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From vaccination rates to voting rights, blue and red states are hurtling in opposite directions at staggering speed, even as Biden calls for greater national unity

From vaccination rates to voting rights, from immigration policy to racial equity, blue and red states are hurtling in antithetical directions at staggering speed, even amid President Joe Biden’s persistent calls for greater national unity and his attempts to foster more bipartisan agreement in Washington. Across all of these issues, and more, Republican-controlled states are pursuing policies that amount to a wholesale effort to counter Biden’s direction at the national level — even as they look to block some of his key initiatives with lawsuits.
In some ways, the red state recoil from Biden’s agenda echoes the “resistance” that exploded in Democratic-controlled states to Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency; in other ways, today’s actions in red states may constitute even greater evidence of the country pulling apart. Especially striking is that, as during last year’s lockdowns and mask mandates, the separation between red and blue America is occurring not only at the level of government policy, but also in individual behavior, with all studies showing Republicans are being vaccinated against the coronavirus at a much lower rate than Democrats.
Taken together, these centrifugal pressures call into question not only the ability of any president to unify the nation, but also his or her ability even to chart a common course for more than roughly half of the country — either red or blue America. This divergence, across a wide range of issues and personal choices, is rooted in the continuing political re-sorting that has divided the parties more sharply than ever along demographic and geographic lines and produced two political coalitions holding inimical views on the fundamental social and economic changes remaking America. And that destabilizing process shows no signs of slowing, much less reversing, even after Trump — who fomented division as a central component of his political strategy — has left the White House.
“This is the long arc of history,” says Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at UCLA and one of the founders of the NationScape polling project studying American attitudes. “There are these moments that exacerbate things, like Trump running for that nomination in 2016: If he hadn’t run, the sorting would probably be taking a little longer. But it was always marching in that direction. You try to just ask yourself what stops it, or what reverses it, or what slows it? … I can’t come up with a good answer to that question.”

Presidential approval gap expands

The most common way to measure the daunting distance between red and blue America is through voting behavior and attitudes in public opinion polls. Polling has shown that the gap between voters from the two parties in their approval ratings for a newly elected president has steadily widened over recent decades. For Biden, despite all his efforts to govern as a unifying figure, that gap has reached a mountainous height: an ABC/Washington Post poll released on Saturday found that his approval rating among Democrats (at 94%) was 86 points above his rating among Republicans (8%).
These results came even as the nonpartisan Pew Research Center last week released its “validated voters” study, one of the most respected efforts to quantify how the key groups in the electorate voted in last November’s presidential election. Although the study found some shifts from the 2016 election (with Trump, for instance, improving among Hispanics and Biden gaining some ground among White men both with and without college degrees), mostly it recorded extraordinary stability in the lines of division between the parties over both elections. Other studies of the electorate’s behavior, from the media exit polls to the Cooperative Election Study sponsored by a consortium of academic researchers, have also concluded that continuity far exceeded change when comparing 2020 with 2016.
“To the extent we see differences between 2016 and 2020 we are talking about very marginal ones,” says Tufts University political scientist Brian Schaffner, a co-director of the Cooperative Election Study.
This stability may seem surprising after all the emotional and even unprecedented events of the Trump presidency, capped by a once-in-a-century pandemic that disrupted every aspect of daily life. But political scientists like Vavreck and Alan Abramowitz of Emory University say the continuity between the two elections reflects the intractability of the differences between voters in the two partisan coalitions. Reinforcing that picture is the striking finding that Biden’s current approval rating, both overall and among the electorate’s major groups, hasn’t really changed much from his vote among them last fall, even though Americans are expressing much more optimism about the country’s direction as society reopens and the economy recovers.
“I don’t think we are going to see an election anymore where a president wins with 52 or 53% of the vote and then has a 62% approval rating,” says Republican pollster Glen Bolger.
While some analysts have asserted that political polarization is driven primarily by leaders like Trump who encourage it, Abramowitz argues that today it is grounded in a much more intractable dynamic: As the electorate has sorted between the parties on lines of race, education, generation, religion and geography, the rank and file of each coalition now holds more ideologically consistent views on the core questions facing America — and those views are more consistently hostile to the perspective on the other side.
In an upcoming paper he shared with CNN, Abramowitz notes that long-term survey data shows that compared with the 1970s, voters in each party now hold much more negative views of the other party and its presidential nominee. That hostility, he argues, is rooted in these fundamentally clashing worldviews.
“One of the most important reasons why Democrats and Republicans intensely dislike each other is that they intensely disagree on a wide range of issues including the size and scope of the welfare state, abortion, gay and transgender rights, race relations, climate change, gun control and immigration,” Abramowitz writes. “As long as the parties remain on the opposite sides of almost all of the major issues facing the country, feelings of mistrust and animosity are unlikely to diminish even if Donald Trump ceases to play a major role in the political process.”

Moves to block Biden policies

This year’s sharp turn to the right in red states has provided immediate evidence to support that prediction. Red states have erupted in what looks like a spasm of resistance to the left-leaning tilt in national policy that Democrats are executing through their unified control of Washington.
As I’ve written, Republican-controlled states this year are advancing aggressively conservative initiatives across a panoramic array of issues. Among other things, red states are moving to loosen restrictions on gun owners and tighten (or even potentially eliminate) access to legal abortion; toughen penalties on public protesters; block transgender teens from competing in school sports; bar local governments from reducing their police budgets; and ban school curriculums that look to examine racism in American history.
Most of these policies steer in precisely the opposite direction that Biden is trying to set at the national level. Nine red states, for instance, have passed laws limiting or entirely blocking the ability of local law enforcement officials to enforce federal gun laws. But nowhere is this red state attempt to counter the President’s national direction more tangible than on immigration. As Biden has moved to reverse many of Trump’s hardline immigration policies, Republican attorneys general led by Texas’ Ken Paxton have already sued to block several of the new administration’s immigration initiatives.
Even more provocatively, Republican governors from states including Florida, Arkansas, Ohio and Tennessee have deployed National Guard troops or other law enforcement from their states to Texas’ border with Mexico in response to requests from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, even though the federal government retains sole enforcement power there and National Guard members cannot apprehend undocumented migrants.
“This is definitely red states saying we want the kind of restrictive policies that Biden is dismantling,” says Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service for President Bill Clinton.
Meissner says it’s possible to interpret these deployments as the mirror image of the “sanctuary” policies that Democratic-controlled cities and the state of California instituted to limit their cooperation with Trump’s immigration enforcement agenda. But Republicans have taken their resistance to a new level, she notes, in also seeking to counter Biden’s plan by mobilizing private resources from politically sympathetic supporters.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, like Abbott a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender, announced last week that a conservative billionaire was funding the deployment of the South Dakota Guard to the Texas border. Abbott has already set up a website to solicit public donations to continue building the wall along the Texas border that Trump pursued but Biden has abandoned.

Emergence of 2-tier systems

As on immigration, red states are directly confronting Biden on voting rights. Republican-controlled states from Florida, Georgia and Arkansas to Iowa, Montana and Arizona this year have approved a torrent of measures making it more difficult to vote, almost all of them with virtually every state legislative Republican voting yes and nearly every Democrat voting no. Democrats have responded both by advancing legislation to establish a nationwide floor of voting rights — such as guaranteed early voting and on-demand absentee balloting — and with a Justice Department lawsuit against the Georgia law.
But after a GOP filibuster recently blocked the Democrats’ federal voting rights legislation, it’s uncertain whether the Democratic Senate majority will revise the chamber’s rules to enable them to pass a modified version of it. And the six Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices raised huge obstacles to the legal efforts to block the red state offensive on voting with their ruling last week weakening the Voting Rights Act.
Those twin barriers to national action raise the prospect that the months ahead will see the continued emergence of a two-tier system of American voting, with access becoming increasingly curtailed in red states even as blue states from Virginia to Washington take steps to expand it.
A two-tier system is exactly what’s already apparent in utilization of the coronavirus vaccine. All of the 20 states (plus the District of Columbia) where the highest shares of adults have received at least one shot were won last fall by Biden; 20 of the 21 states where the lowest percentage have obtained at least one shot were won by Trump (Georgia, the sole exception, is controlled by a Republican state government). The latest surveys — including polls from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and the new ABC/Washington Post poll — find an enormous gulf between the share of Democrats (86% in the ABC/WP) and Republicans (45%) who say they have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far. Stunningly, almost all of the remaining Republicans say they do not expect to get vaccinated at any point.
A new study released last week by researchers at UCLA underscores how head-spinning these contrasts are. The paper, from a team of researchers led by anthropology professor Daniel Fessler and graduate student Theodore Samore, notes that studies typically have found that individuals who express socially conservative views typically display more, not less, concern than social liberals about threats like a virus outbreak. But that pattern shattered for the coronavirus outbreak: While the small number of Democrats who identified as social conservatives showed heightened sensitivity to the threat — measured by their willingness to take steps such as wearing masks and washing hands — socially conservative Republicans were less willing to engage in any of those behaviors.
The researchers, Samore said, found that rejection of those safety precautions was linked most closely with distrust of scientists, distrust of the mainstream media (and lack of exposure to it) and attitudes of economic conservatism (which may have translated into greater priority on reopening the economy than combating the virus). All of those, of course, are attitudes now common in the modern Republican coalition.
“What we think is going on here is a clash between people’s inclinations … and their political beliefs about trusting science or exposure to different media sources,” says Samore.
Fessler says these tendencies are reinforced by the social and political sorting that has diminished Americans’ exposure to neighbors of contrasting political views.
“You might be a liberal 20-something, and you might feel not particularly threatened, but if everyone around is saying, ‘I got vaxxed,’ you can get tipping point effects” that encourage you to do so as well, he says; the opposite, he adds, works in reducing appetite for the vaccine among conservatives.

Information niches

The latest Kaiser poll dramatically underlines Fessler’s observation. Kaiser found that while two-thirds of Democrats say they live in households where everyone has been vaccinated, that’s true for less than 40% of Republicans; nearly that many Republicans, in fact, say they live in households where no one has been vaccinated.
Fessler says these diverging attitudes on the value of vaccines, despite all the evidence of their effectiveness and safety, encapsulates a much larger problem: the development of information “niches” that allow falsehoods to take root for a large audience. The key “challenge facing democracies in the 21st century,” he argues, is that “while the internet promised the democratization of knowledge — the idea anyone can learn anything, and the connection of people regardless of geography and personal characteristics — instead the perverse result has been that it’s possible to occupy one’s own little niche in the information environment.”
Because “there are lots of other people occupying that” same space, he adds, no matter how implausible the ideas being presented in those circles, “our evolved psychology tells us this must be reality because everyone I am interacting with thinks the way that I do.”
That dynamic likely helps explain why such a staggeringly large percentage of Republicans accept Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen, even though courts uniformly have dismissed his “evidence.” It also helps explain why an ominously large share of Republican voters (especially those who most rely on far-right media sources) even accept the byzantine QAnon conspiracy theory.
Divergent information flows are not the only reason that red and blue America are pulling apart; the preference for contrasting information sources, in fact, may be more symptom than cause of the underlying demographic, generational and geographic separation of the parties. Taken together, all of these factors produced an Independence Day weekend when foundational questions of American unity and commitment to democracy seemed more fraught than at any time since the Civil War.
The Declaration of Independence that Americans celebrated over the weekend begins with the confident assertion that it is “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” Today, it is unclear what set of principles, if any, America’s fractious 50 states might agree on across the widening red-blue divide.

Author: Analysis by Ronald Brownstein
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Excessive Drooling a Sign of Greater Dysfunction in Parkinson's

Excessive drooling by patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease is an indicator of greater motor and nonmotor dysfunction, new research shows.

Sialorrhea is not just a cosmetic problem,” study investigator Francesca Morgante, MD, associate professor of neurology, St. George’s University, London, United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News.

“We need to understand the relationship between sialorrhea and these speech and swallowing disturbances and whether treatment for sialorrhea improves that,” Morgante added.

The findings were presented at the virtual Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) 2021.

Underrecognized Symptom

Sialorrhea is an underrecognized nonmotor symptom that can affect up to 70% of patients with PD, co-investigator Ioana Cociasu, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow, Neurosciences Research Center, St. George’s University, told meeting attendees. The impact on quality of life increases with disease severity, she said.

The current study included 101 consecutive patients attending an advanced PD disorders clinic. Researchers collected demographic data that included information on gender, age, age at PD onset, and disease duration.

They also gathered data on motor symptoms by assessing total levodopa equivalent daily dose (LEDD) and LEDD dopamine agonists. They also assessed results on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) part III and the Hoehn and Yahr scale for on- and off-medication states.

Nonmotor functioning was assessed using the Non-Motor Symptoms Scale (NMSS) and Scales for Outcomes in Parkinson’s disease–autonomic dysfunction (SCOPA-AUT) questionnaire. Among patients with PD, autonomic dysfunction can precede motor impairment and can involve orthostatic and postprandial hypotension, among other symptoms, the investigators note.

Health status and quality of life were assessed using the Parkinson’s disease questionnaire–39 items (PDQ-39). The Radboud Oral Motor Inventory for PD (ROMP) was used to measure orofacial symptoms. ROMP is a self-administered questionnaire that evaluates speech, swallowing disturbances, and drooling of saliva. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment test was also used.

Investigators compared participants with sialorrhea to those without sialorrhea, described as droolers and nondroolers. Droolers were defined as those scoring >1 on the UPDRS-II item 6. This signified slight but definite presence of saliva in the mouth and/or the possibility of nighttime drooling.

Greater Impairment

Among the participants, 65 (64.4%) were classified as droolers, and 36 (35.6%) as nondroolers.

Patients with both PD and sialorrhea were significantly more impaired in terms of motor functioning than those without sialorrhea. In these patients, the UPDRS-III was more severe in both the off- (P = .03) and on-states (P = .002), and they had less improvement with the levodopa challenge test (P = .007).

Droolers were also more severely affected by nonmotor problems. They had more severe speech dysfunction (P < .0001) and swallowing dysfunction (P < .05), and they had higher scores on the NMSS (P = .0008) and SCOPA-AUT (P = .003) and poorer quality-of-life scores on the PDQ-39 (P = .049).

To evaluate respiratory tract infections, the researchers used electronic health records. About 15.4% of the study population had had a documented respiratory infection since they were diagnosed with PD.

Upper and lower respiratory tract infections were more frequent among droolers than nondroolers (P = .05).

“Infections might arise from swallowing disturbances leading to aspiration and drooling,” Morgante noted.

The drooling did not appear to affect cognition or sleep in these patients.

Treatment Options?

Following the study presentation, session co-chair Philippe G. Damier, MD, PhD, professor of neurology, University Hospital, Nantes, France, asked about the best treatment for sialorrhea for these patients.

In general, those with milder disease might try chewing gum to improve swallowing; patients with more severe cases may benefit from botulinum toxin injections, said Cociasu. The treatment choice, she added, “very much depends on the severity of the sialorrhea.”

Botulinum toxin therapy involves injections into the salivary gland to reduce saliva production. It is typically administered about every 4 months.

The second session co-chair, Elena Moro, MD, PhD, director of the Movement Disorders Unit at Grenoble Alpes University, Grenoble, France, pointed out that chewing gum may be a swallowing hazard for patients with PD and severe dementia.

Asked by Moro whether patients with higher scores on balance and posture were more likely to have sialorrhea, Cociasu said she and her colleagues are currently looking into this.

Morgante told Medscape Medical News that the current study did not examine the effect of treatment on speech disorders associated with sialorrhea.

“We are running another study now to understand the effect of treatment of sialorrhea on these features,” she said.

Morgante and Cociasu have reported no relevant financial relationships.

Congress of the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) 2021: Session: Movement Disorders 1. Presented June 20, 2021.

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This post originally appeared on Medscape Medical News Headlines

Rain, lightning, power outages continue across greater Houston

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — The threat for tornadoes is now over for Houston and most of Southeast Texas, but the threat of flash flooding lingers in our coastal counties.

A Flash Flood Watch is in effect for all of Southeast Texas until 7 a.m. Thursday, but it might get extended into Friday when additional downpours are expected.

Drivers should use caution on the roads as roadways will have the potential for flooding over the next couple of days.
Stay weather aware by downloading the ABC13 app to have the latest breaking news and weather alerts sent straight to your phone.

When will the heaviest rain fall?

The greatest concern for flooding from heavy rain will happen overnight through all of Wednesday and into Thursday morning. Street and creek flooding will be likely then. And we’ll really need to watch the bayous during that time since the heavy rain could fall for several hours. River flooding is also likely due to the widespread rains coming to the eastern half of Texas over the next several days.When will rain chances come to an end?
Moisture will still be sticking around keeping rain chances in the forecast into the weekend. We should finally get a break on Sunday.
Southeast Texas

Harris County
Galveston County
Montgomery/Walker/San Jacinto/Polk/Grimes Counties
Fort Bend/Wharton/Colorado Counties
Brazoria/Matagorda Counties
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Women at NO greater risk from blood clots after having AstraZeneca Covid vaccine

Author: Vanessa Chalmers
This post originally appeared on Health News – The Sun

THERE is no evidence that women are at greater risk from blood clots after the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, MPs have been told.

But as extremely rare cases of blood clots are “increasing” in line with the speedy jab rollout, the trend continues to show that younger people are more at risk.

🔵 Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest updates

Women do not appear to be more at risk of blood clots after the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines (pictured on April 7)


Women do not appear to be more at risk of blood clots after the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines (pictured on April 7)Credit: PA

The evidence is “firming up” that the jab is the underlying cause of these unusual and sometimes fatal blood clots, which occur in the brain and stomach.

However, there is still no clear link to prove it.

Regulators in the UK, the MHRA, have reported more cases and deaths in women compared to men.

But experts have said this appears to be due to the way the vaccines were rolled out, as opposed to a genuine higher risk in women.

It comes as:

Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chairman of the Commission on Human Medicines, told the Science and Technology Committee: “There are two things to consider – the first is the way the vaccine was deployed, particularly in healthcare workers and social care workers.

“The majority of the workforce there is female and so they had higher exposure rates.

“But when you then start relating to the exposure rate in different populations, what you find is that the case incidence rate between male and female is actually very similar.

“So, from our data that we’ve got in the UK, it doesn’t look as if the females are at a higher risk of this adverse event compared to males.”

Professor John Aston, Harding Professor of Statistics in Public Life, University of Cambridge, said he “absolutely agreed”.

He said in the lower age groups, the rollout was mostly geared towards people working in health and social care.

“Because there was a higher relative number of females to males, it is not unexpected we would see that proportion coming out in terms of cases [of blood clots].”

EU regulators have also said that although most cases of blood clots have been in women, no specific risk factors have been confirmed.

Asked about the medical history of cases, Sir Munir said that a past blood clot is not seen as a predisposer so far.

And he said the “only risk factor that we are finding is age in that there is a slightly higher risk in the younger age group compared to the older age group”.

Some 95 per cent of people over the age of 50 have had their first dose of the jab.

There have been a smaller proportion of younger people – NHS health care workers and people with underlying conditions – who have been jabbed.

Therefore, with more blood clot cases in younger people, this suggests there is an increased risk for them. 

The MHRA has decided the NHS should offer people under 30 an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is considering whether a further change of policy is needed for older groups, such as those in their 30s, the Telegraph reported.

MPs discussed that there had been 168 cases of extremely rare blood clot events in around 21 million first doses of the AstraZeneca jab, the majority of which (93) were in women.

There have been 32 deaths.

Sir Munir said: “It is important to again stress this is extremely rare, only 168 cases given millions and millions of doses of the vaccine has been given.

“The number of cases has been increasing since they were first reported, and what we feel is the evidence is firming up of a possible link.

“But we do not have true causality determined yet.”

He said there seems to be an immune reaction occurring after people are given a vaccine, but the reasons why are not clear.

It comes after blood clots linked with the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, which uses the same technology as the AZ jab, has led to health chiefs in the US deciding to use a warning label on a fact sheet given to recipients.

After an 11-day pause of the use of the jab in the states, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said

However the agencies insisted the risks of experiencing the potentially deadly syndrome was “very low”.

Some 15 cases of blood clots have been idenfitied since regulators approved the jab in February.

All were women and most were under the age of 50 – with three dying and seven remaining in hospital.

European Medicines Agency confirm link between Johnson and Johnson covid vaccine and rare blood clots but say benefits outweigh risks

Advocates back Gov Greg Abbott’s call

After Gov. Greg Abbott[2] gave a fiery press conference outside a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in San Antonio on Wednesday, advocacy groups said they supported his general message.

The Republican governor had called for more oversight and an immediate investigation into reports the state had received of sexual abuse inside the facility holding more than 1,300 children.

But some who have demanded improved conditions in such facilities for years said they couldn’t help but question the governor’s timing and motivations. Abbott largely remained silent despite reports of widespread abuse[3] in migrant shelters during former President Donald Trump’s administration. And while he has pledged to reform a handful of state agencies with long histories of abuse, problems continue to dog the agencies he oversees.

Now that he’s speaking out in the early days of a Democratic presidency, some said they couldn’t help but view his comments through a political lens.

“Gov. Greg Abbott has zero credibility on this or any other issue related to protecting human life,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar[4], D-El Paso, at a press conference on Thursday. “We saw Gov. Abbott’s failure to protect his own citizens during the freeze. We saw Gov. Abbott play politics with COVID.”

At the press conference Wednesday evening, Abbott said complaints about sexual assault[5] at the Freeman Expo Center in San Antonio were reported early Wednesday to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The governor said he did not know the identities of those who alleged assault, nor could he provide many details about the accusations. He said he was concerned more than one child may have been assaulted. He also said that the Texas Department of Public Safety will investigate the allegations.

But he was clear about who he felt deserved the blame: the Biden administration.

“In short, this facility is a health and safety nightmare,” Abbott told reporters Wednesday. “The Biden administration is now presiding over the abuse of children.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn[6], R-Texas, on Wednesday echoed Abbott’s concern and called on the U.S. Health and Human Services inspector general to investigate.

“Unaccompanied children that arrive at our border have already endured dangerous conditions at home and a treacherous journey to get here,” Cornyn said in a statement. “The fact that any child would experience abuse in the care of the U.S. government is despicable.”

Abbott and many other Texas Republicans have repeatedly criticized the Biden administration as it struggles to address an increase in migrants being apprehended near the U.S.-Mexico border. Almost all single adults are being immediately expelled under a pandemic health order issued by Trump that Biden has kept in place, although the current administration is allowing in unaccompanied minors and some families to await their immigration court hearings in the U.S. But Democrats are also loudly questioning where the compassion was less than two years ago under Trump’s watch, when apprehensions hit near-record figures despite his crackdown on the border.

And while the allegations of abuse Abbott highlighted were disturbing, they were by no means rare. Thousands of accusations[7] of harassment and sexual abuse have been leveled against government-run migrant shelters in recent years. From 2014 to 2018 — a time that included the Obama and Trump administrations — the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a division of HHS, received more than 4,500 complaints, including instances of inappropriate touching, staff members watching minors bathe and showing children pornography.

After Wednesday’s news conference, Abbott toured the facility. Renae Eze, an Abbott spokesperson, accused the Biden administration of “[rolling] out the red carpet for what turned out to be a dog and pony show.” She said in a statement that staff at the facility provided no information about the allegations of abuse and “abruptly cut off a doctor” who began to provide information about children with COVID-19.

“Because the Biden Administration has failed these children, the state of Texas is taking action,” Eze continued. “Texas Rangers and DPS have begun their investigation into the very serious complaints about the treatment of these unaccompanied minors and will not stop until they’ve uncovered the real truth and these children are safe.”

Rebeca Clay-Flores, a Democratic Bexar County commissioner, said she accompanied Abbott on the tour of the facility. She pushed back on Abbott’s characterization of the shelter and said that the children are happy and the facility is well-staffed. Abbott on Wednesday claimed that children were not being fed, but Clay-Flores said that the federal government has contracted with three catering companies to provide three meals and two snacks a day. She called the announcement of the abuse allegations “really great political timing.”

“Regardless of your political party or your nation of origin, children should not be politicized,” Clay-Flores told The Texas Tribune. “You want to talk about a dog and pony show? Politicizing children is a dog and pony show.”

An HHS spokesperson in a statement declined to comment on specific allegations, but said the Office of Refugee Resettlement “has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior at all [unaccompanied child] care provider facilities and acts quickly to address any alleged violations of policy, including initiating employee disciplinary action, termination, or reporting to appropriate investigative entities, such as law enforcement agencies and relevant licensing bodies.”

The Freeman Expo Center housed 1,370 unaccompanied teens as of Monday, KSAT-TV reported[8]. It has the capacity to hold up to 2,500 children, according to HHS.

Escobar told reporters at a news conference Thursday that “any allegation around children always should be taken seriously and should be thoroughly investigated.” But advocacy groups shared her skepticism about what Abbott was trying to accomplish.

Jonathan Ryan, CEO of RAICES, a nonprofit that provides legal services to immigrants, said in a statement that “the only reason why Abbott is now acting like he cares about the children in these facilities is for political reasons.” Still, he doubled down on calls for increased oversight of child detention facilities.

“What the governor wants is for the Biden administration to stop allowing children to seek home and safety in this country,” Ryan said. “That is not the solution to the challenge we have in front of us. We must ensure the children are released as soon as possible and be reunited with their families in the U.S.”

Edna Yang, co-executive director of the nonprofit immigrant legal services provider American Gateways, told the Tribune that all allegations of abuse should be investigated. She declined to speculate on the motivations behind Abbott’s announcement, but said that if the governor and other state leaders are truly concerned about the wellbeing of immigrants, “there are definitely things that our state leaders can do to protect immigrants now who are suffering in our state.”

Yang pointed to a Texas House bill[9] that would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver licenses. The bill has not yet received a committee hearing.

“There are lots of things like that that can be done to actually protect immigrants here and ensure that their rights aren’t being violated,” Yang said.

Meanwhile, advocates for children have long called for more actions to prevent the abuse of children in the care of the state. Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas, two justice and legal organizations, in October filed a complaint[10] with the U.S. Department of Justice against the Texas Juvenile Justice Department that alleged “grievous violations of children’s constitutional rights.”

The problems at the agency predate Abbott’s tenure as governor. The agency has undergone a series of major reforms that successfully shrank the number of kids in the state’s lockups and led to the closure of seven facilities. But the complaint alleged widespread sexual assault at the remaining facilities.

“How many years is it going to take until we’re going to realize that we need to throw everything out and start over?” Brett Merfish, director of youth justice at Texas Appleseed, said.

In addition, the embattled Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has struggled to implement a long list of court ordered reforms that stem from a decadelong lawsuit[11] over abuse and neglect in the state’s foster care system. In 2017, Abbott signed a bill to overhaul the foster care system. Still, problems have persisted.

In February, the federal judge overseeing the case again chided[12] state officials for failing to take sufficient corrective action. That same month, Abbott promised to do “exactly”[13] what the judge ordered to fix the situation.

Earlier this year, the state had a backlog of more than 400 investigations into reports of abuse open for longer than 30 days. Only 38 had valid extensions.

“We should all be working together on this, and in that spirit, I’m going to tell you that this is not compliance,” U.S. District Judge Janis Jack said in a February hearing.

Disclosure: Texas Appleseed has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here[14].


  1. ^ Sign up for The Brief (www.texastribune.org)
  2. ^ Greg Abbott (www.texastribune.org)
  3. ^ reports of widespread abuse (www.propublica.org)
  4. ^ Veronica Escobar (www.texastribune.org)
  5. ^ sexual assault (www.texastribune.org)
  6. ^ John Cornyn (www.texastribune.org)
  7. ^ Thousands of accusations (www.pbs.org)
  8. ^ KSAT-TV reported (www.ksat.com)
  9. ^ a Texas House bill (capitol.texas.gov)
  10. ^ filed a complaint (www.texastribune.org)
  11. ^ decadelong lawsuit (www.texastribune.org)
  12. ^ again chided (www.texastribune.org)
  13. ^ promised to do “exactly” (www.dallasnews.com)
  14. ^ list of them here (www.texastribune.org)

Shawn Mulcahy

How to live longer: Greater optimism can help you live beyond 85, study says

The Boston University School of Medicine noted how a positive mental attitude is linked to “exceptional longevity” – defined as living beyond 85 years of age. Here are the research details. Dr Lewina Lee said that their research study suggests that optimism “has the potential to extend the human lifespan”. There were 69,744 women and 1,429 men involved in the investigation, who completed surveys to assess their levels of optimism, overall health and habits.
Women were followed for 10 years, while the men were followed for 30 years.

Based on their initial levels of optimism, the follow-up study found that the most happiest people demonstrated, on average, a 15 percent longer lifespan.

Those who felt most optimistic had up to a 70 percent greater chance of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic group.

The results were maintained after taking into account the following factors:

  • Age
  • Educational attainment
  • Chronic diseases
  • Depression
  • Alcohol use
  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Primary care visits

READ MORE: How to live longer: Walking every day promotes longevity – the amount you need to do

Moreover, those with a sunnier disposition are able to “bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively” than gloomier counterparts.

Those with a happier outlook on life have also been linked to healthier habits, such as exercising more and are less likely to smoke.

A professor of epidemiology, Fran Grodstein, added: “Research on the reason why optimism matters so much remains to be done, but the link between optimism and health is becoming more evident.”

Dr Lee concluded: “Our study contributes to scientific knowledge on health assets that may protect against mortality risk and promote resilient ageing.

Additional techniques include breathing exercises and learning time management strategies.

Enjoy yourself

“Doing things that you enjoy is good for your emotional wellbeing,” said the national health body – as long as it’s not a detriment to your health.

This could be meeting with a friend, having a soak in the bath, or watching sports.

Boost self-esteem

This can be achieved by positive self talk and taking care of yourself.

Other keys to happiness include: having a healthy lifestyle; sharing your feelings; and building resilience.