure, and much of that would go to high-tech projects rather than traditional concrete-and-steel building and repair work. Although the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $1.6 trillion is needed to improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the proposal only calls for spending $30 billion on roads and only $10 billion on transit and rail.
In Mississippi, the Meridian Star newspaper has published an apology for its past coverage of civil rights issues. An editorial read, in part, "There was a time when this newspaper —– and many others across the south -— acted with gross neglect by largely ignoring the unfairness of segregated schools, buses, restaurants, washrooms, theaters and other public places. We did it through omission, by not recording for our readers many of the most important civil rights activities that happened in our midst, including protests and sit-ins. That was wrong. We should have loudly protested segregation and the efforts to block voter registration of black East Mississippians.” The editorial was published on Sunday, one day before the Martin Luther King Day holiday and two days before the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s first black president.
A federal judge has suspended the Bush administration’s last-minute attempt to lease more than 100,000 acres of land near national parks in Utah for oil and gas drilling. Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled the Bureau of Land Management had not carried out sufficient study of the impact of drilling near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and the Dinosaur National Monument. Environmentalists had condemned the auction. One University of Utah student, Tim DeChristopher, had disrupted the auction by posing as a bidder. He ended up buying the rights to twelve parcels of land totaling 22,000 acres.
And in economic news, Circuit City has announced plans to shut down its remaining 567 stores. 34,000 workers are set to lose their jobs. Circuit City was the nation’s second-largest electronics retailer after Best Buy. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports Bank of America could soon eliminate up to 4,000 more jobs.