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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Online petitioners: Use your freedom of speech rights wisely

  • If you want to be taken seriously, that is.
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  • Bored with playing games, watching YouTube videos and/or Facebooking on the web? Here's a scintillating new website that'll keep you entertained for hours, especially if you're a resident of a country other than the United States:  "We the People" at petitions.whitehouse.gov.
        
    OK, so this site is not brand spanking new, having been launched a little over a year ago as a "new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country." Anyone who is 13 and older can create an account an post a petition, wait for account holders to sign it and hope that it meets the 150-signature threshold to be searchable on the site. Even better, if the petition manages to get at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days, White House staff will actually review it and issue an official response.
        
    Up until a few weeks ago, "We the People" was basically hiding in plain sight, available to all but not widely utilized. That all changed with the election. Out of the 184 petitions (as of Friday morning) currently posted, at least 50 – one for each state in the union – call for that particular state to secede from the union due to Obama's reelection. A few counteract these by calling for deportation, revocation of citizenship and other sanctions imposed on those who signed the petitions. Several other petitions relate to the debates, candidates and issues brought forth during the campaign.
        
    Ah, democracy at its finest. Only in America would the administration provide the kind of wide, no-holds-barred arena that opens itself up to blatant criticism by detractors using that very same avenue. What comes around goes around?
        
    It's not that the American people haven't always had the right to submit their petitions to the White House; it was just harder to do so before. You had to develop the petition, collect the needed signatures and send all the documents off by snail mail, things that likely hindered many potential exercisers of their free speech rights.
        
    "We the People" now makes it all so easy. A few keystrokes and, ideally, well-versed thoughts and your petition is there for everyone to see. Although brooding terrorists or anyone with anything to hide probably would shy away from using the site due to its registration requirement – which, incidentally, does not hinder free speech – pretty much anyone can come up with anything they deem important. Site users are not publicly identified so there's no fear of retaliation.
        
    A word of caution is in order for those who feel the urge to start a petition on the site: Tread carefully if, in fact, you wish to be taken seriously. While many of the petitions have merit, at least that many could be deemed frivolous or even bizarre. Cases in point: That the U.S. government recognize that Israel authored the 9/11 attacks; Establish a new legal system of motorcycle riding "judges" who serve as police, judge, jury and executioner all in one; and that the White House enact a law that allows college students to return their diplomas for a 100 percent refund.
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    Unfortunately, these types of petitions detract from the sincere ones that should be taken seriously by the powers that be but don't get enough signatures because they're just not as attention grabbing. While the authors of these outrageously-worded petitions might think they are making a point and some even gather enough signatures to garner a response, most of them  serve no purpose other than providing a little entertainment.
        
    Foreigners browsing the site must think Americans are a hoot.

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