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Any More Questions? Ask Them Yourself

President Obama's Whitehouse.gov is finally starting to deliver on its promise.

After seven weeks of lurching and sometimes amateurish underperformance, the Web team that vowed to harness the Internet to bring greater transparency and public access to the White House is finally showing its stuff, with the launch of Open for Questions, a "community-moderated online town hall" which allows members of the public to submit and vote on questions for Obama.

The only topic for this trial run is the economy. The president will "answer some of the most popular submissions live" on Thursday, the Web site announced vaguely.

Here is Obama's video message to netizens:

"What do yo want to know about the economy? Just go to whitehouse.gov and ask me," he says.

"Many of you are worried and have a lot of questions. And you want to know what your government is doing to get our economy back on track. You deserve those answers...

"This is an experiment, but it's also an exciting opportunity for me to look at a computer and get a snapshot of what Americans across the country care about. I'm looking forward to the results... This way I can get a sense of your concerns and give you some straight answers."

Jose Antonio Vargas blogs for The Washington Post: "It's unclear how long Obama will be online on Thursday and how many questions he will answer. But this much is clear: expect a herd of organized (and unorganized) Web users to stampede WhiteHouse.gov and make it a highly trafficked political hub over the next 48 hours."

As of this morning, the most popular question (with 1,947 votes in favor, and 526 opposed) is this one: "As a student, who like so many others works full time and attends school full time, only to break even at the end of the month. What is the government doing to make higher education more affordable for lower and middle class families?"

Another top-rated one; "What are your plans to encourage corporations to keep middle class jobs, such as customer service call centers and transactional based support services like accounting and computer program jobs, in the U.S?"

But there are also an awful lot of questions about legalizing marijuana.

It's a bold move by the White House, and hopefully just the first of many experiments in using the Internet to democratize, well, democracy. There's much more they can do, of course.

And although some of the "most popular" questions this time around may end up being the fruit of organized special-interest campaigns rather than a pure reflection of popular sentiment, over time -- as more and more people participate -- that will change.

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 25, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Whitehouse.gov  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Quick Takes
Next: Obama Brings It Down a Notch

Comments

This is exciting! Can you imagine any previous WH occupant doing this? I can, but sometimes it's just funny [think Bill Clinton raining crumbs on his keyboard while squinting at the screen through his granny glasses...].

Posted by: mobedda | March 25, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

"We maintain a variety of physical, electronic and procedural safeguards to protect your personal information. For example, we use commercially reasonable tools and techniques to protect against unauthorized access to our systems."

Just because you're using commercially available tools doesn't mean your personal information is protected. Just that some marketing material you purchased says it. I wonder why we are not using the same policies and tools that say the IRS uses?

"Also, we restrict access to Personal Information to those who need such access in the course of their duties for us."

Basically says, law enforcement, intel and **any gov't agency with a need to know** has access to this repository--likely (and I would not be surprised) for data mining activities--either to monitor you or develop user profiles (like google does, aka google analytics). And since it's hosted by google (i.e. servers are not in a gov't building), I wonder what beltway bandit is logging the IP addresses, emails lists and doing the data mining?

It's a great try, but looks like any other commercial site, more like a reskin of change.gov. And I doubt the pundits/analysts will use it as they have their own site and voices. And just like his campaign site, as well as H. Clinton's, I doubt the PotUS will directly answer a question--just like he & Hillary did on their campaign websites (someone else answer under their name).

Posted by: recharged95 | March 25, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Hey recharge....
Guess you haven't been keeping up with the news...he reads 10 emails each day...and in many cases has personally responded to them...i.e. penned a response.

Posted by: constwkr | March 25, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Obama Isn't Your Stimulus Plan A Deadly Trojan Horse For State Government?

Some think those elected officials who indicate they won't take stimulus money are fools or have some other agenda. The fact of the matter is that they have read the Stimulus Bill and are being good stewards of their State budgets & taxpayers money. Read on for just one problem with the Stimulus.
In Utah lawmakers failed to change state law so they could get federal stimulus money meant to help the unemployed. To get the funding lawmakers would have had to change the law to allow about 4,200 jobless Utahns -- among them part-time workers and those who quit working to accompany a spouse who is changing jobs -- to get unemployment benefits. Those individuals don't currently qualify and the problem is that the Stimulus money is a one time thing so when it runs out you end up with a new or expanded program to pay for. Furthermore the Stimulus plan as written by the Dems and the Obama administration, does not allow States to put a sunset provision their laws so the expanded benefits would expire when the federal money runs out.

In Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has sent formal notification to the White House that LA will tap into at least part of its share of the federal stimulus package. He has told the White House that LA will accept stimulus dollars and "use them to promote economic growth and create jobs in a fiscally responsible manner." However, he let the administration know he continues to look at the rules for each pot of money to determine which dollars the state will use. The governor already has said he intends to reject the unemployment money.

The smarter Governors have already figured out that the Stimulus is a intentional or unintentional stealth means of pushing yet another unfunded mandate / socialist agenda on the States. Three cheers for those Governors who are risking their political careers to do the right thing for their citizens.

Come clean Mr. Obama

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 25, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Why Won't You Admit To Being William Ayres Friend? In Case you forgot who he is, let me remind you and the rest of your fans.
William Ayres, for those who don't know him was a member of the Weather Underground. These are the bombings his association was tied to.
February 21, 1970, bombs were exploded three gasoline-filled fire bombs at the home of New York State Supreme Court Justice Murtagh. The same night, bombs were thrown at a police car in Manhattan and two military recruiting stations in Brooklyn. March 6, 1970 a bomb under construction blew up in the groups home, killing three members. October 6, 1970 They blew up the 1886 Haymarket Riot statue in Chicago. Bombed the Unites States Capitol on March 1, 1971. Bombed the The Pentagon on May 19, 1972. They bombed the United States Department Of State January 29, 1975.

William Ayres is unrepentant and has written and spoken about wishing he had done more during those years as an active member of the Weather Underground.

Knowing all this, would you want to be on the same board, have a political fundraiser thrown for you in his home, let him appoint you to a board of directors, shake his hand or even give him the time of day?

In a new afterword to his memoir, released after the election, 1960s radical William Ayers, who admits to bombing and planning to bomb government targets in the 70's, writes that the campaign controversy over their relationship was an effort by Obama’s political enemies to “deepen a dishonest narrative” about the candidate. “We had served together on the board of a foundation, knew one another as neighbors and family friends, held an initial fund-raiser at my house, where I’d made a small donation to his earliest political campaign,” he writes. Obama had been denying most of these statements for months and now we know it to be a lie.

As an internationally known figure, controversially pardoned by President Carter, Obama knowingly entered into a long term friendship with an unrepentant terrorist.

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 25, 2009 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, smokedsalmoned, John McCain is CURRENTLY friends with a CURRENTLY active terrorist, G. Gordon Liddy. Secondly, Utah (and any other state) could simply pass a law which only was in effect for, say, 2 years. Or they could repeal the law when the Federal money stopped. So the whole thing about permanently expanding the state govenment is just a staw man, without much straw.

Posted by: dickdata | March 26, 2009 9:49 AM | Report abuse

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