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US ushers in new era
Barack Obama becomes first black American to occupy White House
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle depart Blair House for St. John’s Episcopal Church, just hours before Obama took the oath of office as US President
Barack Obama and his wife Michelle depart Blair House for St. John’s Episcopal Church, just hours before Obama took the oath of office as US President on Tuesday. — AFP

Sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama today became the first black American to occupy the White House, fulfilling Martin Luther King's dream sooner than anyone had imagined.

Obama’s rise from a small-time community worker to the most powerful man in the world marks a huge political transformation in a country with a racist past.

Obama, his hand firmly on the Bible last used by his idol Abraham Lincoln at his own swearing in, was sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on the steps of the United States Capitol. Michelle Obama held the Bible as her husband took the oath. Joseph R. Biden Jr. was administered the oath as Vice-President by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens.

The event marked the end of an eight-year chapter of George W. Bush’s presidency — a record blighted by unfinished wars, record deficits and an economy in recession. But it also opened a chapter of “change”, a mantra often repeated by Obama during the course of his presidential campaign.

Earlier, a top aide said Obama would use his inauguration address to call on Americans to embrace a new era of responsible behaviour. Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for chief of staff, said Obama would ask the nation to reject the “culture of anything goes.”

Crowds fill the National Mall early in the morning before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States
Crowds fill the National Mall early in the morning before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States. — Reuters

The event was conducted under a tight security blanket as spectators packed on the National Mall huddled under their own blankets in below freezing temperatures. Forecast for the day included light snow. Roads and bridges leading into Washington were shut down to vehicular traffic except public transportation, while waterways including the Potomac River were patrolled by troops, a precaution that extended further this time as a consequence of the Mumbai attacks. Terrorists had used boats to come to Mumbai’s shores before commencing their bloodbath.

Obama, Michelle Obama, Biden and his wife Jill Biden attended church services earlier on Tuesday morning at St. John’s Episcopal Church in the capital. Following the services, the Obamas and the Bidens were scheduled to have coffee with Bush, Laura Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Lynne Cheney and members of the House and Senate leadership at the White House.

The meeting was closed to the press.

Later, the four couples travelled together to the Capitol.

After taking the oath, next on the new President’s agenda was to sign cabinet secretary nomination certificates. Michelle Obama, the new first lady, Vice-President and second lady then reviewed the troops, before the beginning of the inaugural parade.
A spectator waits on the National Mall on the morning of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States
A spectator waits on the National Mall on the morning of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the President of the United States on Tuesday. — Reuters

Later, the Obamas were expected to attend all 10 official inaugural balls. In a spirit of bipartisanship that have been the hallmarks of his campaign and his Cabinet picks, Obama hosted a dinner to honour his former Republican presidential rival John McCain on Monday.

“We are glad that the days of rebuttals and campaigning are for now behind us. There is no doubt that throughout the summer and the fall, John and I were fierce competitors who engaged in a vigorous and sometimes heated debate over the issues of the day. And in a great democracy, this debate is both healthy and necessary,” Obama said.

“But what is even healthier and more necessary is the recognition that after the season of campaigning has ended, each of us in public life has a responsibility to usher in a new season of cooperation built on those things we hold in common. Not as Democrats. Not as Republicans. But as Americans,” he added. Obama praised McCain’s “bipartisan accomplishments” in the Senate.

McCain said he was grateful to Obama “for this very considerate gesture, and for allowing me to play a small role in the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, even if it isn’t the one I had in mind a few months ago.”

“Tomorrow, the President-elect will accept the burdensome privilege of leading America to its next accomplishments and its future greatness,” McCain went on to say. “He has my sincere best wishes for his success, and my promise of assistance. For his success will be our success.”

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Obamaspeak

We are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world...

Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age...

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met...

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Sidelights

  • Obama and Vice- President-elect Joe Biden began the day with a traditional morning worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park from the White House and were due to end it with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls lasting deep into the night.
  • Obama opted for a classic politician’s outfit of black suit, red tie and a white shirt, while Michelle wore a coat and a matching shift dress in lace brocade in golden hues. In a robust fashion move, neither of the Obamas wore a hat or scarf to protect themselves from harsh winter weather.
  • The 44th US President used his full name Barack Hussein Obama to take the oath in the name of God.

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Road to glory

August 4, 1961: Barack Hussein Obama is born in Hawaii to Barack Obama Sr, an economics student from Kenya, and Stanley Ann Dunham, an anthropologist from Kansas.

1963-64: Obama’s parents separate and divorce. Obama Sr returns to Kenya.

1967: Obama moves to Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, with his mother and her second husband Lolo Soetoro. Lives there for four years.

1971: Returns to Hawaii to live with grandparents.

1979: Graduates from Punahou School, a private preparatory institution.

1979-81: Moves to Los Angeles. Attends Occidental College in southern California.

1982: Obama Sr dies in a car accident.

1983: Obama graduates from Columbia University with a major in political science and specialisation in international relations.

1985-1988: Works as community organiser in Chicago.

1989-1991: Selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year of law school and elected its first black president in his second year. Graduates from Harvard.

October 18, 1992: Marries fellow Harvard alumni Michelle Robinson at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

1993: Works as an associate in a Chicago law firm. Also joins the University of Chicago Law School as a part-time professor of constitutional law.

1995: Publishes first book, ‘Dreams of My Father’.

1996: Elected to the Illinois state Senate.

2000: Loses Democratic nomination for a seat in the US House to incumbent Bobby Rush.

July 27, 2004: Gives a rousing keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, beginning his rise as a young upcoming politician.

November 2, 2004: Elected to the US Senate defeating Republican Alan Keyes.

February 10, 2007: Announces his presidential candidacy at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln’s political career was also launched.

January 3, 2008: Wins the first caucus in Iowa, undermining Democrat rival Hillary Clinton’s status as front-runner.

June 3, 2008: Wins the 2,118 delegates needed for the nomination after a see-saw 21-month primary battle.

August 28, 2008: Accepts the Democratic Party presidential nomination in Denver.

November 4, 2008: Wins the presidential election defeating Republican rival John McCain by a landslide.

January 20, 2009: Inaugurated as the 44th President of the US, the first black-American to reach the top post. — PTI

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‘We are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus’

Washington, January 20
The increasing strength of Hindus in the US received its recognition as US President Barack Obama today said from the inaugural podium that America is now a nation of “Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus”.

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers,” Obama said in his speech as he urged fellow Americans to user in an era of responsibility.

“We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,” Obama said.

While adherents of Hinduism have been in this country for more than a century, a 2001 study estimated that there are 1.1 million Hindus in the US (0.4 per cent of the total population). However, in the last one decade, the population of Hindus has increased significantly. — PTI

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Journey of Black Prez
From Hollywood to White House

Washington, January 20
A black American President, a concept which was till now confined to the reel life in Hollywood, turned real today with Barack Obama’s inauguration. The concept of an African-American president started in Hollywood long back in 20th century with movies depicting a black as occupant of the White House.

In ‘The Man’ released in 1972, when the President and Speaker of the House are killed in a building collapse and the Vice-President declines the office due to ill-health, Senate President Douglas Dilman (played by James Earl Jones) suddenly becomes the first black man to occupy the Oval Office.

In the 1998 sci-fi-drama disaster film ‘Deep Impact’, the black US president Tom Beck—played by Morgan Freeman — prepares for and destroys a fictional comet (named “Wolf-Biederman”), which is expected to collide with the Earth and cause an Extinction Level Event.

Faced with a crisis, President Beck decides to make the knowledge of threat public and announces the grim facts: the “Wolf-Biederman,” is seven miles wide, large enough to destroy civilisation if it strikes Earth. In order to prevent opportunism, Beck freezes all wages and prices. In the end, comet gets destroyed and Beck wins the heart of the people of America. — PTI

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Indian American is policy adviser
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President Barack Obama has appointed an Indian American to a key post in the office of management and budget (OMB).

Preeta Bansal will serve as OMB general counsel and senior policy advisor. Besides Bansal, Obama appointed Jeffrey Liebman, executive associate director; Steve Kosiak, associate director for defence and international affairs; Robert Gordon, associate director for education, income maintenance and labour; Xavier de Souza Briggs, associate director for general government programs; and Kenneth Baer, associate director for communications and strategic planning.

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