When the White House promised to answer citizen petitions on the most pressing problems of the day, it may not have had extraterrestrial life in mind
When the White House promised to answer citizen petitions on the most pressing problems of the day, it may not have had extraterrestrial life in mind.
More than 10,000 petitions have poured in since the new initiative was announced last month in a bid to bring government closer to the people. And issues like massive federal deficits, two wars and high unemployment don't appear to be on the people's minds.
One petition wants to legalize raw milk sales. Others seek to mandate the spaying and neutering of pets, abolish the Transportation Security Administration and 'formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race.'
The first responses could come as early as Tuesday.
Some of the petitions are somewhat cryptic: 'Make Bribing Politicians Illegal' refers to banning corporate campaign contributions. Others are narrow; the second most popular by number of signatures calls for an investigation into the prosecution of Sholom Rubashkin, a former kosher slaughterhouse executive spending 27 years in prison on 86 financial fraud charges. And others could use help with their marketing, such as 'Allow Seriously Backlogged EB2/EB3 Beneficiaries with Their I-140 Approved to File I-485 and Apply for EAD & AP.' Nonetheless, that last one, which would aid people awaiting employment green cards, has collected more than 7,500 signatories.
Then there's Stephen Bassett, who wants to end the 'truth embargo,' or what he believes is the government's deliberate decision to withhold what it has long known about the existence of extraterrestrial life.
'The fact is that there is an extraterrestrial presence. I know this because I'm familiar with the research and a couple hundred government witnesses have come forward in the last couple years,' he said. 'Acknowledging this E.T. presence is about open government.'
Mr. Bassett decided to post a petition as soon as he heard about the opportunity and immediately sent a link to his 10,000-person email list. He posted to six Facebook pages and his Twitter account and the petition now has more than 9,500 signatories, making it the 20th most popular.
The 'We the People' petition project was proposed a couple of years ago by Macon Phillips, director of digital strategy at the White House. The idea languished until David Plouffe, a major force behind the 2008 Obama campaign's online push, arrived in January to serve as a senior adviser to the president. Mr. Plouffe overrode concerns of others in the White House about increased workload, privacy implications and sticky situations such as requests for clemency for a particular individual, a White House official said.
The petition drive was inspired by a similar project in Britain. The most popular petition there currently calls for convicted London rioters to lose government benefits.
这项名为“我们即人民”(We the People)的请愿活动是几年前由白宫负责数字策略的菲利普斯(Macon Phillips)提议发起的。这个想法之后被搁置起来，直到今年1月普劳夫(David Plouffe)出任总统高级顾问后才被重新提起。2008年奥巴马竞选总统时，普劳夫在网上为其助阵，立下过汗马功劳。据一位政府官员称，白宫很多人对此活动疑虑重重，担心会增加政府工作量，加大保密工作的复杂性，或是让政府陷入难堪，但普劳夫力排众议推出了这一举措。
Mr. Phillips allows that some U.S. petitions submitted so far are a bit outside the White House agenda for America. 'Some of these issues are going to be inconvenient,' he said. He added that all these issues are important to someone and deserve a government response.
Asked which official or agency would tackle the E.T. question, Mr. Phillips said it would be decided at a meeting the next day. Asked after the meeting who drew the assignment, a spokesman said they wouldn't be commenting until the official response is ready.
What about that truth embargo? 'You're going to have to wait,' Mr. Phillips said.
Of the 202 petitions posted with at least 150 signatures, not one mentions President Barack Obama's jobs plan, something the White House talks about almost every day.
Indeed, the only mention of federal spending is in reference to the TSA's 'monstrous budget,' which, at $7.7 billion, is 0.2% of the total. Only one petition refers to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that's a call to provide troops with free Internet service.
The White House's initial threshold for consideration was 5,000 electronic signatures in 30 days, but more than 30 petitions met that in the first week, blowing past expectations. Officials then raised the bar to 25,000 names.
Mr. Bassett's E.T. petition quickly surpassed the first threshold and he hopes a 'very large number' will force attention to the issue. 'We'll never catch up with the legalized marijuana petition, but everyone knows that.'
Marijuana legalization is the reigning champion of we'll-take-any-question politics, reaching the top of the heap every time the White House takes suggestions from the public. Indeed, five petitions calling for pot legalization in one form or other are in the top 10. Mr. Obama has said repeatedly he doesn't favor legalization.
Dan Bingham, a 25-year-old software developer from Bloomington, Ind., was having trouble sleeping when he tried his hand at a petition draft and picked the first issue that came to his mind: forcing the patent office to stop issuing software patents, a move he thinks will protect small developers from larger companies. He accidentally submitted his petition before proofreading it and posted the link on a couple of techie websites. The next morning, he found several errors in his text, but the link had already gone viral.
'People were signing it despite my poor writing, though the most frequent comment was something along the lines of, 'Did anyone proof read this?' The answer is 'No. They didn't,'' he said. His petition is now the 12th most popular, with more than 13,800 signatures.
JP Massar, a blogger for the liberal DailyKos website, decided not filing a petition was the better strategy for one of his causes: promoting same-sex marriage. After consulting with like-minded allies, he concluded either Mr. Obama would say he was against it, which would hurt the cause, or he would be for it, which could hurt the president's re-election chances.