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Pennies, Marijuana and Cell Phones: The Top Questions for Obama's Google Hangout

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Today at 4:50 PM ET, President Obama will take questions in a Google+ Hangout. 16,514 people submitted 7,520 questions and cast 97,853 votes for what questions that they wanted President Obama to answer.


This is President Obama's second Google Plus Hangout. His first took place on January 30, 2012. On August 29, 2012, President Obama participated in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" thread. In that thread he responded to 10 questions (most of which were the most popular questions). Some of the questions that he chose to respond to were "soft-ball" questions such as,"Who's your favourite [sic] Basketball player? and "What's the recipe for the White House's beer?" At the same time he avoided several more popular questions about marijuana and the drug war.

For today, this is a list of the top ten questions by votes in favor:

1. "After all of the cut backs, we are still producing pennies, a currency that is almost never used and cost more to produce than they are worth. Why havent [sic] we followed other countries and stopped making pennies? It is an easy and small way to cut back!"

Votes in favor: 5,876

Submitted by: allhighruler, New Orleans


2. "The world spent $1735 billion on war in 2012, it would take $135 billion to totally eradicate poverty. NASAs budget is around half a penny of an individual persons tax dollar Why do we spend so much in war and so little in education and exploration?"

Votes in favor: 4341

Submitted by: drnickphd, Geelong, Australia


3. “The U.S. has fallen SHARPLY behind in education. We stand in the shadow of leaders like Finland, China, India & Singapore. Aside from “access” itself, what can we do to make Americans the best intellectuals, scientists & artists in the world?"


Votes in favor: 3115

Submitted by: carsonkahn, New York City


4. "What is being done to make the internet accessible for everyone. Currently we have big monopolies that provide wired internet to residential areas. How can we catch up to other countries that have already surpassed us in speed and cost for access?"

Votes in favor: 2687

Submitted by: benaucutt, Chicago


5. "Government funding for science research has become increasingly scarce. Hence, there is less money for labs and the companies they purchase supplies from. With limited funding, how will we stay at the forefront of cutting edge research in the future?"

Votes in favor: 2226

Submitted by: byeung, San Diego, CA


6. "Given that Washington & Colorado recently decriminalized marijuana, how will we reconcile federal drug laws with state-level legalizations? What role might the free market play? How do we deal with marijuana while tightening the noose on tobacco?"


Votes in favor: 1304

Submitted by: carsonkahn, New York City


7. “Mr. President, I'm concerned about Internet privacy. Bills like SOPA and CISPA, seek to cure legitimate problems through woefully incorrect, detrimental means. How can we best protect intellectual property without using invasive methods? Thank you."

Votes in favor: 1253

Submitted by: Anonymous

8. "Mr. President, would you support a small, targeted fix to copyright law that allows folks to use the devices and digital media that they have already paid for, however they like, and for their own personal use?"


Votes in favor: 1220

Submitted by: Public Knowledge, Washington DC


9. "The vast majority of gun crime in this country is the result of gang violence, which is fueled, primarily, by the sale of illegal drugs. What is your opinion on ending the war on drugs to make our country a safer place to live?"

Votes in favor: 620

Submitted by: plainarcane, Westland, MI


10. "What is being done to curb the influence of lobbies? How is the US supposed to progress in this world if the future is being dictated by special interest?"

Votes in favor: 554

Submitted by: ignite023


Question 8 by Public Knowledge is referring to the recent ruling by the decision of the Librarian of Congress which made it illegal to unlock your own cellphone as of January 26, 2013.

Unlocking is a relatively simple technique where users can connect their phone to their computer and adjust some of the settings to allow for the phone to use a SIM card from another carrier. In effect, unlocking a phone allows phones on one service to be used on another service. This technique is used widely among international travelers as well as for our service members before they deploy abroad. Essentially unlocking is using technology to unleash the full-potential of a wireless device (not to be confused with jail breaking which is another technique).

I explored this issue in an article in the Atlantic that went viral: The Most Ridiculous Law of 2013 (So Far): It Is Now a Crime to Unlock Your Smartphone. From the article:





PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.*

The follow-up article for the Atlantic, The Law Against Unlocking Cellphones is anti-Consumer, Anti-Business, and Anti-Common Sense includes the story of a small business owner Sina Khanifar whose company provided a service to unlock phones. He received a cease and desist letter from Motorola that used the threat of five years in prison to scare him into shutting down his company.

Sina has also created a White House petition to reverse the decision of the Librarian of Congress, and propelled by the Atlantic article going viral (in fact so popular that it briefly knocked the Atlantic’s website off-line), that petition now has over 67,000 signatories (it has to get to 100,000).

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