Administration Proudly Announces That If Your 'We The People' Petition Aligns With Its Priorities, Something Might Actually Happen

from the go-team-Government! dept

Let’s get this right out in the open. I don’t have any particular animosity towards this administration. I just don’t find it to be an improvement over the last one (which I found to be pretty much terrible from all angles). This wouldn’t be notable except for the fact that this administration definitely considers itself to be a vast improvement over the last one and has made several proclamations advancing that theory. (“Most transparent administration,” anyone?)

We fully expect politicians to be self-serving and those sitting atop the heap to be the most self-serving of all. The White House blog has taken the passage of the cell phone-unlocking bill as an opportunity to toot lean on its own horn.

On Friday, August 1, President Obama signed a bill into law that again made it legal for consumers to unlock their cell phones in order to take them to a carrier that best suits their needs. It marked the very first time a We the People petition led to a legislative fix.

This last fact — the first time a petition resulted in a legislative fix — should be an admission of failure. Instead, it’s used to depict the administration as a champion of the people.

The petition, which arose in the aftermath of the Library of Congress’ horrible decision to not renew this DMCA exemption, attained the number of signatures needed to obtain a White House response. While many others with the minimum number of signatures have been steadily ignored, the White House responded to this one. Beyond the response posted at the We the People site, more was apparently going on behind the scenes.

Folks here at the White House leapt into action. The White House policy team convened more than a half-dozen agencies and offices’ senior officials to ask a simple question: How can we move this issue forward? After careful deliberation, it was clear to us: The Administration couldn’t agree more with petitioners, and we came out in strong support of again making it legal for consumers to unlock their devices.

According to the narrative at the White House blog, the administration did all the heavy lifting and motivated Congress to pass a bill — though it still took a year and a half for a very narrowly tailored solution that only temporarily addresses the immediate problem, but totally ignores the underlying problem (the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA). But whatever the details behind the scenes, what’s out front is more of the same.

The message here is that if your petition happens to align with the administration’s priorities/viewpoints, you’ll receive a swift response and maybe even some legislative activity. If your petition happens to run contrary to the administration, the best you can expect is some long-delayed talking points in response… if you receive anything at all.

The We the People site is a good idea — an easy way for citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to petition their government. But that idea has been largely destroyed by the administration’s refusal to treat it as anything more than a place to cherry pick requests for PR purposes. If this site’s ever going to serve the higher purpose it’s supposed to, it needs to be given more than rote recitals of position papers. The administration needs to start responding seriously to petitions that challenge its positions or run contrary to its aims. And it needs to stop ignoring anything that’s passed the signature threshold. The way it handles this has little if anything to do with respecting the public’s First Amendment rights.

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Comments on “Administration Proudly Announces That If Your 'We The People' Petition Aligns With Its Priorities, Something Might Actually Happen”

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Anonymous Coward says:

exactly! out of all the legitimate petitions, Obama and his tag alongs have only taken notice of and actually done something once! even then, it was only because of the fuck up instigated by the Library of Congress! and on top of that, if i remember correctly, this ‘bill signed into law’ is for 1 year only. so whooppeeeeeeee dooo!!

Michael (profile) says:

The message here is that if your petition happens to align with the administration’s priorities/viewpoints, you’ll receive a swift response and maybe even some legislative activity.

I think you have that wrong. It seems more like if you happen to petition for something that the administration is already inclined to try to address, there is a chance that it may look like your petition has, in some way, helped push something along.

Austin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nope, neither. The correct statement should read as follows:

If your petition happens to align with something that only Apple, Inc, and literally no other person, government entity, or corporation has any problem with, including all applicable lobbyists, and it also cannot be used as a crudgel by one political party to beat up on the other, then there is a greater than 50% chance, though no certainty, that you might get a bill to a vote without a filibuster, and then signed into law.

In other words, this law got passed because it’s like “protecting the children” so nobody on earth wants to vote against it. What kind of jackass wants you to NOT be able to unlock your phone?

Oh and Tim? I voted for Obama the Liberal and I got Obama the Centrist, so I agree, he really isn’t MUCH (some, but not much) of an improvement over Dubya. But think of it this way: the alternative would’ve been McCain or Romney. Even if you don’t like Obama at all, you gotta admit he was worth voting for to keep the alternative out for 8 years. I mean, corporations are people? Bomb absolutely everything? Isn’t Obama a little better than THAT? Just a thought.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I doubt that a Republican administration would have been as successful at accomplishing a corporatist/military agenda.The Democrats in the legislature would have made more effort to push back. Instead. most of them silently hide behind their “Yay for our guy” signs that the party whip handed to them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah; the issue here is that if you get something with the requisite signatures on We the People, that means that you’ve got a sizable portion of the citizenry who felt the issue important enough to weigh in on.

This means that:
a) It’s an important issue that needs to be addressed by government
b) It’s an important issue the government needs to take into consideration when making policy (but is outside their power to directly influence)
c) It’s not an important issue, and the fact that such a group felt it was shows that something needs to be done about messaging and vision
d) It’s not an important issue, and the fact that it’s being brought up shows an increasing discontent with the way the current administration is running things (people no longer have faith that they are being properly represented)
e) The citizenry are so happy about the way things are going that they have plenty of spare time to use in signing joke petitions on WTP.

Unfortunately, the administration appears to be tossing most of the petitions into bin E where they should be concentrating on bins A – C. Or else we’re really at D, which should be putting the administration on Code Orange.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is about the responses, not the actions on the responses. It is easy to make legislation if the issue is simple to understand the effects of. The problem is the lack of a reasonable engagement with the petitions. The thresholds are not respected and if an answer arrives, more often than not it is sparse on objective information or specific explanations of the issues faced when legislating in the area. The purely political responses and the lack of engagement with some of the petitions are obvious problems.

Rocco Maglio (profile) says:

The library of congress is part of the Administration

Another amusing fact about all this is that the Library of Congress reports to the President not Congress. The Obama PR campaign knew that few people would know this so they could blame the whole thing on congress. A member of the Obama Administration (the head of the Library of Congress) changed the rules. All they needed to do was replace this over reaching person with someone who would follow the past precedent and the problem would have been solved. Alternately they could have used the name of the institution to score cheap political points and do very little to solve the issue.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: The library of congress is part of the Administration

I think it’s unfair to blame the “Library of Congress’ horrible decision”. Laws shouldn’t need perpetual exemptions, but the only way to motivate legislative action is to stop pretending everything is a-okay.

Frankly, they need to tear the whole DMCA down and start over, but we all know what a long shot that is.

Scote (profile) says:

Works like radio music requests

Reminds me of the way radio show call in requests worked.

On many “request” shows the DJ’s were actually playing off of strict play lists, so they didn’t really take requests, but they made it seem like they did. They would give out the request line number and take enough callers until someone requested a song on the list. Then the DJ would play the recorded call with the request and the song, and it comes off just as if the DJ is taking live calls and playing whatever people are requesting.

Marceps (profile) says:

Like Radio Requests

I had just graduated seventh grade and was really into music. I bugged local DJs all summer with requests. The DJs played none of them.

Towards the end of August, my family moved away. On my last morning in that house, I requested a song that had been playing every few hours or so for the past couple of weeks.

Within five minutes, my request was on the air.

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