UPDATE: Two days after we posted this article, the Obama administration raised the response threshold by four times, to 100,000 petitions. Special.
Sometimes your tax dollars at work can be a source of incredible amusement, and I'm not just talking about Congress. Oh, no. I'm talking about the White House's official petition system, wherein Americans waste our Executive Branch's time on requests and demands of dubious value.
So, really, I could be talking about Congress.
If you're not up to speed on the White House petition system, it's an interesting use of online communication and crowdsourcing. ZDNet reader (and friend of the blog) Gary Stark suggested I take a look at the site at petitions.whitehouse.gov, thinking it might be a source of good material.
It did not disappoint.
Here's the basic premise. Anyone can login and create a petition. For anything. Let's say, for example, you'd like the United States government to build the Death Star from Star Wars. You just create a petition. There are two thresholds. The first is that you have to get 150 online signatures within 30 days for your petition to be searchable on whitehouse.gov.
The second threshold is more fun. If you happen to get 25,000 online signatures, the White House will write you an official response to the petition.
Can you see where this is going?
Some petitions haven't had much in the way of legs. For example, one petition asks the White House to revoke the license of a doctor in Florida, because the petition writers claim he's a drug dealer. That has 364 signatures. Another asks the White House to ask California Governor Jerry Brown to give ferret owners a fair hearing (seriously, you can't make this stuff up). That one has 1,197 signatures.
11,000 people (give or take a hundred) want to ban Dianne Feinstein. They don't really specify what the California senator is to be banned from, but they're pretty gung-ho about it.
And then we get to the good stuff. For example, 6,136 people have signed a petition to require NASA to do a feasibility study and conceptual design of a first generation USS Enterprise interplanetary spaceship.
None of these has gathered enough support to warrant an official response. But a few have.
Take, for example, the petition where the petition writers politely ask the Obama administration to impeach President Obama. That one got 49,890 signatures, so... yeah, the the White House responded. The short answer: no. You've got to give the White House credit, though. They used their response to tell participants that their voices are being heard.
And all that brings us to the Death Star. This is, perhaps, the best use of Executive Branch time in the history of the Republic. As it turns out, 34,435 people have requested that the White House secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016. It's always good to set a date when you have a goal.
In any case, the White House responded, with what is sure to become a cult classic, the wonderfully named, "This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For".
Written by Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, the official response includes a few reasons why a Death Star isn't in our immediate future. These reasons include:
- The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
- The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
- Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?
Personally, I find it difficult to accept the idea that blowing up planets is bad, but that's me. In any case, I predict that the new White House petition system will be a wonderful source of amusement for many years to come. Will it be an asset to policy or governance? That's anyone's guess.
In any case, the petition for the White House to disclose all information about extra-terrestrial beings is stalled at 1,321 signatures. Apparently far more Americans want to blow up planets than know the truth about who lives there. I love this country!
Also on NEWS.COM: White House shoots down petition to build Death Star