Friday, February 25, 2011

Meeting With the Masterminds

Meeting With the Masterminds
By Nicole Russell on 2.25.11 @ 6:07AM

Last week President Obama had a closed-door meeting with a dozen barons of the modern tech age. Among those he attempted to wine and dine guests were Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Erick Schmidt, and Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs. He also plied them with pro-businesses mantras, though he practices policies that hurt them.

While the press was not allowed to cover the event, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released an e-mail about the dinner. Apparently Obama chose these 12 titans of technology because "American companies like these have been leading by investing in the creativity and ingenuity of the American people, creating cutting-edge new technologies and promoting new ways to communicate."

Indeed: If anyone knows how to lead the country by pushing it to nearly-boundless creative and communicative abilities technologically, these guests – who also included Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, and Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle -- might know a thing or two about it. According to Carney, during the two and a half hour meal, the president discussed "his proposals to invest in research and development and expand incentives for companies to grow and hire, along with his goal of doubling exports over five years to support millions of American jobs."

That's the sort of statement a president would make in a meeting surrounded by business tycoons. Unfortunately, Obama's policies that would "expand incentives for companies to grow and hire" do the opposite. If his track record is any indication, only a nearly untouchable CEO of a major corporation worth billions would be encouraged. But let's remember that when Facebook began, it was just Zuckerberg and a few like-minded geniuses; many businesses start out small. Unless the health care reform law is repealed, Obama's most prized legislation will stunt the very growth he claims to want to create. In just three years under Obamacare, companies with 50 plus employees will have to offer health care to employees or pay penalties of up to $2,000 per employee for all but the first 30. If start-up companies are punished by way of additional health insurance fees merely because of their size, many will buckle under the excess cost or keep their company under 50 employees. Obama's ideas don't advance growth; they nip it in the bud.

Obama courts businesses, pulling them shoulder-to-shoulder with one hand while crossing his fingers behind his back with the other. During a recent weekly radio and Internet address, Obama commended Intel for its contribution to promoting math and science education: "Winning this competition depends on the ingenuity and creativity of our private sector. But it's also going to depend on what we do as a nation to make America the best place on earth to do business." It's not just empty talk; it's perverse.

Obama may extol the virtues of the private sector, but as House Republicans pointed out in their "Pledge to America," the government under his administration has "increased a staggering 88 percent" (in non-security discretionary spending). The desire for increased power has accompanied increased spending. A 2009 Senate bill, dubbed the "kill-switch" bill, would give Obama emergency control of the Internet giving him the ability to flip a switch and "shut down online traffic by seizing private networks" in an undefined emergency. The bill died then but in light of the Egypt protests, proponents of the bill announced they will bring the bill back to the table.

Another flawed concept that hurts businesses is the Obama-supported FCC ruling in favor of net neutrality. While some companies, such as Google, support the idea -- many in the tech industry are happy to support subsidies for themselves and regulations that harm less established competitors -- many do not. Cisco Systems, whose CEO and chairman John Chambers attended the dinner, is one such opponent. In 2008, its senior managing director, Robert Pepper, described the effects of net neutrality thusly: "Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing. They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer." With additional regulation, in other words, all bets are off.

Here we have Obama's modus operandi: He might sidle up to technology companies and talk about making "America the best place on earth to do business," but his policies guarantee it won't be. Don't take my word for it, though. You can Google it yourself.

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