Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obamapalooza


(Revelers throng to the Washington Monument for Obama's swearing-in.)

A four-day weekend of high expectations came to a gleeful close Tuesday, as Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States. Nearly two million people crowded the vast frozen common of the National Mall to watch the brief swearing-in ceremony, while thousands who held tickets to secure areas at the foot of Capitol Hill found themselves trapped in immobile hordes. Thousands spent the ceremony trapped underground in the Third Street tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue, after being directed there by confused police.

For the record-shattering crowds who clustered around the twenty-one Jumbotrons erected on the Mall, Inauguration Day consisted of long, meandering walks around an overzealous network of security barricades punctuated by the high emotion of the ceremony itself. Revelers cheered and booed as past presidents and cabinet nominees filed into the bleachers above the inaugural podium. Both Presidents Bush and a wheel-chair bound Dick Cheney drew thunderous hisses and boos from the excited crowd, while Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Obamas received cheers and ululations each time they appeared on the enormous screens. After President Obama finished his oath, strangers hugged one another and people openly wept. When Reverend Joseph Lowery finished his benediction with a call and response of "amen," the call was answered with triumphant excitement.

Sunday's free concert on the Mall augured Tuesday's historical turnout. Half a million people filled the grounds around the Lincoln Memorial to watch Sunday's star-studded performance, more than the entire turnout to George W Bush's second inauguration in 2005.


(Spectators filled the west slope of the Washington Monument.)



(This man came from Jalisco to represent el espiritu Azteca.)



(After the concert, people flooded the streets around the White House.)

Monday, the Mall buzzed with excitement. Visitors took turns throwing shoes at effigies of former President Bush. Throughout DC, officials put finishing touches on complex and overlapping security precautions. Buildings around downtown were searched and sealed. Groups of National Guard troops occupied street corners along Florida Avenue and took up positions outside shuttered liquor stores. The historic U Street corridor filled with visitors who flooded restaurants, clubs and bars. Dozens stood in line outside Ben's Chili Bowl.

Hours before dawn on Tuesday, attendees began the long march towards the Mall or the sidewalks of Pennsylvania Avenue. The streets around the Capitol were closed, forcing uncoordinated streams of tens of thousands into chaotic confluences that left thousands stranded. Barricades and bottlenecks corralled masses of people without clear signs or informed officials to guide them. Happily, they were in a cheery mood.


(Thousands spent the swearing-in trapped in the "Tunnel of Doom.")



(Nearly two million filled the National Mall.)



(People climbed trees and portable toilets for a better view.)


While the atmosphere was jubilant, the crowd clearly harbored resentment towards eight years of Bush leadership. As current and former government officials streamed into the bleachers on Capitol Hill, the masses on the Mall booed vociferously as George HW Bush, George W Bush and Dick Cheney appeared on the Jumbotrons. When Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared, they cheered. President Obama's motorcade, his family and his cabinet nominees received shouts of praise. When the President appeared, the cheers were deafening. After Chief Justice John Roberts bungled the administration of the oath of office, Obama delivered his inaugural address with the surety and rhetorical confidence he demonstrated on the campaign trail, promising renewed national unity in the face of two wars and global economic collapse.



(President Obama takes the oath of office beside his wife Michelle.)


After the swearing-in concluded, exiting the Mall took hours. As crowds bled away, they revealed fields of detritus amounting to more litter than all the litter ever left on the Mall combined, the Park Police said today. While people waited to clear needless and redundant barricades, they were treated to a flyover by the Marine helicopter ferrying former President Bush to Edwards Air Force Base, where he caught a flight to Midland, Texas. Once clear of Mall, crowds dissipated quickly, catching Metro trains to distant hotels, filling bars and restaurants, and walking back to their neighborhoods.

During the Congressional luncheon immediately after the swearing-in, Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Bird were taken to the hospital after Kennedy had a seizure. Senator Bird was so upset, he was also taken to the hospital as a precaution. After a forty minute delay caused by their departures, Obama left Capitol Hill in his new, highly armored limousine dubbed "The Beast." He seemed happy, despite the unfortunate interruption, and opted to walk portions of the parade route before arriving at the review stand opposite the White House. After appearances at ten inaugural balls, the President returned to the White House with his wife, where they drank champagne with a small cohort of guests.



(After the swearing-in, George W Bush took one last flight over DC.)



(The line into Capitol South Metro Station reached two blocks.)



(Many crowded the homes of local residents, eager to witness to history.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free Concert Draws Hundreds of Thousands

video
(Hundreds of thousands turned out for the concert.)

Hundreds of thousands of excited revelers flocked to the National Mall today to watch a free inaugural concert presented by HBO. Of the star-studded cast, the real star was President-elect Barack Obama, who sat beaming on the front row with his wife, daughters, Vice-president Elect Joe Biden and Mrs Biden. Hundreds of thousands filled the wooded grounds around the Reflecting Pool and the slope of frozen yellow grass between the Washington Monument and the World War Two Memorial.


(All were invited. Many came.)

Among the highlights of the show were performances by Bruce Springsteen, Usher and Stevie Wonder, and a rousing rendition of This Land is Your Land led by Pete Seeger. Among numerous speakers, Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington, and Samuel Jackson stood out, with Foxx playfully mocking Obama's oratorical style. Low points included a flaccid and long-winded speech by Tom Hanks, inconsequential appearances by several celebrities, two tethered bald eagles, and a set-ruining cameo by Jon Bon Jovi. Obama appeared at the end of the afternoon-long show, giving the last speech of his political career before assuming the office of president on Tuesday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Obama Arrives

video
(Obama's motorcade races to Blair House)

At the end of a six and half hour railroad trip from Philadelphia, President-elect Barack Obama arrived in Washington, DC just shy of seven this evening. The city was teeming with the first of an expected 1.5 to 3 million visitors. After appearances in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, where Obama appeared visibly moved by crowds turning out to witness his historic journey to the capital, the President-elect rolled into Union Station in a 1930's era blue caboose. Obamapalooza caught the motorcade as it roared away from the station to Blair House, where the Obamas will be staying until Tuesday's inauguration.


[Thanks to Sadie Kadlec and Evan Brown for shooting and cutting the video.]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inauguration Forecast: Bright and Cold

Five days out from President-elect Barack Obama’s January 20 Inauguration, the National Weather Service can now predict Tuesday’s weather with reasonable probability. NOAA anticipates temperature highs to hover around freezing over the weekend, with a thirty percent chance of snow Saturday and Sunday. While that may blanket the city with an inch or two of white, Inauguration Day is likely to be cold and clear. At night, temperatures will drop to the low twenties, so ball attendees should remember to bring their overcoats and gloves.


(Map courtesy of the National Weather Service)

Washington DC was built in a swamp, so humidity can be high even on cold days. This can create the sensation that temperatures are colder than they actually are. Like being immersed in water, DC cold has a habit of sucking the warmth out of you even if you happen to be insulated.

Visitors to inaugural events over the weekend have some measure of control over how long they are exposed to the weather, but on Inauguration Day, attendees will be outside for most of the day. With extreme congestion on roads and Metro on Inauguration Day, particularly after the ceremonies conclude, visitors should be prepared to spend a considerable amount of time exposed to the elements.

Obamapalooza has put together a brief low-temperatures survival guide. Follow these five simple rules and you should be fine in just about any winter weather.

1. Wear layers. With a slight breeze and humidity, low temperatures can seep through a heavy winter coat. Heat escapes from the openings at the bottom, the neck and the sleeves. Wear a long sleeved shirt with tight fitting wrists and tuck it in. Add a sweater and a scarf and then your winter coat. If you get too warm, you can always take something off. If you get too cold, there’s nothing you can do.

2. Wear a hat. Heat goes up. Even if you’re bundled up like the Michelin Man, without a hat, you’ll be miserable in minutes. Skip the cute cotton varieties. Of all the things in your Obamapalooza wardrobe, your hat is the most important. Opt for something thick and water-resistant, like wool, and make sure it’s long enough to cover your ears.

3. Wear thick-soled footwear and thick wool socks. After prolonged exposure to cold ground, like standing beside Pennsylvania Avenue from 7 AM to 3 PM, the chill will seep through the rubber soles of your footwear. Opt for winter boots with thick soles and insulate those from your feet with thick wool socks. You don’t want to get cold feet.

4. Bring a scarf. Scarves are more versatile than humanities majors and French women may let on. Not only will it stop up the gap at your throat where heat pours out of your coat and sweater, it can double as a hat, shield your face from the cold, and help insulate cold hands.

5. Don’t forget the gloves. If you plan on holding anything, whether a thermos or a flag, bring gloves. With less deep tissue around the fingers, hands get cold fast and take a long time to heat up again.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bush Declares State of Emergency

Using powers created after he failed to do anything before or after Hurricane Katrina slowly barreled into New Orleans, lame duck President George W Bush declared a state of emergency in advance of next Tuesday’s inauguration. It is the first time the federal government has declared that an emergency exists in advance of a political event.


(Bush visited storm-ravaged New Orleans four days after the hurricane hit.)

The move is little more than a bureaucratic step to free up federal money to reimburse the District of Columbia for inauguration expenditures. DC expects its final inauguration tab to run to $47 million, more than triple the 15$ million allocated by Congress. Bush’s emergency declaration is essentially an end run around the Legislative Branch, as getting additional funds from the nation’s lawmakers could take months.

Metro Gets With the Program

In an eleventh hour about-face, DC Metro has amended its inauguration-eve schedule to accommodate extended bar hours and hyperbolic crowds in a city with vehicular traffic all but curtailed for security measures. WMATA posted updated inauguration information on its website detailing its new hours and a list of stations that will be either closed completely or reserved as entrance/exit only on Inauguration Day.


(Metro stations are marked with this.)

Metro will now run until 2 AM on Monday January 19. Previously, Metro would have closed at midnight, in accordance with a normal holiday schedule, as the 19th is Martin Luther King Day. That would have severely limited movement around the capital on a night when hundreds of thousands are expected to attend eighteen balls and innumerable private parties across the District.

Obamapalooza has long lamented there was not better coordination between WMATA and the District Council over extended bar hours. While Metro’s 2 AM closing time Monday night reflects at least a modicum of situational awareness, it still comes two hours before bars stop serving on a night when what could be the largest contingent of visitors in Washington history are expected.

At least eighteen inaugural balls are scheduled for the 19th. With Wednesday, Jan 21, still officially a working day, many inauguration visitors may chose to celebrate Monday night. Those who miss the last 2 AM train will have to contend with a limited number of taxis in city all but shut down to vehicular traffic, or perhaps thumb a ride in someone’s limo.

New Metro Hours

Sat 1/17: 7 AM – 3 AM
Sun 1/18: 7 AM – 12 AM
Mon 1/19: 5 AM – 2 AM
Tue 1/20: 4 AM – 2 AM


(System map for DC Metro)

For security purposes, the Secret Service has asked WMATA to close a handful of metro stations on Inauguration Day. The following stations will be closed on Tuesday, January 20 until 6:30 PM.

– Green/Yellow Lines

Archives
Navy Memorial
Penn Quarter

– Blue/Orange Lines –

Smithsonian

Additionally, the Judiciary Square station on the Red Line will close at 4 PM, and the Mt Vernon Square/7th Street Convention Center station on the Green/Yellow Lines will close at 7:30 AM on Inauguration Day due to their proximity to inaugural balls.

In a move that could spell added confusion to Metro chaos, the following stations will be entrance only on Inauguration Day.

– Blue/Orange Lines –

L’Enfant Plaza
Metro Center
Stadium-Armory

– Red Line –

Farragut North
Gallery Place-Chinatown
Metro Center
Union Station

– Yellow/Green Lines –

L’Enfant Plaza
Gallery Place-Chinatown

The following Blue/Orange Lines stations will be exit only from 4 AM to 10:30 AM on January 20.

Capitol South
Farragut West
Federal Triangle
Federal Center SW
McPherson Square

Additionally, WMATA is asking riders not to transfer at Metro Center, Gallery Place-Chinatown or L’Enfant Plaza on Inauguration Day.

While these restrictions aim to reduce system-crippling congestion, they essentially render the center of Washington a pedestrian-only zone. People residing or staying within two miles of the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue should walk to the swearing-in ceremony and parade to facilitate droves of visitors relying on Metro to shuttle them in from Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

For more Metro information, see WMATA's inauguration website: http://www.wmata.com/getting_around/metro_events/inauguration.cfm

Post Map Shows 21 Jumbotrons on Mall

According to the Washington Post, twenty-one, not twenty-two Jumbotrons will be placed along the 1.9 miles of the National Mall for President-elect Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony. With more than a million visitors expected Tuesday morning, inauguration officials will provide the enormous television screens to enable viewing from the far reaches of the grassy common. In accordance with Obama’s wishes that his inauguration be more inclusive than past ceremonies, the US Park Police, which oversees the Mall, has decided to open the entire 309 acres to the public. In previous years, much of the area was used as a staging ground for the Inaugural Parade.

A map detailing the location of the Jumbotrons appeared in this morning’s paper and is available online here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Free Sunday Concert Details Pinned Down

More than a dozen A-list musicians and celebrities will appear at a free 2 PM concert Sunday January 18 as part of this weekend’s inaugural festivities.

The 90 minute concert at the Lincoln Memorial will feature Beyoncé, Mary J Blige, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, René Fleming, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, Heather Headley, John Legend, John Mellencamp, Shakira, Bruce Springstein, James Taylor, U2, Usher, Will.I.Am, and Stevie Wonder.

Jamie Foxx, Denzel Washington and Queen Latifah will make speeches on the historic nature of Obama’s election. HBO will broadcast the show later on Sunday.

Obama supporters upset at the choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at Jan 20th’s inauguration should be pleased with the selection of V. Gene Robinson, a gay Episcopal Bishop, to give Sunday’s concert’s invocation.

Though, why, pray, does a concert need an invocation?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Weekend Roundup

With just over a week remaining before the inauguration, officials ran through an inauguration rehearsal while the Obamas spent their first weekend in Washington as future first family.

Saturday, President-elect Obama went to lunch with DC Mayor Adrian Fenty at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a DC institution long considered one of the important centers of black culture in one of the capital cities of black America. True to his promise to be in better touch with DC than previous presidents, Obama accompanied Fenty to the grubby U-street diner rather than one of numerous fine restaurants reserved for Washington power brokers. They ordered the house special, chili half-smokes, a half-pork half-beef sausage smothered in chili. The half-smoke is DC’s signature dish. A sign in the restaurant which once read "People who eat free at Ben's: Bill Cosby and NO ONE ELSE" has been amended to read "People who eat free at Ben's: Bill Cosby and The Obama Family." Hand written beneath it someone wrote, "He Paid."

Later on Saturday, Obama visited the Lincoln Memorial with wife Michelle and their two daughters Malia and Sasha. Arriving after dark, the future first family toured the enormous temple at the west end of the National Mall, with its famous 20 ft statue of the 16th President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and 2nd Inaugural Address inscribed on its walls. They toured the basement museum of Lincoln memorabilia before appearing briefly on the monument's white steps where they waved to passersby. Perhaps Mr Obama was looking for inspiration for his own inaugural address, which he will give a week from tomorrow at the opposite end of DC’s great common.

On Sunday, officials from the alphabet soup of different and complimentary inauguration committees performed a rehearsal of the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural parade. 26-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Derrick Brooks portrayed Obama, giving the shortest inaugural address in history, “My fellow Americans, God bless America.” LaSean McCray, a 36-year-old Navy yeoman first class, portrayed Michelle Obama. Several military and civilian bands marched in the mock parade from Capitol Hill to the White House, while officials twice practiced Marine One’s helicopter departure from the Capitol's East Plaza which will take George W Bush on the final ride of his presidency.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What One Press Conference Giveth

DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier assured District residents that there will be ample security during inauguration weekend, noting that more than 10,000 National Guard troops will be on hand to back up civilian police, the Washington Post reported today.

That figure is at odds with figures released earlier this week putting the total number of military personnel at 11,500 -- 5,000 of whom will march in the Inaugural Parade in a ceremonial capacity and at least a modest percentage of whom will be from the Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Air Force.

Air Force General Victor Renuart, head of Northern Command, had previously put the number of National Guardsmen at 4,000, with 7,500 active-duty airmen, sailors, soldiers and marines either involved in the parade, or conducting various security functions, including intelligence gathering and combat air patrols, Roll Call reported on December 17. It is not clear whether Lanier was announcing a massive inauguration surge or merely misspoke.

According to the Post article, DC police officers will start 12-hour shifts on January 16, ensuring they will be grumpy and sleep-deprived on Inauguration Day. All of Washington's 4,000 police officers will be on deck for crowd control purposes, bolstered by an additional 4,000 officers from jurisdictions outside the District.

Chief Lanier downplayed expectations of gargantuan crowds, saying she expected one to two million people to arrive in Washington, DC on Inauguration Day. If DC's 580,000 residents and the large numbers of people arriving in the District before January 20 are taken into account, that figure meshes pretty well with the 1.5 to 3 million predicted earlier this week.

In any event, the inauguration will be televised. According to the Post article, inauguration officials have upped the number of Jumbotrons on the Mall from ten to twenty-two.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nasty, Brutish and Long

The Secret Service and DC Government released important inauguration transit information today.

All Potomac River bridges linking Virginia to the District of Columbia will be closed to private vehicles. The Arlington Memorial Bridge will be open to pedestrians walking into the District from North Virginia. All other bridges will be open to buses, taxis, limousines and emergency vehicles.

•14th Street Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•Roosevelt Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•Memorial Bridge (Pedestrians and Emergency Vehicles Only)
•Key Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•South Capitol Street Bridge (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)
•11th Street Bridges (Buses and Authorized Vehicles Only)

The Sousa, Whitney Young and Benning Road bridges across the Anacostia River will be open, though enormous portions of South East DC around RFK stadium will be used as tour bus parking.

Major vehicular arteries into the District from Maryland will be open to all traffic.

•Rock Creek Parkway (all traffic) – From Piney Branch Rd to Virginia Ave
•East Capitol Street (all traffic) – RFK area will be filled with tour buses
•Benning Road (all traffic)
•New York Avenue (all traffic)

To facilitate charter bus passengers and motorists lucky enough to find parking, the 3rd Street Tunnel will be reserved for pedestrians.


(Street closures and access points in downtown DC)

Meanwhile, DC Metro will open 60,000 private parking spots at park and ride lots in Maryland and Virginia, the Washington Post reported. The park and ride lots were previously reserved for charter bus parking, but after DC officials provided parking for 10,000 charter buses within walking distance of the Mall, those lots became available.

Lots and garages open 3:30 AM on Jan. 20. Parking costs a flat rate of 4$ payable only in cash.

Park and ride lots in PG County will be open at Greenbelt and Morgan Blvd stations on the Green and Blue Lines, and in Fairfax County at the Van Dorn St station, also on the Blue Line.

With transit points into the District severally limited, much of the city center off limits to private vehicles and parking likely to be a nightmare, inauguration attendees coming from Virginian suburbs are likely to face long waits and large crowds at Metro stations, while those arriving at Dulles and National Airports will be at the mercy of traffic conditions.

With no rail link between Dulles and DC, passengers arriving there will have no option but to take a cab or bus into the city. Traffic from Dulles is congested under normal conditions. Given the huge turnout expected, passengers arriving at Washington’s least accessible airport may spend hours on clogged roadways. Passengers arriving at National Airport willing to shell out for a cab may have an easier time than normal entering the city as bridges will be free of private vehicles.

Visitors arriving from Maryland face different challenges. Though major vehicular arteries are open to private vehicles, traffic will be horrendous. Congested under normal conditions, the multiple branches of the I-95 system connecting DC to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston will likely be gridlocked. Traffic inside the city will be no better and finding parking will be a miracle. Passengers arriving at BWI Airport have a choice of MARC commuter rail, Amtrak, taxi and bus. Though MARC will be closed to service Sunday Jan 18, MARC is running full service on the Penn Line, which serves BWI, on Martin Luther King Day.

Those lucky enough to have a hotel room, rented apartment, sofa or living room floor inside the District will likely have to walk several miles to the Mall and parade route. No word yet on expected weather conditions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Inaugural Security Picture Coming Into Focus

In a front-page article in Sunday's paper about beefed-up security at the inauguration, the Washington Post again missed the forest for the trees.

Based on figures compiled from the Post article, the total security presence for the 2009 inauguration will be 67% larger than for George W Bush’s 2005 inauguration, while total attendance, currently estimated to be between 1.5 million and 3 million, will be four to eight times larger. In other words, the proportional security presence at Barack Obama’s inauguration will be anywhere from half to nearly a quarter of that provided for Bush in 2005.

According to the figures reported by the Post, the FBI’s Washington Field Office will bring in a 20% larger force than is typical for an inauguration. The Park Police, which oversees the National Mall, will increase its force by 66%. The D.C. police presence, bolstered by 4,000 officers from outside the District, will be 25% larger than that at George Bush’s 2005 inauguration. Relative to this year’s expected turnout, those increases would be paltry without a massive increase in military personnel acting as security.

11,500 active duty troops will be in Washington on Inauguration Day, compared with 7,000 in 2005, a 64% jump. But if the 5,000 servicemen and women who traditionally participate in the inaugural parade are discounted as security, the size of the military’s security footprint, in real terms, will increase from 2,000 to 6,500, a 225% larger force than in 2005. According to the Post, 1,300 unarmed National Guard soldiers will bolster the ranks of 1,000 Park Police tasked with controlling the 309 acres of the National Mall. The remaining 5,000 military personnel – a full brigade – will assist “with crowd control, communications, security, medical care, logistics, weapons detection and other needs,” the Post reported.

That means Obama’s inauguration, with a substantially smaller security presence relative to crowd size, will be substantially more militarized. Given that inaugurations are exercises in symbolism, filling Washington with thousands of uniformed troops seems like a potential public relations gaff. Obama rode into office on a wave of public discontent with the Iraq War. The last time the National Guard flooded DC’s streets was 1968, during the race riots that exploded after the assassination of Martin Luther King. A militarized inauguration could evoke both.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Renegade Has Landed

The Obama family arrived in Washington, DC this weekend on separate planes from Chicago. They checked into the Hay-Adams hotel, near Lafayette Squre, after being snubbed by the Bush administration, which refused the future first family quarters at the Blair House until January 15. Blair House, across the street from the White House, is the traditional residence of presidents-elect while they await inauguration.

Obama told reporters that he was displeased with the prospect of a further two weeks living in a hotel, saying, “we kind of did that for two years.” Secret Service has transformed the Hay-Adams into a fortress, closing adjacent streets and setting up barricades to prevent suicide car bombings. The president-elect’s daughters Malia and Sasha start school today at Sidwell Friends with fellow classmates returning from winter break.

President-elect Obama flies to Philadelphia on January 17 to begin a ceremonial train journey to Washington, DC. Official inaugural events begin January 18 with an appearance by Obama at the Lincoln Memorial.