President Obama touts technology, participation

In Palo Alto, Facebook employees 'like' Obama's message

In his first live-streaming Q&A with the American people Wednesday, President Barack Obama asserted that new technologies could help solve some of the nation's most pressing problems -- a theme that the young crowd at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto said resonated with them.

The hour-long question-and-answer session, moderated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and broadcast via, touched upon areas in which Obama has focused his energies -- improving education, reforming health care and developing alternative energy sources. All require a focus on new technologies, he said.

Technology can reduce health care costs by millions of dollars, numbers that Obama said he hoped would be apparent in the next five years. Technology can streamline cumbersome paperwork and help coordinate patient care, he said.

Providing incentives for a community hospital to get a system online that would allow for information sharing and elimination of duplicate tests needs to be a top priority, he said. The VA health system already has achieved huge cost savings through its online system, he said.

Facebook employees who attended the town hall emphasized the event itself was a product of new technology.

"It's a very historical point in American culture because in this Internet age, we can have this discussion with the president in this open forum on Facebook -- live," Joey Primiani said after the town hall meeting.

"Anybody can ask him questions on the spot; anybody can ask any question and get an immediate answer," he said.

In the wide-ranging talk, Obama fielded questions about the national debt, the economic recovery, education, health care reform, immigration and renewable energy. Repeatedly, he struck the note of achieving progress through "a balanced approach."

He didn't hesitate to criticize the Republican budget plan put forth by U.S. Rep Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, which eschews tax increases and would cut 70 percent of the clean-energy budget, 25 percent from education and 30 percent from transportation, he said.

"I guess you could call that bold. I would call that shortsighted. … Nothing is easier than solving the problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless, or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout," he said.

Obama said the country has made progress in its recovery from the recession, but there is more to do. In response to a question about the challenges to first-time homebuyers, he said the housing market is still the biggest drag on economic recovery.

Progress has been made in encouraging mortgage lenders to renegotiate on homes threatened with foreclosure, but regulators are still trying to strike the right balance, he said.

"We've got to understand the days when it was easy to buy a house with no money down are over," Obama said.

Managing the country's economic recovery and efforts to reduce debt are like driving the hills of San Francisco in a manual car, he said.

"We can't let the car slip backward. … If we don't have a serious plan to tackle the debt and deficit, it could be a bigger drag on the economy. Investors could pull back just as the economy is taking off," he said.

"We are living through as tumultuous a time as I certainly have seen in my lifetime," Obama said. "When I came into office, the No. 1 job was preventing us from getting into another Great Depression."

In one of his few comments during the event, Zuckerberg praised Obama's Race to the Top education-reform program as one of the most important things the administration has done.

Obama said he wants education reform to be part of his legacy. Reforms that advance mathematics and science and encourage women and minorities to get into technology fields are investments in the country's economic future; they are where ideas and innovations will come from, he said.

Asked about the Dream Act, which would allow children of undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and receive an education, Obama outlined his vision for immigration-policy reform.

"We are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws," the president said.

Immigration policies should be fairer and more efficient to encourage people who want to start innovative businesses to do so and to keep unskilled workers who toil in the shadows from being afraid of deportation.

"We want more Andy Groves. We don't want them starting Intel in China or France," he said.

But, he added, the country's borders should be secure and those here illegally shouldn't automatically get citizenship.

Periodically during the town hall, Obama returned to his "Yes We Can" campaign message, telling the audience that he cannot improve the country on his own.

"We've just got more work to do. Don't get frustrated and cynical about our democracy. Just remember we've been through tougher times before. We've always come out on top," he said.

But "I can't do it by myself," he added. The only way to accomplish the vision is by people taking part and remaining active in the political process, he said.

Several attendees said that message stood out most in Obama's town hall discussion.

"He made a good point that it's not all up to him. It's a collective effort of the nation, and we all have to do our part too," Nicole Sallie, an attorney, said.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss said the town hall meeting concisely hit on all of the issues that will be part of Obama's re-election campaign.

"What I admired most is that he didn't shy away from questions about what was difficult for him," she said.

Obama acknowledged there are times he finds fault with himself on day-to-day issues, when he didn't say the right thing or he isn't able to accomplish goals as quickly as anticipated.

"It's only been 2 ½ years, so I'm sure I'll make a lot more mistakes," he said.

Earlier that afternoon, the president arrived by helicopter, Marine One, which landed at Stanford University's Sand Hill fields at about 1:30 p.m., according to the Stanford Daily.

His motorcade then proceeded south along Junipero Serra Boulevard, turned east onto Page Mill Road, then turned onto Hanover Street. A crowd that gathered along Hanover and S. California Avenue cheered as the motorcade passed by and circled into the Facebook parking lot.

Protestors hoping to encounter the Obama along Page Mill Road at Hansen Way were out of luck. A few tried running into the Facebook parking lot after seeing the motorcade turn a block away but were stopped by police officers.

Inside Facebook, the event glittered with California political dignitaries: House Minority Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa, to name a few.

At the start of the town hall, Obama -- who is the most popular figure on Facebook and has 19 million "likes" -- took off his suit jacket in folksy gesture. He invited the usually T-shirted Zuckerberg, who was also wearing a suit, to do the same.

At the end of the event, Zuckerberg evened the score for having to put on the dress shirt, jacket and tie. He gave Obama a parting gift: a Facebook hoodie.

■ See photos from the president's visit.

Editor Jocelyn Dong contributed to this report.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mr. Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2011 at 9:20 am

Hope he saw the gas prices

Like this comment
Posted by Carroll Harrington
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:47 am

Where else but in Palo Alto would you find the Mayor, whose father is from Mexico, greeting the President of the United States, whose father is from Kenya, at a world-changing company whose 26-year-old President and CEO was raised by a father who was a dentist and supported his son's interest in computers???

Gotta love it!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 21, 2011 at 11:42 am


your "Gotta love it!!!" Yes, but not as much as you appreciate it.

What do I love? Seeing your "infectious, love life and all it's glories" attitude in your post.

THAT, I love.


Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Paul Losch is a registered user.

I watched the Facebook event on line yesterday.

While I am an Obama supporter, there are areas where I disagree with him, as well as places where I agree.

What struck me about his session at Facebook were his poise and his commabnd of numerous topics, and to put the ball in the proverbial hole, he was able to put them into a larger policy context.

I did not like the baiting of the GOP leadership in Congress, but it is to be expected. He is a politician first and foremost.

I contrast yesterday's performance and the baiting his predecessor practiced. "W" never participated in something like this, IMHO, because he was incapable of doing so. Inarticulate, lack of an agile mind. W was very good at the baiting and polarizing aspect of occupying the White House, and he has left such tactics in good hands on Capitol Hill.

The man in the Oval Office right now has his flaws, like they all do. But he is one thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate SOB, and he amply demonstrated those traits yesterday.

He does not have the leadership character of a Ronald Reagan, but he is an impressive figure, and one that tries to work with the "other side" more than the "other sides" attempts to work with him.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm

First, I voted for Obama. I feel these "town hall meetings" are worthless.
I rather see a debate. These questions were NOT that difficult.
They were basic everyday questions that he was really for.
As far as him saying he wished he had done or said something different...don't just say it, give us an example.
I would really like to keep Obama in office four more years, but so far...

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 21, 2011 at 1:16 pm


If you were the President, with the GOP voting this week in the House and PASSING a budget plan (Ryan's) that cuts the taxes of millionaires and billionaires by almost a third, in this time of deficit, along with privatizing Medicare...

... a GOP plan that adds SIX TRILLION to the deficit before it starts to balance it, maybe by 2030 (see the CBO), that cuts foodstamps for the poorest of the poor...

...a GOP plan that requires raising the debt ceiling, while at the same time the GOP threatens to RUIN America's credit rating by not raising the debt ceiling...

... wouldn't you speak strongly and aggressively to defend America?

Against a party that won't denounce their right wing tea party fringe's use of inflammatory speech like "socialist" & "not born in America" and the rest of that ridiculous claptrap that they will not denounce, geez, they even encourage?!?!?

Baiting? Our President was "baiting"?

Wow. What a bad guy he is. /snark

The GOP voted on AND PASSED a house budget that cuts taxes for millionaires and billionaires.

Paul: Isn't it time someone calls them on that?

Poor GOP. The President was "baiting." They'll have to take their Koch brothers/millionaires/billionaires money and whimper, I suppose.

Poor GOP.

Like this comment
Posted by Alfred E Newman
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm


There was a serious debate, once. The GOP invited the President for lunch last year. There were 200 House GOP'ers vs the President, but they made a terrible mistake.

They gave the President a microphone. Note they haven't invited him back.

He cleaned their clock. Fox news cut off their feed halfway through it because the carnage was brutal. The Daily Show howled for a week. Seriously: watch Jon Stewart's piece on it.

The President took their talking points, obliterated them with facts, command and intelligence.

To use Paul's ball analogies: he took it to the hoop and dunked on them. Repeatedly.

When the host said: "you must be running out of time" the President said: "nah, I'm good, let's go for a few more, I'm having a good time..."

Who doesn't like dunking?

Unless he was just "baiting."


A taste of his answers to their talking points: Web Link

"THE PRESIDENT: But let’s talk about just the jobs environment generally. You’re absolutely right that when I was sworn in the hope was that unemployment would remain around 8 [percent], or in the 8 percent range. That was just based on the estimates made by both conservative and liberal economists, because at that point not all the data had trickled in.

We had lost 650,000 jobs in December. I’m assuming you’re not faulting my policies for that. We had lost, it turns out, 700,000 jobs in January, the month I was sworn in. I’m assuming it wasn’t my administration’s policies that accounted for that. We lost another 650,000 jobs the subsequent month, before any of my policies had gone into effect. So I’m assuming that wasn’t as a consequence of our policies; that doesn’t reflect the failure of the Recovery Act...."

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm

@ Alfred E. Newman:

"the GOP threatens to RUIN America's credit rating by not raising the debt ceiling..."

I agree that voting against raising the debt ceiling is one of the most blatant and cynical political ploys in Congress -- and guess who voted against it while he was a Senator? Barack Obama.

(And that's just one of many comments I could make on your diatribe. And I'm a supporter of Obama, as were the two people to whom you directed your completely partisan comments.)

Your pathetic rants (one party is all good, the other completely stupid) represent a great example of the poisonous political environment that has developed in our country. Both the Republicans and Democrats are the political equivalent of labor unions -- enforcing group think at the cost of independent thought/positions/votes -- and your screed makes you sound like a pawn of the process.

Like this comment
Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2011 at 8:48 am


You are too strong for Mike.

Maybe Mike can answer a question I posed to Hank a couple days ago:

Do you support the Ryan plan that the GOP passed in the house? The GOP Ryan plan that gives huge tax breaks to millionaires, privatizes medicare and does not balance the budget for a couple decades.

Do you support the GOP plan?

Or do you want to whine about Obama voting against the debt ceiling once? (Boener and Cantor voted for it a half dozen times, fwiw.)

For once I agree with the tea baggers. This is a time of crisis. The GOP did an insane thing voting for that plan. The tax cuts, destroy medicare, cut foodstamps are just the WORST parts of it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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