President Obama’s LinkedIn Town Hall: The Other Silicon Valley Jobs Event
Arriving at Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum, in the heart of the tech industry, with the leader of the free world talking jobs and digital, you might expect fantastic wireless access.
You might, but not so much if you are a “local” reporter and can’t jack into the extra-secret-special wireless link the national White House press corps apparently has reserved for itself. (They also get a lovely noshing buffet, whilst we tech reporters have been instructed not to touch the pineapple and scones or else!)
Famished for coffee and carbs, we’re left with glomming onto the museum’s slowish wireless service — there are lotsa geeks here today jamming up the lines — and every now and then getting some juice from Google. The search giant blankets the Mountain View, Calif. area near its HQ with free Wi-Fi, but it fades in and out.
I am now reconsidering the antitrust investigations that the Obama administration is conducting against Google, as long as its signal is good enough to check Twitter.
So this liveblog of President Barack Obama’s LinkedIn Town Hall — which will center on jobs and is titled, “Putting America Back to Work” — could be glacial with not much news, much like what I am expecting from the event itself.
I’d certainly like to work, as long as the wireless does! (Plus, limited power outlets in the room, so it’s every reporter for herself!)
But bygones, while we await the Prez!
10:18 am: One thing that made me flee Washington, D.C., when I worked for the Washington Post, was all the rigmarole that surrounded the appearance of and access to politicians.
I get it, the security and all, and am all for it on a general safety level. But, no matter how you slice it, it hinders any kind of movement or genuine interaction, like being stuck at a really dull opera. All the world’s a stage and we are all merely waiting in traffic.
In contrast, and one of the joys of Silicon Valley, is that anyone can get up right up into the grill of the various billionaire potentates littering the landscape, engage in a debate and get a possibly real answer.
Thus, I am hoping for a lot here from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who is going to moderate the hour-long session with the President.
By the way, while he is busy running the business-focused social networking site, Weiner is looking good in a fancy suit, almost as if he could be Secretary of the Internet. I’d vote for him.
10:28 am: Some painless but hip music is playing now, as we wait, wait, wait for Obama, who is set to begin in 30 minutes.
(Obviously, I am bored, so I shall now go monitor Twitter to catch up on the latest in the new bad-marriage-or-not cat fight between Brad Pitt and his ex, Jennifer Aniston — as if we need him to tell us Angelina Jolie is more interesting. Frankly, Angie’s midday snack is more interesting than Jen.)
There is now what appears to be a Secret Service dude next to me, giving me a hairy eyeball. If I am jailed over my wireless protest, please give generously to my defense fund.
Free the Internet! Free the Internet!
10:35 am: Finally, the production guy is up giving out the rules. Turn off the cellphones, no making noise.
The head Secret Service guy then takes the stage. No getting out of your seat. No sudden movements. And no crossing the blue line in the front row.
“All joking aside,” he says, he will take you down. He also notes that if the President moves toward you to shake your hand, “do not move toward him.”
I love Secret Service agents — especially when played by Clint Eastwood — and wish I had one to give a few people in tech a little smackadoo on my behalf. And not only if they moved toward me!
10:47 am: This little frisson of excitement is followed by more waiting, as the final seats are filled up in the room, which is an unusually (and welcome) multi-racial and gender-balanced crowd for Silicon Valley.
Various White House aides skitter back and forth like nervous ground squirrels — I would imagine their life is one big effort to avoid any gaffe — so the Prez must be near.
I am actually looking forward to seeing him, as I never have in person and am looking forward to seeing the famous Obama charm and techie cred.
Indeed, he is probably the most fast-forward tech president there has ever been. That said, buffeted by more serious issues facing the nation, his administration has delivered on few — by which I mean none — of its promises around the digitization of the U.S.
Our high-speed broadband, for example, is still woefully slow, inordinately expensive and not easily available nationwide.
And I will not even go into the need for increased focus on math and science education or the importance of our broken visa policies.
But the topic today is jobs, which is an arena where Silicon Valley and tech shines in the U.S., even as manufacturing of it has mostly moved overseas. How tech can help improve in the creation of jobs will be issue No. 1 here.
10:55 am: Total silence with five minutes to go. I need the President around to quiet my kids.
Now, LinkedIn Chairman and VC Reid Hoffman comes in, so the event is probably about to begin.
And, indeed, Weiner emerges to cheers, to give a little speech on “changing the way we work … and connecting talent to opportunity.”
11:01 am: Then, the session starts right on time with President Obama.
He begins with a rote speech on jobs, which is nonetheless the most important issue he faces going into next year’s election.
11:14 am: Ah, wireless glitch! Back!
President Obama is inexplicably in the middle of a Medicare question, which gives him an opportunity to talk about the need for the rich to pay more taxes.
And pass his American Jobs Act, of course.
11:17 am: More on proposing legislation for retraining workers, such as the questioner’s mom.
Now to a group of email questions. The first is about when small businesses are going to get a break from onerous regulations and taxes.
President Obama says since he has been in office, he has cut taxes 16 times for those who create a business.
But he is not going to apologize for some regulations, such as those for the financial industry over the mortgage crisis.
“There are some regulations that have outlived their usefulness,” he says, but others not so much.
11:24 am: The next question is from a Chicago IT employee. Except she is not employed.
She is asking a question about keeping her skills up and what programs are needed.
“The best thing we can do for you is that the unemployment rate goes down,” said President Obama, but also adds that making it easy to go to school while waiting on a job is also important.
“Just looking at you, I can tell you are going to do great,” he tells her in an awkward effort at reassurance.
Thanks, Barack, but she needs a job!
11:28 am: A veteran is asking a question about transitioning out of the military.
Obama launches into a story of a medical technician who faced all kinds of experiences, but had to start over again with new classes when out of the military. He suggests some level of credentialing based on experience.
11:33 am: Obama gets to pick out someone from the crowd and manages to pick out a dude who is a former Googler — although he only says that he works down the street — and is out of work by choice.
He asks: “Will you please raise my taxes?
A plant? I wish!
President Obama asks the name of the start-up. “A search engine,” says the ex-Googler-in-disguise, who is Doug Edwards, an early marketing exec there who actually wrote a book on being an ex-Googler.
“That worked out well for you,” kids President Obama.
Everyone likes a rich-guy joke!
He is soon onto the idea that we’re all dang lucky and declares he does not want it to turn the debate over taxes into a rich-poor war.
Bottom line, he notes that we have to raise taxes on the very wealthy. Frankly, if we raised taxes on a bunch of folks in this room, it would help a lot.
11:42 am: A teach-training question, especially math and science teachers.
President Obama is all for it.
He is meaning well here, but all he seems to offer is a lot of bromides about the importance of education and errant related anecdotes.
Like one from IBM, where the company hires the kids in the program at the end.
President Obama wants students to see a direct connection between learning and jobs.
Then, he kind of says it again. Gosh, he can talk. How does the well-fed and wirelessly connected White House press corp take it? Lotsa donuts, I would imagine.
President Obama also wants us to turn off the electronics and video games for kids, too, thereby instantly losing the votes of my two sons!
Another laid-off guy is up at the mic. He had 22 years in IT management and is disheartened.
He wants a statement of encouragement from the CEO of America.
President Obama assures him that his track record of success gives him a leg up, but that the problem is the economy and the global meltdown, too.
It’s systemic, apparently.
“The problem is not you, the problem is the economy as a whole,” says President Obama.
That was the last question. Weiner, who has been sitting quietly (I know it was hard, Jeff, but good job), thanks the President and tells him that this is a big issue.
President does his thanks, too, for being able to speak, although not really that much was actually said.
And then a genuine moment, finally, of clarity.
“Look, we’re going through a very tough time, but we have gone through tougher times before,” he says. “But the trajectory we are going on is one that is more open, more linked …”
He talks about the need for being ready to take advantage of that opportunity.
“Things have gotten so ideologically driven, putting party above country,” he adds, that nothing is getting done. That’s why the people, the voters, have to demand leadership from their elected officials.
Or, presumably, fire them and let them try to find another job, too.
It might turn out to be the best idea yet, if these pols don’t agree on something and quick.