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February 17, 2011

Technology and Innovation

"We're the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It is how we make our living." ~President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 25, 2011

On the White House Schedule for today, "The President meets with business leaders in technology and innovation" at a private residence in Northern California.  According to media speculation Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,  Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and despite a medical leave of absence, Apple CEO Steve Jobs, are among the tech-industry execs President Barack Obama will meet with tonight in San Francisco.  Also rumored to be attending the meeting is General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who was recently appointed the leader of Obama's new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.  The meeting is conveniently closed off to the press. 

Intel's Ronler Acres campus in Hillsboro.
After staying the night in the Bay Area, the President departs for Hillsboro, Oregon on Friday morning for a scheduled meeting with Intel CEO Paul Otellini, who has been critical of the administration in the past.   Besides being President and CEO of Intel, Otellini is also on the Board of Directors at Google and holds the chair of the Washington D.C.-based Task Force on American Innovation.  During his visit of the Intel facilities, the President will receive a tour of an under-construction semiconductor plant that will soon be the world's most sophisticated chip-fabrication facility.

What could the President want with these champions of the computer age?  Based on reports, Obama's tech agenda and proposed $3.73 trillion fiscal year 2012 budget are on the list of talking points as well as private sector job growth and improving the U.S. education system.   Obama has vowed to assure U.S. economic competitiveness in the future by focusing on educating American youth for a world economy dependent on ever-evolving computer technology.

2011 SOTU Address
“The president and the business leaders will discuss our shared goal of promoting American innovation, and discuss his commitment to new investments in research and development, education and clean energy,” a White House official said.

Although these meetings may be part of the continued demonstration of Obama's pursuit of goals touted in last month's State of the Union address, his administration is by no means a stranger to many within the tech industry.  Obama met with Steve Jobs last October and discussed education, energy policy and means to promote job growth.  With the ailing Jobs making recent world news due to tabloid rumors of his impending death at the hands of pancreatic cancer, it comes as a surprise that he is attending the meeting with the President.     

After his State of the Union, President Obama announced Startup America Partnership, a campaign to invest in the country's startup entrepreneurs and create thousands of jobs. Facebook, Intel, TECHStars, and others are among those pledging to support the initiative. IBM has already announced a $150 million pledge to the partnership (how about that Watson!?!).

With a meeting of such high-profile producers of online technologies, a discussion of Internet freedom surely has to be on the agenda for the President's westward voyage.   The buzz on social media has been gravitating toward the subject of its use in mass mobilization since the beginning of Egypt's widespread protests.  This week, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton discussed Internet freedom in a speech where she pontificated about a necessity to balance freedom of speech with legitimate security needs.  "Without security, liberty is fragile," she said. "Without liberty, security is oppressive."  Reading between the lines, it is evident that the former First Lady is pushing for some degree of Internet regulation. 

Many supporters of net neutrality say the recent uprising in Egypt, which was accelerated by social media like Facebook and Twitter, demonstrated the importance of unrestricted access to the Internet, especially in light of the 3-day Internet shutdown by Egypt's embittered leaders.  Today, the House of Representatives is expected to decide whether to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from spending any money to implement its December decision to regulate the Internet.  There is a proposed amendment to the fiscal year 2011 spending bill that would block FCC funding for that purpose.

As we continue to see the intertwining of big business and government interests, we must be skeptical of the purpose of fortifying the relationship between the sectors.  It has already been revealed that there may be close ties between Google and the National Security Agency.   Information is power and the men that Obama will be meeting with hold the keys to our access to online knowledge.  Discomforting is that fact that in such a closed door setting, it is unlikely that citizens will receive any accurate report of that which transpires.  With any entangling between government and the private sector, there is an ability to circumvent government oversight by manipulating corporate action.  We can only hope that what takes place proves beneficial to mankind and does not stifle access to unlimited information and the mass mobilizing capabilities which the Internet provides.     

"Every government interference in the economy consists of giving an unearned benefit, extorted by force, to some men at the expense of others." ~Ayn Rand, Capitalism:  The Unknown Ideal