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U.S. Cracks Down on Flying With Emotional Support Animals

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  • The Department of Transportation announced new rules Wednesday that only allow dogs to be considered “service animals” for the purposes of flying on a plane.
  • This means airlines will soon no longer need to accommodate emotional support animals and can block them from getting free airfare as well as cabin space.
  • In the past, the department treated service animals and emotional support animals largely the same, despite there being a difference.
  • The rule change has been celebrated by airline groups and passengers who argue that emotional support animals are often used as a way to game the system and transport an animal for free.
  • However, critics of the rule said it would be better to more strictly regulate what qualifies as an emotional support animal and to require training that is more in-line with what service animals go through.

No More Peacocks on Planes

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced new rules on Wednesday that more clearly define what qualifies as a service animal, allowing airlines to turn away hundreds of thousands of animals classified as emotional support animals.

In the past, the Department of Transportation (DOT) treated service animals and emotional support animals largely the same, despite there being a difference. Service animals are trained to help someone with a disability; with certain types of animals being defined under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Emotional support animals are prescribed by a mental health professional and have no training requirements.

For U.S. airlines, there will now be a fundamental difference. According to the DOT’s new rules, airlines will only be required to allow “a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

This means no more turkeys, cats, peacocks, parrots, squirrels, or any other animal being allowed, free-of-charge and outside a secure carrier in the cabin of the plane.

Rule Has Long Been in the Works

This new rule wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. For years airlines have asked the DOT to regulate the issue out of concern that people were passing off their pets as emotional support animals. With the lack of regulation about what an ’emotional support animal’ actually is, there was little recourse for airlines.

Rules around emotional support animals have proven to be much more relaxed. In fact, there are mental health companies that will give such a classification online without ever physically seeing the patient or the animal. On top of people trying to get their pets onto flights for free, according to the DOT, airlines were fed up with “requests to transport unusual species of animals onboard aircraft.”

These animals often lacked specific training to be transported in planes, in a cramped space, and surrounded by people for hours on end, leading to animals misbehaving on planes.

According to American Airlines, between 2016 and 2017, the number of emotional support animals being brought on planes went from 481,000 to over 750,000.

The new rule isn’t a blank check for service animal owners.

Under the new rule, airlines are allowed to block certain service dogs from being on a plane if they’re obnoxious to passengers – a rare occurrence considering how well-trained the dogs are.

Additionally, they can ask that owners fill out a new form “attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health.”

Another stand-out in the new ruling was the decision to exclude other highly trained service animals. The DOT considered expanding the rules to allow more than just dogs to be qualified as service animals, which are by far the most common type of service animal.

However, The American With Disabilities Act (ADA) also includes miniature horses as service animals. Those horses can often be smaller than some of the largest breed of dogs. Still, there’s nothing in the ADA that conflicts with the DOT’s decision, as it allows for some restrictions to be placed on miniature horses.

While the ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses, there are other intelligent animals that have been used as service animals, such as Capuchin monkeys. These monkeys are increasingly used as service animals because of their dexterity for people with mobility impairments.

Airlines and Services Speak Out

Airlines for America, a trade group for U.S. airlines, was happy with the new rule.

“The Department of Transportation’s final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crewmembers from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs,” it said in a statement.

American Airlines made a similar statement, with a spokesperson telling outlets: “This new rule reflects a respect for individuals with disabilities who travel with legitimate service animals, which we share while providing clear and practical guidelines that will eliminate the abuse of the system that has been a source of concern for our team members and customers.”

CertaPet, a company that will screen animals and provides letters saying they are emotional support, said in a statement that the rule is “a great disservice to those facing mental health challenges that get emotional support from their animal.” 

The company thinks a better approach would have been to more strictly regulate what qualifies as an emotional support animal and to require training more in-line with what service animals go through.

We understand that there have been incidents that have discredited emotional support animals and the service they provide, but those situations could be prevented by increased regulation,” CertaPet added.

“We think emotional support peacocks are ridiculous too.”

The new rules aren’t in place quite yet. They’re set to go into effect 30 days after they enter the Federal Registrar, which still hasn’t happened. Additionally, this ruling doesn’t preclude airlines from freely allowing emotional support animals on their flights.

It’s recommended to check with your airline before expecting your emotional support animal will get free airfare.

See What Others Are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (BBC)

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Kathy Griffin, Ethan Klein, More Suspended From Twitter Over Elon Musk Impersonations

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Many have pretended to be Musk in an attempt to highlight the potential issues paid-for verifications could cause on the platform.


Musk Takes on Impersonations

Comedian Kathy Griffin and internet personality Ethan Klein are among the many Twitter users that have been permanently suspended for impersonating the platform’s new CEO, Elon Musk.

Impersonation has long been against Twitter’s rules, but on Sunday, the billionaire took the policy a step further by announcing that “any Twitter handles engaging in impersonation without clearly specifying ‘parody’ will be permanently suspended.”

“Previously, we issued a warning before suspension, but now that we are rolling out widespread verification, there will be no warning,” Musk explained. “This will be clearly identified as a condition for signing up to Twitter Blue.”

Musk also said that any user who changes their name will temporarily lose their verification check mark. 

The announcement came as many verified users began mocking Musk by changing their name and photo to match his, then tweeting jokes that were either absurd or out of character for the business mogul. Many did this to protest Musk’s plan to charge an $8 monthly subscription fee that would allow any Twitter user to become verified. 

Klein was one of many who changed his name to “Elon Musk” and made a photo of the CEO his profile image. The podcast host sent out several jokes, including one referencing the increased use of the N-word on the platform since Musk’s takeover, and another referencing Jeffrey Epstein.

“Even though Jeffrey Epstein committed horrible crimes, I do still miss him on nights like this for his warmth and camaraderie. Rest In Peace old Friend,” he wrote. 

His account was quickly banned, but Klein defended himself on TikTok, arguing that both his cover photo and bio labeled his account as “parody” and therefore should be acceptable under Musk’s guidelines. 

“What more do you want from me?” he asked. “Comedy is dead. And Elon Musk dug the grave.” 

Protests of Musk’s Twitter Control

For her part, Griffin likewise tweeted while masquerading as Musk, writing that after “spirited discussion with the females in my life, I’ve decided that voting blue for their choice is only right.”

Musk joked that she was actually “suspended for impersonating a comedian” and added that she can have her account back if she pays for the $8 subscription. Griffin, however, found another way around the ban.

The comedian logged into her late mother’s Twitter account and began using the hashtag #FreeKathy while calling out Musk. 

“Mad Men” actor Rich Sommer and podcaster Griffin Newman have also had their accounts suspended for tweeting as Musk. Other celebrities, including TV producer Shonda Rhimes, musician Sara Bareilles, and model Gigi Hadid have protested Musk’s Twitter reign by leaving the platform altogether.

“For a long time, but especially with its new leadership, it’s becoming more and more of a cesspool of hate & bigotry, and it’s not a place I want to be a part of,” Hadid wrote on Instagram over the weekend. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Variety) (The Verge)

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AOC Says Twitter Notifications “Conveniently” Disabled After Criticizing Musk

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“What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me,” she tweeted at the new CEO.


AOC Vs. Elon Musk

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said several of her Twitter features are “conveniently not working” after feuding with the platform’s new owner, billionaire Elon Musk.

Ocasio-Cortez has never been shy about her views on Musk. After he officially took charge of Twitter last week, the congresswoman began criticizing his new proposals for the social networking site, specifically his plan to charge an $8 subscription fee for verification. 

“Lmao at a billionaire earnestly trying to sell people on the idea that ‘free speech’ is actually a $8/mo subscription plan,” she wrote on Tuesday.

“Your feedback is appreciated, now pay $8,” Musk replied the following day.

Around an hour later, the business mogul sent another tweet appearing to call Ocasio-Cortez out for selling $58 sweatshirts. 

“Proud of this and always will be,” she shot back. “My workers are union, make a living wage, have full healthcare, and aren’t subject to racist treatment in their workplaces. Items are made in USA. Team AOC honors and respects working people. You should try it sometime instead of union-busting.”

In a follow-up tweet, she noted that proceeds go to community organizing programs, including one that tutors students who are falling behind because of COVID-19.

AOC’s Mentions Not Working

On Wednesday evening, just hours after her back-and-forth with Musk, Ocasio-Cortez told her followers that her “Twitter mentions/notifications conveniently aren’t working tonight.”

“I was informed via text that I seem to have gotten under a certain billionaire’s skin,” she added. “Just a reminder that money will never [buy] your way out of insecurity, folks.” 

The issue seemingly continued into Thursday morning when the Democrat tweeted a screenshot of her notifications page, which loaded no results. 

Why should people pay $8 just for their app to get bricked when they say something you don’t like?” she tweeted at Musk. “This is what my app has looked like ever since my tweet upset you yesterday. What’s good? Doesn’t seem very free speechy to me.”

Musk has repeatedly claimed that one of his primary motives to buy Twitter was to protect free speech. Once taking the reigns as CEO, though, he did say he would start a content moderation council and make decisions jointly with them.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Insider)

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South Carolina County Votes Against Moving LGBTQ+ Friendly Books Away from Children’s Section

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Efforts to limit LGBTQ+ content in libraries first began over the summer.


Attempts to Restrict LGBTQ+ Displays

The county council in Greenville County, South Carolina this week voted against discussing a resolution that would move all books “promoting sexuality” to the adult section.

This resolution is the culmination of months of turmoil in Greenville County. In June, libraries in the county removed Pride displays at the direction of library officials. Then in September, the county’s Republican Party executive board passed a resolution to call on the County Council to restrict access to books with LGBTQ+ themes and characters. 

The resolution was proposed by Joe Dill, an outgoing council member, as well as a member of the county’s Republican Party executive board. It proposed the council “officially order that no books or content, including digital copies or online accessible materials, promoting sexuality be allowed in the Children’s Sections of our public libraries.” 

Resolution Rejected

However, the resolution required the council to suspend its regular rules in order to discuss it as it was not submitted to the council via committee. The final vote was 9 to 3 against the suspension of the rules and effectively killed the resolution. 

Those that voted against it viewed the resolution as an overreach.

“We just do not believe that’s our job to get involved in the library’s business,” Council member Ennis Fett said to a local news outlet. “We appoint a board. We can not set a precedent of micromanaging the library board, because if we do that, then, we will be micromanaging all boards and commissions that we appoint.” 

Although the council decided not to get involved, the library still has the final decision to make regarding these books. Their meeting to discuss the matter is scheduled for December 5. 

See what others are saying: (Greenville News) (The Post and Courier) (7 News)

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