Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The President's First Hangout

Note: I am writing wrote this as the Hangout happened and I watched it on YouTube. The hangout, I think, will be archived on YouTube here. (I am having tense issues, writing it as it happens knowing you can only read it later - so please pardon the ones I do not catch. Thank you!)

This was exciting! I love that this White House Administration is on top of tech trends and that they are using G+ to interact directly with the public. The people they picked to speak to President Obama are smart, have good questions, and over all are leaving a good impression with me. PotUS seemed comfortable and real (as real as a politician can be, anyhow), like you are talking to him and not the facade a lot of people in politics seem to put on in public.

The wife with the unemployed husband had a very real story. I am impressed that the President delved into it, finding out his specialty and asking for a resume. He treated it like he was dealing with lives and not talking points.

The #Occupy protester reached out and squeezed my cardiac muscles in a way I did not expect. It seemed kind of hollow to go to "grow the economy" as an answer, but I guess I understand it. But the big picture plans ring hollow when your stomach is empty.

The mom that is asking about children and learning about economics
PotUS rightfully mentioned Know Before You Owe, which is a new program from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You cannot just have one talk about how to manage finances with your kids. While they should probably not have a lot of contact with the family's personal finances, they should know that this is something they will have to manage and get solid advice on how to do so.

I like the explanation that the President gave on foreign aid. It is less that one percent of the budget, and that needs to be emphasized in the conversation. He touched on the strategy and human interest involved. People misunderstand almost everything about foreign aid from how much we spend to what we spend it on and why. Sometimes we give money to people that, as they say, "hate us," but still have a good reason to spend money there.

The next question was about unmanned drone strikes. The President does not believe that the drones cause "large" numbers of civilian casualties. I think there is a perception problem there, but that may just be me. If it is your child killed in a drone strike, even that one death is unacceptable as an operational risk. He emphasized the information gathering that happens before a drone takes off and that they do a lot of work to make sure that they are going after appropriate targets only and do their best to minimize civilian casualties. I disagree with him here completely, but feel he answered the question fairly well.

The next subject as education and employment. Who needs what kind of training? Maybe, said the President, you want to be a graphics designer and only need a two years or a six month program before you have the skills to do your job well. Then he moved on to the changes made in student loans and cutting out the middle man in getting school funds directly to student. Then he mentioned encouraging tax credits for families with students in colleges and universities. The President has also asked the states to help more with funding schools and programs. Then he went to rewarding innovation and good ideas from schools that save money but get the job of educating done.

On the same subject, he talked about how the economic outlook is hitting people as they try to plan their future like college. He acknowledged that it is difficult to invest in a higher education if it looks like you may never be able to pay it back. He does congratulate young people for having such a keen and able eye on their future, but continues to emphasize that they will do better with a degree than with a high school diploma.

SOPA and PIPA were brought up in a question. President Obama spoke about protecting against internet piracy while allowing ideas and information to flow freely. He does seem to have some respect for the open culture of the Internet, which is unusual in our politicians. He addressed a case involving extradition and revealed that he is not involved personally involved in it.

And then came Alpha Cat! He asked his question as President Obama and it was funny but not disrespectful. The President stated that he felt that the ability to poke fun and satire political figures is important and speaks to the strength of our democracy.

The Hangout members were then given the opportunity to ask a quick personal question. The first one was about the PotUS and dancing. He answered it with grace and humor. I felt like there were uncomfortable racial overtones in asking a white person asking a black person to dance for them, let alone the President of the United States. The next questioner asked if he could be the personal physician to PotUS after he graduated. The third asked about how it felt to no be able to go get a snack at a convenience store if he wanted to - and the President talked about the nuts and bolts of just wanting to go run an errand. The forth questioner asked if PotUS would come to his school and expand the under-dog school's prestige. PotUS responded with the idea that their participation in the Hangout/Interview would hopefully help with that (as the only school participating). The last asked about the President and the First Lady's upcoming 20th wedding anniversary. He stated that there may be some logistical trouble since it is in October (near the election) and he may have to delay a big celebration. She also asked to and then put her children on camera briefly. The President smiled and eagerly told her to bring her kids out, which was pretty cool.

The Hangout was quickly and neatly wrapped up. I am really impressed at how smoothly this went. With both pre-recorded and live questioners, it could have been a big mess. Hell, I was on the page before it started and even their "Hey is this thing on" was professional and brief. Over all, I want to see a lot more of this kind of near-direct interaction with the President and his Administration. The White House already has an A+ in my book on their use and understanding of tech and social media.


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