Boy Scouts and their families deliver signatures protesting the ban. GLAAD
Today, on a muggy afternoon in Grapevine, Texas, members of the Boy Scouts of America's National Council voted 61-38 percent to stop discriminating against kids in the program on the basis of sexual orientation, overturning a national ban on gay Scouts that the organization has enforced for decades. The BSA will continue barring gay adults from serving as scoutmasters and volunteers, meaning that teenagers who come out during their time with the program could be booted after they turn 18. The decision is seen as a compromise between church groups that partner with the Scouts and those eager to see the program fully end its discrimination against gays.
"No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," states the new resolution, acknowledging that "[y]outh are still developing, learning about themselves and who they are, developing their sense of right and wrong, and understanding their duty to God to live a moral life."
"It's an incomplete step, but still a step in the right direction," Zach Wahls, an Eagle Scout raised by two lesbian mothers, and founder of Scouts for Equality, tells Mother Jones. His organization, along with Scouts, parents, and volunteers who support overturning the ban, have been rallying in Texas for days, across from the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center, where more than 1,400 BSA voting members from across the United States cast their votes this afternoon. Scouts in uniform faced off against about two dozen protesters supporting than ban—and "a couple local guys driving by in trucks, saying anti-gay stuff," Wahls says.
Controversy over the ban picked up last fall, when major backers like the Intel Foundation and UPS stopped funding the program because of its discriminatory policy. In January, the BSA said it would vote on the issue. The following month, President Obama said he supported overturning the ban, and celebrities like Carly Rae Jespen and Dr. Phil followed suit. There have been over 1.8 million signatures submitted through Change.org in favor of overturning the ban, according to Rich Ferraro, vice president of communications at GLAAD, a gay right group, in contrast to 19,000 signatures in favor of it, delivered by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian organization.
The Boy Scouts, which was founded in 1910 with an oath promising that Scouts would be "morally straight," have a long history of discriminating against gay members. In 1980, an Eagle Scout and aspiring Scout leader was kicked out for attending his prom with a male date. In June 2000, the US Supreme Court affirmed in a 5-4 decision that the Boy Scouts could continue barring gay Scout leaders. And as recently as April, 2012, an Ohio mom and den leader named Jennifer Tyrrell was forced out of the organization for being gay.
The new policy, which kicks in January 1, makes it so that member troops can no longer discriminate against gay youth. But anyone who is gay and over 18 years old still won't be allowed to be a Scout leader or volunteer. (The Boy Scouts' coed Venturing program, aimed at young adults, will allow gay members until they are 21.) This means that gay Scouts like 16-year-old Pascal Tessier can continue to participate in the program without fear of being kicked out, and will have the opportunity to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout like his older brother has. But under the new policy, he would still be banned from the program when he turns 18.
When Mother Jones asked BSA whether or not it would eventually consider voting on the ban on gay adult members, a spokesperson said: "This is not about a step or progression…It is the option that did not, in some way, prevent kids who sincerely want to be a part of Scouting from experiencing this life-changing program and to remain true to the long-standing virtues of Scouting."
Tyrrell, the mom ousted for being gay and still unwelcome under the new policy, said in a press release, "I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until there's a place for everyone in Scouting, my work will continue."
The last time Congress tried to pass major copyright reforms, 2011's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), it pissed off just about every corner of the internet, from Google to Wikipedia to the Teen Witch Fan Club. SOPA and PIPA critics certainly wanted an update to America's rusty copyright laws, just not one that trampled on free speech in the name of catching criminals.
The bipartisan Unlocking Technology Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) on May 8, may be the compromise that privacy advocates have long desired. Instead of giving law enforcement more power to crack down on internet users, the bill protects law-abiding Americans who modify the cellphones, computers, and software that they own—a proposal that could help everyone from DJs to the visually impaired. There's just one problem: The two giant entertainment industry lobbying groups that backed SOPA—the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)—might not back Lofgren's bill.
In the last week, at least a dozen petitions that appear to be penned by Chinese citizens have been submitted to the White House's "We the People" petition site. Like the petitions that Americans have put on the site asking the president to stop gun violence or construct a Star Wars-style Death Star, the Chinese petitions range from the serious to the silly. They deal with everything from the Tiananmen Square massacre to banning a certain type of fried pancakes. The Obama administration has promised to respond to any petitions on the site that garner 100,000 signatures; so far, only one of the Chinese petitions has hit that milestone, and the White House hasn't commented on it yet.
As the Washington Post notes, in China, petitioners who travel to their local petitions office are often threatened by "thugs" hired by the same government officials that they're petitioning against, and they can even be physically harmed and deported back to their homes. So it's not surprising that Obama's painless petition site is gaining popularity. Here are seven of the craziest China-related petitions submitted so far:
What's this about? Almost 20 years ago, a college student named Zhu Ling was diagnosed as having been poisoned by Thallium, which is used to kill rodents. Today, Ling has severe brain damage and the intelligence of a six-year-old, according to International Business Times. Zhu's roommate, Sun Wei, became a suspect in the case because she had access to the substance. But Sun's grandfather held a senior symbolic position in the communist party, and she was released after eight hours of interrogation. For years, the case has drawn attention from online activists determined to prove Sun's guilt, but the case is getting attention again because another student was recently poisoned at Fudan University, according to The New Republic. Chinese citizens who feel that Sun's case exposes a corrupt justice system willing to cover up crimes associated with party members are once again turning to the internet. Here is a photo of Ling, the victim:
Photo of the victim, Zhu Ling, by the International Business Times
What do the protesters want Obama to do? According to the petition, "Resources show that the case was mystically closed due to her family's powerful political connections. Resources also show that she changed her name and entered USA by marriage fraud. To protect the safety of our citizens, we [petition] that the government investigate and deport her."
How many signatures? 143,481 since May 3, 2013
Is this issue censored in China? According to International Business Times, Chinese government censors have started deleting references to Jasmine Sun online, and search results for "Zhu Ling" don't appear. Even the name of the poison is being censored, according to The New Republic, and "the censorship has only made people more angry and suspicious." Sun's family connections to the communist party would also make the government more inclined to protect her against alleged wrongdoing.
What's this about? According to the Huffington Post, Luo Yufeng "gained notoriety in China for passing out flyers petitioning for the perfect spouse" and became a well-known internet celebrity in China. She now lives in New York City where she is still searching for the perfect man, "between 5.74 and 6.11 feet tall, is between the ages of 25 and 31" and in 2011, was working in a Brooklyn nail salon.
What do the protesters want Obama to do? Keep Luo Yufeng in the United States, because she's a "serious threat to international security" and the "Chinese government to her helpless."
How many signatures? 1,169 since May 8, 2013
Is this issue censored in China? Probably not; she's China's Kim Kardashian
What is it? The Paraxylene (PX) Project is a proposed oil refinery plant that would be built in Kunming, China. Local residents, up to 2,000 of whom protested last week, are angry that the plant will be producing the chemical Paraxylene, which used to make plastic bottles. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to this chemical can lead to nerve damage and hearing problems. The Telegraphreports that similar protests have forced PX projects to be suspended in the past.
What do the protesters want Obama to do? "Tell the Chinese government to suspend the Project PX until enough reliable assessments have been made by independent authorities so that people's health will not be harmed and our beautiful Kunming not be damaged."
How many signatures? 12,943 since May 5, 2013
Is this issue censored in China? Police officers are cracking down on protesters and distributing fliers urging them not to demonstrate, according to the Associated Press.
What's this about? On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government launched a violent military crackdown on mostly student-led protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The protests had sprung up in response to the death of Hu Yaobang, a former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party who helped usher in an era of increased government transparency. Protesters were angry over the party's rejection of Yaobing and his ideals, as well as rampant corruption and censorship. The Chinese government refuses to confirm the number of deaths that resulted from the military action. Below is the famous picture of "tank man," a protester in the square:
What do the protesters want Obama to do? They want Obama, and 100,000 people, to "remember the warriors." So presumably, they'd like China to recognize that the massacre actually happened.
How many signatures? 1,972, since May 7, 2013
Is this issue censored in China? Absolutely: The Chinese government censors search terms related to the massacre and refuses to provide information on the event.
What's this about? A jianbing is a delicious sweet and salty breakfast crepe eaten in China.
What do the protesters want Obama to do? The petitioners would like the United States to help ban the Beijing vendors from making this fried pancake.
How many signatures? 2,411 since May 7, 2013
Is this issue censored in China?It depends on whether this petition is actually a metaphor for something else entirely. There are several Chinese idioms in the petition with cryptic meanings like, "The trees may prefer calm, but the wind will not subside" and "we can no longer put up with this." That sounds ominous.
Imagine you forget to watch a new episode of Game of Thrones the night it airs. Even if coworkers stay mum about important plot points, Twitter is abuzz with spoilers. Fortunately, there's Twivo, a new program that allows Twitter users to censor their feeds from mentioning a certain TV show (and its characters) for a set time period. Jennie Lamere, a 17-year-old girl, invented the software last month—and won the grand prize at a national coding competition where Lamere was the only female who presented a project, and the only developer to work alone. Internet: Meet the reason we need more women in tech.
Lamere is a high school senior from Nashua, New Hampshire, who likes building robots, hiking, and entering "hackathon" competitions. At her all-girls school, the Academy of Notre Dame in Massachusetts, she's the only student participating in these sorts of events. Hackathons (which have nothing to do with illegal hacking) bring together programmers, developers, and designers, who compete to code an innovative new program in a limited amount of time. Lamere entered the TVnext Hack event, put on by the ad agency Hill Holliday in partnership with Mashery, in Boston on April 27 along with about 80 other competitors—all of them male, according to Lamere and one of the judges. (Mike Proulx, a spokesman for the event, says he believes other women participated, but didn't present completed projects.)
The FBI Agents Association, which represents thousands of active and retired FBI agents, announced Monday that it wants Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House intelligence committee, to be the next head of the FBI. If nominated by President Obama, Rogers would take over from Robert S. Mueller III, whose term ends in September. Konrad Motyka, president of the Association, said in a statement that Rogers "exemplifies the principles that should be possessed by the next FBI director." What are those principles? Here's where Rogers stands on four key civil liberties issues:
1.) Online privacy
Rogers introduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), not once, but twice (the bill has so far failed to advance through the Senate both times.) CISPA aimed to beef up US cybersecurity efforts by lowering the legal barriers that keep the government and tech companies from openly sharing your personal information. As dozens of privacy groups pointed out, this meant that companies like Facebook and Google could potentially give the content of your emails to government agencies without a search warrant or court order. As this handy infographic from Boing Boing shows, under CISPA, you wouldn't necessarily need to be suspected of crime for the government to see your emails—being the unlucky target of a few key search words, like "marijuana," could be enough.
2.) Due process
Since February, prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center have been on a hunger strike to protest conditions at the prison. President Barack Obama has acknowledged that Guantanamo is a "lingering problem that is not going to get better, it's going to get worse. It's going to fester." Obama has put some of that blame on Congress. Rogers is one of the lawmakers who has blocked US funds from being used to transfer prisoners out of Guantanamo. He has said, of terrorism, "We do not need [famed federal Prohibition agent] Eliot Ness on the battlefield; what we need is Gen. George S. Patton."
In a March op-ed published in U.S. News and World Report, Rogers criticized the Obama Administration for trying Sulaiman Abu Gaith, a man identified as Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, in a federal New York City court: "Recognizing we are at war means understanding it is dangerous and ineffective to bring the enemy to the United States, to grant him the same rights as U.S. citizens standing trial, including Miranda rights, the right to remain silent, and the right to a U.S. taxpayer funded attorney."
When Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a US citizen, was read his Miranda Rights, Rogers called the decision "confusing...horrible, [a] God-awful policy, and dangerous to the greater community." As my colleague Adam Serwer notes, "the only thing more embarrassing than being a federal prosecutor who doesn't understand the federal rules of criminal procedure is being a former FBI agent who doesn't understand them."
Even though President Obama could hypothetically use drone strikes to kill US citizens on American soil, and reports show the program has minimal congressional oversight, Rogers isn't concerned: "I as chairman review every single air strike we use in the war on terror, both on the civilian and the military side when it comes to terrorist strikes," he told The Hill in February. "There's plenty of oversight there."