The Kentucky town of Vicco, population 334, was little known before this February, when it did something you might not have expected from a tiny town in the heart of Appalachia. While there were a few news reports about the event in question, it wasn't until Wednesday evening, whenThe Colbert Report aired a segment on Vicco and its mayor, Johnny Cummings, that the whole country heard about it. The video, which has now been linked, embedded, and tweeted in a thousand places on the Internet, is both hilarious and heartwarming, because not only is Cummings gay, but he recently convinced the town commission to pass a non-discrimination ordinance. The resolution was passed in February; as The Los Angeles Times wrote at the time, "It's about time, said Claude Branson Jr., 58, a mullet-haired commissioner and retired coal miner. 'Discrimination just don't go no more,' he said. 'Times are changing. You've got to change with them.'" Vicco is the smallest city in the country to have passed such an ordinance, but most folks in town (at least those interviewed in the media) seem to have little problem with it, or their popular mayor (who volunteered for the job when nobody else in town wanted it).
Of course, not everyone thinks that when times change you've got to change with them. Russia recently passed a law making it illegal to engage in gay "propaganda," which includes things like telling minors you're gay or displaying a rainbow flag. The law was signed by the frequently-shirtless Vladimir Putin. The controversy over the policy and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is building, and while few people think a U.S. boycott of the games would accomplish much, athletes are coming up with a variety of ways to express their opinions to their Russian hosts. At the track and field world championships now taking place in Moscow, athletes from Sweden wore rainbow nail polish, and American distance runner Nick Symmonds dedicated his silver medal to gay friends. Gay New Zealand speed skater, Blake Skjellerup, says he'll wear a rainbow flag pin while competing in Sochi, while American figure skater Johnny Weir, who speaks Russian and has a Russian husband, plans on defying the law just by, well, being himself ("I won't stop being Johnny Weir the gay fabulous ice skater person walking down the street").
And the pressure seems to be having an effect. Russiaannounced that it wouldn't be arresting any gay athletes or fans during the games, and Russian pole vaulting legend, Yelena Isinbayeva, after making blunt anti-gay comments ("If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people"), now says she was misunderstood because of her poor English, and wants to make clear that "I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people."
Looks like tolerance is breaking out all over.
SO THEY SAY
"Using the word 'self-deportation'—it's a horrific comment to make. I don't think it has anything to do with our party. When a candidate makes those comments, obviously, it hurts us."
DAILY MEME: EDWARD SNOWDEN LEAKS AGAIN
- More breaking news from the NSA spying front!
- According to a new Washington Post report, the National Security Agency accessed unauthorized data 2,776 times. In one year.
- Here's the audit where much of the new information came from.
- Oh yeah, and the above violations are only from Fort Meade and other Washington, D.C.-area locations. "Three government officials who spoke to the Post said that the number would be significantly higher if all NSA operating units and regional centers were included."
- And there's more. Apparently the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is supposed to keep an eye on the NSA to make sure they aren't being too shifty,doesn't have too much power, and relies on the government to confess when they've been bad.
- As Exra Klein sums it up, "This is the reality of the NSA spying programs: Aside from Snowden’s leaks, we only know what the government is telling us. Of course, that’s always the case with intelligence operations. What’s scarier is that the oversight bodies only know what the government is telling them, too."
- Or as Gizmodo puts it, "It looks like the government has created a monster that no one can actually control."
- The Washington Post spoke to the NSA's director of compliance for 90 minutes, but was later prohibited from using any of his quotes. Alex Pareene thinks that's a clear example of a source breaking journalistic rules, and that the newspaper should publish the interview anyway.
- "There is a valuable, vital debate to be had over how much the federal government, in its intelligence programs, ought to be permitted to violate Americans’ privacy in an effort to protect Americans from a dangerous world that includes people who want to kill Americans," writes Marc Tracy. "The terrifying thing is that we are not having that debate."
- Conor Friedersdorf asks, "What would justify a Congressional investigation if not all that?"
WHAT WE'RE WRITING
- The Republican National Committee is expected to pass a resolution saying they will not participate in debates hosted by NBC or CNN. Paul Waldman writes that this is fine. In fact, he says, let these debates be moderated by conservatives. That way the public will know what each candidate’s ideology really is.
- Will immigration reform pass, or not? Gabriel Arana writes that there seems to be too much momentum behind reform for something not to get through Congress.
WHAT WE'RE READING
- Adam Gopnik imagines the slow but important way society could change in the wake of no mandatory minimum sentences.
- "Group Of Friends Engage In Passionate, Incoherent Discussion About Current Events"
- Federal judges in 49 states are begging Congress to end sequestration.
- Boycotting Russia might not be the answer to its anti-gay laws.
- Some conservative lawmakers say there is a grassroots effort supporting their push to shut down the government unless Obamacare is defunded.
- Islamists in Egypt are urging for a "Day of Rage" in response to the military's crackdown.
POLL OF THE DAY
This week, a group of religious leaders met with Senator Chuck Grassley to propose a repeal of a provision in the Internal Revenue Code that prevents churches and other religious groups from endorsing political candidates. According to a Pew Research Center poll from 2012, 66 percent of Americans want the provision to stay right where it is. Not only does the majority of the country oppose this, but all subsets of the population—from Republicans to Democrats, and all religious groups—also oppose allowing religious leaders to cast their lot with politicians.