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Life After the Ohio Train Derailment: Trouble Breathing, Dying Animals, and Saying Goodbye

After a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, leaked noxious chemicals, residents in the area are still trying to recover.

Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, in the background. Two people wearing coats stand in the left of the foreground, in a neighborhood.
Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 4.

On February 3, a devastating 150-car train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, leaked noxious chemicals like carcinogenic vinyl chloride into the surrounding air, soil, and water. Officials say it’s now safe for people to come home. But the harm has not stopped: People in East Palestine and neighboring towns are suffering from respiratory issues, skin reactions, and more, while animals have been found dead. And it’s not clear what support residents have—or who even qualifies for that support.

After the derailment, the Norfolk Southern train had to undergo a “controlled burning” in order to safely release the cargo’s toxic chemicals. Before this was done, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a one-mile evacuation zone surrounding the crash site. Norfolk Southern has been tasked to clean up the mess. After an initial $25,000 donation to the community, the company said they would give $1,000 “inconvenience checks” to residents within the evacuation zone; the company also has offered to reimburse expense receipts for residents within East Palestine.

But residents have reported inconsistencies with the policy, and frustrations with the one-mile qualification bar, as many far beyond that zone had to evacuate and are suffering symptoms. While air tests commissioned by the rail company, and some conducted by the EPA, have thus far deemed chemical amounts to be at safe levels, some experts have warned that impacts could be enduring if and when the chemicals seep into the soil and groundwater. And people feel that neither Norfolk Southern, nor the government, offers clear guidance.

Amanda Greathouse, who resides near the crash site, evacuated about one hour after the incident. She only returned home on February 10, a full week later, to retrieve personal effects like bank and ID cards. Even then, as she and her family walked through the home donning N-95 masks and gloves, an ominous odor pervaded. After leaving, her eyes burned and itched, her throat was sore, and she had a rash; her husband and both her sisters had migraines.

The next day, the family went to Norfolk Southern’s community family assistance center to obtain the $1,000 inconvenience check. After a four-hour wait, Greathouse was informed they needed more documents. The family was forced to return to their home again to retrieve additional documents, and left with renewed symptoms.

Reports of suffering animals, from dogs and cats to fish and chickens, continue to accumulate. Taylor Holzer, an animal caretaker, lost one of his foxes. Others are in poor condition with faces swollen, stomachs upset, and eyes watering. Holzer’s dog, who hadn’t returned home until after the evacuation order was lifted, has begun coughing and gagging. “He will go into coughing fits so hard his front legs bow and he looks so uncomfortable,” Holzer said.

After the derailment, Andrea Belden noticed her two-year-old cat Leo lying motionless, heart racing and breathing labored. He remained that way overnight. Leo was found to have congestive heart failure. Fluid filled around his heart and lungs, and his liver enzymes shot up 690 percent higher than normal levels. Medication wasn’t working. He seldom moved, ate or drank, or went to the bathroom. To continue treatment, Belden would’ve had to come up with up to $18,000. She sought help from Norfolk Southern, with a letter from the vet explaining Leo’s issues likely to be connected to the vinyl chloride. The company said they would not pay for it now, but would possibly entertain it in the future. Belden couldn’t afford to continue the treatment. Norfolk Southern’s delay forced her to make an impossible decision. Leo was put to sleep. Belden still owed $9,678.23 for the treatment Leo received.

Chelsea Simpson, who also lives near the site of the derailment, has suffered from a sore throat while her 8-month-old baby has suffered respiratory issues. Urgent care doctors gave the baby a steroid while Simpson was prescribed an antibiotic. After Simpson visited her home for 10 minutes a few days ago, her eyes were bloodshot and burning.

Simpson was told by the company that she would receive reimbursements for expense receipts, but would not qualify for the $1,000 check despite residing within the one-mile zone and being among those forcibly evacuated. Meanwhile, a cleaning service the rail company has commissioned to serve those residing within the radius still reached out to Simpson—so it remains unclear why the company will not also offer her family the $1,000 check.

While Simpson has been denied compensation duly owed by Norfolk Southern policy, others outside the mile radius deserve just as much care.

On February 6, the day of the controlled burn, Therese Vigliotti, who lives 15 miles north of East Palestine, was having a cigarette and cup of coffee as she noticed a slight odor in the air. During her next smoke break, she noticed her coffee tasted strange. She then realized her tongue felt funny, and her lips and soft palate felt numb. Her throat began to hurt. Throughout the week, her throat continued to hurt and she felt a burning sensation on her tongue. She even found blood in her stool. “I appreciate the hell out of you for reaching out to me [because] I’m honestly really scared,” Vigliotti said. “And please understand I am not losing my wits over the whole thing.”

Many others TNR spoke with, in and outside the one-mile radius, reported similar symptoms: headaches, burning sensations, severe dehydration, and more. But the town’s nearly 5,000 residents are left unsure about who qualifies for what support in the face of these ailments. Left with little guidance from local officials, and increasing reports of health concerns, paranoia and distrust is growing in the community, especially after authorities last week arrested a journalist covering the derailment. People now lean on the internet and mutual support, while feeling as if the government is not helping and instead just referring them to the good will of a corporation.

“It kinda sucks we’re all getting the majority of our information from fellow residents on Facebook,” said resident Liz Smith. “So it’s hard to tell what’s true or not.”

It didn’t have to be this way. Norfolk Southern is among the gargantuan rail companies that have lobbied against a myriad of industry improvements, like updating the same braking system that failed in East Palestine. Rail workers (who just had a rail contract imposed upon them) had already warned about how corporate malfeasance could lead to a disaster like this. A nearly identical crash happened in New Jersey in 2012, when a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride derailed. Many community members reported similar symptoms at the time to those in East Palestine; some had symptoms even years later.

“I am concerned that the area has been deemed safe so quickly without extensive data to show the risk has been reduced,” said Dr. Michael Koehler, member of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety. “As long as safety concerns remain, it is hard to understand how they authorized residents to return.”

Though officials report conditions to be safe, an inordinate amount of suffering is taking place. Moreover, the cleanup after the derailment did not guarantee the soil would avoid contamination. A Norfolk Southern spokesperson conceded that “it’s hard to tell what was burned off and what went into the soil.”

In a letter to Norfolk Southern last week, the EPA noted “areas of contaminated soil and free liquids were observed and potentially covered and/or filled during reconstruction of the rail line including portions of the trench/burn pit that was used for the open burn off of vinyl chloride.” The agency noted other toxic chemicals including butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether are also continuing to be released into the air, soil, and water.

So why are people being told it’s safe to return before Norfolk Southern completes the necessary cleaning still left to be done? The controlled burning may have been the best option at the moment; vinyl chloride and other compounds are explosive, so it had to be dealt with carefully. But the cleanup doesn’t stop there, noted Delphine Farmer, chemistry professor at Colorado State University. The burning released numerous other compounds and pollutants, some of which can sneak into people’s homes without air monitors picking up on them in the specific moment they might be checking.

For her part, Greathouse doesn’t feel confident about staying in East Palestine anymore. “As soon as we got in town the first time a train went through [my] chest got tight with anxiety,” she said. “My 4-year-old is scared to be home, and honestly the possible long term health repercussions are not something I’m willing to risk with our toddlers.” It’s a decision she does not take lightly; Greathouse loves her community.

“My 4-year-old goes to the local Head Start in East Palestine. Every single one of his teachers and the family advocate have been in constant contact with us checking on him and our family in general,” she said. “I honestly don’t know how we would be making it through this without their love and support. While the government hasn’t done much, if anything, to assist, and Norfolk Southern is making aid difficult to receive, our community and the Head Start program have pulled together and we will be forever grateful for that.”

The “He Gets Us” Jesus Super Bowl Commercial Is Connected to an Anti-Abortion, Anti-LGBTQ Group

The ad urged viewers to look past their differences. Meanwhile, the group behind it is rolling back nondiscrimination protections.

Screenshot of the Super Bowl Jesus ad; a bunch of young people yelling at each other via megaphones (black and white photo)

During Super Bowl Sunday’s array of ads, one campaign sought not to promote cars or sports betting or a snack food, but Jesus himself.

One ad, exhibiting black-and-white photos of civil rights protests, Covid-19 lockdown demonstrations, and numerous other nondescript confrontations, was marched forward to the tune of “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man. Encounters that flattened everyone (whether protesting against wearing masks in a pandemic or against police brutality) into misguidedly angry individuals were paired with lyrics like “Take a look in the mirror, and what do you see, do you see it clearer, or are you deceived? … Cause I’m only human after all, you’re only human after all.”

The music faded, the screen cut to black. “Jesus loved the people we hate,” the screen read. Cue the music’s powerful return. “He gets us. All of us,” the ad continued, before “us” was then transposed to “Jesus.”

The stirring ad was part of the larger “He Gets Us” campaign bankrolled by the conservative evangelical group Servant Foundation. The ad, urging viewers to look beyond their apparently equally valid differences and instead find solidarity through the church, did not come from a group that even pretends to follow such hollow advice.

As Andrew Perez reported at The Lever, the Servant Foundation donated more than $50 million to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization that helped draft the Mississippi abortion law at the core of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Fresh off that victory, they’re seeking to block the abortion drug mifepristone.

The group is also leading a Supreme Court case that argues businesses should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ customers. The organization previously argued in the 2018 Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission that involved a baker who refused to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

A 2020 tax return showed that the nearly $1 billion asset-holding Servant Foundation’s top contributions were to the Alliance Defending Freedom, according to Lever.

The “He Gets Us” campaign also received money from donors like Hobby Lobby billionaire co-founder David Green, who sued the government to overturn Obamacare’s contraception mandate for company coverage due to “religious objections.” The court ruled in 2014 that Hobby Lobby could in fact deny contraceptive coverage to its employees. Green’s Hobby Lobby warehouses were also ordered to return thousands of Iraqi artifacts “collected” by the tycoon to adorn the Museum of the Bible, which Green is a primary funder of and tax write-off benefactor of.

“He Gets Us” also ran an ad earlier in the Super Bowl urging viewers to be more childlike, since “Jesus didn’t want us to act like adults.” The Super Bowl ads are part of a larger campaign; another “He Gets Us” ad positions Jesus as an influencer “canceled” by the “establishment.”

Another ad produced by the billionaire-backed organization veers toward poverty porn, reminding us that “Jesus struggled to make ends meet, too.”

White House Rules out Aliens for Flying Objects Shot Down

“There is no, again no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent take-downs.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. government has sadly ruled out aliens as a possible explanation for the multiple flying objects shot down in recent days.

The military has shot down three unidentified flying objects since Friday. The government seems to be on high alert after shooting down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon last week. China said the balloon was for meteorological research, but Washington rejected that explanation.

“There is no, again no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent take-downs,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.

When General Glen VanHerck was asked Sunday whether the flying objects had extraterrestrial origins, the head of the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northern Command (NORAD) said, “I’ll let the intel community and the counterintelligence community figure that out. I haven’t ruled out anything.”

“At this point, we continue to assess every threat or potential threat…that approaches North America with an attempt to identify it,” VanHerck said.

But he noted the military was unable to determine how the three latest objects stayed airborne, where they came from, or what exactly they even are, which is why “we’re calling them objects, not balloons.”

The government has not publicly cared this much about aliens since 2019, when the FBI investigated a joke Facebook event to storm Area 51.

We’ve seen a lot of UFOs over the past week, and we’re likely to see more. A U.S. official told The Washington Post that the recent objects have changed how analysts filter and interpret information about incursions into U.S. airspace.

Speaking anonymously, the official explained that the data absorbed by sensory equipment is run through filters, to help analysts determine what is important. But “we basically opened the filters,” the official said, allowing more objects to be deemed noteworthy.

But the official also said that the government still doesn’t know if the increased incursions are due to expanding the data parameters or deliberate actions by an unknown entity.

The government has also said that it was able to discover multiple objects, including surveillance balloons that flew over the U.S. during Donald Trump’s presidency, because Joe Biden increased the amount of intelligence resources directed towards detecting Chinese espionage attempts.

“Because the intelligence community made this a priority at the direction of President Biden, we enhanced our surveillance of our territorial airspace, we enhanced our capacity to be able to detect things that the Trump administration was unable to detect,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last week.

While it’s not clear where the most recent three high-altitude objects came from, the additional resources are how the government was able to detect the surveillance balloon from China.

Beijing, meanwhile, has begun pushing back, accusing the U.S. of flying high-altitude balloons through its airspace more than 10 times over the course of last year, which Washington has denied. The original balloon derailed what was supposed to be U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first trip to China to ease tensions between the two countries.
The White House may have dashed our hopes this time, but who knows what might be behind the next high-altitude object that enters U.S. airspace.

This post has been updated.

U.S. Shoots Down Unidentified Object Floating Over Alaska

Just a week after the Chinese spy balloon, the White House has confirmed that a second high-altitude object has been shot down. What exactly the object is or where it comes from remains unclear.

John Kirby speaking at the podium
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby

Just a week after the hullabaloo of the Chinese spy balloon, the United States shot down an object the size of a small car that was floating over Alaska on Friday.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the object, first observed yesterday, “posed a reasonable threat to the safety of civilian flight.” Per recommendation from the Pentagon, President Biden ordered the military to shoot down the object, which was cruising at an altitude of roughly 40,000 feet.

Though the government seemed to act more swiftly than with the Chinese spy balloon, there have been fewer details to come with the act. What the object exactly is, from where it originates, and what purpose it was serving are all unclear.

Kirby did say, however, that Air Force pilots allegedly found the aircraft to not be manned before the final order to shoot it down.

The object follows reports of numerous Chinese spy balloons flying all over the world, including at least once earlier during Biden’s presidency and three times during Trump’s. Unlike the previous balloons, which seemed to be flying at an even higher altitude, its flight path was low enough to potentially threaten civilian aircraft. The object was also much smaller than last week’s balloon, which was reportedly 200 feet tall.

MAGA Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna Claimed Jewish Heritage. Her Family Says That’s Not True.

A new report says the congresswoman doesn’t have Jewish roots and her grandfather served in the Nazi army. She also appears to have embellished other parts of her biography.

Representative Anna Paulina Luna smiles and folds her arms
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Florida Representative Anna Paulina Luna may have fabricated her Jewish heritage, according to a new report by The Washington Post.

The freshman MAGA Republican seems to inhabit a space usually reserved for serial fabulist George Santos. In addition to potentially lying about her religious background, Luna appears to have embellished other parts of her personal history.

Luna is Mexican on her mother’s side and Mexican and German on her father’s side. She has repeatedly said while campaigning and in an interview with Jewish Insider that she has Ashkenazi roots and her father was a Messianic Jew, or a Jewish person who believes Jesus was the Messiah. But several family members told the Post that not only did Luna’s father have no ties to Judaism but his father served in the Nazi army in Germany as a young man.

Messianic Judaism is an offshoot of Protestant Christianity, not Judaism. Jews believe that Jesus was not the Messiah, and most denominations do not recognize Messianic Judaism as actual Judaism. Some of Luna’s family members told the Post that both her father and grandfather were Catholic.

Luna’s claim that she was “raised as a Messianic Jew by her father” directly contradicts another refrain of hers: that her mother raised her alone with “no family to rely on.” Other family members have also said that Luna was always with them and supported by an extended family network growing up.

Luna served in the Air Force from 2009 to 2014, during which time the people who knew her described her as apolitical or even liberal. She expressed support for Barack Obama and said her heritage was Middle Eastern, Jewish, or Eastern European.

In 2015, she registered to vote in Florida and checked her race as “White, not of Hispanic origin.” That same year, she filed a petition in Washington state to change her last name to Luna, her mother’s family name, from Mayerhofer.

She joined the conservative group Turning Point USA in 2018, working for less than a year as their Hispanic engagement director. When she launched her campaign for Congress, she had fully embraced her Hispanic heritage, even changing the pronunciation of her first name to “Ah-na” from “Ann-a,” which surprised some of her friends and family members.

Luna has also talked about experiencing a “home invasion” in 2019, when her landlord broke into her apartment in the middle of the night. She links this to her support for gun ownership.

Her roommate from the time disputes this story, saying their apartment was broken into multiple times during the day, when neither of them was home. Nothing was taken, and they never figured out who did it.

There is one thing Luna has said about herself that definitely appears to be true: “I’m able to take on different personalities depending on what image I am going for,” she told the Canadian magazine Skyn in 2017. “I think getting into [the] character of what you are selling is super important.”

George Santos Says Sinema Told Him to “Hang In There.” Sinema Says She Never Even Spoke to Him.

Santos claims that Senator Kyrsten Sinema offered him words of encouragement during the State of the Union. Her office says it’s a lie.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Representative George Santos claimed that, despite his less-than-friendly interaction with Senator Mitt Romney during the State of the Union speech, Senator Kyrsten Sinema told Santos “something to the effects of ‘Hang in there, buddy,’” offering a “very kindhearted” hand of support.

Sinema’s office denies this ever happening. “I know this is *shocking* but he is lying,” Sinema spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said in an email to The Washington Post on Friday. “Kyrsten did not speak to him.”

Santos made the claim in an interview on Newsmax Thursday night, one in which he also failed to satisfy the far-right network about his previous claims of having had a brain tumor. He also claimed to have obtained his “legitimate” campaign money from his organizational work of “capital introduction relationship management of high net-worth individuals,” which he supposedly, at the age of 13, had already done “for years.”

Santos explained to Newsmax his attention-drawing interaction with Romney on Tuesday night was “not meant for television.” While the pair have slightly different accounts of what exactly was said, it is clear that Romney expressed his disapproval of Santos.

Meanwhile, Santos claimed that Sinema went out of her way to tell him to “hang in there” against the gathering storm brewed by his own lies.

While pretty much everything Santos says at this point should be taken with a pound of salt, Sinema is not one to necessarily automatically believe either. Her whole career trajectory in many ways is one based on a certain dishonesty—she began as an unabashed Green Party member all to become an independent who has watered down Democratic legislation and met more often with officials and executives than her own constituents.

But Sinema and Romney have been … close for a while:

And the pair also sat together during the State of the Union. Judging by Sinema and Romney’s affinity for each other and the scale of Santos’s lying track record, one would be inclined to believe he might be lying once again too. But what, if anything, was exactly said between Sinema and Santos is not certain; such is the challenge when a pathological and unhesitating liar meets his match with a more practiced, less egregious one.

There Was No Option but to Subpoena Mike Pence

The special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s role in January 6 has subpoenaed the former vice president, a key witness in what exactly went down that day.

Mike Pence speaking
Thos Robinson/Getty Images for The New York Times

No investigation into the January 6 riot could be complete without interviewing Mike Pence, and now it may finally happen: The special counsel investigating Donald Trump’s role in the insurrection has subpoenaed the former vice president.

It is not clear when Jack Smith issued the summons, which was first reported Thursday, but it should come as no surprise that he did: Pence is a key witness to both the events of January 6 and Trump’s state leading up to them.

Smith was appointed in November to investigate Trump’s role in the January 6 attack, as well as his handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and the investigation has been slowly drawing in on the former president.

This latest subpoena is one of the clearest moves yet to investigate Trump’s inner circle.

But it’s unclear how much Pence will cooperate. You’d think, considering that the rioters wanted to hang him and his former boss didn’t exactly have his back, he’d be willing to talk about what happened.

But the Department of Justice has been trying to get Pence to testify for months. Pence has previously said that, despite January 6 being “the most difficult day of my public life,” the House of Representatives investigative committee had “no right” to his testimony.

Pence could argue he is protected by executive privilege. Trump has repeatedly claimed that executive privilege protects him against testifying in the January 6 investigation, and Pence could do the same.

That argument, though, doesn’t hold as much water considering Pence has released a tell-all memoir in which he includes many details he would be asked to testify on.

Pence’s refusal to testify in January 6 investigations is spineless and infuriating, but it makes sense: He is reportedly considering running for president in 2024. In interviews and his book, he has sought to distance himself from Trump, a bid to appeal to moderates and independents.

But if he were to testify, he’d have to denounce Trump, alienating his former boss’s most loyal supporters in the process.

Florida Repeatedly Contacted the College Board About the A.P. African American Studies Course

A new letter reveals the truth about why the College Board changed its A.P. African American studies course—and the role Ron DeSantis’s government played.

Octavio Jones/Getty Images

A newly uncovered letter shows that Florida government officials had repeated, ongoing contact with the College Board while it was first developing the Advanced Placement African American studies course. The revelation contradicts the board’s previous claim that Florida officials had no influence over its decision to water down the class’s curriculum.

In the letter, first obtained by The Daily Caller, Florida Department of Education officials write to thank the senior director of College Board’s Florida Partnership for “the regular, two-way verbal and written dialogue on this important topic,” spanning “since January 2022.” The letter explained in detail when state officials expressed objections to the proposed curriculum.

Last week, the College Board released final guidelines for the class, having removed substantial facets of the curriculum that Florida’s Department of Education objected to, including concepts surrounding intersectionality, mass incarceration, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more. The College Board stated that “core revisions” to the proposed A.P. African American Studies class “were substantially complete” by December 22, “weeks before Florida’s objections were shared.” (Florida announced it would ban the course from public schools in late January.)

The new letter shows that, in fact, Florida had shared its objections for nearly a year before the cited December date. This calls into question whether Florida government officials influenced the final resultant curriculum—and if so, how much.

The Florida officials wrote that they “were grateful to see” the final curriculum had removed 19 topics, many of which they had previously objected to, deeming them “discriminatory and historically fictional,” referring to topics like intersectionality, mass incarceration, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

While the class has already been barred from Florida schools this year, Florida officials expressed in the letter that they’re “looking forward” to reviewing the College Board’s submission of the supposedly coincidentally watered-down course for the following school year.

Florida’s banning of the class, and apparent influence on the College Board to water it down for the rest of the nation, is part of an ongoing assault on education in the state.

One Florida school district serving over 50,000 students recently banned 23 books, including The Kite Runner and the entire Court of Roses and Thorns book series—going even beyond a state law that mandates books in public schools to be subject to review by a “specialist.”

Last week, the president of the New College of Florida was forced out by a board of trustees stacked with hand-picked appointees of Governor Ron DeSantis; she was replaced with another DeSantis ally.

DeSantis has also pushed through the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prevents classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade; lobbied for the Stop Woke Act, which restricts teaching on race in colleges; and announced plans to mandate Western civilization courses and defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on state college campuses.

Make no mistake: Even just in imposing his will on teachers and students, DeSantis has proven over and over again to be a fascist. Regardless of however many hogwash columns or cable news commentators insist that DeSantis represents some sort of icon of intrigue or political savviness, or even an alternative to Trump, know that he is as rotten as they come—and should be nowhere near any lever of power in a just society.

Republicans Have Long Wanted to Cut Medicare and Social Security. Don’t Fall for the Fake Outrage Now.

You’d never suspect it from their reactions to Biden’s State of the Union. But here’s the proof.

Rick Scott, Mike Lee, and Bill Cassidy sit next to each other
Senators Rick Scott, Mike Lee, and Bill Cassidy yell as President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address on February 7.

You’d never suspect Republicans have been trying to slash Social Security and Medicare for years, based on their reactions to Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.

The president scored a big win Tuesday night when he appeared to get Republicans to agree not to cut funding for Medicare or Social Security during his speech.

Republicans were outraged when Biden said some of them were proposing to “sunset” the federal entitlements programs—and have since doubled down, claiming they intend to do no such thing. But not only have GOP lawmakers suggested slashing the funding multiple times in the past year, the party has been out to end the programs since they began.

Republicans have held a “visceral and abiding dislike” for the welfare programs since the Social Security Act was implemented in 1935, according to the historian Lewis L. Gould. Since the party took control of the House of Representatives in January, they have been weighing options to slash Social Security and Medicare, ostensibly in order to curb federal spending. GOP lawmakers are threatening to hold the debt ceiling hostage until the federal budget is reduced, and Social Security and Medicare are on the chopping block.

Mike Lee looked appalled that Biden said his party would cut Social Security funding, despite saying quite clearly on camera during his first Senate campaign in 2010, “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up from the roots and get rid of it.”

Rick Scott has previously proposed sunsetting the programs every five years. The morning after the State of the Union, he tried to refute Biden’s accusation—by doubling down on his plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. In August, Ron Johnson went even further, proposing removing Social Security and Medicare as federal entitlement programs and instead making them discretionary spending programs that Congress approves on a yearly basis.

The list goes on: Lindsey Graham proposed changing the income cap and eligibility age for the programs in June. Michael Waltz said in January the entitlements program needs to be considered when it comes to cutting the federal budget. And just last week, Kevin Hern said he “wouldn’t think it’d be off the table” in regard to slashing Social Security and Medicare.

Even Donald Trump tried to cut the programs every year he was in office. For the 2021 federal budget alone, he proposed slashing about half a trillion dollars from Social Security and Medicare. Again, these are just a handful of examples in a larger Republican agenda to cut the social safety programs.

So it’s no wonder Biden looked so gleeful as half of Congress shouted at him Tuesday night.

Florida Won’t Require High School Athletes to Share Their Menstrual History, but May Force Them to Reveal Their Sex Assigned at Birth

The information could be used to out transgender students.

Girls’ soccer teams on the field. One is about to kick a soccer ball.
Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The Florida High School Athletics Association decided Thursday not to require student athletes to give their schools detailed information about their periods—a proposed policy that sparked widespread outcry—but will ask for their sex assigned at birth.

The FHSAA board of directors was due to meet at the end of the month for a final vote on the committee recommendation, but held an emergency meeting Thursday after heated pushback from parents, health care providers, and Florida legislators.

Ahead of the vote, the board read public comments that had been submitted. Almost all of the 150 comments submitted to the board opposed asking for students’ menstrual history.

“This is a huge invasion of privacy, not necessary, and absolutely creepy,” one commenter said. Others pointed out the double standard of not requiring boys to submit personal medical details. “It is clear that your agenda is a political one, and it has no place in our schools,” said another commenter.

The board voted 14–2 to remove all menstrual history questions, but students would still be required to submit their entire medical history form to their schools.

However, the form was changed to ask the students’ “sex assigned at birth” instead of just their sex. If the board votes at the end of the month to adopt this new form, the information could be used to out transgender students. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has banned trans girls from playing girls’ sports.

The FHSAA announced in October that it was digitizing its annual physical form for student athletes. The new form included optional but detailed questions about students’ menstruation cycles. Previously, only one page of the paper form—on which a pediatrician would sign off on a student being allowed to play—would be submitted to a school.

Despite widespread public outcry over the potential repercussions of digitizing that data, an FHSAA panel decided in January not only to stand by the change, but also recommended the menstrual history questions be made mandatory.

Many parents and doctors were worried that schools would use the menstrual data to monitor students for late or missed periods, a possible sign of pregnancy, or to out trans students by watching for girls who don’t get periods or boys who do.

The FHSAA board of directors announced Tuesday they would hold the emergency meeting, just hours after 30 Florida lawmakers called on them not to approve the requirement that students provide their menstrual history. The letter writers, all Democratic members of the state House, called the menstrual history questions “highly invasive,” in violation of Florida’s constitutional right to privacy, and asked what the scientific justification for the questions was.

Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, people have been hypervigilant about third parties tracking menstrual data. Period tracker apps and the platform that hosts Florida’s new digital athletics form are not owned by medical institutions and therefore are not subject to health privacy laws. If subpoenaed for someone’s data, particularly in a state where abortion has been made illegal, the companies would be required to hand it over.

Republicans have been cracking down on the rights of women, girls, and gender minorities at the state and federal level. In the past few weeks alone, there has been a huge uptick in state-level health care legislation aimed at limiting access to gender-affirming care and abortion, even in states where residents have voted to protect those rights. In Texas, anti-abortion groups have filed a lawsuit that could force the FDA to revoke approval of mifepristone, a medicine used to terminate pregnancies, which would pull the drug from the market.