The inauguration of the 44th President of the United States

I’ve been back in Ottawa for about 36 hours after making the trip to Washington DC to observe the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.  It goes without saying that the inauguration was a historic event as the United States turned a page on centuries of troubled history as the first African-American ascended to assume the highest office in the nation.  I write this blog to report on the news, to offer opinion, and to give an account of my experiences.  I’ve never been to a Presidential inauguration and I’d like to share some of my observations of those couple of days in DC.

After going through an unusually thorough screening with Homeland security, I boarded my Air Canada flight with a number of Canadians and Americans heading to Washington.  When traveling, one often see travelers reflecting, in a clichéd way, their departure point or arrival.  On a trip to Hawaii, for example, you might see an inordinate number of leis and cheap plastic “grass” skirts on fellow passengers, in Vegas, empty plastic souvenir ‘hurricane’ margarita cups.  On this trip to DC, a number of Canadians and Americans were decked out in the colours of the American flag.  Minister Peter Kent was on my flight, on his way to represent Canada in DC as minister of state for the Americas.

Landing in at Reagan national airport, I was immediately struck by the shops which had switched from generic Americana to 99% Obama merchandise.  One t-shirt I saw had a mock headline that read something along the lines of “Now is our time” with a photoshopped image of Obama’s head on Michael Jordan’s body going for a slam dunk from the top of the key wearing a Superman outfit.  I immediately became determined to find the most tacky and absurd Obama memorabilia during my trip and if this was a location as mainstream as the airport, I’d hold my greenbacks for the streets of DC.

I took the metro to the Capitol and after fighting the lines leaving the metro, I found the line that snaked around the buildings which held the congressional offices.  As I had a ticket set aside for me, I joined the queue.  After making my way inside and after having picked up my ticket, I crashed a mid-western pre-inaugural party in the congressional district.  It wouldn’t be the last party I crashed on my trip, but for the main event, I had my golden ticket.

Next up, I made my way over to a party held by the British mission in DC.  On the way, in Dupont Circle BDS-afflicted revellers were tossing shoes at an 30-foot tall inflated cartoon effigy of George W. Bush.  In 24 hours, what would these people have to do with themselves?  After the British party, I made my way over to Clarendon with some GOP friends to attend a leftwing netroots blogger party sponsored by big labour, netroots nation, blue state digital, and a host of well-read “progressive” blogs.  With drink tickets, guitar hero, and a live band, the festivities certainly had a hobbyist-gone-mainstream feel.  I met some very talented people working on social media the Obama side of the partisan divide.

Next day was inauguration day and the common wisdom was to show up at the metro as early as possible to make one’s way to the Capitol.  Despite my best efforts, I arrived to the metro station to find it packed with people.  Apparently, record ridership was recorded on the previous day with 600,000 people passing the DC metro gates.  It’s a bit harrowing standing on a platform packed 20 rows deep with anxious DC residents and inauguration tourists when one indeed has to “mind the gap” between a packed station and the tracks.  On the train, however, people were in good spirits despite the overcrowding.

I eventually made my way from the metro to the ticketed checkpoint area.  On my way, more Obama kitsch tempted me as spontaneous capitalists popped up everywhere to hawk everything from Barack Obama action figures to Michelle Obama t-shirts.  The ticketed area in front of the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol building had rows of seats for a few thousand people.  Looking back at the national mall towards the Washington monument, we could see millions of people.  On television, it was reported that 3-4 million people were packed in to see Obama take the oath of office.  Looking across the mall, when the motorcade drove up the street, it was a shimmering sea of red white and blue as people waved their flags.

Sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin, I spotted New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg sitting a few rows ahead.  Bloomberg was considering a run at the presidency this cycle and would have contested as an independent versus Obama and McCain.  I made my way over to Bloomberg to say hello.  The mayor was a registered Republican, however would have run as an independent.  Some speculated that his run would have made him a viable candidate for a running mate to the Republican or Democratic nominee seeking the presidency through the independent swing vote.

The inauguration ceremony went off fairly well with only the Roberts/Obama oath blunder as the only notable exception.  Obama’s speech was adequate at best and I don’t think it met the oratorical expectations that people have expected; “ask not what your country can do for you”, Obama’s speech was not.  I believe that this presidency will be about managing and decreasing expectations that have been built up during the campaign.  After the wrap up of the inauguration, Obama made his way to the other side of the Capitol building to see President Bush and his wife off in a marine helicopter.  We saw the events on a big screen on our side of the building and a few seconds later saw the helicopter pass over the roof of the Capitol and over our heads.  Everyone waved at the helicopter, though while some gave a warm wave goodbye, others were not so friendly.  The helicopter passed over the national mall and Canadian embassy.  The embassy would be my next stop.

The Canadian embassy is located on some of the best real estate in DC.  The building is about a stone’s throw away from the Capitol and had a great view for guests of the Canadian ambassador.  Party guests at the embassy included former ambassador Frank McKenna, Jason Kenney, Peter Kent, Michael J. Fox, Newt Gingrich and… for some reason… er… Star Jones?

After taking a bit of a break from inauguration festivities, a few of us on the right headed over to David Frum’s to mark the launch of his new website New Majority.  While inaugural balls were going on elsewhere in the city, I had a couple of invites for the post-inaugural Google party.  The party was downtown by the Reagan Center and was the media/Washington insider gathering was well-attended by CNN, MSNBC, DNC and RNC people.

The inauguration of Barack Obama was about the closest thing I think I’ll see to a coronation.  To be sure, Obama was elected through the democratic process, however, the fanfare, ceremony, celebrity, commemorative-plate-esque atmosphere and the millions of people caught up in it was certainly something I don’t expect to see again.

Barack Obama inspired many, from Democrats in the primaries to electors during the campaign.  He was an incredible campaigner.  Now comes the hard part: he has to govern.  With a worsening economic crisis and an ill-advised and massive economic bailout coming, transformational is bound to become transactional and we’ll need more than hope to pay off the interest.

More photos (click any photo on this page to enlarge):


The Obamas wave to the crowd on the National Mall


Joe Biden is sworn in as VPOTUS


John Kerry imagines what might have been


At the inauguration of President Barack Obama


The inaugural band packs up below the inaugural platform


President Obama’s limosine drives by the Canadian embassy


As for Obama kitsch, this hand puppet was too good to pass up


What that Barack? You’re pro-death-penalty, pro-Afghan-mission, anti-same-sex-marriage, and for private healthcare?

Is s.329 of the Elections Act quixotic?

Section 329 of the Elections Act reads,

“No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district.”

The polls in Newfoundland and Labrador close at 8:30pm local time whereas those in BC close at 7pm. In reference to the Eastern time zone, those eastern polls close at 7pm and those polls on the west coast at 10pm. Therefore, it is technically illegal to broadcast results of any poll between 7pm and 10pm tonight though results should be available as early as 7:45pm.

In this age of new media, bloggers, facebookers and twitterers are expected to operate in the framework of an antiquated law. When this provision of the Elections Act was written, the intent of the law was to prevent television networks from broadcasting results in Newfoundland to British Columbia in order to prevent BC voters from having results before they cast their own ballots. Now that new media offers populist broadcasting to everyone with a mobile phone or a computer, how will Elections Canada enforce this provision of the Elections Act?

In my opinion, this section is a violation of free speech. Yes, I understand the reasoning behind it, yet I do believe that the law does not reflect reality in this age of self-broadcasting. Laws should be enforceable because when it is impossible to enforce a law, a law ceases to have effect. If the purpose behind the law is valid (to prevent “specially informed” voters), a more realistic method of achieving it is required. It is much more reasonable to close all polls at the same moment no matter the time zone.

What is to stop an Atlantic Canadian from updating her twitter status as to the result of her Newfoundland riding? Or the Prince Edward Islander from posting who is in the lead on his Facebook wall? Since the possible forums for national broadcast have gone from a limited three television networks to practically limitless social media outlets, this particular provision of the Elections Act is de facto unenforceable.

And who is responsible for the rebroadcasting of early results? Do I shut down Blogging Tories for three hours this evening because a blogger whose RSS feed I aggregate there may put me in violation of the Act? Is the situation similar for Google Reader and iGoogle which both act as an RSS reader? More broadly, will Google shut down its Blogger site to Canadian IP addresses? Will Twitter face sanction because a Canadian might convey information to another Canadian through its American-hosted service?

Indeed, the law does not reflect reality and must be changed. What remains to be seen is whether change will come from mass social media violation of s.329 or through the legislative process.

Announcing Google Power Readers Canada

I pleased to announce today, the launch of a new way of connecting with Canada’s political party leaders and the journalists that are covering the election campaign.

I’ve been working with Google over the past couple of months on an innovative project that provides a peek into the reading material of those seeking the Prime Minister’s Office the articles that they’d like to share with you, the voter.

Late last night, our site went live and gained some very valuable real estate on the homepage of Google Canada at google.ca.

Google Power Readers Canada is the product of our work. I was able to gather Stephen Harper, Stephane Dion, Jack Layton and Elizabeth May together to share articles that interest them and of course, articles they figure will interest (or should I say) entice you to vote for their candidates.

Also featured within the project are some of Canada’s top reporters that are covering the day-to-day action of the campaign. Perhaps, this will allow the “reporter’s notebook” to evolve in the way that reporters gather information and provide raw material for their readers to give them insight on the information gathering process.

You can check in what Jack Layton is reading and sharing with Google Reader, you can get a glimpse into Stephen Harper and Elizabeth May’s interests or find out what sites Peter Mansbridge frequents as he goes through his day. For example, we know that the Prime Minister is an avid hockey fan. From his shared items page we can see that the Mr. Harper is watching how the Leafs new and young talent may shape their upcoming season. The Prime Minister shares an article the Toronto Star about the Leaf’s training camp. Stephane Dion maintains his message and shows us more of his personality by linking to a Fishing Magazine in his profile. Elizabeth May has shared a Nova Scotia article from the Chronicle Herald on her platform release.

Check out Google Power Readers Canada and let me know what you think. Sign up for Google Reader yourself and share some articles with other Canadians and participate in the social media conversation for this 2008 general election. If you’re also posting your ideas, maybe Jack Layton or Stephen Harper or Kady O’Malley will share your blog post or article. I should thank the party leader’s and the journalists for taking a chance on my pitch for this project. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to offer to Google users. This election is showing the full integration of new media within political campaigns. Google is reflecting this with Google Power Readers.

And this is why we can’t have nice things

Google street view may be illegal

Canada’s privacy commissioner has been googling Google, and she’s raising concerns over the search engine’s new Street View web photo application.

Jennifer Stoddart says many of the street-level images Google is making available on the internet could break Canada’s privacy laws.

Street View isn’t yet available in Canada but has been expanding in the United States since being launched in May.

Stoddart has written to Google, and Calgary-based Immersive Media – which helped develop the imagery technology for Street View – asking both companies to respond to her concerns.

“I am concerned that, if the Street View application were deployed in Canada, it might not comply with our federal privacy legislation,” Stoddart says in a letter to David Drummond, Google’s senior vice-president of corporate development and chief legal officer.

In case you haven’t seen Google’s Street View, here it is. You can get a street-based view of many major US cities.

It’s a good thing that in Canada, we have a fantastic bureaucracy that protects us from… innovation.

The commissioner’s specific concern?

“Our Office considers images of individuals that are sufficiently clear to allow an individual to be identified to be personal information within the meaning of PIPEDA [the privacy act]”

I suppose they better shut down Flickr too. And… any newspaper or tv station that publishes or broadcasts images from public places.

This isn’t surveillance, these are single images.

Of course, this topic brings up a good debate. Do we consensually sacrifice an element of our privacy when we go out in public? I’ve presented my view. What’s yours?