Ron DeSantis Achieves New Dickishness Personal Worst

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has had a busy week, signing several bills that will further encrappen the state and make life miserable for LGBTQ folks, all in the hope that he’ll prove himself authoritarian enough to appeal to Republican primary voters next year. He’s been traveling across America’s Dangling Appendage signing bills restricting people’s freedom while claiming that Florida is the home of freedom, as long as you’re a rightwing evangelical. (We think we’ll just stop at “evangelical” from here on, since adding “Christian” to it just makes baby Jesus sad.)

Monday, DeSantis went to New College of Florida in Sarasota, the nice little liberal arts school he’s ruining to turn into a rightwing indoctrination center, to sign several bills aimed at purifying Florida colleges and universities of “wokeness.” It was his way of twisting the knife a bit, to remind the Liberal Elites who’s in charge. Your fascists love that kind of symbolic humiliation shit, like how a former German corporal insisted in 1940 that France surrender in the same railroad car where the 1919 Armistice was signed.

But sometimes the vanquished just won’t cooperate and admit they’ve been crushed, darn them. As Yr Wonkette noted Saturday, the official graduation speaker for New College’s commencement was Dr. Scott Atlas, Donald Trump’s Infect Everyone and Let God Sort ‘Em Out COVID adviser, which was supposed to be a sick burn on the libs. Instead of going along, New College students scheduled their own commencement for tonight, and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley will deliver the keynote speech. It’s as if those libs don’t even know they’ve been owned. Sad!

We Don’t Need No Education

As we say, DeSantis went to New College to ritually defile the corpse of his enemy, by signing bills that will further his goal of ramping up white grievance against higher education and nonexistent “liberal indoctrination.” The biggie is Senate Bill 266, which defunds and prohibits “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) programs in higher education, because as we all know from racist memes, diversity is just code for white genocide. DeSantis kept a lid on the open racism and went for the respectable old dog whistle of “reverse racism” instead, saying,

“If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination. […] And that has no place in our public institutions.”

DeSantis proclaimed an end to diversity, crowing that “This bill says the whole experiment with DEI is coming to an end in the state of Florida. We are eliminating the DEI programs.”

In addition, the bill also cracks down further on academic freedom, specifying that general education classes — the core of classes for all undergrads — may not “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics,” and must not be based on

theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.

Lasting effects of Jim Crow? Certainly not in Florida! America is perfect in Florida! A history prof could teach about redlining, presumably, as long as they don’t suggest that it created a structural imbalance in how wealth is accumulated in the US, because it’s just pure coincidence that some people inherited homes in neighborhoods that had restrictive covenants, while other people never saw such generational wealth transfer. Discrimination vanished after the Fair Housing Act in 1968, because it’s right in the name of the law, and how dare you suggest that the playing field was never level?

The bill also demands that gen ed classes of all kinds emphasize “Western Civilization,” the best civilization there is, and requires that humanities classes include works from the “Western” canon, although studying inferior books from less important cultures will be tolerated for now at least.

Other bills DeSantis signed Monday included House Bill 931, which prohibits colleges from requiring a “political loyalty test” — i.e., from committing to diversity or anything like it. It also requires that all “public policy events” include equal time for opposing views, which as far as we can tell means that if you have a Pride event you have to invite Matt Walsh.

Finally, another measure will weaken tenure protections for professors, who need to be kept in line with the threat of being fired if they get too mouthy about any of this.

‘Don’t Say Gay’ On Steroids, And Worse

To mark yesterday’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 removal of LGBTQ+ identity from its list of “mental disorders” — Jesus H Christ on a Segway, it took that long! — DeSantis signed four anti-LGBTQ measures into law, ensuring that civil rights attorneys and activists will at least have a booming business for the next few years as they work to shut that shit down. Honestly, it’s well past time that, instead of the Bugs Bunny gif, we instead force Florida back into the US of A and make it respect all its residents’ rights.

Florida’s state medical board last year adopted rules restricting gender-affirming care for trans youth. Yesterday, DeSantis made it a matter of law by signing Senate Bill 254, which prohibits puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgery for minors (as we always point out, gender-affirming surgery is already extremely rare for patients under 18).

As indy journalist Erin Reed notes, this one’s far worse than the usual run of such bills, because it also bans nurse practitioners from providing any gender-affirming meds, which won’t just deny care to minors but to adults, since according to Florida healthcare provider SPEKTRUM Health, up to 80 percent of gender-affirming care in Florida is provided by NPs. As Reed reports, this has already led to appointments being cancelled and people losing access to medication.

The bill became effective as soon as DeSantis signed it, and the Human Rights Campaign reports that parents who are already suing to block the state medical board’s anti-trans measures are seeking an emergency order to block SB 254 immediately. Other lawsuits are certain to follow.

DeSantis also signed what might be the most restrictive “bathroom bill” in the country, HB 1521, as Reed explains.

The wording of the bill states that if a cisgender person is in the bathroom with a transgender person, an employee can tell the transgender person to leave. Should the transgender person not leave immediately for any reason, they will be charged with criminal trespass, which can carry sentences of up to 1 year in jail. […]

While the provisions do not ban all bathroom usage, they cast a wide net over an alarming number of locations that would fall under definitions of “public” in the bill. This includes all buildings owned or leased by any governmental entity, educational institutions spanning from elementary schools to private colleges and universities, numerous hospitals owned by universities, many sports arenas, convention centers, city parks, beaches, airports, and more.

The bill makes no exceptions for trans folk who have updated their gender status on official documents like birth certificates or drivers licenses, instead defining sex as a matter of chromosomes and genitalia, which opens the hellish possibility that people trying to relieve themselves in a stall with a locked door will be subjected to freaking medical investigations. It’s also a no-win situation, as Reed notes, since

Transgender people who are androgenous or pass as their gender identity will likely be challenged in the bathroom of their birth sex. Those trans people will then be forced to undergo the same investigation into their gender. In essence, it amounts to a ban on bathrooms for transgender people entirely.

HB 1521 goes into effect on July 1 — avoiding Pride month, isn’t that cute? — by which time the lawsuits challenging it may have made headway, we hope. If it isn’t already enjoined by then, get ready for lots of pushback, too, from cisgender folks who are challenged by toilet vigilantes. Sadly, in Florida, those cases may get the most media attention, because oh no, the “wrong” people are being harmed.

DeSantis also signed HB 1069, which expands the already awful “Don’t Say Gay” law to 12th grade, and will prohibit trans students from asking to please be addressed by their correct pronouns, as well as encouraging even more vicious censorship of books in classrooms and school libraries. It too becomes effective July 1. A final member of the shitshow quartet, SB 1438, expands Florida’s “obscenity” laws to include drag shows; it’s almost certain to be used to attack Pride parades. Reed notes it has “already led to cancellations of pride events, including the Treasure Coast Pride Parade.”

All of the bills DeSantis signed this week are blatantly unconstitutional, so this might be a good time to donate, if you can, to groups like Lambda Legal, the Human Rights Campaign, or the ACLU of Florida. As the inevitable lawsuits against this fuckery ramp up, we’ll bring you more information on how to help. As Yr Wonkette likes to point out when we discuss the climate crisis, things are pretty fucked, but we have the advantage of being on the right side. Americans do not want this crap, and there’s a lot of mobilization to do — like the major federal lawsuit that’s just been launched by Florida parents, PEN America, and Random House against school library censorship, about which we’ll have more shortly.

Be an activist. Be an ally. Fight this shit with love and passion and smartassery (but don’t mistake snark for activism, you in the back, there). This humbug shall not stand, man.

[NBC News / NPR / Erin in the Morning]

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Montana Republicans Want In On That ‘Expel Democrats’ Thing That Worked So Well For Tennessee

Montana Republicans will vote this afternoon on taking disciplinary action against state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) because she stood at her desk Monday and held a nonfunctioning microphone in the air while a crowd of supporters in the House gallery chanted “Let her speak!” The protest ended with seven protesters being arrested as state police cleared the gallery.

Monday’s protest followed last week’s refusal by House Speaker Matt Regier (R) to recognize Zephyr during debate on a bill that removed transgender people from more than 40 areas of Montana law, including protections against discrimination, and which eliminated the option for trans people to change the gender markers on any official documents like birth certificates, drivers licenses, and even death certificates.

Regier’s silencing of Zephyr was punishment for a speech she had made earlier in the week against another bill that banned gender-affirming care for trans kids. In that speech, Zephyr noted that ending treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy would force trans youth to undergo puberty, which was “tantamount to torture” and said the House “should be ashamed.” She followed that by saying that if Republicans voted for the bill, “I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”

Regier has said that he will only allow Zephyr to participate in debate again during the current legislative session if she apologizes for the remarks, because decorum. Republicans in the Montana Freedom Caucus called for Zephyr’s censure, claiming the Legislature must have “civil discourse” and condemning Zephyr’s supposedly “hateful rhetoric” while deliberately misgendering Zephyr in the announcement.

So that’s how we got to Monday and the protest, in which Zephyr apparently did an insurrection by standing at her desk and holding up that microphone. Here’s video from CBS Mornings. Note the efficiency with which the one trooper — at about the 9-second mark — uses a club around the neck of one protester to just take them right down to the floor.

After the protests Monday, the Montana House cancelled its scheduled floor session Tuesday, because people had been loud and disruptive.

We haven’t yet seen any Montana Republicans claim it was exactly like January 6, 2021, or worse (minus any deaths, assaults on police, feces-smearing, or attempts to overturn an election). House GOP leadership said in a statement that the protest had been a “riot by far-left agitators,” and vowed to “stand firm in our commitment to decorum, safety, and order. We will uphold the people’s will that sent 68 Republicans to Helena,” a subtle reminder that Montana Republicans have a supermajority and will do what they want.

Regier himself held a 35-second press conference Tuesday, in which he took no questions and complained that the media hadn’t told the true truth, because he hadn’t silenced Zephyr, she had, by breaking rules and not apologizing.

“This is also a disappointing day for Montana media,” he said. “The entire story was not told. Headlines that have happened over the last week stating that the Montana House leadership or GOP has silenced anyone is false. Currently, all representatives are free to participate in House debate while following the House rules. The choice to not follow House rules is one that Rep. Zephyr has made. The only person silencing Rep. Zephyr is Rep. Zephyr. The Montana House will not be bullied.”

If only Zooey Zephyr would stop bullying the Republican supermajority with all that accurate explanation of why forcing trans kids off their medications will be torture.

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott (D) issued a statement saying Democrats will be united in opposition to any disciplinary measure, for all the good it may do:

“The Republicans are doubling down on their agenda of running roughshod over Montanans’ rights — to free expression, to peaceful protest, to equal justice under the law. Montana Democrats will hold them accountable for every step they take in escalating their anti-democratic agenda.”

Abbott also told the Helena Independent Record, “I think this is the most extreme action that I’ve seen a Speaker take against a member in the 20 years I’ve been around this building,”

It’s not clear yet whether the House Republicans intend to pursue censure or expulsion of Zephyr later today; a letter sent to Zephyr yesterday said that she had violated the “rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, or decorum of the House,” and referenced the section of the Montana state constitution giving them the power to punish members or expel them with a two-thirds majority vote.

The House Judiciary Committee, on which Zephyr sits, cancelled its scheduled meeting this morning, and the GOP leadership’s letter to Zephyr noted that the House gallery would be closed for today’s floor session, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. “Mountain Time,” or 3 p.m. Eastern. You can watch the Republicans take a billy club to democracy here at the Montana Legislature’s website, and maybe we will do a livebloog too.

Update: Erin Reed reports that the gallery will remain closed not only today, but for the remainder of the session, which is likely to last another week or so. Can’t have the public nosing around the People’s business.

In related news, the Montana Free Press reports today that David Gianforte, the son of Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, has lobbied his dad to ask him to not sign anti-LGBTQ legislation, including three of the worst bills:

David, 32, sat down in the governor’s office on March 27 with a prepared statement about legislation affecting transgender Montanans and the LGBTQ+ community generally, to which David says he belongs. He wanted to talk about Senate Bill 99, a ban on gender-affirming health care for minors; Senate Bill 458, a bill to define sex as strictly binary in Montana code; and House Bill 359, a ban on drag performances in many public spaces.

David, who is nonbinary and uses both he and they pronouns, read a statement telling their father that the bills would harm their transgender friends, and called the bills “immoral, unjust, and frankly a violation of human rights.”

It’s not yet clear whether Montana Republicans will also vote on whether to expel the younger Gianforte from his family.

[Montana Free Press / Helena Independent Record / Montana Free Press]

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Jay Inslee: Send Me Your Trans Kids And Women Needing Abortions, But Not Your AR-15s

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Jay Inslee is still the governor of Washington, what with all the competence and the just generally not making a lot of waves. But damn, he and Democrats in the state Lege have done some good governing lately. This week, the state Senate passed a “shield law” to protect transgender people in Washington, including people fleeing the increasingly awful anti-trans laws in other states. It now goes to Inslee for his signature. That will make Washington the 10th state with a law or an executive order protecting people — especially trans minors and their families — who cross state lines to receive gender- affirming medical care.

But wait! There’s more! Like some other shield laws, Washington HB 1469 will also protect people who travel to Washington seeking abortion services, since it’s written to include both gender-affirming care and “reproductive health care services that are lawful in the state of Washington” under the umbrella of “protected healthcare services.” So it’s a twofer of protection against the most extreme laws being passed in other states.

As the indispensable indy journalist Erin Reed reports, the bill even goes a little further than some other states’ already good safe haven laws and EOs. Where some, like Minnesota’s executive order, authorize the governor to refuse extradition to other states that want to punish healthcare providers or parents for “aiding and abetting” the provision of gender-affirming care, HB 1469 actually prohibits Washington’s governor from cooperating with such requests. (That’s why a law is better than an EO — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz can’t prevent future governors from acting against trans folks.) Here’s that bit from the Washington law:

The governor of this state shall not surrender any person described in subsection (1) of this section where the charge against the person is based on the provision, receipt, attempted provision or receipt, assistance in the provision or receipt, or attempted assistance in the provision or receipt of protected health care services as defined in section 2 of this act that are lawful in the state of Washington.

For instance, if someone is charged under Idaho’s stupid new “abortion trafficking” law, which prohibits anyone but parents from assisting a minor in getting abortion services, Washington will refuse to extradite Aunt Nora or her Subaru Outback.

Further, the law prohibits state agencies from cooperating with data requests from states investigating people for providing or using protected health services — even under subpoena from another state.

The day before Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed that “abortion trafficking” bill, Inslee sent Little a letter to very politely tell him what a shitty idea the law was. Inslee wrote,

I question the constitutionality of this law and I know you are aware of the costly legal challenges that await should you choose to sign this bill, but, as the governor of a neighboring state, I am also deeply concerned about the impacts that (Engrossed House Bill) 242 will have on Washington residents traveling to and from Idaho.

Inslee also warned Little against any attempt to punish Washington healthcare providers under the new Idaho law, which includes a bizarre provision allowing lawsuits for no less than $20,000 to be brought against medical providers on the behalf of an aborted fetus by a relative of said nonbaby. Inslee wrote,

But, make no mistake, Governor Little, the laws of another state that seek to punish anyone in Washington for lawful actions taken in Washington will not stand. We will protect our providers, and we will harbor and comfort your residents who seek health care services that are denied to them in Idaho.

Even before a federal judge in Texas cancel-cultured the decades-old FDA authorization of the abortion pill mifepristone, Inslee took steps to stockpile a four-year supply, a total of 40,000 doses. Inslee managed that with One Weird Trick, as the Seattle Times explains:

Inslee ordered the Department of Corrections, which has a pharmacy license, to buy 30,000 doses of mifepristone last month. UW Medicine also obtained 10,000 doses of the drug. Between the two entities, Inslee said, the state now has about a four-year supply. […]

State lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 5768 to authorize the Department of Corrections to sell or distribute the drug to licensed providers in Washington.

In a statement last week, Inslee called the Texas lawsuit “a clear and present danger to patients and providers” not only in Washington, but all across the US, saying that Washington is “a pro-choice state and no Texas judge will order us otherwise.”

Finally, over the weekend, the state Senate passed a ban on assault weapons that Inslee had pushed for; the bill had already been passed by the state House, but since the Senate added some amendments, it has to get final passage in the House before it goes to Inslee to be signed. The bill will ban the sale, manufacture, and import of assault weapons, but doesn’t ban their possession because that would be a whole ‘nother pile of lawsuits.

“Passing an assault weapon ban will be a momentous step forward for Washington state,” Inslee said. “Time and again, we’ve seen the carnage these weapons allow people to unleash on communities. Time and again, we’ve watched the NRA and politicians defend, normalize, and even celebrate these weapons. But now the time is here when the majority’s will prevails, and we put the lives of our children first.”

Inslee appeared on MSNBC’s “All In With Chris Hayes” last night to take several victory laps on abortion, trans rights, and guns, and to invite people to move to Washington. Enjoy the video!

Guest host Ali Velshi, who’s Canadian, had to get his two cents in and make a pitch for people moving to Canada, and honestly that sounds good too, especially to those of us watching from godforsaken Idaho.

[Erin in the Morning / Washington HB 1469 / Idaho Reports / Seattle Times / Jay Inslee on Substack / KIRO-TV]

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Florida Bill Doing Best To Out-Worst All Other Bans On Gender-Affirming Care

As Yr Wonkette covered yesterday, and as brought to our attention by the invaluable Erin in the Morning, the state of Florida (Motto: “America’s Useless Appendage”) is considering a whole swath of terrible legislation that if passed, would make life even more miserable for LGBTQ+ people there. It’s understandable, really — there are so many Republicans in the state Legislature, and they all want a turn at proving that they can hate LGBTQ+ folks as much or more than their peers.

Read More:

Florida LGBTQ Hate Bills Want Some Bigot To Have ‘Parental Rights’ Over Everybody Else’s Children

Red States About Five Minutes Away From Legalized Lynching Of Trans People

What IS Gender Affirming Health Care For Kids Anyway, Because Texas Is Super F*cking Lying About It Right?

Today, we’ll take a closer look (again, thanks to Erin Reed) at just one of those very bad ideas, Florida HB 1421, which drunkenly tells other states’ bans on gender affirming care for trans youth, “Hold my beer” before jumping on a skateboard and launching itself into the abyss. A Florida House subcommittee yesterday voted to move HB 1421 out of committee. After hearings in a second committee, the bill is likely to be sent to the full House, where it’s likely to pass. It’s Florida, and Republicans have an 85-35 majority of seats.

It’s not only an extremist bill, it’s also so broadly written that in attempting to outlaw gender-affirming care for minors, it also may make mastectomies for breast cancer illegal and ban hormone treatments for menopause. We can’t entirely guarantee that’s a mistake. The bill doesn’t simply ban gender-affirming treatment going forward: It would force detransition on trans youth. All minors currently receiving puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy would have to end treatment by December 31 of this year. Such forced detransitioning is almost certain to lead to suicides, not that the psycho bigots supporting the bill care.

As ever: If you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, call the national suicide and crisis lifeline at 988.

This being Florida, the bill keeps getting worse. One provision would allow the state to take trans kids from their parents to “protect” them from getting gender-affirming care in another state.

As with several similar bills around the country, the law also forbids insurance plans from covering gender-affirming care for adults, because the bill’s sponsor, the dubiously named Rep. Randy Fine — a former gambling industry executive, not a doctor — says he believes all medical care for trans people is merely “a cosmetic-type procedure, and not necessarily a procedure that would improve their health.” Yes, of course he’s ignoring the consensus among medical organizations that transition is the treatment for gender dysphoria, and that, yes, it saves lives.

Because the bill bans the state from paying for any gender-affirming care, it would also result in forcible detransition for incarcerated trans people. The bill’s sponsor was very clear on that when another state representative asked. Further, the blanket prohibition on puberty blockers and hormone therapy would probably prohibit some treatments for stunted growth in children. Another legislator said that, as she read the bill, it may ban contraception for minors, although Fine said he didn’t think it would.

HB 1421 also prohibits any changes to birth certificates to reflect an adult’s gender identity. State Rep. Kelly Skidmore (D) had questions about why a bill supposedly aimed at “protecting” children would do that; Fine (again, not a doctor) explained that “your biology cannot be changed,” to which Skidmore replied, “Doctors would disagree. […] You can change your biology. That’s the point of gender-affirming care and surgery.”

Fine then muttered something about chromosomes, which kind of ignores the fact that hormone therapy very definitely changes a person’s biology, what with the differences in hair growth, body chemistry, and so on. But not chromosomes!

Fine went on to explain that gender-affirming care for minors is “child abuse,” although he acknowledged that’s his personal opinion, not actually a law. But co-sponsor Rep. Ralph Massullo — who somehow is a doctor — insisted it was just like “If you chop your sons arm off it’s child abuse,” so there’s a doctor who knows his stuff. Massullo also explained, contrary to the medical consensus, that since gender dysphoria is all in trans people’s heads, they should see a therapist and get cured through good old conversion therapy, which doesn’t work.

The most glaringly insane part of the bill is the former gambling executive’s medically muddy definition of “gender clinical interventions,” a term that isn’t actually from medicine. HB 1421 defines such interventions as

procedures or therapies that alter internal or external physical traits.

The term includes, but is not limited to:

1. Sex reassignment surgeries or any other surgical procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics.

2. Puberty blocking, hormone, and hormone antagonistic therapies.

The bill allows a few exceptions, such as for treatment of infants born with ambiguous genitalia, and of course for treatments to reverse gender-affirming care, but that’s about it; as House Democrats pointed out, the broad prohibitions on altering “primary or secondary sexual characteristics” appears to ban mastectomies, breast reduction or enhancement, maybe prostate surgery, and who knows, maybe even penile implants for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

But wait! Since it only applies to minors, Fine figured that wouldn’t be a problem. During questioning by state Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D), Fine was surprised to hear that minors can even have breast cancer, though he remained skeptical of that anyway, and mocked what he said was the “pervasive problem of youth breast cancer.” Probably just an excuse to get top surgery, right sir?

Oh yes, and because it’s so sloppily written, the bill would also ban insurance from covering breast cancer mastectomies — for adults too, since the insurance ban is for all “gender clinical interventions,” regardless of the patient’s age.

Will Larkins, an 18-year-old high school student, testified against the bill, telling the committee members that his transgender friends would be directly harmed by the bill, not “protected.” He begged the lawmakers to at least agree to a Democratic amendment that would allow youth who have already begun treatment to continue it.

“That health care has saved their lives. You will kill them. I am telling you right now — look me in the eyes — you will kill them if you pass this bill and you don’t pass this amendment. […] You will kill them if you force them to detransition.”

The committee rejected the amendment, because there are no trans people in Florida, just punching bags to beat up on for the cameras.

This is where we wish we could tell you that HB 1421 is so obviously unconstitutional that there’s no chance it will pass and be signed into law, but you’ve been here for a while and you wouldn’t ever fall for a hopeful lie like that. We don’t even think they’d listen to our new hero, Grace Linn, that wonderful centenarian wonder woman. But who knows? Bet she’d make a trans lives matter quilt if she thought it would help.

[HuffPo / Florida HB 1421 / Erin Reed on Twitter / New Republic / Image generated by DreamStudio Lite AI]

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Month After MSU Campus Shootings, Michigan Dems Pass New Gun Control Bills

The Michigan state Senate yesterday passed several gun control bills that will expand background checks, create a “red flag” law that will allow judges to remove firearms from people who are at risk of committing violence, and require safe storage of guns in homes where children are present.

The bills were passed a month and a couple days after the deadly mass shooting at Michigan State University in East Lansing, which killed three students and left five others wounded. The shooter in that incident shot himself when confronted by police. The MSU shooting itself occurred the night before the five-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida; as we noted at the time, it won’t be long until every day on the calendar is the anniversary of a horrific mass shooting.

The package of 11 bills passed on a mostly party-line vote by Democrats, who last fall won majorities in both houses of the Michigan Legislature. Two Republicans crossed party lines to vote for a pair of bills that will exempt firearms safety devices — trigger locks, gun safes and the like — from taxes for one year. Hard to say if that will be enough of a betrayal of the Holy Second Amendment for those two to be censured by the state GOP. It’s a tax break, so maybe they’ll get away with it.

Several of the bills had previously been introduced in the wake of the 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School, but failed at the time due to Republican opposition. Clean elections matter: Republicans had previously gerrymandered themselves a majority, but once fair district maps were drawn by a nonpartisan commission, Democrats won.

The Michigan House passed a similar package of bills last week — on a purely party-line vote — but the legislation’s language isn’t quite identical, so the two houses will have to decide which version to pass and send on to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is planning to sign either set.

Background Checks

Under current Michigan law, purchasers of handguns must undergo a background check for all purchases, whether from a federally licensed firearms dealer or a private party. But private sales of long guns aren’t subject to a background check so the bills passed yesterday tighten that up by extending the licensing and background check requirements to sales of all firearms, whether from a dealer or a private party.

There’s a narrow exception in the background check bills, for “people under the age of 18 who use their guns for hunting or who possess the guns under the supervision of a parent or guardian.”

Safe Storage

Another measure would require that firearms owners in homes where minors are present must keep them either in a safe or locked box, or keep them unloaded and locked with a trigger lock.

Since that might be construed as cruelty if applied to children, the locking provisions apply to the guns instead. The law would apply to guns kept in vehicles as well.

Failure to safely store a firearm would be a misdemeanor, but if a minor gets hold of an unsecured gun and commits a crime with it, the gun’s owner could face stricter charges depending on the nature of that crime. If the minor injures someone, the owner would face felony charges and up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine; if the kid kills someone, the maximum sentence would be up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of $7,500.

Red Flag Law

Another measure passed yesterday will put in place the state’s first “red flag” or extreme protection order provision. It will

allow family members, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and others to petition a court to bar someone from possessing or purchasing a firearm if they pose a risk of hurting themselves or others.

The petitioner would need to show that the person presents a “significant risk of personal injury” to themselves or to others.

Republicans, predictably, whined that nearly all of the bills would only infringe on the rights of “law abiding gun owners,” and that “criminals,” who are completely different people, would ignore them. They also insisted that the bills would have done nothing to prevent recent mass shootings in the state.

You could certainly make the case that a red flag law might have taken away the gun used in the MSU shootings; in that case, the shooter’s father told media that he was certain his son had a gun, which he shouldn’t have, following a 2019 weapons charge. And the 2021 Oxford school shooting was committed with a handgun the boy’s parents had bought for him as a gift; it was kept unlocked in their home. The parents have since been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for being shockingly irresponsible regarding their son’s dangerous behavior prior to the shooting. Would they have actually kept the gun locked up if it were required by law? That’s unknowable of course, but four teenagers would still be alive today if they had — and maybe their very troubled kid would be getting therapy instead of facing life in prison.

At a rally in favor of gun reform yesterday, state Rep. Angela Rigas showed up with a bullhorn so she could heckle and try to shout down those speaking in favor of the laws, including survivors of the Oxford shooting. Because we guess an armed society is a polite society.

In other Michigan Good News, Gov. Whitmer yesterday signed into law an expansion of the state’s anti-discrimination law that will now explicitly protect LGBTQ+ folks. Court decisions had already held that the law applied to LGBTQ+ Michiganders, but now they’re in the statute. And yes, Whitmer teared up a little as she thanked the Democratic majority in the Lege for coming through on the bill.

“Their tears of happiness are coming down, I’m trying to hold it together — can’t look at them too much,” she joked.

Hell yes. You, over there, stop chopping those onions.

[Detroit Free Press / MLive / Detroit News / MLive]

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Woke NTSB Says ‘Overheated Wheel Bearing’ Derailed Train, Doesn’t Even Call Secretary Mayor Pete Gay

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report yesterday on its investigation into the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The report says the train’s crew knew one car on the train had a badly overheated wheel bearing, and had already begun slowing the train just before the derailment.

Weirdly, the NTSB didn’t place any of the blame for the February 3 crash or the subsequent toxic chemical spill on President Joe Biden, Transportation Secretary Mayor Pete Buttigieg, or on transgender kids in American schools forcing others to acknowledge their preferred pronouns. That’s sure to come up on Newsmax.

Buttigieg was in East Palestine himself yesterday, where he didn’t buy McDonald’s hamburgers for anyone, unlike Donald Trump, who was there the day before and personally fixed everything. While Buttigieg was there, he acknowledged the rightwing media complaints that he hadn’t personally visited the site sooner, saying he’d “do some thinking” on whether he should have gone sooner. Oh for your sake, Pete! You really do over-intellectualize things a bit, but that’s how you do:

“What I tried to do was balance two things — my desire to be involved and engaged in on the ground, which is how I am generally wired to act and my desire to follow the norm of transportation secretaries allowing NTSB to really lead the initial stages of the public facing work,” he told reporters. “I’ll do some thinking about whether I got that balance right. But I think the most important thing is, first of all, making sure that the residents here have what they need.”

For all his introspection, Buttigieg got a Fox News story headlining how he’d gone on MSNBC last night and cruelly pointed out Donald Trump’s rollback of safety regulations, what a monster. Fox News also ran a fun story rounding up rightwingers on Twiitter mocking the “leather dress shoes” Buttigieg had worn, because what real man goes to a muddy disaster site in anything but steel-toed work boots?

So there’s your payback for the liberal media making fun of Ron DeSantis’s weird white hurricane boots, haw haw. Maybe Pete left his high heels in the car, replied one wag, because you know he is an effete gay homosexual who never wore boots, certainly not during his combat tour in Afghanistan. That’s him, second on the left, in a campaign photo. Those look like boots!

Jesus, you see how easy it is to get sucked into this stupid performative macho shit? Anyway, if Buttigieg had worn gnarly steel-toed work boots, wingnut media would have accused him of fakery because does he really wear Thorogood American Heritage steel-toed work boots around his soft office job? He does not, and how dare he spend $250 on boots just for a photo op? Damn him to hell!

So yes, the NTSB report.

Among the top findings were that the train crew appears to have acted appropriately; the train was traveling 47 miles per hour, a bit below the maximum speed for that area of 50 miles per hour. It was already slowing a bit when automated trackside monitoring equipment detected that a wheel bearing on the twenty-third car of the train was dangerously hot, 253°F above the ambient temperature of 10°F. (When car 23 passed two earlier detectors, they picked up temperatures that were rising, but well below the temperature threshold that would trigger an alarm.)

The detection equipment “transmitted a critical audible alarm message instructing the crew to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle,” and the engineer began slowing the train down, but then “an automatic emergency brake application initiated,” which Axios explains may have resulted from train cars separating from each other.

Once the train stopped, the crew “observed fire and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a possible derailment,” and with permission from the dispatcher, set the hand brakes on the first two cars and uncoupled the locomotives to move them a mile away for safety. The report does not note whether the train crew said “Whew!”

Thirty-eight cars of the 149-car train derailed; among them were 11 tank cars carrying hazardous chemicals. Fire broke out and also damaged 12 cars on the train that hadn’t derailed.

Axios notes that first responders who arrived on the scene got the initial fire under control, but Ohio authorities were concerned about five derailed tank cars carrying vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic chemical used in making PVC plastic. Temperatures inside one of the cars kept rising, “suggesting the chemical was undergoing a polymerization reaction and could explode.”

That prompted local responders on February 6 to evacuate a larger area around the crash site, then vent the five cars and burn off the chemicals, which took several hours. The NTSB report is careful to point out that the agency wasn’t involved in that decision, or in testing air and water quality following the crash. Please take your questions to the EPA and to Ohio GOP Governor Mike DeWine, who authorized the chemical burnoff after advisers warned him of the high risk of an explosion. (OK, fine, the NTSB didn’t specify DeWine, just that it wasn’t the feds’ decision.)

The NTSB will focus its ongoing investigation on:

[T]he wheelset and bearing; tank car design and derailment damage; a review of the accident response, including the venting and burning of the vinyl chloride; railcar design and maintenance procedures and practices; NS [Norfolk Southern] use of wayside defect detectors; and NS railcar inspection practices.

We should also point out that nowhere in the report does the NTSB examine the crucial railroad safety thoughts of Donald Trump Jr., who on Wednesday night went on Newsmax to explain that nobody in the Biden administration knows what they’re doing because Pete Buttiieg is gay and that was his only job qualification.

The son of the former president, who has never held a real job outside his daddy’s business/crime organization (or gigs in rightwing media resulting from that nepo baby status), claimed Joe Biden “doesn’t give a crap” and “couldn’t care less” about the people of East Palestine. You know, unlike his father, master of empathy Donald “have a good time” Trump.

Then it was time for the full-on gay-hatin’.

Newsmax host Carl Higbie started Junior off with the sage observation that “You know, Pete has no business in that position,” and the failson was off and running:

But, you know, he’s the guy who had no business running for president but they let him do that cause he was gay and they check off a box and then he didn’t win, so “he’s the gay guy, so we gotta give him something, let’s make him transportation secretary,” what does he know about it? NOTHING! His failure, after failure, after failure are truly affecting the American people.

Just to make clear that Buttigieg is a feminine not-man, Junior also came back to the rightwing meme about Buttigieg’s paternity leave after adopting twin babies, mocking “the time he spent chest-feeding while we were in the midst of a supply chain crisis.” Haha, can you just imagine that little unmanly wimp trying to feed a baby?!

MORE: How Donald Trump’s Sociopathic Parenting Made Donald Trump Jr. The Winner He Is Today

As we all know, real men subject their children to emotional abuse so they’ll learn how to be manly, and that’s why the train crashed, the end.

[NTSB / Axios / NYDN / Insider]

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Tennessee To Only Prevent/Treat HIV/AIDS In *Nice* People, Not Those Sinners

The far Right’s panic mongering against trans people will soon have a larger body count, since apparently stochastic terrorism hasn’t killed enough people yet. In January, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced he would reject federal funding for HIV testing, prevention, and treatment, complaining that the federal money came with too many strings attached. By that, he meant that the grants from the US Centers for Disease control specify that the money be used for the populations most at risk for HIV: men who have sex with men, trans folks, and intravenous drug users. Lee’s announcement was especially bizarre since Tennessee is currently experiencing one of the nation’s worst HIV epidemics.

But going way back to the earliest days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, Republicans have never liked preventing a deadly disease that affects people they think are icky, so Lee announced that instead of accepting the federal funds that have to go to those who are actually at highest risk, Tennessee would instead refocus its HIV prevention efforts on nicer people who aren’t actually at much risk, as the Washington Post reported:

State officials said they would continue to support HIV testing and prevention but would focus on first responders, victims of human trafficking, and mothers and children. In contrast, the federal program prioritizes men who have sex with men and transgender people, particularly in communities of color, who are at greatest risk of HIV, according to federal surveillance data.

Lee’s decision wasn’t simply driven by a desire to stage a 2023 revival of And the Band Played On, although we can’t guarantee he wasn’t at least a little nostalgic for the days when Ronald Reagan couldn’t bring himself to say the word “AIDS” and he and Nancy refused to even acknowledge their good friend Rock Hudson as the disease was killing him.

Nope, as NBC News reports, Lee’s administration chose to reject federal HIV funding, including grant programs begun under Donald Trump, largely in reaction to a campaign of anti-trans panic orchestrated last fall by rightwing “Christian” creep Matt Walsh and his Daily Wire boss Ben Shapiro. The two must be simply over the moon at the prospect that the funding cuts will leave more LGBTQ+ people undiagnosed and vulnerable to what’s still a dangerous but treatable disease. Like, if anyone’s there to provide the testing and treatment.

NBC News summarizes the fearmongering thusly:

A leading voice in the right’s opposition to the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors, Matt Walsh, a columnist for the conservative media outlet Daily Wire, published a series of widely read tweets on Sept. 20 targeting Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s treatment of minors at its Transgender Health Clinic. “They now castrate, sterilize, and mutilate minors as well as adults,” Walsh said.

The next day, Walsh appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show to publicize his investigation, and Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who co-founded Daily Wire, further amplified Walsh’s attacks on Vanderbilt on his YouTube channel and podcast, decrying the “nonsense garbage that a boy can be a girl and a girl can be a boy.”

It’s bullshit, but it got Lee’s attention, and he echoed the claims, calling for a “thorough investigation” into gender-affirming care, and adding in the weird claim that “religious liberties” were somehow being crushed by the existence of trans people.

While it’s long been clear that Lee’s decision was in part prompted by the panic stirred up by Walsh’s trans-panic lies, NBC News spoke to four sources within the Tennessee Health Department who confirmed that the state government was making decisions connected to Walsh’s frothing lies about Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Planned Parenthood, and the state’s Transgender Task Force, accusing them of all sorts of horrors.

In October, the pressure wound its way to the unit that combats HIV, sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis at the Tennessee Health Department.

On Oct. 24, the unit’s director, Dr. Pamela Talley, told employees that because of the social media firestorm over Vanderbilt, information about the Tennessee Transgender Task Force — a volunteer team the unit established in 2018 to focus on trans health and HIV prevention — and other trans resources had been scrubbed from the department’s website. That is according to two staffers present, who, like two of their colleagues, spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

In November, staff were told that federal funding for the Transgender Task Force, and for Planned Parenthood’s HIV-prevention efforts, which mostly involved education and condom distribution, would be terminated at the end of 2022.

“There were at least three different levels of leadership on the call,” a staffer said. “It was discussed that there had been media attention around the Vanderbilt trans health clinic, which led those reporters to learn about the trans task force, and that they were funded by [the state Health Department] HIV prevention program and that all HIV prevention contracts were being reviewed.”

Then in January, Lee’s administration announced it would reject the entire $8.3 million in two grant programs from the CDC for HIV prevention, treatment, and surveillance, so that was that. $6.2 million had been allocated for statewide prevention and monitoring efforts, and another $2.1 million was specifically for Shelby County, which includes Memphis; the county has among the highest HIV infection rates in the country.

Lee’s administration claimed the state would provide an equal amount of funding, but also that the focus would shift to nice wholesome people, wink-wink nudge-nudge. As NBC reports,

Currently, the priority populations for the CDC grant for Shelby County, for example, include LGBTQ people, sex workers and those who inject drugs, are unhoused or are formerly incarcerated.

Lee’s press officer, Jade Byers, said in an email that the administration “is committed to maintaining the same level of funding, while more efficiently and effectively serving vulnerable populations, such as victims of human trafficking, mothers and children, and first responders.”

Hey, remember how Ryan White, the little kid who was infected by his hemophilia treatments, made it finally OK for powerful straight people to say maybe AIDS was a problem? This is kind of like that, except Tennessee is saying it will only help the Ryan Whites and not all those bad people.

As Greg Millett, director of public policy at The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) pointed out, promising to help people at far lower risk is a pretty bad way to fight an epidemic.

“Tennessee is preferring to fight a fictitious epidemic rather than their very real HIV epidemic. […] First responders are just not at risk for HIV anywhere in the United States. Sexual trafficking is awful, but it’s not a major contributor for HIV cases in Tennessee or elsewhere.”

NBC News also notes that between 2016 and 2020, only one to six babies annually were born with HIV in Tennessee. So really, no need to spend millions on them.

Oh, there’s also the tiny matter of the people who actually are at risk for HIV infection, but who don’t need to be considered because they’re filthy sinners:

More than half of new diagnoses in Tennessee were in men who have sex with men in 2019, according to the state Health Department’s surveillance reports. And in 2016, the CDC released a report warning that 220 of the country’s counties, including 41 in Tennessee, were at high risk of HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks among people who inject drugs (that population accounted for 5% of new Tennessee HIV diagnoses in 2019).

And while overall HIV cases have been declining nationwide, new infection rates have been stable or increasing “in most Southern states, where the bulk of transmissions occur.” Just not among first responders, apparently.

In conclusion, we’re in hell and a lot of people are making a lot of money making things worse, the end.

[NBC News / WaPo]

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The Stupid, It Burns … Books!

The far Right’s war on students’ right to read a goddamn book if they want to read a goddamn book — as well as grownups reading grownup books, as if that’s somehow allowed either — continues across the country, with ever-more surreal battles being pursued in the name of protecting kids from things kids want to read. Put on your helmet and body armor, because the anti-book crazies are still going ballistic.

LAST WEEK! North Dakota GOP To Jail Librarians For Disgusting Sex Books, Including Images Of ‘Gender Identity’

Kentucky: Librarian Wins Small Claims Case Over LGBTQ Book

In a fairly open-and-shut (you know, like a book!) case in Jefferson County District Court last week in Louisville, Kentucky, a small claims court judge tossed a case brought by a local bigot who had sued a high school librarian over her decision to include books on LGBTQ+ topics in the library. The man, Kurt Wallace, had sought “damages” of $2,300 because Waggener High School librarian Kristen Heckel had kept the award-winning memoir/essay collectionAll Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson in the library despite Wallace’s attempts to make it and other LGBTQ books go away.

Heckel still had to take the day off from school to attend the hearing, a situation for which Judge Jennifer Leibson was apologetic. As Louisville Public Media explains, court records showed that Johnson

began sending letters to Heckel in the spring of 2022 objecting to the library’s purchase of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and other titles Wallace claimed were “obscene” or “pornographic.” He also claimed the books were intended for “grooming” minors for sexual exploitation, a common unfounded and homophobic talking point among some right-wing activists.

We have to say that LPM reporter Jess Clark appears to have relished the chance to describe the courtroom drama, such as it was, noting that Judge Leibson began by explaining the purpose of small claims court, and what kinds of cases are and aren’t allowed there.

Then she called up Wallace. The middle-aged man in dress slacks made his way to the stand dragging a carry-on-sized suitcase behind him, presumably filled with evidence he intended to present. He also carried a large leather-bound Bible and a posterboard scrawled with red marker but illegible from a distance.

He never had a chance to read it. Leibson dismissed the case.

“Mr. Wallace, your case is one of those cases,” Leibson said. “You cannot recover in small claims on this kind of judgment.” She had explained earlier that small claims court is only meant to decide cases in which a plaintiff had incurred actual costs as the result of a defendant’s action.

Wallace tried to argue with Leibson, demanding that she identify the statute that gave her the authority to dismiss his very valid claim, but she asked him to leave the courtroom, possibly before he insisted that her ruling was invalid because there was gold fringe on her flag. He returned a bit later and “sat in the public viewing area with his Bible in his lap.”

Leibson apologized to Heckel for having to put up with the nonsense, and added “I admire your courage. … I wish you had been my librarian when I was a kid.”

Honestly, we were hoping maybe Heckel would have sued Wallace for making her miss work, but she probably got paid for being there, since school district attorneys went along to defend her if that had been needed. [Louisville Public Media]

Pennsylvania: First They Came For The Inspirational Poster Featuring Elie Wiesel

In the Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a librarian at Central Bucks South High School says the school’s principal told him to remove posters featuring a quote by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, because the posters supposedly violated a new policy banning educators from “advocacy activities.”

Librarian Matt Pecic said Wednesday he’d been told to remove the posters because they featured a quote from Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Well sure, we can see why speaking up for the oppressed would be a terrible thing. The truly neutral action, as mandated by district policy, would be to allow the tormentors to do as they like, because who are you to decide they’re wrong?

Pecic told public station WHYY that if the posters weren’t removed, there would be “consequences” from the district’s Human Resources office. He said he felt “powerless” to refuse.

“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” he said.

“It’s a horrible feeling. And you feel like you have to do something that you don’t agree with,” Pecic added.

Pecic added that his daugher, a ninth-grader in the district, had emailed him the quote.

“This is where I get choked up … She said that ‘this quote reminds me of you,’” Pecic said. He describes himself as someone who often speaks up, “if I disagree with something, especially if I think it’s not for the benefit of students, I will say something.”

Or at least that’s how things may have worked before fascists started terrorizing teachers and librarians.

The Central Bucks District has been the center of a discrimination lawsuit brought by the ACLU, which argues rightwing members of the school board have created a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ+ students in the district. The district is currently considering whether to remove as many as five books from district libraries, four of which have LGBTQ+ themes, under a new policy that makes books easier to ban. Parents are upset that the books will turn their kids gay, like teachers and librarians are always trying to do.

There’s a semi-happy ending to the Wiesel quote story, at least: After the story blew up on social media, the principal reversed the decision and Pecic will be putting the posters back up.

So happy International Holocaust Remembrance Day, everyone. [WHYY, tip of the Wonkette Cat Ears to alert reader “MVario”]

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