No state Pokemon

After the recent response to the We The People petition that the government build a Death Star ("The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon."), BetaBeat.com reports that the White House has pulled a petition to establish State Pokémon for every state, arguing that it violated the site's Terms of Participation. Jessica R

oy of BetaBeat writes,

Though there are some worthwhile petitions on We the People, many Internet users have glommed on to the tool as an act of trolling. [...]

To be fair, the White House hasn’t exactly discouraged this sort of behavior. Last week, the administration released a hilarious response to a petition to build a Death Star which, while absolutely delightful, was probably not the best use of government time?

I have to say, I strongly disagree.

Granted, it's not directly productive for the government to employ pop culture experts to craft amusing refusals to any joke that over 25,000 people want to hear.  But anything that gets people to the website gets people to an environment that might point them towards issues they care about, that do deserve the government's attention.

Furthermore, the Death Star response was interesting and informative, even if it was silly.  The administration took that opportunity to illustrate parallels between the fictional geekyness of Star Wars and the real-world geekyness of the International Space Station.  They also pointed out what kinds of issues the government cares about, and in what ways they categorize those issues, and what kinds of considerations go into making financial decisions on a governmental scale.  And it's a fair bet that that more people read the Death Star response than any other White House response, even for petitions they responded favorably to.

It's a way in, is what I'm saying.  And it's a cheap-as-hell one.  I consider it an outright poor decision to pull the Pokémon petition.  Instead, they could talk about the importance of national symbol making, the American entertainment industry versus that of our foreign allies, and the interrelationship between government and pop culture.

Or they could have assigned the states official Pokémon.  I mean, seriously, why not?

Petition to reclassify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group

Boing Boing reports on a Huffington Post report about three petitions on whitehouse.gov's "We The People" platform, which allows Americans to create petitions to the government.  The website's rules require the US government administration to promptly respond to the demands made by any petition that reaches 25 thousand signatures within 30 days. All three of the petitions in question have met that requirement -- though the website's FAQ points out that the administration may choose to write one response that covers the administration's position on multiple, similar petitions, so we can probably only expect one response about this issue.

The first petition in question, Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, is according to the Huffington Post the most popular petition in We The People's history, at over 275 thousand signatures at the time I'm writing.

The second, Revoke the tax exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church & re-classify Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, covers the overlap in ground between the other two petitions, asking for both terms to be met.  The petition points out that "By granting their tax exemption we are FUNDING THEIR HATE." (Capitalization copied from the source.)  As of writing, they are at over 60 thousand signatures.

The third, which is probably the least inflammatory, but easily the most genuinely threatening to the WBC, is called Remove the Westboro Baptist Church's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and make it retroactive.  It is at almost 45 thousand signatures.

I'm going to sign all three of these petitions.  I'm against tax exempt status for religions in general, but I don't think it's hypocritical to take the opportunity to support one particular removal from the exemption, especially one of the worst ones.  It's a foot in the door for the government to begin responding reasonably to the difference between allowing free speech and endorsing organized hate.  I hope the Obama Administration responds to this popular outcry by throwing everything they have at the WBC.