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Framed by the marble memorial to Abraham Lincoln and facing a crowd of more than half a million people, Barack Obama delivered a message of hope last night declaring: ‘Anything is possible in America.’
The President-elect was speaking at last night’s conclusion to Washington’s star-studded ‘We Are One’ concert featuring a string of superstar supporters including Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyonce and Stevie Wonder.
Two days before he takes office as the first black US president, Mr Obama underscored the challenge ahead, saying: ‘Only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now.’
But despite an economy in crisis and a war being fought on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said he is ‘as hopeful as ever’.
‘Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead – I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure – that the dream of our founders will live on in our time,’ he added.
The huge party on the National Mall – which also included Vice-President Joe Biden, actor Tom Hanks and golfer Tiger Woods as speakers – kicked off a dizzying round of lavish balls, concerts and celebrations to mark Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.
The inauguration has also seen the biggest security operation in history being mobilised.
Washington D.C. is being turned into a fortress city with a 45,000-strong force of police, soldiers and secret service officials.
As the first black President prepares to take office, security chiefs were planning for a range of potential assassination scenarios, from a lone gunman to a terrorist attack.
But for a few days at least, the nation’s worst economic slide since the Great Depression was being glossed over in a marathon of spectacle and tradition that dwarfs any past Inauguration Day festivities.
However there was growing unease last night that the estimated £100million bill for the array of events will be just as historic as Mr Obama’s ascent to the White House.
The grandeur of the presidential coronation has some senior Republicans suggesting the incoming Commander-in-Chief has misread the country’s mood.
While the capital came alive with excitement on the eve of the inauguration, the rest of the US remains weighed down with problems at home and abroad.
Mr Obama confronted those fears head-on in his rousing speech last night, saying: ‘Our nation is at war, our economy is in crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes.
‘I won’t pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy,’ he added. ‘It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our resolve as a nation.’
But he said he had faith in a nation that was at its best in times of trial.
The President-elect has been trying to walk a delicate line by mixing celebrity-studded parties like last night’s concert featuring superstar supporters like U2, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce with more statesman-like appearances.
He kicked off with a train journey on Saturday from Philadelphia to Washington echoing George Washington’s ride from Mount Vernon to New York, where the US capital was then located.
Yesterday, a sombre Mr Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb Of The Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery on the Virginia side of the Potomac River before going with his family to the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, where he and his family were greeted with an ovation.
Mr Obama plans to lead commemorations for slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King today, a national holiday in the US in memory of the iconic churchman who was assassinated in 1968, five years after his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
It is a poignant anniversary for Mr Obama, who declared it a day of national service and he plans to visit residents living in some of Washington’s poorest suburbs.
Last night, wife, Michelle and daughters Malia, ten, and seven-year-old Sasha joined him at the free inauguration concert attended by a crowd of up to half a million people.
Among the speakers was Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights hero, who introduced a video clip of President John F.Kennedy’s famous ‘ask not’ inauguration address.
Last night’s crowd is expected to grow to an unprecedented two million for the Inauguration Day events on the steps of the US Capitol building – more than double the number for any previous president taking the oath.
After a giant parade from the Capitol to the White House, the new president will attend at least ten glitzy official balls around the city, with all eyes on the First Lady’s fashions.
‘No-one is begrudging the president a celebration to mark this watershed event, but people struggling to keep their homes are going to be looking at this and wondering what is going on,’ said one senior Republican analyst.
After George Bush’s election victory in 2004, Democrats urged him to be frugal, pointing to President Roosevelt’s 1945 inauguration when he made a short speech and served guests ‘cold chicken salad and plain pound cake’.
During World War I, President Wilson cancelled all parties marking the beginning of his term in 1917, saying festivities would be ‘undignified’.
But Mr Obama’s inauguration committee says it doesn’t believe Americans will consider the celebrations excessive.
‘That is probably not the way the country is going to be looking at it,’ said committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass.
‘It is not a celebration of an election. It is a celebration of our common values.’
Stephen Hess, a fellow of the Brookings Institute in Washington, said Americans have always loved a party.
‘We broke away from the Brits and we had something to celebrate then, and we’ve really never stopped celebrating,’ he said.
‘If anything, Americans need reason to celebrate even more during tough times.
‘That’s why movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were so popular during the Great Depression, just to name one example. People need an escape, they deserve a good celebration, and Barack Obama’s inauguration more than any other gives people a great reason to celebrate,’ he added.
Adding to the price tag is the cost of a massive security operation.
More than 40,000 police, soldiers and Secret Service staff have been given the task of keeping the new president safe. While officials say they haven’t received any credible threats, they aren’t leaving anything to chance.
Organisers even have an army brigade ready to respond to a chemical and biological attack.
Mr Obama’s inaugural committee has raised about £30 million towards the cost of staging events like last night’s show and they were paid an additional £3 million for the exclusive TV rights to screen last night’s concert and another tonight starring teen stars Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.
But most of the rest of the costs – including security and transportation – are being covered by the taxpayer.
Although he may not get to bed before 3am after the inaugural balls, Mr Obama plans to make Wednesday, his first full day as President.
He will start Wednesday at Washington’s National Cathedral for the National Prayer Service, which dates to George Washington’s time.
Then he will have to return to the serious business of running the country.
Source: Daily Mail
AP Raw Video: Obamas Hand Out Turkeys
WASHINGTON — After a school search that set off weeks of frenzied speculation among parents here, President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, announced Friday that their two daughters would attend Sidwell Friends School, the prestigious academy that has educated generations of this city’s elite.
The Quaker-run Sidwell, which was established in 1883, has educated the children of at least three presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton. And there was an added bonus: grandchildren of Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who are friendly with the Obama girls, attend Sidwell.
The Obama family had considered two other private institutions, Georgetown Day School and Maret School, for their girls, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.
But Sidwell has long been described by some as the Harvard of Washington’s private schools. Its tuition runs as high as $29,442 a year.
“A number of great schools were considered,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. “In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now.”
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington strongly lobbied the Obamas to consider a public school, but that was apparently never an option.
The Obama girls currently attend private school, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where annual tuition runs as high as $21,480, and the family did not tour any public schools on their recent visits.
Since Election Day, guessing which school the Obamas would choose became one of affluent Washington’s most popular parlor games.
Camera crews staked out the schools in hopes of a glimpse of Mrs. Obama (who visited Sidwell and Georgetown Day twice) and the girls (who visited schools once this week). Parents hotly debated the merits of each.
Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne Cheney welcomed Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden and his wife Jill Biden to the Naval Observatory for a private meeting and tour of the Vice President’s Residence in Washington.
NEW YORK — All ears were listening to US President-elect Barack Obama’s victory speech this week but fashion-watchers were looking closely at his wife Michelle’s dress — and the verdict was not so good.
Michelle Obama, wife of US president-elect Barack Obama, and Jill Biden, wife of US vice-president-elect Joe Biden, walk on stage during their election night victory rally. — AFP Despite comparisons during the campaign to stylish 1960s first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Michelle Obama was derided in opinion polls for her choice of a black and neon-red dress from Narciso Rodriguez’s spring 2009 ready-to-wear collection.
In an online poll by USA Today, 65% of more than 10,000 readers believed the Harvard-educated corporate lawyer and future first lady “had an off day” and 35% said “She looks fantastic as always.” An online poll by People magazine mirrored those results, while a Los Angeles Times online poll found 45% hated the dress and 34% loved it.
“The normally impeccable Michelle O made a questionable choice for her husband’s historic election night victory,” wrote Lesley Scott, editor of fashion and lifestyle blog www.fashiontribes.com. “It’s less than flattering.”
“However, every fashionista worth her salt takes risks,” Ms. Scott said, “which means the occasional misstep.”
Not everyone disliked Ms. Obama’s choice, which was shown on the catwalk only two months ago and is not yet available in stores. New York magazine hailed Ms. Obama for being able to hold her own against France’s first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a former supermodel.
“We have a feeling she’ll continue to mix affordable pieces with designer pieces as First Lady, but this wardrobe choice proves this woman knows fashion and we have an exciting four years of political fashion ahead of us,” the magazine said. “What will she choose for the inaugural ball? The suspense is so exciting! And you know what else is great about this? We don’t have to envy France for Carla Bruni anymore!”“That dress was unpretentious,” Julie Gilhart, fashion director of New York’s top-price Barneys clothing store, told the Times. “It said, ’Be who you are — don’t let someone else tell you how to be.’”
The Italian daily La Stampa dubbed the dress “the look of victory” and said the black symbolized mourning for Obama’s grandmother, who died on the eve of the election, while the red was for passion.
A contributor to the Web site of the German newsweekly Focus also suggested there was hidden meaning in the colors, perhaps red for the political left and black for the first African-American to win the US presidency.
“It is more about the symbolic effect of the color combination red/black. Because the daughters were also in red or black. Very unusual and surely no accident,” the reader said.Others were dismissive, describing the subject as superficial besides the historic importance of Barack Obama’s election win.
“The USA must be doing pretty well if it is worrying about the First Lady’s dress!” one typical Focus posting said.
Interest in Obama’s fashion has soared since she won particular praise for the purple sheath dress and black belt she wore in June when her husband clinched the nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.
While Republican candidate John McCain’s wife Cindy and his vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin drew criticism for their high-end wardrobes, Ms. Obama won fans for affordable style. Ms. Obama wore a $150 dress on The View talk show, which became an instant hit. For The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, she donned an outfit from chain store J.Crew.
She has even inspired a Web site — http://www.mrs-o.org — dedicated to taking “a regular look at what and who she’s wearing” and encouraging enthusiasm for “the budding style icon, Mrs O.”
Ms. Obama already has a fashion track record, appearing in Vogue and being named twice on Vanity Fair’s international best-dressed list.